Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Diego Forlan gets his reward

Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and co may have had all the hype before this World Cup, but different names have ended up on all the prizes. Despite what Nike and Pepsi wanted us believe, there were other players at this World Cup, players at the top of their games playing hard for their time in the spotlight. The World Cup in South Africa decided to shine its lights on the likes of Bastian Schweinsteiger, David Villa and Thomas Mueller. The superstars left early, and other names rushed in to take their place.

Diego Forlan had been in the shadow of the world’s so called best for too long, despite having plenty of silverware and a magnificant goalscoring record. The lack of attention was mainly due to a combination of not playing for a ‘big’ International side and being labelled by the English media as the Manchester United ‘flop’. Despite this however, with 5 goals and a Golden Ball award at his side, Diego Forlan has shown his class to the World.

Diego Forlan was born on 19 May 1979 in Montevideo. His father, Pablo Forlan, also played for Uruguay as a defender, and appeared at the 1966 & 1974 World Cup finals.

Making a name
Forlan started his career in South America, and made his name playing for Argentine club Independiente between 1998 and 2001. He quickly made a name for himself as a goalscorer, scoring 40 goals in 91 appearances. This record had attracted attention from Europe and from Sir Alex Ferguson in particular.

In January 2002, at the age of twenty two, Diego Forlan joined Manchester United for a fee of £6.9 million. Forlan played at Manchester United over the course of two and half seasons, and his struggles are well known in English football circles. Forlan was relatively young when he came to England, in a new continent speaking a new language. The environment and the pressure of playing for one of the World’s biggest clubs at a young age seemed too much for the Uruguayan. He was also not helped by being in the shadow of Ruud Van Nistelrooy, one of Manchester United’s record goalscoreres. Forlan scored a disappointing 17 goals in 98 appearances, and ultimately left English football in 2004.

New life in Spain
In August 2004, Diego Forlan joined Villarreal where he was an instant success. In his first season, Forlan scored 25 league goals, winning the Pichichi Trophy and his first European Golden Boot. His goals helped Villarreal reach the Champions League for the first time in their history. Needless to say, Forlan’s first season in Spain was a resounding triumph. Forlan spent three seasons at Villarreal before signing for Atletico Madrid in June 2007. Atletico had recently sold Fernando Torres to Liverpool and Forlan was seen as a direct replacement.

Life in Madrid was equally rewarding for Forlan, and the 2008-09 season was a remarkable one for the Uruguayan. He again won the Pichichi Trophy in La Liga as well as the European Golden Boot for the second time, scoring a staggering 32 league goals in 33 appearances. In the 2009-10 season Forlan inspired Atletico to victory in the Europa League, scoring home and away against Liverpool in the semi and getting both goals against Fulham in the final in Hamburg. Despite Atletico having a poor season, Forlan still managed to score 18 league goals, often in important matches.

International rise
Diego Forlan had to wait until he was 22 years old before he finally made his debut for Uruguay in a friendly match against Saudi Arabia. He was at Manchester United during this time, and was very much in the shadow of more established players such as Alvaro Recoba. Forlan did make the Uruguay squad for the 2002 World Cup. After being brought on as a substitute in the last group game, Forlan scored a magnificant volley in a 3-3 draw with Senegal.

Uruguay failed to reach the second round in 2002, and did not qualify for the 2006 World Cup in Germany. In 2010, Uruguay were the last team to qualify for South Africa, beating Costa Rica in a playoff. A Diego Forlan inspired team reached the semi final of the 2010 World cup, with Forlan himself scoring 5 goals and winning the Golden Ball trophy for the best player of the tournament.


Fulfilled Potential 

Forlan is truly an exceptional goalscorer. He can score as easily with either foot, is quick and ultra composed on the ball. He can strike a ball from any distance, seemingly scoring from range as easily as from the spot. He is a very clever player who rarely wastes possession and never wastes a chance on goal. During his time in Spain, Forlan has matured into a World class striker, and with each year he seems to get better. Forlan has forged fantastic partnerships with Kun Aguero and Luis Suarez at Atletico Madrid and Uruguay respectively. Even at 31 years of age, Forlan’s goals look a long way from drying up.

Forlan had an exceptional World Cup. No longer in anyone’s shadow, he was free to run the Uruguayan team from a position just off the front. His goals and influence dragged the South American team right through to the semi final, where they only just came up short. The Golden Ball award is deserved recognition for a fabulous player who won everyone over with a collection of superb goals and lashings of class.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Race over for the Golden Boot

After a month of solid football, the day we have all dreaded has finally come, the World Cup is over for another four years. The final two games were played over the weekend, and all the loose ends have been tied up. Spain are World Champions, Diego Forlan was voted the player of the tournament and Thomas Mueller won the Golden Boot.

In the end, four players all finished on 5 goals each, with Mueller winning the Golden Boot due to having the most assists.

  • Thomas Mueller (Germany) - 5 goals
  • David Villa (Spain) - 5 goals
  • Wesley Sneijder (Holland) - 5 goals
  • Diego Forlan (Uruguay) - 5 goals

The weekend’s results and scorelines were not all that surprising, and as is generally the case we got a free flowing and high scoring third place playoff match between two teams not under much pressure. Over the years the third place playoff has more often than not had lots more goals than the final.

1978 was the last time that more goals were scored in the Final than in the Third Place Playoff. The lack of pressure often means that the Third Place Playoff is a high scoring and entertaining game, if not all that important. This year’s Third Place Playoff, between Uruguay and Germany continued this trend by giving us five goals and plenty of exciting football. The game also took on a little more importance due to the inclusion of two Golden Boot candidates. Mueller and Forlan both grabbed a goal each to end the tournament with five goals.

David Villa and Wesley Sneijder were involved in a much more tense and tight match. Chances were limited and the best of them fell to other players such as Arjen Robben and Andres Iniesta, who got the winner.

There is a question mark over whether goals scored in the third place playoff should count in the race for the Golden Boot. Players who are knocked out in the Semi Finals get another chance, and play in a match which generally produces lots more goals. Would Mueller have won the trophy if Germany had made the Final? We will never know, but personally I don’t think there is anything wrong with the format of the World Cup, and another game to watch is fine by me.

Spain win the World Cup

Last night Spain won the World Cup for the first time in their history. Andres Iniesta scored the winner with four minutes to go in extra time and the Dutch had to settle for second best once again.

It was not the greatest of spectacles, but big finals rarely are. Spain and Holland were both wary of each other’s attacking threat throughout the match, and a low scoring game was inevitable. Spain once again dominated possession, and Holland pressed well to try and break up the composed passing play of the Spanish. Unfortunately Holland went too far with their aggressive and destructive tactics, and Mark Van Bommel and Nigel De Jong were very lucky to still be on the pitch at half time. The Dutch dished out a number of horrible tackles in the match, with De Jong’s karate kick to Alonso’s chest being the worst of the bunch. Howard Webb could probably have got a better grip on the game early on, but unfortunately the match spiralled into a rather dirty affair resulting in half the Spanish team and eight of the Dutch starting eleven receiving yellow cards.

Kung Fu Soccer
Holland put a lot of work into normal time, and Robben had two excellent chances to give the Dutch the lead. This amount of effort was ultimately too much for Holland to keep up over 120 minutes. When the game calmed down in terms of fouls and various attack minded substitutions had been made on both sides, the game opened up and massively favoured the superior Spain. Fabregas set up Iniesta after 114 minutes and the little man from Fuentealbilla banged in a half volley to seal the victory and World Cup for Spain.

This World Cup win is the culmination of four years of Spanish promise and dominance across multiple tournaments and qualification rounds. It proves to the World that this Spain team is truly a great side who have conquered all before them. Spain are now the reigning European and World Champions, and have finally proved that they are winners.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Wonderful Spain reach World Cup Final

Spain were pre-tournament joint favourites for a reason. The reigning European Champions are a class act and a team so full of talent that they look almost unstoppable. In a piece that I wrote last month, I felt that even though Spain were rightfully the favourites, surely their route to the final would have more than a few bumps along the way. At the start of the tournament Spain’s probable knockout draw was looking like the toughest in the competition, however Italy, Argentina and Brazil were all eliminated before they could test themselves against the Spanish. As it turned out, a young and remarkably impressive German team and a Holland team which cannot stop winning matches have emerged at the business end of the World Cup to face up against the mighty Spain.

The Spanish team has received some rather unjustified criticism in their run to the final for not putting on a goalscoring show as they did two years ago at Euro 2008. Before the Semi-Final people were talking about how Spain have not yet reached top gear and that they need to click in order to win the World Cup. In fact Spain have been playing great in the new role that they now find themselves; favourites. Other teams don’t like letting favourites like Spain play, everyone knows how dangerous Spain can be, and it is only natural for the opposition to sit back and try not to give up cheap space. Top club teams face this kind of problem all the time, where they are expected to break lesser teams down. It is a lot easier and safer to defend deep and compact against Spain than it is to come out and try to play, simply because Spain are so good.

Tonight Germany (who had been wonderful in their two previous games) found out why Spain were favourites since before the World Cup even began. Spain are fantastic in possession, and they also press very well when they don’t have the ball. This meant that Germany went for long periods without even touching the ball, which puts more pressure on the players to do something when they do have it. Spain know that Germany will be desperate to use the ball wisely when they have it, so good pressing forces Germany into mistakes that they wouldn’t normally make. Spain do not panic in possession, neither are they desperate in any way with the ball. The pattern of the game therefore meant that Germany would have the ball for shorter and shorter periods of time, as they became more unsure and desperate on the ball, not knowing if they would ever get it back. This tactic is magical to watch, Spain put on a technically marvelous show of skill and passing, while Germany are slowly suffocated out of the match. It is worth noting that this can only work because of the sensational players that Spain have and the ease with which they keep the ball. Germany were put to death by a thousand passes once again by Spain, but should be very proud of their performances in South Africa. Their victories over England and Argentina, while fantastic, were no preparation for meeting this Spanish side. Where the England and Argentina have massive flaws and defensive frailties, Spain look as though they have no weaknesses at all.

Spain started the game with seven Barcelona players, and the team as a whole have a level of understanding that few teams manage to achieve. Xavi, Iniesta and Xabi Alonso keep the ball so easily that opponents are killed by majestic and beautiful possession. If Spain do go on and defeat the Netherlands in the final, they will surely take their place in history as true greats.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Europe’s top teams prove themselves

Three teams remain in the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and all three are from Europe. Many people, including me, thought that European power in the World Cup could be coming to an end due to the reduced amount of teams that made it to the Second Round. Now though, with everyone else eliminated, Europe’s top teams look like they are going nowhere.

Spain, Germany and Holland were arguably the three most impressive sides in Euro 2008. Spain and Germany contested the Final, and despite being eliminated in the Quarter Final by Russia, Holland looked devastatingly good in the group. Who can forget the Dutch hammering Italy and France 3-0 and 4-1 respectively. Despite this however, coming into this World Cup Germany and Holland were not seen as potential winners by many. Germany’s young and inexperienced team were written off early and most people thought that the Dutch would not have enough to get past a quarter final with Brazil. Yet where Brazil and Argentina have both fallen short, the top European teams have continued to impress. France, Italy, Portugal and England are all now a long way behind, and a lot of work may be needed to turn them around.

Spain were joint pre-tournament favourites, and while not necessarily hitting their stride entirely as of yet, they have impressed by showing remarkable patience and perseverance throughout. David Villa has continued to show his international class and remarkable goal scoring ability for Spain. 43 goals in 63 internationals is quite superb. Interestingly, the four most obvious candidates for the Golden Boot all still have games to play. Villa and Sneijder are on 5 goals each while Forlan and Klose have 4. With the Third Place Play-off and Final taking place this weekend, all still have a chance to add to their tallies.

Spain v Germany on Wednesday night is a wonderful match up, and is likely to be Germany’s first real test. Although that may sound ridiculous, seeing as they have just beaten England and Argentina, Spain are a different animal. England and Argentina both had massive flaws, in terms of players, formations and defensive capabilities. Germany’s team ethic was far superior, and they destroyed two teams who had massively underestimated them. Spain are unlikely to underestimate the Germans, and they do not have any of the English or Argentinian weaknesses.

Holland are the only team to have won every game; they even won all their qualification games. Germany have dazzled us with a couple of highly impressive demolition jobs. Spain are the only favourites left, and they now know who they must beat to become World Champions.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Brazil and Ghana out of the World Cup

Friday in South Africa produced two marvellously exciting World Cup Quarter Finals that have set the tournament alight. Brazil, the favourites to lift the trophy were dumped out by the Dutch, and Ghana left the tournament after Asamoah Gyan missed a penalty in the last seconds of extra time.

Brazil lost to Holland in a very uncharacteristic way, despite taking the lead early in the first half. Their inability to defend properly from a short free kick and a near post corner was surprising to say the least. The Brazilian public looked as though they were starting to accept Dunga’s approach after witnessing their team masterfully move through the rounds looking almost impenetrable at the back. An apparent lack of flair and attacking intent was seen as this team’s only possible weakness, yet indiscipline and sloppy defending ultimately cost Dunga’s team. Holland were very poor in the first half, and looked to be heading out at half time. However, they played much better in the second half, and put the Brazilian defence under enough pressure to force an error which dragged them back into the match. Holland’s second goal was both basic and brilliant, with the simplest of near post flicks from Dirk Kuyt providing Wesley Sneijder with a header that couldn't be missed. Felipe Melo was very reckless and stupid to get himself sent off and Brazil could not find a way back. Holland did provide Brazil’s first test of the World Cup, and Brazil failed it.

If the first Quarter Final was exciting, the second was World Cup drama at its best. Ghana and Uruguay ended with Uruguay going through on penalties, but things could have been so different. Sulley Muntari put Ghana ahead at the end of the first half with a great long range effort, and Diego Forlan equalised in the 55th minute. Forlan crushed a free kick from the left corner of the eighteen yard box which rifled into the top right hand corner of the net, a simply sensational strike from a fantastic player. It was Forlan’s third goal of the tournament, and his second from long range. The game ended a draw and went into extra time. As the extra time neared its end, penalties awaited, but one more moment of drama was left in the match. Luis Suarez handled on the line in the last minute of extra time, got sent off and gave away a penalty. Up stepped Asamoah Gyan with the last kick of the game, to send Ghana into the Semi Final, but he smashed his shot against the crossbar. Uruguay won the shoot-out with a magnificent final penalty, but Gyan’s pain was difficult to watch at the end. Such a shame for Ghana and Gyan.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Holland v Brazil Preview

The World Cup has reached the Quarter Finals, and the big guns are starting to face off. Holland v Brazil is a mouth-watering match up with plenty of World Cup history and shouldn’t be missed.

Dunga’s Brazil are continually looking more impressive as the days go by. Their back four supported by two seemingly tireless defensive midfielders is threatening to gain a reputation as being almost impenetrable. The samba flair may have been turned down a notch or two, but Brazil’s defensive qualities are mightily impressive. Lucio and Juan have easily been the best centre back partnership at this World Cup. Together they are both powerful and composed, and Lucio’s fantastic flamboyance can unsettle an opposition striker alone. Maicon and Michel Bastos are so dangerous going forward that their movement can force the opposition team to retreat into a much more defensive and less threatening shape. On top of this, Gilberto Silva and Felipe Melo or Ramires have perfectly demonstrated the art of pressing and winning the ball back throughout this World Cup. Together, this Brazilian defensive unit is a thing of beauty, especially when you consider what great talent they have further up the pitch.

The match against Holland however should provide the first real test for Brazil so far, Holland have top quality attacking options and should ask some serious questions. Brazil have not had to deal with much attacking threat so far in this tournament, and Robben, Sneijder and Van Persie are certainly going to have to be dealt with. Brazil have faced two very negative sides in North Korea and Portugal, and while Ivory Coast and Chile were bright and energetic they were ultimately naive and straightforward for Brazil. Holland will certainly not come out all guns blazing, and much of the match will most likely be a pretty cagey affair, but there will be phases of the match when Brazil will come under some serious pressure, and it will be interesting to see how they hold up.

Brazil should not underestimate the Dutch, Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben are capable of creating something from nothing. However, Brazil are superb at the back and Robinho, Kaka and Luis Fabiano are going to ask questions that I fear the Dutch defence will be unable to answer. An intriguing tie awaits, and one couldn’t ask for a more glamorous start to the World Cup Quarter Finals.