On top of the world?

Here we go…

When trying to choose a title for my own column it was difficult to find something that hadn’t already been chosen elsewhere on the Internet. The title had to display characteristics of opinion and originality. Eventually I gained inspiration from a familiar source: the lyric sheet of Steven Tyler. From his composition, ‘Mama Kin’, comes the line ‘the way I see it, you gotta say shit…’. And The Way I See It… was born.

The dark horses

The World Cup is merely hours away and I for one am excited. Once again there is the pattern of talk eminating from all areas that it’s the most open World Cup for years and one of about 25 countries can win it. Yawn. A wise man will put his money on Brazil or Germany now and although there are a few dark horses, I still see little chance that any of them can really win it.

My favourite dark horses are Holland. Even with Bergkamp injured for the first stage of the tournament, there is immense quality in the side. Yet, that is always the case and the Dutch always seem to fall short. The new Man United signing, Jaap Stam, with Franck DeBoer are dominating figures in defence and Overmars, Davids, Seedorf and Ronald DeBoer help form a remarkably talented midfield. In the absence of Bergkamp, there could be a call for Jimmy Floyd Hasslebaink of Leeds or Pierre Van Hooijdonk of Notts Forest to partner Kluivert up front. A lot will depend on the form of the strikers as often the Dutch have been found lacking in front of goal.

Norway have a squad that should be very familiar to English soccer fans. More than half the squad are playing in the top two English divisions. And unnoticed to most people, Norway now have one of the top teams in the World. They topped their qualifying group undefeated, winning 6 of the 8 games, and conceeding only 2 goals. Sadly, to progress from their group it will mean the elimination of my fellow Celts, Scotland, but I feel that Norway will progress and go quite a long way – they may emulate the run of Sweden four years ago.

Like the Dutch, the Spanish have flattered to deceive over many World Cup campaigns. I wonder why this year could be any different but I think it just might be. The growth of players like Nadal, Hierro and Pizzi over the last 4 years imitate a similar improvement in the teams performance – 8 wins and 2 draws out of their 10 qualifying matches. They are in a difficult group (the obligatory group of death) but if they get through it, they could go all the way.

Finally, England. The qualifiers were a success for England despite a disappointing home defeat by the Italians early on. A gutsy 0-0 draw in the decider in Rome booked their automatic flight to France. The form since then has been patchy and Glenn Hoddle has been struck down by his own indecision and indiscipline in his squad. The antics and eventual relegation of Paul Gascoigne from the squad could prove to be his downfall and might be the main reason that England don’t go all the way. While the chubby fun-loving criminal is not in the best shape in his career, he has always produced the goods when required. His performances in WC90, Euro96 and his excellently mature performance in that game in Rome, should have ensured there was a place in the squad for this occasional genius. When you look at the midfield now you see a couple of hardmen (Batty, Ince), a cripple (Anderton), a lazy prima donna who has yet to deliver at international level (Beckham) and a blind-alley professional (McManaman). Only Paul Scholes may be able to fill the creative role in midfield but it is a big ask of such a relatively inexperienced player. The group isn’t easy but like Euro96, if England advance, they could go quite far.

And finally…

And isn’t it nice for a change to hear a World Cup song that does not proclaim that a team is going to ‘Beat Everybody Out of Sight Hands Down’. The official Scotland song is called ‘Don’t Come Home Too Soon’ and is performed by Del Amitri. Now compare this sentiment to England United’s ‘On Top of the World’; a title similarly chosen by the increasingly annoying Chumbawumba. I suppose we were unlikely to hear the Spice Girls sing ‘I Hope We Don’t Go Down in Toulouse’.

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