Tag Archive: 2010 FIFA World Cup


Michael Carrick’s noble statement that he would definitely “consider” an England call up, this season, yet again exposes the problems footballers have with being a reserve.

The Manchester United star withdrew his name from selection in January, after a dissatisfying 2010 World Cup campaign.

Being withdrawn, he was not selected for Roy Hodgson’s side for this summer’s Euro 2012 tournament, and he recently admitted to Betfair.com that he would have rejected a call-up, even if it were formally made.

Carrick outlined the situation at the World Cup as the reasons for his decision to focus on club football. Having made the squad, he trained and camped with his teammates but did not get a minute of play in South Africa, a predicament he foresaw should he join the Euro 2012 set-up.

But, when Frank Lampard and Gareth Barry pulled out of the campaign injured, the perfect replacement in the centre of the park was back at home. Instead of Carrick partnering Steven Gerrard in midfield, responsibility was handed to the inexperienced Jordan Henderson, who was largely ineffectual in Ukraine.

Carrick’s presence may well have bolstered England’s midfield during their quarter-final defeat to Italy, where Andrea Pirlo ran the show in the centre of the pitch. In deciding not to represent his country – even simply as a substitute – Carrick has surely rejected any chance of getting back into the side.

For why should a man dissatisfied with life on the subs bench be awarded a starting role?

Jamie Carragher, Liverpool’s rock in defence for the past decade, retired from international football as he was not getting a game. His appearance in South Africa, therefore, was disheartening to say the least, as he had not earned the right from playing England qualifiers.

The noble Carrick, if he wants to be part of England again at a major tournament, must prove himself willing to work with the squad during their next qualification campaign.

Visit the Betfair Premiership website for the best odds, picks, and tips for the upcoming campaign, as well as the 2012/13 Champions League.

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Englandare through to the quarter-finals of the Euros yes, but let’s not get carried away.

Their performances in Euro 2012 to date haven’t set the world alight, and have not fired the sort of signals to the rest ofEuropethat make the continent’s top players start quaking in their shiny, overly expensive football boots.

The one thing the Englandplayers have managed to do, though, is start believing in themselves, and each other, with positive football scores the inevitable consequence

England are never, ever, in a million years, going to be as good as Spain, and we don’t possess the ability that the Germans do, but we do seem to have the unity and togetherness that has previously helped lesser teams succeed against the odds.  

The Greeceteam of 2004 springs to mind as the best example of a relatively unskilled team being successful in a major tournament. The football betting at the outset suggested they would struggle to get out of their group, let alone win the whole thing. But their success inPortugal eight years ago has gone down as one of the greatest upsets in modern day football.

But before we all get excited, thisEnglandteam is very, very unlikely to repeat this feat.

If we can get close, though, this current side will be in a decent position to be viewed as a strong competitor at the next World Cup, and maybe (just maybe!) might be able to win a major tournament for the first time since 1966.

If Roy can create a scenario that allows this kind of belief to exist, he will have exceeded everything that was first expected of him, and will have bought himself precious time to prove those who doubt his ability as national team manager.

While there is plenty of time for everything to go wrong again for England, we can now at least have just a little more hope than we did before the start of the Euros!

By Laurie Fitzgerald

Now that the Rugby World Cup is over, full focus returns on domestic matters and looking at an Aviva Premiership campaign that is already  a third of the way complete.

Some teams have found the going tough with many of their established stars away on international duty in New Zealand, especially the likes of Leicester and Northampton.

The Tigers have had horrendous luck not only losing more players to the World Cup than any other side, but also suffering serious injuries to the likes of Steve Mafi and Jordan Crane.

It was a combination of problems that saw Director of Rugby Richard Cockerill having to delve deep into the resources, but after six games Leicester found themselves in 11th position going into the LV Cup break.

Only now from the return of their World Cup players have Leicester started to build momentum, and Northampton know how their big rivals feel.

With the absence of the likes of Chris Ashton, Ben Foden, Soane Tonga’uiha, Courtney Lawes and Tom Wood,  the Saints also struggled to build any momentum, and their return was marked with a thumping win over Newcastle last weekend.

While both teams should be in the reckoning come the end of the season, there is no doubt which team are setting the standard this season.

Harlequins have made the perfect start with seven wins from seven, playing some fantastic attacking rugby anchored by one of the world’s best fly-halves in Nick Evans.

Conor O’Shea’s side underlined their potential by winning the European Challenge Cup last season, and they have found the consistency that was missing domestically last time around.

Ominously though, just behind them with six wins from seven are the champions Saracens. They have an incredible mental resolve and have already won at Gloucester as well as putting fifty points on Leicester at Welford Road. Their ability to win whatever the situation means they will once again be there or thereabouts come May.

Steve Diamond deserves credit for the job he’s done at Sale; over 40 players either came or went from Edgeley Park in the summer, and he’s managed to gel the squad together quickly and find themselves currently in the play-off places – although their defeat to Leicester will be a wake-up call that much work still needs to be done if they are to stay there.

Sir Ian McGeechan has also settled back into the managerial hotseat well at Bath. They have been solid if unspectacular so far but are building momentum with key players coming back, such as the injured Olly Barkley, Lewis Moody and World-Cup winning fly-half Stephen Donald.

Wasps look a far better side than the one that were hugely disappointing last year. They’ve become a lot tougher to beat under Dai Young, and have one of the most dangerous back three combinations in the Premiership with Richard Haughton, Tom Varndell and the electric Christian Wade, one of the best youngsters in the game.

London Irish continue to frustrate as much as they delight. For me they are the best attacking team in England, but the other side of their game – being able to grind out results when they need to – carries on disappointing. Until they figure a way of doing that consistently they won’t be able to turn top six into top four.

Exeter got their season off to a flyer with back-to-back wins, but four defeats from five means they now find themselves in mid-table. But the aim was always to build on their brilliant first season in the top flight, and if Rob Baxter carries on getting the best from his squad then they will be an outside bet to push for a Heineken Cup spot.

Gloucester continue to be the Jekyll and Hyde team of the Premiership; phenomenal in an attacking sense as well as in their defensive intensity at Kingsholm, they are a pale imitation of the side that has made the Shed a fortress over the last two years. If they can replicate at least half of what they produce at home, they will be in play-off contention.

Newly-promoted Worcester have settled back in well to Premiership life and apart from an away thumping at London Irish they have not been overawed by anyone. But they are the only team not to break the century-point barrier and rely too much on the boot of Andy Goode. This shouldn’t be the case when you have the likes of Miles Benjamin, Marcel Garvey and Errie Claassens in the back division.

The team I fear for are Newcastle. The Falcons were viewed by many going into the season as the team favourites for relegation, and despite their weekly opposition weakened over the last couple of months, they have still stood out as a struggling outfit. Now with teams back to full strength, Alan Tait has his work cut out in keeping the squad above the trap door.

However the rest of the season pans out, all signs point to the Premiership being as tight as ever, and with the big boys all back from Down Under we should be set for a cracking several months ahead!

So what do you think? Will Harlequins continue to set the pace in the coming months? Who look set to push for the play-offs? Which teams will struggle against the drop? Leave a comment and let us know your views.

Rugby World Cup Final Preview

By Laurie Fitzgerald

After 47 games of gruelling action fought over 45 days in the most passionate rugby nation on the planet, Sunday’s showpiece between New Zealand and France will decide who are crowned world champions.

The All Blacks go into the game as overwhelming favourites; not only does Graham Henry’s side have home advantage, but their smallest winning margin in the tournament was their 14-point victory over Australia in last weekend’s semi-finals.

That triumph against the Wallabies was based on having a cutting edge when required, control of the set pieces (especially in the pack) and outstanding leadership in their inspirational skipper Richie McCaw.

They take on a French side that have defied the odds – and logic – to earn a place in this weekend’s final at Eden Park. Marc Lievremont and his players have been at war with one another throughout the tournament.

Even after their hugely fortunate win over Wales, the coach launched a stinging attack on his squad, labelling them as ‘spoiled brats’ for ignoring his orders of going out and enjoying their achievement.

France have managed to get to this final without impresssing, yet you can never be sure of what team will turn up, and the All Blacks will be all too aware of what Les Bleus can produce when it matters, as shown in 1999 and 2007.

So we’re all set for a pulsating final, but there should be a last word on the two sides that will be contesting the curtain-raiser to that game in the third/fourth-place playoff.

Wales will be absolutely heartbroken after a controversial red card for Sam Warburton proved to be the main difference between them and France in their tight last four encounter.

Their 23 year-old captain – and my player of the tournament – was sent off following a dangerous tackle on winger Vincent Clerc.

It meant that Warren Gatland’s men had to play for almost an hour with 14 men, but they still looked the better, and with Stephen Jones and Leigh Halfpenny going agonisingly close with kicks at goal, the outcome could still have been different.

But this disappointment shouldnt detract from what has been an outstanding tournament, and seeing over 60,000 packing into Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium in the early hours of Saturday morning showed just how proud the country are of their squad, and rightly so.

As for the Wallabies, they will ultimately look back on their loss to Ireland in the group stages that forced them down the tougher route to the final, and in the end the hosts were too big an obstacle to overcome.

Despite edging past South Africa in the quarters, Australia have never really got going in this tournament and Robbie Deans will be disappointed after going into the World Cup with momentum following their first Tri-Nations trophy in ten years.

While they can possibly console themselves with third place, all eyes are on Sunday and who will come out on top at Eden Park.

Semi-final results:

Saturday 15th October

France 9-8 Wales

Sunday 16th October

New Zealand 20-6 Australia

 

Key Facts

– This is the third final for both teams – New Zealand contested in 1987 and 1995, while France also played in 1987 and also 1999. Only the All Blacks triumph over the French in the inaugral tournament was the only win for either side.

– If France win, they will become the first team in RWC history to win the competition despite losing a game previously in the tournament.

– They have played each other three times in the knockout stages before, with New Zealand winning in ’87 and France winning in ’99 and ’07. However, New Zealand won their encounter earlier in the tournament, beating the French 37-17 in the Pool stages.

Key Battles

Richie McCaw v Thierry Dusatoir

Not only two world-class openside flankers, but also two world-class captains. Both men have had to show their leadership skills in different circumstances to guide their teams to the final.

While McCaw has had to deal with the potentially overwhelming pressure of a nation that view the trophy as a holy grail, Dusatoir has led a squad that has an irreparable relationship with their management.

So both should be hugely commended for their efforts so far, and their battle at 7 will go a long way to deciding who runs out winners.

Aaron Cruden v Morgan Parra

For these two men, anchoring your team from fly-half in the biggest game of your life is pressure enough. But when neither has had much experience in that position in International rugby, the thought of Sunday’s game may be frightening!

Both are 22, but both have stepped into the role either through injuries or a lack of belief in the previous incumbent in that position.

Cruden has enormous shoes to fill in Dan Carter, and the unfortunate Colin Slade lost his chance through injury, but the Canterbury Crusaders star has shown great maturity in his two matches.

Meanwhile, Parra has become a regular in the half-backs this tournament, but not in his accustomed position at scrum-half with the estranged Lievremont dropping regular 10 Francois Trinh-Duc.

Lievremont may plump for Trinh-Duc in such a big game, but all signs point to Parra maintaining his role and being the main playmaker of the team.

Therefore, there will be much emphasis on the respective number nines of Piri Weepu and Dimitri Yachvili to help guide their outside halves, and whoever deals with the pressure the best could be the inspiration for World Cup glory.  

Brad Thorn v Lionel Nallet

Set-pieces will be crucial throughout the battle between the two sides, and the lineout will be contested by two men that have been a towering presence for both nations.

It’s difficult to think of a better second-rower in the tournament than the irrepressible Thorn; despite being just a few months away from turning 37, the Crusaders lock has been immense throughout the tournament, bossing the lineout battle alongside the excellent Sam Whitelock.

The duo come up against their French counterparts of Lionel Nallet and Pascal Pape, and both have struggled for consistency in the tournament.

Nallet will be seen as the main figure to get the lineout functioning, especially in an area where France have found it tough to get good ball.

It will be up to the likes of Thorn and Nallet to get that delivery to the backs, demonstrate their ball-carrying skills and use their imposing figures to carry their teams forward.

However, whoever comes out with the majority of possession can give the platform to build pressure and points, and every point cannot be measured in a game of such magnitude.

Prediction

They are the best team in the world, and I feel they will confirm that status by lifting the Webb Ellis trophy on Sunday. The All Blacks to win by 15.

So what do you think? Who will win the final? Will the All Blacks end their long wait for the World Cup? Or will France stun New Zealand again to win the trophy for the first time? Leave a comment and let us know your views.

By Laurie Fitzgerald

We finally have our quarter-final line-up for the 2011 Rugby World Cup after a pulsating conclusion to the Pool Stages last weekend.

Of the home nations, the trio of England, Ireland and Wales booked their passages into the last eight at the expense of Scotland, Italy and Fiji respectively.

It was huge disappointment for the Scots, as they ran England all the way before a late Chris Ashton try gave Martin Johnson’s men a 16-12 win.

For Andy Robinson and his squad, they now have to deal with the realisation that for the first time in World Cup history, they will not make it into the knockout stages, despite being in winning positions against Argentina and the English.

Their lack of a cutting edge was their downfall, with their four tries in the tournament all coming in their opening win against Romania– and the same criticism can be leveled at Samoa.

The Pacific Islanders were valiant losers against both Wales and South Africa in their crucial Pool D clashes, but they had plenty of chances in both games to cause the upset they needed to go through.

While it was a bad weekend for the PacificIsland nation, one of them managed to cause the shock of the competition so far.

Tonga’s 19-14 win over France meant they ended their campaign in New Zealand on a high, although their earlier surprise defeat to Canada will have left them wondering what if.

Instead, we have many familiar names in the final eight, and there are some eye-catching match-ups to decide who will contest the semi-finals in 10 days time.

Week 4 results

Friday 30th September

Samoa 5-13 South Africa

Saturday 1st October

Australia 68-22 Russia; France 14-19 Tonga; England 16-12 Scotland

Sunday 2nd October

Argentina 25-7 Georgia; Canada 15-79 New Zealand; Fiji 0-66 Wales; Ireland 36-6 Italy

 

Quarter Finals

New Zealand v Argentina

While the hosts will be heavy favourites to overcome an inevitably stubborn Pumas’ resistance, the All Black’s World Cup dreams have taken the biggest possible blow imaginable.

At the age of 29 and viewed by the majority of the rugby world as the best player on the planet at the peek of his powers, this was set to be the tournament where Dan Carter confirmed his status as one of the all-time greats.

But fate has dealt the cruelest of blows when the fly-half sustained a calf injury in the build-up to their final pool match against Canada– an injury that not only ruled him out of that match, but also the rest of the tournament.

Not only is this a blow to a somewhat devastated Carter and his adoring public, but also to rugby fans around the globe who know that the sport’s showpiece event will be missing it’s shining light in the closing stages.

It also means that Graham Henry now needs to find someone who is able to step up and handle the pressure in the way that Carter, something that seems an almost impossible task.

Despite this blow, New Zealand remain the favourites for their first Webb Ellis Cup in 24 years and shouldn’t have too much trouble overcoming an Argentina side that worked incredibly hard to navigate a route out of Pool B.

The question now is how much do they have in the tank after such an exhausting few weeks, especially up against a team that strolled through their Pool campaign without dropping even a winning bonus point.

While the Pumas will pose a huge presence in the pack, the pace and agility of the All Blacks backline, even in the absence of Carter, should prove too much to prevent a repeat of Argentina’s third-placed finish back in 2007.

England v France

Despite campaigns that have drawn plenty of criticism for performances both on and off the pitch, England and France have the chance to reach their fifth and sixth World Cup semi-finals respectively.

England go into Saturday’s game with media focus on the wrong issues, as the trio of James Haskell, Dylan Hartley and Chris Ashton were reprimanded after abusing a female hotel worker in Dunedin.

It has led to the media having a field day in questioning the antics and professionalism of the current squad, but despite some unconvincing performances, England go into Le Crunch with a 100% record.

For France their record is anything but 100%; having won their opening two games against Japanand Canada with bonus points, they followed it up with back-to-back defeats against New Zealand and Tonga.

This sums up the inconsistency of the French, but Martin Johnson will be fully aware that one week the French can be woeful, and the next week quite wonderful.

Johnson is expected to name a similar line-up to the one that edged past Scotland last weekend, although there could be an issue on the wing with Delon Armitage cited for a high tackle on Chris Paterson in that match that could lead to a suspension for the London Irish flyer.

With Mark Cueto still struggling with injury it seems that Matt Banahan will be the most likely deputy if the aforementioned duo is ruled out for differing reasons.

As for France, trying to predict what Marc Lievremont will choose for his final 23 is anyone’s guess; the last two weeks have seen him play two scrum-halves in the half-back positions, which could explain the struggle for direction in those defeats.

On current form, England will be tipped to knock France out of the World Cup for a fourth time following success in 1991, 2003 & 2007. But you would be naïve to rule out the French.

Ireland v Wales

Both Celtic nations have been impressive throughout the tournament so far, and have now been rewarded with paths that make a World Cup final a genuine possibility.

Ireland have been one of the teams of the competition so far after stunning Australia in week two and going on to make it four wins from four and clinching top spot in Pool C.

Meanwhile, Wales have recovered brilliantly from the disappointment of their narrow opening loss to South Africaby producing excellent wins over Samoa, Namibia and Fiji.

It means that whoever wins this Saturday’s contest will be rewarded with a semi-final against the winners of England& France, meaning that there will definitely be a Six Nations side in the final on October 23rd.

The way that both these teams are playing they will strongly fancy their chances, and it seems that the two most impressive back-rows of the World Cup so far will be a crucial factor in deciding the outcome of this match.

Ireland’s 6, 7 & 8 combination of Stephen Ferris, Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip has been immense, winning turnover after turnover and continually creating platforms for their backs.

Same applies to the Welsh trio of Dan Lydiate, Sam Warburton and Toby Faletau, who have shown that their inexperience in youth has not harmed their performances on the biggest stage of all.

Lydiate returns to the fold after missing the last two games through injury along with wing wizard Shane Williams and James Hook, who may have to once again settle for a place outside of his favoured no.10 role.

Rhys Priestland has been very impressive at fly-half, and it seems that Hook will have to settle for a place at full-back if he is to get back in the team.

Ireland coach Declan Kidney has a big decision to make in the half-backs himself, with the choice of Conor Murray or Eoin Reddan at scrum-half and Ronan O’Gara or Jonathan Sexton alongside him.

This is such a tight game to call, but whoever comes through it will feel they have every chance of making it all the way in just over two weeks time.

South Africa v Australia

Out of all the quarter-final line-ups, the final match on Sunday is the one that raises the most eyebrows – mainly because this could have so easily have been the final itself.

Two of the tri-nations heavyweights battle it out for a place in the semis and to avoid the ignominy of crashing out so early in a tournament when their public expected so much of them.

This is down to the fact thatAustralia were unable to win their Pool, meaning that they have to go down the more difficult path of the Springboks and most likely the All Blacks for a place in the final.

Wallabies coach Robbie Deans has had a plethora of injuries to deal with, the latest seeing winger Drew Mitchell ruled out of the tournament with a hamstring injury.

Injuries are so severe that Deans resorted to playing his number eight Radike Samo on the wing during their victory over Russia last week, and with resources being tested, the last thing they want to do is face a South African side growing in confidence by the week.

After a difficult Tri-nations campaign leading into the tournament, Peter de Villiers side have now won their last five matches, and many of these players knows what it takes to win the world cup after success inFrance four years ago.

Now the reigning world champions go into this match with their tails up, although they have to deal with some injury heartache themselves after Francois Steyn was ruled out of the rest of the tournament with a shoulder problem.

It will be a case of who can construct their game more effectively; if Australia can get good possession through the likes of the influential David Pocock and Rocky Elsom and bring Will Genia and Quade Cooper into play, then the Wallabies can keep their dreams alive.

But if the South Africans grind them into a tight affair by getting on top of their pack in the way that the Irish did then Australia will need to find a plan B and quickly.

If they don’t, then the experience and know-how of a South Africa squad with world cup winners in it already could make the telling difference.

So what do you think? Who will come out on top in this weekend’s quarter-finals? How will the home nations fare in their must-win matches? Leave a comment and let us know your views.

Rugby World Cup 2011 Preview

By Laurie Fitzgerald

Starting today, Shouts from the stands will be doing a weekly blog that will look at the main talking points in Rugby Union.

We will look at the biggest talking points in domestic, European and International rugby – and what better place to start than the biggest rugby show of them all – a preview of the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, which starts this Friday:

Four years on after South Africa overcame England in a bruising final in Paris, the twenty best teams on the planet have arrived in New Zealand ready to compete in what is set to be the most fiercely contested World Cup yet.

In the past, the group stages of the tournament have picked out obvious quarter-finalists with the rest making up the numbers with the exception of a few surprises, such as Fiji in 2007 and Samoa in 1991.

Not so this time around, with at least two of the pools difficult to call and the established nations needing to get going right from the start.

Pool A: If there is one great mystery within sport, it is the astonishing fact that New Zealand have not won a World Cup since the inaugral tournament held in the country way back in 1987. 

Always the favourites, the All Blacks have somehow managed to squander every opportunity to claim the Webb Ellis Cup in the past 24 years, often being labelled as ‘chokers’ in the rugby world.

However, this time around there should be no excuse; home advantage, but more importantly a team that is safely regarded as the best in the game.

They will be led by the inspirational duo of skipper Richie McCaw and the irreplaceable Dan Carter.

McCaw is the epitome of the modern-day player; the back-row forward’s reading of the game, strength, pace and incredible work-rate only helps guide those that go into battle with him.

Carter is the leading points scorer in the history of test rugby, and the 29 year-old can do no wrong; brilliant with the ball in hand, a faultless kicker out of hand and off the tee, and always finding a gap that’s never there. His genius cannot be questioned.

But if there’s one team that seems to have the indian sign over the Kiwis, it’s France.

The most mercurial team in world rugby – one day they can destroy anyone with their gallic flair and wonderful running rugby, another day they can be conquered by just about anyone.

Their wins over New Zealand in 1999 and 2007 will not have been forgotten by the hosts, but this is a French squad whose inconsistencies have reached new levels even by their standards.

Coach Marc Lievremont has overseen some real twists and turns over the past 12 months.

Last Autumn saw them beat South Africa only to then be hammered by Australia. Then in the Six Nations, they win in Ireland and follow it up with defeat in Italy.

It has already been announced that Lievremont will leave his post after the tournament, but his swansong is capable of being impressive with the squad he has.

Having chopped and changed throughout his four years in charge, his 30-man squad possesses plenty of attacking threat in the likes of Maxim Medard and Vincent Clerc, and if they can get Fabien Barcella fully fit then their pack is a match for anyone.

The competition in Pool A will be provided by Canada,  who have participated in every World Cup since its inception, and two teams in Tonga and Japan that made great strides in this year’s Pacific Nations Cup to finish above both Samoa and Fiji.

Despite this, both the All Blacks and the French should have more than enough to get through it.

Pool B: While many will say that Pool D is the toughest of the group stages, no-one will argue that a Pool containing two home nations and the team that finished third at the last World Cup will be difficult to predict.

England will be seen as the favourites to progress having started to find progression under Martin Johnson in the last 18 months.

Victory over Australia both home and away last year was followed by their first Six Nations title in eight years.

But a resounding defeat in Dublin in the last game of the championship with a grand slam at stake showed that this young squad still has a lot to learn.

However, if England were to make the last eight as Pool winners then they could have a real chance of making the final with France and Australia potentially awaiting them.

They have a strong set-piece in the scrum and lineout: the big question is whether or not England can find rhythm in their backs.

There’s no doubt they have the players to hurt teams in Chris Ashton, Delon Armitage and Ben Foden, while 20 year-old centre Manu Tuilagi could be the breakthrough player of the tournament.

However, there is still a debate at fly-half, and whether they go for the experienced Jonny Wilkinson or the younger but less proven Toby Flood, whose managing of a game has been criticised, especially after the defeat to Wales in the World Cup warm-up game in Cardiff.  

Whoever gets the nod at 10 will need to use all their nous with some real battles ahead in both Scotland and Argentina.

Andy Robinson’s men will feel they can maintain a proud WC record that has seen them reach the quarter-finals or better of every tournament so far.

The Scots have an excellent second-row in skipper Alastair Kellock and outstanding youngster Richie Gray, and real strength in depth in the back row, providedby Kelly Brown, John Barclay, Richie Vernon and Alasdair Strokosch.

The issue for Robinson is whether they can find cohesion in the backline, with the side struggling to find tries over the past couple of years.

In a group that is set to be tight, securing bonus point wins over the two qualifiers in the Pool will be more important than ever.

That’s because Argentina are looking to build on their stunning efforts in the 2007 tournament, where they beat France (twice) and knocked out Ireland to reach the semi-finals.

The current Argentinian squad has lost a lot of experience since then, and the injury to star player Juan Martin Hernandez is a massive blow to their chances.

But they still have genuine class in the likes of Felipe Contepomi and Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe that gives them a realistic chance of the quarters.

The two remaining sides in Romania and Georgia will find the going tough in Pool B, but their hugely physical nature will ensure there will be no easy games for the established trio.

It could come down to who gets the most losing bonus points in the battle between the big three in the pool, but I feel England and Scotland will just have enough to edge out Argentina to qualify.

Pool C: This Pool contains the side that will pose the greatest threat to stop the All Blacks ending their World Cup hoodoo.

Australia go into the tournament on the back of their first Tri-Nations title in a decade after defeating New Zealand 25-20 in a classic encounter two weeks ago in Sydney.

That win underlined what many have believed for a long time; that is the Wallabies contain the most fearsome and explosive backline in World Rugby.

It’s difficult to find a better scrum-half on current form than Will Genia, while Quade Cooper is the bettered only by Carter in the fly-half department.

Drew Mitchell will be a big loss if he doesn’t fully recover from injury, but they have the excellent Digby Ioane and James O’Connor to fill the spots on the wing. Finally, in Kurtley Beale they have the best full-back in the game.

The team most likely to stop the Wallabies making smooth progress will be Ireland, who will want to right the wrongs of 2007.

Eddie O’Sullivan’s side went to France with genuine aspirations at a push for the trophy in Northern Hemisphere conditions, only to produce an abject showing.

Struggling wins over Namibia and Georgia coupled with being outclassed by both France and Argentina meant that Ireland went home early, and just six months later O’Sullivan lost his job.

Fortunately, since Declan Kidney has taken the helm Ireland have tasted grand slam success and produced a side that on their day can be a match for anyone.

The infinite experience of Munster duo Paul O’Connell and Donnacha O’Callaghan is set to form the basis of the second row, and Ireland have one of the best back rows in the game in Jamie Heaslip, Stephen Ferris and the brilliant young flanker Sean O’Brien, aiding the loss of the influential David Wallace.

The worry for Kidney and his staff is whether or not they will be on their game; there have been too many under-par performances in 2011, and there is a real concern after losing all four of their warm-up matches.

They will have to find their rhythm from the off, especially with the ever-improving Italy hopeful of causing a shock.

Coach Nick Mallett has breathed new life into Italian rugby, and should count themselves unfortunate to have finished bottom of this year’s Six Nations after losing a series of close matches.

But the belief that the South African has instilled in the group of players culminated in a famous triumph over France at the Stadio Flaminio in March.

It still beggars belief that the Italian Rugby Federation decided not to renew Mallett’s contract after the World Cup, a decision that could backfire in the long-term.

The Italians have a indominable pack spearheaded by the brilliant tighthead prop Martin Castrogiovanni, but it’s captain Sergio Parisse that stands out.

It’s difficult to think of a better number eight than the Stade Francais man, with his incredible work rate and his ball-winning skills at the breakdown allowing him to lead by example every time.

While things went wrong at the last World Cup for Eddie O’Sullivan, he now has a second chance on the global stage with the USA.

It’s been tough getting the whole group of players with many playing for European clubs, but they can provide stern opposition for anyone they face.

Not only that, but in Takudzwa Ngwenya they have one of the most dangerous wingers in the game.

The Biarritz star scored the try of the 2007 tournament when he blitzed past Springbok speed merchant Bryan Habana, and the 26 year-old will be their main threat once again.

Pool C is completed by debutants Russia, where they hope to provide a respectable showing in a sport developing by the day in their homeland, with the sport’s bible Rugby World saying there are over 150 clubs and almost 15,000 registered players.

Their key man will be Vasily Artemiev, who impressed in the recent Churchill Cup and the winger has secured a move to Aviva Premiership side Northampton Saints when he returns from Down Under thanks to his searing pace.

However, while it’s a group that should have some intriguing match-ups, both Australia and Ireland should make it through.

Pool D: The D is a fitting letter for this pool, as this is certainly the pool of death in this year’s World Cup.

Defending champions South Africa were probably hoping for an easier group as a reward for their triumph four years ago.

But the Proteas will still be one of the favourites to go all the way, with 18 of the squad members containing winners medals from their glory in France.

Coach Peter de Villiers has often been a figure of bemusement, with strange team selections and comments throughout his time in charge so far.

He was heavily criticised for resting many players in this years Tri-Nations, while many fans feel he was hasty in naming John Smit as captain when Bismarck du Plessis is probably the best hooker in the world right now.

Despite guiding the team to the 2009 Tri-Nations, the last couple of years have seen a real slump against their Southern Hemisphere rivals.

Thankfully for the Springboks, their experience and physicality makes them one of the toughest teams to beat and should get to at least the semi-finals.

While South Africa are the standout team in the Pool, there are three other sides with genuine claims to reach the last eight with them.

Wales go to New Zealand hoping that injuries do not hamper their potential in the coming weeks.

They have two world-class props in Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones, but both have been included with genuine doubts about their fitness.

There is also a concern about the two other Joneses in Stephen and Ryan, having seen utility back Morgan Stoddart and Gavin Henson ruled out through injury.

Although resources are being stretched, coach Warren Gatland knows he has a set of backs with plenty of tries in them.

Led by one of the great wingers of the modern game in Shane Williams, the likes of Leigh Halfpenny, George North and Lee Byrne will inhabit the wonderful attacking philosophy instilled into the DNA of Welsh rugby.

This will be orchestrated by the brilliant James Hook, who has the chance to come of age in the number 10 jersey for his country.

Unfortunately, the Welsh will need to front up to what has to be the most physical Pool in World Cup history.

The Pacific Island duo of Fiji and Samoa have a wonderful attacking culture that has won them many admirers around the globe.

For the Fijians, there is the chance to build on their upset over the Welsh four years ago that knocked them out in the group stages.

As for Samoa, they underlined their credentials with one of the great shocks in recent memory, beating the Wallabies in Australia this summer.

With all this in mind, you have to feel for Namibia; not only are they the lowest-ranked nation, but they have also been dealt the toughest hand in their World Cup dream.

Their chances of qualifying are slim, although you can bet with ferocious flanker Jacques Burger leading the troops, the African side will not go down without a fight.

Despite such an intense Pool in store, I’m tipping Wales to join South Africa in the quarter-finals as group runners-up.

Having said that, I can’t see past the All Blacks for the trophy; the best team with home advantage throughout in front of a support whose passion cannot for the game cannot be matched, it’s there for Graham Henry’s side to end their hoodoo.

Whether they will remains to be seen. I for one can’t wait.

Outright Predictions:

Quarter-finalists: Argentina, France, Ireland, Wales

4th Place: England

3rd Place: South Africa

Runners-up: Australia

Winners: New Zealand

So what do you think? Will anyone be able to stop the All Blacks on their home patch? How do you think the home nations will fare? Is there going to be a dark horse in the tournament? Leave a comment and let us know your thoughts.

As 2010 is coming to an end, we had requests from many fans on our thoughts on players of the year as well as who will go on to pick up the major honours.

Due to this below are our thoughts players of the year, stars of the future as well manager of the year and many others.

Take a look and if you disagree let us know.

Team of the year:

 Laurie: Blackpool – Iain Holloway’s side, favourites for relegation to League One last season, now find themselves in the top 8 of the Premier League. A true footballing fairytale.

Tony: It can be anyone but Blackpool, even if they were 17th in the league and struggling it would still be a miraculous achievement for them to be where they are, so there current league form is just a big cherry on top of a thick layer of icing on a very big cake.

Manager of the year:

Laurie: Iain Holloway – See above.
Tony: Again I can’t disagree with Laurie, it’s not only his achievements the way he carries himself through both victory and defeat is remarkable. One of the only managers that will gladly call it as he sees it. I would happily tune into his press conferences every week.

Domestic Player of the year:

Laurie: Gareth Bale – It’s genuinely difficult finding a player that has made the same impact in the past 12 months. From being on the verge of loaned out to Nottingham Forest to being rated in the region of £35-50m. A stunning transformation.

Tony: I disagree because Bale’s good form has been this season, he did play in the early part of this year but he was not at the dizzy heights he is currently playing at, I am going to go with Carlos Tevez, he scores goals, he creates goals and he leads the line for his club. In a team of big name players he is clearly the shinning light and is a large part of the reason why they are challenging for the title.

Shock of the year:

Laurie: Martin O’Neill’s exit – While the sackings of Chris Hughton and Sam Allardayce were both ludicrous, no-one could see O’Neill walking out of Villa 5 days before the start of the season. We still don’t know why he left, as Villa find themselves edging towards a ridiculous relegation fight.

Tony: I am caught in two minds here, on one hand I think Allardyce is. When he got sacked a friend rung and told me, I was in disbelief I could not even see a hint of it happening. The other is Portsmouth reaching the FA cup final, despite all their off the field dramas and terrible league form they managed to reach the final of the  worlds biggest domestic cup competition and had a huge chance to win it.

  
 

Worst team of the year:

Laurie: England National team – Who else? We have gotten use to seeing disappointment after disappointment from major tournaments, but the spectacular collapse in South Africa put previous World Cup exits to shame. Not only did it once and for all destroy the myth of the golden generation, but it has left relations between public and the team at an all-time low.
Tony: Could not agree more. This was the year, this was our big chance, this was our destiny. No it wasn’t this was pathetic. Everything was wrong and you would be hard pressed to give any player credit for their performances in South Africa.

Worst manager of the year:

Laurie: Fabio Capello – Again, see above.

Tony: Again without a shadow of a doubt, he chose the wrong squad, he played the wrong tactics, he made the wrong substitutions at the wrong times and was as inspiring as a dead fish.

 Performance of the year:

Laurie: Barcelona’s demolition of Real Madrid – It would have been an injustice to football had I ignored the 5-0 hammering that the Catalan giants gave to Jose Mourinho’s side. The manner of the win, against an excellent team, was astonishing. We will look back at this Barca team 40 years from now in the way we look back on the Brazil 1970 team these days.
Tony: Again spot on, I urge every single person who likes Football to watch the full 90 minutes of this match the highlights do not do it justice, Madrid were not bad they were not allowed to be bad, Barca were magical it was pure entertainment.

Ultimatum of the year:

Laurie: Rafa Benitez – There has been many a manager that has demanded more backing from their chairman, but none have backfired so spectacularly as Benitez’s demand to Inter Milan owner Massimo Moratti. He gave him three options; Buy players, not buy anyone and have a disappointing season, or sack him. Moratti went with option three.
Tony: To be honest I can’t think of another one so Benitez takes the award due to a lack of serious competition, it would have been bettered had United or City called Rooney or Tevez’s bluffs but player power ruled.

Best player in the world:

Laurie: Wesley Sneijder – The likes of Iniesta, Messi and Xavi will get most of the plaudits, but for me there has been no-one better than the Dutchman. His all-round performances spearheaded both club and country to new heights. Inter won everything in sight, and he was joint top-scorer at the World Cup as the Netherlands got to the final. A marvellous player who doesn’t get the praise he deserves.
Tony: I am going with the boring and predictable answer here and going to say Lionel Messi, most people will agree that Messi is the best player on earth but believe Sneijder deserves the award on this years achievements, however these are team achievements if you look at stats Messi has had his best ever calendar year as an individual, Sneijder has had a great year and does deserve a lot of praise but for me I can’t see past Messi.

One to watch in 2011:

Laurie: Alex Oxlade Chamberlain who is currently at Southampton I’ve been recently impressed with this boy and a few clubs have been linked with him, this time next year he will be a house hold name and hailed as the future.

Tony: I agree with Laurie, Chamberlain is 17 performing in League one and linked with everyone. Another one I think should be watched closely is Tom Cleverly the Man United midfielder who is currently on loan at Wigan, I can see him going on to big things.

Goal of the year:

Laurie: Matthew Burrows – What? No Messi or Fabregas? Nope. How about a part-time footballer from Northern Ireland? Burrows back-heel flick wonder goal for Glentoran against Portadown became an overnight internet sensation, and rightly so. A goal Leo and co would have been proud to call their own.

Tony: This is a tough one there are so many to chose from, as I am a fan of team football over individual efforts I am going to go for Bolton’s goal in the last minute against Blackpool scored by Mark Davies, this was Bolton in the last minute the ball was not hoofed long to Kevin Davies it was a move with pace, movement and slide rule passing. An honourable mention to Johan Elmander for his solo effort against Wolves but for me it’s his team mate Davies who takes the award.

Laurie:

Top 4: 1. Man City 2. Man United 3. Arsenal 4. Chelsea

 Bottom Three: 18. West Brom 19. Wigan  20. Wolves

FA Cup: Tottenham

League Cup: Arsenal

Champions League: Barcelon

Europa League: Zenit St Petersburg

Championship promotion: QPR, Cardiff, Norwich (Play-offs)

Relegation: Preston, Crystal Palace, Bristol City

League One promotion: Brighton, Sheff Wed, Charlton (Play-offs

Relegation: Yeovil, Walsall, Dagenham & Redbridge, Tranmere

League Two
Promotion: Chesterfield, Bury, Shrewsbury, Rotherham (Play-offs)
Relegation: Morecambe, Hereford

Tony:

Top 4: 1. Man united 2 Arsenal 3 Chelsea 4 Man City

Bottom three: 18th West Ham 19th Wolves 20th Wigan

FA Cup: Chelsea

League Cup: Arsenal

Champions League: Barcelona

Europa League: Manchester City

Championship: 1st QPR 2nd Cardiff, play off winners: Leeds United

Relegated: Preston, Crystal Palace and Scunthorpe.

League one:  1st Brighton 2nd Southampton, play off winners Charlton

Relegated: Yeovil, Walsall, Tranmere and Dagenham and Redbridge 

League two: 1st Chesterfield 2nd Port Vale 3rd Shrewsbury, play off winners Wycombe

Relegated: Hereford and Accrington Stanley

Those are our thoughts but what do you think? Agree let us know, also tell us why the person or team is deserving of the award. Thank you for reading I hope you have enjoyed your read.

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