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Dave Hanratty’s Winners & Losers – Round of 16 Finale

Dave, of upcoming band After The Explosions is back with his latest evaluation of the World Cup’s heroes and villains.



So it seems the world is still in love with the European Champions. Alan Hansen described it as a “victory for attacking football” and while that point is certainly arguable given Portugal’s suffocation tactics, Spain are looking very shaky indeed. There are holes in their defence and a better team should exploit it. I expect them to ease past Paraguay but once they come against Germany or Argentina, we shall see if they are World Champions material.

David Villa

Barcelona’s new boy can do no wrong.


Another win, another curious and not overly impressive performance. The question has become whether or not Holland are deliberately not playing at their best. The question will be answered on Friday when they line out against Brazil.


Barely broke a sweat. Like Holland they haven’t really been challenged yet which makes their forthcoming clash all the more interesting. I would say mouthwatering but neither team has really excited thus far, despite showing flashes. Hopefully Friday will see the record being changed.


Into the quarter-finals for the first time in their history. Gave us a fairly boring game but deserved their win.


English punditry

Tuesday saw a new low in the English presentation of the World Cup. It began with ITV’s Adrian Chiles, Andy Townsend and Gareth Southgate openly mocking the Paraguay/Japan game. While the match was undeniably dull, the relentless negativity from the ITV team was unprofessional and unnecessary.

Meanwhile over on BBC, commentator Jonathan Pearce dared to throw out some facts during the Spain/Portugal clash, leading his co-commentator Mark Lawrenson to sneer; “What were you doing before the game?”. Erm I don’t know Mark, his job perhaps? Lawrenson is a joke that is no longer funny, a decrepit and miserable dinosaur who violently lowers the quality of any football match he is allowed commentate on. Of all the complaints in this World Cup (and there have been many, both valid and invalid), my biggest one is the presence of “Lawro”. I’d rather get trapped in a lift full of tarantulas than listen to him again, but then again the alternative is George Hamilton so you can see my dilemma.

BBC also presented a solemn arthouse style film package about the the goal-line technology debate. A patronising easy listening piano plays over various footage of contentious refereeing decisions. The ref in the Germany/England game is jingoisitcally referred to as “England’s nemesis” while we get a cute little interview with nice English referee Howard Webb (who has never ever made mistakes EVER) who says he’s in favour of goal-line technology. There’s a shock.

But leave it to Alan Hansen to take the prize for the biggest idiot on display for offering the following during his analysis of David Villa’s match-winning goal; “There’s a hint of offside, but, who cares?”. His ill-timed, ill-informed and just plain disgraceful comment elicited laughter from Lineker and co but probably couldn’t have come at a worse time. If he was trying to be satirical, he failed. If he was trying to be funny, he failed. Terrible, as the man himself might say.


Negative negative negative. With the exception of the mauling of North Korea, Portugal failed to score a single goal in the competition. That game flattered them hugely and gave false hope to anybody hoping to see the attractive attacking football shown by the Portuguese in Euro 2004 and World Cup 2006. It would seem those days are over, with Carlos Quieroz and his team choosing to employ negative anti-football tactics throughout, resembling a Greece side with more flair by the end of their campaign.

The autopsy report will make for grim reading. Ronaldo was ineffectual throughout, Deco signed off his international career with a whimper while once again Portugal were absolutely toothless up front. A lot of work needs to be done before Portugal become just another football team.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Lived up to his reputation as someone who vanishes in big games by entering in several anonymous performances. He also made sure to enhance his reputation as a petulant brat by spitting at the camera as he trudged off the field in defeat. Many are hesitant to place Ronaldo in the elite “best of all time” bracket and it’s disgusting acts like this that hold him back from such greatness.

While many footballers have their dark side, including Lionel Messi who seems to get away with his gradually increasing petulance due to his ability, there is no excuse for lowering yourself to such a level. It’s frustrating because we all know just how phenomenal Ronaldo can be, but it’s times like these that give his biggest defenders no cause to do so.

Joan Capdevila

The worst piece of simulation to get a player sent off this World Cup will (hopefully) see. Absolutely shameful, but not surprising considering the actions of Torres in the previous round and Sergio Busquets for Barcelona against Inter Milan in the Champions League semi-final.

Fernando Torres

Substituted just shy of the hour mark after another poor showing. He is clearly unfit and by starting him repeatedly, Vincente del Bosque risks harming both his player and his team. It will be interesting to see if  Fernando Llorente lines up alongside golden boy David Villa on Saturday night.


Dave Hanratty’s Winners & Losers – Day 10

Dave returns after a weekend break to evaluate the good and the great of the World Cup.



And then some. Following a fairly tight first half, the Portuguese opened the floodgates in dramatic style, delivering the traditional World Cup drubbing in the process. While there wasn’t anything on display to rival the scintillating teamwork that led to Esteban Cambiasso’s goal during Argentina’s slaughter of Serbia & Montenegro in 2006, there was enough Iberian flair on display to significantly boost the confidence levels in the Portugal camp. Even Liédson got his name on the scoresheet.

The seven-goal tally also gives Portugal the added benefit of superior goal difference should they falter against Brazil in Durban on Friday afternoon.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Scored his first goal for his country in sixteen months. Just about.


Commanding but not convincing, or if you prefer Jim Beglin of ITV’s interpretation; “lovely but not lethal”. While the 2-0 scoreline somewhat flattered Honduras, Spain were wasteful in front of goal and really should have come away with a result comparable to Portugal’s romp against North Korea. A missed penalty and several missed chances kept things respectable and while things are definitely looking up for the European Champions, Spain will need to raise their game before they hit the second round.

David Villa

If his second goal was a tad fortunate, the first was anything but. A beautiful individual goal that will remain long in the memory, Barcelona’s newest acquisition displayed tremendous skill and determination to cut inside the Honduran defence before coolly slotting the ball past the goalkeeper while at full stretch. Villa really should have capped his performance off with a hat trick, but despite his missed penalty he was arguably the best man on the pitch in a red shirt. More please.


Although they made hard work of it. In retrospect it’s amazing that the game finished with only one goal scored and with 21 players on the pitch. At times it looked like a football had been thrown into the middle of a Royal Rumble, with the referee failing to keep control of things.

A combination of large egos and poor finishing meant the game finished with the slight scoreline of one nil, but the final quarter of an hour brought with it palpable excitement as both sides attacked one another relentlessly. Switzerland’s Eren Derdiyok will be left to rue a late miss when it seemed it was easier to score while Chile will go into their final game with Spain knowing that a point will leave them top of the group. They will also know that there is room for improvement.


Al l those bets on Fernando Torres as top goalscorer currently look like an easy profit for Paddy Power and co.



While they did manage to net the rather unsexy accolade of becoming the team that went the longest at a World Cup finals without conceding a goal. Alas, their rigid defence finally came undone following wave after wave of Chilean attacks. At least Roger Federer mounted a ridiculous comeback at Wimbledon to save some of the nation’s blushes.

Valon Behrami

Got away with the first elbow but not the second. While the West Ham player’s ‘victims’ may have exaggerated the extent of Behrami’s actions, he can have little complaint at seeing red.

North Korea

Gamely held their own for 45 minutes before being torn to shreds in the second half. It’s rare that a team can take such a mauling and still exit a tournament with some degree of pride but North Korea played with conviction and ambition for the most part of their World Cup campaign and shouldn’t feel too dispirited. Hopefully the Supreme Leader feels the same way eh?

Ivory Coast

Portugal’s stunning haul effectively puts the Elephants out.

Swiss rolled by red hot Chile

Chile 1-0 Switzerland

Chile took advantage of Valon Behrami’s controversial sending off to beat Switzerland 1-0 in Port Elizabeth. Chile’s goal came courtesy of Mark Gonzalez’s 75th minute header.

Both sides won their opening fixture meaning that the winner in today’s match would take top spot in the group. Chile, true to form, were adventurous throughout but once again failed to convert most of the numerous chances that fell to them.

The return of Humberto Suazo for Chile was seen as a boost for La Roja. The Monterrey striker was involved almost immediately, receiving a yellow card for a robust challenge on Von Bergen.

Diego Benaglio in the Swiss goal was tested with two stinging long range efforts in quick succession. The Vfl Wolfsburg ‘keeper first denying Arturo Vidal and then Carlos Carmona.

Alexis Sanchéz was a constant threat but Chile were unable to break a stubborn Swiss side down.

Switzerland’s Valon Behrami was wrongly sent off by the Saudi referee for an apparent forearm smash on Arturo Vidal just thirty into the game. Switzerland’s German manager Ottmar Hitzfeld was incensed on the sideline, the fourth official bearing the brunt of his protests.

Despite the sending off Chile would have to wait until the second half to take advantage of their numerical superiority. Alexis Sanchéz, the team’s star attraction, thought that he had broken the deadlock on 49 minutes. A well worked free kick saw the ball rolled to Sanchéz on the edge of the penalty area. There he sent a shot crashing through the legs of the Swiss defenders before finding its way past Diego Benaglio. His ecstatic celebrations were ceased by the linesman’s flag. This time it was the correct decision.

Having seen his earlier effort ruled out, Sanchéz looked doubly determined to score now. First he was denied by Grichting’s clearance and then by Diego Benaglio, who was enjoying an excellent World Cup. Benaglio rushed out towards the Udinese star and made blocked all potential avenues to goal.

Chile finally made the breakthrough just fifteen minutes before the end. A terrific through ball was played to substitute Oscar Paredes who crossed to the far post where Mark Gonzalez was at hand to score with a header.

For all of Chile’s domination they very nearly dropped two points. Derdiyok was given the ball just eleven metres from goal but pulled his shot wide of the post. Ottmar Hitzfeld collapsed to his knees in the dugout.

Chile hung on to secure a 1-0 victory which takes them three points clear of the Swiss at the top of Group H. Spain play Honduras this evening needing a win to keep their hopes of qualification alive.

Dave Hanratty’s Winners & Losers – Day 6



Who saw that coming then? Considering even the word Switzerland hardly conjures up feelings of excitement, it was no surprise that the first half was an especially drab affair with the Swiss playing ultra defensive and rarely looking threatening. Mick McCarthy repeatedly scolded them for “being happy not to score” but thankfully once the second half rolled around they spat in the face of that particular assessment.

The opening round of games have proved to be mostly very tight affairs with teams playing very defensively, and while this has attracted criticism from viewers who crave goals, can it not be argued that certain teams simply need to play defensively? You can practically set your watch to the amount of times Arsene Wenger will complain about teams not allowing his beloved Arsenal to play their beautiful brand of football by suffocating his team and being happy to come away from the Emirates Stadium with a point.

While Wenger has a point, surely it’s nothing more than suicide for certain teams to repeatedly attack those clearly superior to them? Had Switzerland adopted a free and easy approach against the European champions they would surely have been crushed. As it was Spain had plenty of opportunities to win the contest and failed to do so, while Switzerland grew in confidence and pulled off a famous and deserved victory. This was not anti-football, nor was it winning ugly. And it certainly was no fluke.

Ottmar Hitzfeld

The wily veteran manager got his tactics absolutely spot on.

Eren Derdiyok

Made the goal and was cruelly denied a particularly sweet one of his own by the post. While the commentators were reluctant to heap praise upon the Swiss striker due to his direct nature, he made life difficult for the Spanish defence and his tenacity led to the decisive goal.


Impressive, but expectedly so. Having finished second in their South American qualifying group, many pundits have touted Chile to do well in South Africa. The 1-0 scoreline flattered their opponents, as Chile dominated the game and really should have come away with a more impressive goal tally. With Spain losing, it makes their upcoming clash all the more interesting.

Alexis Sanchez

The 21-year-old Udinese forward is one to keep an eye on.


Showed the creativity and killer instinct that was absent against France. With four points on the board and one game to play, they should be looking to win the group.

Diego Forlán

And he’s off. The man who destroyed the Europa League dreams of Fulham (and Liverpool) opened his World cup account with a spectacular brace. Both goals, in addition to his crossing, demonstrated that Forlán has little problems controlling the much-maligned Jabulani ball. One of the top strikers in world football, the Uruguayan is definitely worth a punt for top goalscorer should his country progress further. Please come back to Old Trafford Diego…



Oh dear. Just when they were beginning to shake off their choke artists tag, this happens. And yet I find it hard to be moved, considering their conduct. Spain, like their native Barcelona, have a quiet arrogance about them. While they do indeed play beautiful football, they seem to believe they have a divine right to victory simply because of their attractive output. Not so. Petulance was on display along with whinging and diving and in the end all that pouting, all that complaining merely amounted to a loss.

A shocking loss due to the identity of the opponent yes, but that Spain were defeated is not shocking at all. Hype is a killer, and as tournament favourites and with a history of failure in major competitions, don’t be surprised if Spain take the high-profile early exit this year.

Fernando Torres

Is it harsh to pick on a player who isn’t fully fit? Perhaps, but when you are labelled the greatest striker in the world (is Messi strictly a striker?) and you have thirty minutes to make an impact and proceed to scupper any and all opportunities that come your way, you certainly don’t belong in the winners column.

South Africa

May well suffer the ignominy of not qualifying for the second round of their own tournament.

Steven Pienaar

Sacrificed for the substitute goalkeeper after another poor performance. The new Premier League season can’t come soon enough for the Everton midfielder.

Itumeleng Khune

Perhaps unfortunate to receive a red card, the South African goalkeeper may well have played his final part in the competition.

Resolute Swiss conquer Spain

Spain 0-1 Switzerland

In what will surely rank as one of the greatest upsets in this tournament’s history, Ottmar Hitzfeld’s rugged Switzerland caught Spain on the counterattack to record a famous victory. Spain dominated possession, controlling the football for an astonishing 88% of the game, but were unable to find a way through a terrific Swiss defensive effort.

Spain entered the World Cup as favourites to lift the coveted trophy for the first time, with recent performances in the World Cup warm-ups doing little to dampen the expectations placed upon them.

The first half was a catalogue of quick, accurate passing but the European Champions had few opportunities to test Diego Benaglio. Valencia’s David Silva felt that he should have had a penalty in the 14th minute after finding himself on the receiving end of a kick from Philippe Senderos. Despite his protests, referee Howard Webb was unmoved and allowed play to continue.

Sergio Ramos was operating in his usual marauding fullback role and was looking to break forward frequently. On one such run, he cut inside the Swiss penalty area but instead of rolling the ball back to David Villa he fired harmlessly into the side-netting.

La Roja continued to search for weakness in a wall of Swiss defenders, who appear to have been trained exceptionally by one of Europe’s most decorated coaches in Ottmar Hitzfeld. Gerard Piqué came the closest to breaking the deadlock before halftime, his exquisite drag back shook off the challenge of Senderos before he shot into the outstretched body of Diego Benaglio.

Spain’s trouble in front of goal continued towards the end of the half when David Villa found himself with just the goalkeeper to beat from the right. He failed to adjust the ball to his bodyshape, however, and his chip bounced away from goal.

Ottmar Hitzfeld, winner of two European Cups with Borussia Dortmund and Bayern München, had brought nine players in front of the ball at almost all times in an attempt to suppress the passing flow of the Spanish. The tactic was working perfectly. Spain’s possession statistics at halftime were undoubtedly impressive but they had not seriously threatened the Swiss goal and found themselves suppressed by the careful marking of Grifting, Von Bergen and Huggel.

Spain started the second half brightly. David Silva controlled a wonderful pass from Xabi Alonso who beat his man before his cross was poked away for a corner. In terms of territory the ball was fixed firmly in the Swiss half. For all of their defensive intentions, Switzerland kept both strikers forward. Their resilience was rewarded in the 52nd minute. Benaglio sent a long kick forward into the Spanish half where it broke for Nkufo. The newest member of the MLS’s Seattle Sounders laid the ball off to his strike partner who was promptly challenged by Ilker Casillas. The ball rebounded loose. Gelson Fernandes was the fastest to react, poking home to score what would ultimately prove to be the pivotal goal.

Del Bosque attempted to wrestle control of the tie away from the Swiss, springing Torres and Jesús Navas from the bench in an attempt to add width and potency in front of goal to his hitherto blunt Spanish attack.

Attempts from Torres and Iniesta sailed harmlessly wide of the goal as Spain were forced to rely on long range efforts. Their best chance of the match fell to Xabi Alonso who’s first time effort from a corner roared onto the crossbar.

Switzerland almost found themselves two goals to the good just minutes later. Eren Derdiyok, standing in for regular striker Alex Frei, pressed forward with the ball, exercising breathtaking skill and guile to evade Piqué and Puyol before hitting the post with a low shot. The look on Hitzfeld’s face told us that this was a glorious opportunity to seal victory.

Spain poured forward in the dying minutes and exerted immense pressure on the Swiss. Their efforts proved to be in vain as they failed to create a genuine opportunity despite all of their possession and territory and Switzerland held on to secure a historic triumph.

The result is sure to be dissected in the Spanish sporting dailies. La Furia Roja shot 27 times in the game with only eleven of these attempts hitting the target. Spain will need to improve dramatically in front of goal. What looked to be a group which they should navigate with ease has now become a potential early stumbling block. Chile impressed against Honduras, while the Swiss already enjoy a three point advantage over the European Champions. Spain’s next fixture against Honduras represents an opportunity to re-calibrate their World Cup challenge. Anything less than an expected victory there may prove disastrous.

Chile end 48 years of hurt

Chile 1-0 Honduras

The College View’s Niall Farrell was on hand to watch Marcelo Bielsa’s attack-minded Chile claim La Roja’s first World Cup win since 1962.

A strong performance ensured that Chile got the three points from their encounter with Honduras in Nelspruit. A Jean Beausejour goal was the decider in a fast paced and relatively entertaining match.

The Chileans set out their stall to attack very early on. With just a minute and a half on the clock, Matias Fernandez whistled a 30-yard free-kick over the crossbar.

Honduras looked good when they had possesion, but Chile worked hard to ensure that the ball was rarely under the control of the Hondurans.A second chance came Chile’s way after 8 minutes, with Arturo Vidal’s long-range shot being saved by Noel Valladares in goal. A clever one-two from Jorge Valdivia and Jean Beusejour was played just a shade to fast for Beausejour, who looked like he might have a chance to finish if he connected with the ball.

Arturo Vidal went close again after 24 minutes, but should have done better from a free header in the Honduran penalty area. Seychellois referee Eddy Maillet came in for some criticism after some odd decisions, including a mysterious yellow card for Wilson Palacios, apparently for dissent.

In the 34th minute a Jean Beusejour goal put Chile ahead at last. Arturo Vidal set off a chain of fine passes which found Matias Fernandez out wide. ‘Matigol’ crossed well for Beusejour to get on the end and Beasejour bungled the ball in with his chest.

Chile dominated the match throughout, chiefly due to their control over posession. Arturo Vidal and Rodrigo Millar were always on the ball, while Jorge Valdivia and Alexis Sanchez used clever off-the-ball runs to create chances. The second half begun much as the first half did. Chile were quick to attack, and again enjoyed the lion’s share of posession.

Honduras did have a penalty shout a minute after play resumed, but referee Maillet deemed the tackle by Ponce to be fair. Despite all their chances, Chile just couldn’t break Honduras down to find their second goal. Right-back Mauricio Isla of Chile charged forward to join the attack and went close on 51 minutes with a shot but was judged to be offside. Ten minutes later Chile had another golden opportunity to get the second goal, but Alexis Sanchez pulled his low shot past the far post when it looked easier to score.

Matias Fernandez was a constant threat to the Honduran goal with accurately taken set-pieces, and only a fantastic save from Honduran ‘keeper Noel Valladares denied him an assist on 63 minutes. Defender Waldo Ponce got on the end of an arching Fernandez free-kick, but Valladares pulled off a great quick-reaction save to keep Honduras in the match.

Jorge Valdivia went off the pitch on 71 minutes with an injury, but re-entered to have another great chance minutes later, as his well-finished goal was rightly ruled offside. Alexis Sanchez and Matias Fernandez were industrious in their pursuit of the killing blow, but failed ultimately to find goals. Sanchez had a few long-range chances, including one in the 80th minute which he shot well over.

South African-born Mark Gonzalez came on for Chile and had another long-range chance drift over in the first minute of stoppage time. Chile showed in this match that they are a side capable of progression to the second round. Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal were the stars for Chile, with Vidal winning posession and Sanchez using it skilfully.

Question marks remain for Chile surrounding their finishing ability, but Marco Bielsa’s side will look forward with confidence to their meeting with Switzerland after winning their first match in a World Cup finals since 1962.

For more of Niall’s acclaimed sports writings, please visit http://ht.ly/1ZeKD

Las Roja selection surprises many

After months of debate, Vicente del Bosque finally put Spain and the rest of the world out of its misery and announced his final 23 man squad. There were a number of welcome surprises – the addition of Pedro in particular delighting many members of the assembled press; but also some wariness at the omission of midfielder Marcos Senna, the midfielder who has served as a defensive lynchpin so many times for Spain.

Young Pedro Rodríguez Ledesma, has become a vital part of the Barcelona set-up under manager Josep Guardiola. The twenty-two year old has formed an effective front three with fellow graduates of the La Masia academy, Lionel Messi and Bojan. Guardiola has overseen the development of the player from rash youngster to competent, intelligent talent. He may not participate in much of the action in South Africa, with strike partners Fernando Torres and David Villa very much secure in the starting eleven, but his presence will be a boon for the European champions should they seek to inject extra energy into the final third.

Athletic Bilbao’s Fernando Llorente has been capped by Spain before but his participation in the World Cup was thrown into doubt by some strong competition from other strikers. At 6ft 5in Llorente is undoubtedly an aerial threat unlike any other possessed by del Bosque. This aerial presence adds another dimension to an already well-endowed Spanish attack and will be called upon should the ground game run into difficulty. With dead ball specialists aplenty in the side, Xavi, Cesc and Capdevilla to name but three, there will be plenty of ammunition for Llorente from corners and free kicks.

Championed by the Catalan for months, Víctor Valdés will be overjoyed to have secured a well earned berth in the final 23. Faced with stern opposition from rivals David De Gea and Diego Lopez, Valdés showed more confidence than in previous seasons and greatly improved on his command over the Barcelona defence. Lopez and De Gea’s early season promise had dropped off considerably in the final weeks of the season and this is likely to have influenced Del Bosque’s decision.

Perhaps the single area that has been overlooked is a solid, combatative defensive midfielder. This is easily disregarded when you consider Xavi, Xabi, Cesc etc but the leaving out of Villarreal’s naturalised Brazilian Marcos Senna must have been a difficult decision for Vicente Del Bosque to make considering Senna’s presence in the victorious Euro 2008 campaign. While Senna’s legs may not have the sprightliness of his fellow midfielders, Senna’s dogged and tireless haranguing of the opposition would be more than useful in a tournament where there are a number of squads with the potential to overrun the possessive Spanish carousel. It may not prove to be a crucial omission but there are times during the upcoming World Cup when I feel Del Bosque might feel that he could have done with Senna around.
It is difficult to cite a squad with as much quality in all areas as this particular Spanish side. The tremendous strength in the depth enjoyed by Spain is frightening. The three goalkeepers selected  might rank amongst the top ten in Europe, the centre-back partnership of Piqué and Puyol has been resilient over the course of the season, Ramos and Capdevilla offer the requisite defensive acumen and competency on the attack. The midfield carousel is capable of controlling the football for over 60% of the time in every fixture and the strike partnership of Torres and Villa is surely the most potent in the competition.
I cannot contemplate Spain not having a successful World Cup, they should at least reach the Quarter Finals and they are rightly listed as favourites alongside Brazil. The lack of a realistic challenger to their majesty in the Group might affect them come the knock-out stages. The tag of ‘bottlers’ has been applied to both Spain and the Netherlands frequently in the past but capturing the European Championship in 2008 may allow them to lay that burdensome tag to rest at last.