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Blog by: Soccer Souls

Chris Coleman

Chris Coleman

Reports in the past few weeks about Chris Coleman’s imminent contract extension from the FAW has staggered many Welsh football fans, as it demonstrates a complete lack of ambition from the country’s governing body.

Coleman’s year in charge of the Welsh national team has been made up of 13 games, three victories, a forgotten passport, a public dispute with a player, ludicrous “mind games” and a qualification campaign in which the team look set to finish bottom. It is hardly the kind of form or direction that the FAW should be looking to continue for a further two years.

The Welsh squad that was assembled for their most recent game against Serbia contained three players from the Scottish Premiership, seven players from the Championship, seven players from the Premier League and one player from La Liga.

That Spanish-based player also happens to be the most expensive footballer in history and the most talented Welsh footballer since Ryan Giggs. No one is pretending that those facts alone are enough to get any national team to an international tournament but it does show that Wales has the talent to achieve something greater than falling into Europe’s lowest qualifying pot.

Coleman’s management of the current array of Welsh talent has led to a wasted World Cup qualifying campaign in which genuine damage has been done to the national team’s seeding and Euro 2016 looks even further away than before. Aaron Ramsey has been in incredible form for Arsenal.

Ben Davies has taken on the pressure of being a Swansea starter and performed admirably. Craig Bellamy is topping off an incredible career with a final stint at Cardiff City in the Premier League.

Gareth Bale has sealed a huge move to Real Madrid and began with a goal on his debut (even though Coleman didn’t deem him fit or mentally ready to start in either of Wales’ most recent fixtures). Yet their national team manager couldn’t assemble them into a force that could challenge Serbia, Belgium or Croatia for all three points.

The talent pool that the FAW have to pick a new manager from is hardly plentiful but with some imagination and ambition there is no reason why qualifying for an expanded Euro 2020 can’t be designated as a genuine possibility.

Candidates like Tony Pulis, Mark Hughes, Ryan Giggs and John Hartson would all have their issues if pursued by the FAW (lack of interest and lack of experience being the major ones) and so extending the net beyond the Welsh shores will be vital, bucking a trend of hiring only two non-Welsh managers (Mike Smith and Bobby Gould) in its 137 year history.

A leap in the dark is needed. Wales has a lot to offer in terms of talent and is a prospect that any newly emerging manager or coach would love to begin a CV with. One man under the spotlight recently is English coach Paul Clement, who in the summer was appointed assistant coach at Real Madrid.

He has enjoyed a career coaching at Chelsea, Fulham, the Republic of Ireland, Blackburn Rovers and Paris Saint-Germain but in a recent interview with the BBC explained how he hoped there would be “a chairman out there who will look at me and think “he’s had a good apprenticeship”” and install him as a manager.

Wales are in the perfect position to offer someone like Clement that confidence and job security. With faith in the national team at an all time low, and expectations having fallen even lower, Clement would have the entire national set up to mould exactly to his image.

Unlike being manager of England, Brazil, Germany or Spain, being manager of Wales does not require a career that has been trained in the media spotlight and whose every word is picked apart. The national team needs someone with genuine tactical knowledge and coaching assets who can develop the current young Welsh crop.

When Sir Alex Ferguson left Manchester United this summer, and David Moyes moved into Old Trafford, one of the major departures from the club was first team coach Rene Meulensteen.

The Dutch coach spent a number of years at United enhancing every area of the club in various positions: skills development coach, reserve coach, technical coach, youth coach and first team coach.

Yet all that he has been offered for all the incredible attributes he brings was 16 days at Anzhi Makhachkala, and not even a consideration for the England Under-21 position that was vacated by Stuart Pearce. Once again the FAW can offer a position in which they hand over all control to shape a national structure in whatever way the new manager desires.

The best thing to come out of this current qualifying campaign is that because the Welsh national team has hit the bottom, it can only bounce back up.

The FAW can appoint a manager who has no incredible legacy to follow, has no huge expectations on his shoulders, who doesn’t have a prowling media circus after him but does have a group of young footballers, many of whom are enjoying great form, and who are hungry to become the first Welsh team since 1976 to feature in an international tournament.

Considering China, Angola and Latvia have been to either the World Cup or European Championships since the turn of the millennium, there is no reason why Bale, Ramsey and co. couldn’t negotiate their route to France, Russia or Qatar

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Blog by: Akshay
As the days go by, every football fan has a reason to be excited. The 2014 World Cup is nearing and after four years, we will see teams from all over the world battle it out for the most prestigious tournament in the history of sport. There’s more than one reason to be excited about the 2014 World Cup. Football is returning to its colossal home, as Brazil prepares itself to host yet another sporting extravaganza.

The last time a World Cup match was played in Brazil, it left everyone around the world shocked. Uruguay defeated Brazil 2-1 in the final at the legendary Maracana. The Brazilians were left in despair. They had lost to perennial rivals Uruguay in front of 200,000 fans in what is known as one of the greatest matches ever witnessed.

As much as that would affect the Selecao, eight years later they won the tournament in style, leaving every team in awe of their breath-taking display of the beautiful game. That World Cup saw the birth of a new star, one who would go on to become the greatest player ever produced by Brazil; but that was not where it stopped.

They won four World Cups after that, the most recent being in 2002 when their attacking trio of Ronaldinho, Romario and Ronaldo portrayed the perfect way to play the beautiful game.

As we near the world’s largest sporting event, let’s take a look at the top débutantes who could set the stage alight on the biggest stage on them all.

Marco Reus

Marco Reus (left) of Borussia Dortmund avoids the challenge of Philipp Lahm of Bayern Muenchen during the UEFA Champions League final match between Borussia Dortmund and FC Bayern Muenchen at Wembley Stadium on May 25, 2013 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Bob Thomas/Popperfoto/Getty Images)

Often across social networking sites you would find a picture saying, “ No matter which club you support, you can’t hate Marco Reus”. Well, true to its word, you can’t hate him can you? The incredible Marco Reus is one of the biggest names set to make his debut at the 2014 World Cup. Having set the footballing fraternity alight with his incredible performances for the past two years at Signal Iduna Park, he is set to make his mark at the international stage.

His greatest strength is his remarkable ability to get past players and leave them gasping for breath. His nimble-footed tricks and bursts of pace leave the crowd wanting for more. Added to this, his uncanny ability to be in the right position at the right time has helped him increase his goals tally. He is slowly cementing his spot in Joachim Loew’s team.

He has already made the left wing his own at Dortmund, and it should only be a matter of time before he does it in the national team. He is one of the most exciting players to watch and is definitely going to run the show in Brazil next year.

Eden Hazard

Chelsea’s Belgian midfielder Eden Hazard (R) runs with the ball pursued by Everton’s Scottish striker Steven Naismith (2R) during the English Premier League football match between Everton and Chelsea at Goodison Park in Liverpool, northwest England on September 14, 2013. (PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images)

It is not for every 21-year old that three of the top clubs in England keep chasing him. However, it was the case for Eden Hazard, who had to choose between moving to the Etihad, Old Trafford and Stamford bridge. He did choose the latter and what a move it has turned out to be. From winning man of the match awards in his first four games to winning the Europa League and getting nominated for the PFA Player of the Award, it has been a stellar run for Eden Hazard.

Of all the players in Begium’s golden generation, Hazard is truly the best. Having moved to Chelsea for £32 million, he was one of the stand-out performers for Chelsea last season and is continuing the run this season. He may not seem as daunting as the center forwards, but his feet do the talking every time. His acceleration has been compared to that of Ronaldo, his dribbling skill likened to Messi’s, and his finishing is brilliant.

Just like Marco Reus, he can leave defenders chasing shadows and has a knack of popping in at the right position to chip in with his fair share of goals. He will be another debutant to watch out at the World Cup, where he can prove his mettle on the biggest stage.

Paul Pogba

Paul Pogba of Juventu shows his dejection during the Serie A match between FC Internazionale Milano and Juventus FC at San Siro Stadium on September 14, 2013 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)

Till a year ago, he was known as the man who left to Juventus after a feud with Sir Alex. Today he is known as one of the best defensive midfielders in Europe. The transition wasn’t easy or smooth by any stretch of imagination. After failing to see enough first-team football at Old Trafford, he sealed a move to Turin, where not many expected him to rise to this level. Breaking into a midfield containing Vidal, Marchisio and Andrea Pirlo is by no means an easy task.

But Pogba did and managed more than 30 appearances for the Old Lady. He showed flashes of his brilliance against Bologna, where he scored the winning goal and against Napoli. He has what it takes to perform at the highest level, but Ferguson never saw it. For a defensive midfielder, he has a high scoring rate and has already scored a goal for France in just three appearances.

He is already a world-class player and there is room for further improvement. With a year to go, he is sure to cement his spot in the Les Bleus line-up. The 2014 World Cup may be the place where he shows the world his ability

Neymar Da Silva

Neymar of FC Barcelona duels for the ball with Jorge Andujar Moreno ‘Coke’ of Sevilla FC during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Sevilla FC at Camp Nou on September 14, 2013 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

At 18 years of age, he was touted to be the next ‘Pele’. He was recognised by Pele himself as an excellent player. At 19 years, he won the South American Footballer of the Year 2011 and was nominated for the Ballon d’or for the next two years.

He won the Puskas award in 2012 for a brilliant goal for Santos. A move to Europe was always on the cards, and it did happen this summer when he moved to Camp Nou after a staggering £57 million transfer. All through his younger days he was often regarded as a ‘YouTube star’, who just show-boated every time he stepped on the pitch.

But he put all those doubts to bed in the Confederations Cup in Brazil this summer. Having started every match in the tournament, he virtually carried the team on his shoulders and won the Cup for Brazil. He was brilliant throughout, scoring four goals and assisting one more. Known for his acceleration, vision, passing and above all, his dribbling skills, he won the Golden Ball award at the Confederations Cup.

Soon enough, he sealed a move to Barcelona, and will relish the opportunity of playing alongside the world’s best players. His dribbling and close control does remind you of a certain Ronaldinho tearing through Spanish defences in a Barcelona shirt. Brazil 2014 may just be the time when he takes on the world and brings himself to the level of Ronaldo and Messi. This time he will be playing the World Cup in his home, and it is time Brazil unleash their new star.

Mario Balotelli

AC Milan’s Italian forward Mario Balotelli celebrates after scoring a penalty during the Italian Serie A football match Torino Vs AC Milan on September 14, 2013 at the Olympic Stadium in Turin. (MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP/Getty Images)

Who else but him? The man who until recently was more famous for his off-field antics rather than his brilliance on the pitch. Burning down his own house, arguing with a police officer, driving into a women’s prison to have a look around, throwing darts at a youth team player – these are a few of the strange things that Mario Balotelli has done.

However, leave all this out and his footballing performances still left a question to be asked. His discipline? Making rash tackles, fighting with his own team mate over a free-kick, and being called ‘ unmanageable’ by Jose Mourinho; all this was two years ago. Since then, he has become one of the best young strikers in the world. While everyone, remembers Aguero’s goal in the 94th minute of the final game in the 2011-2012 EPL season, it was this fellow who provided the assist for it after being brought down.

That very season, he was nominated for the Ballon d’or, but his Euro 2012 performances were the most eye-catching . He scored a brace against Manuel Neuer in the semifinal, of which the first goal was called extra-ordinary. He unleashed an unstoppable shot from outside the box, which was even applauded by Manuel Neuer himself, who was left clueless.

An agile and powerful player, he is often nicknamed ‘Super Mario’ due to his pace, acceleration and ability to fend off defenders. He is a set-piece specialist and till date has a perfect record of never missing a penalty in his professional career.

In last season’s winter transfer window, he sealed a move to Milan and has since let his feet do the talking. This year he helped them qualify for the Champions League and has had a good start in the league. In his first World Cup at Brazil in 2014, you can expect fireworks on the pitch from him, and I hope that he leaves his mark.

Blog by: Oalmasri
Views Of Qatar

This last week has seen the latest round of qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil next summer, but it is the one looming nine years in the future that has grasped the main talking points. Not only has new FA chairman Greg Dyke set England the target of winning it, an extraordinary target given the destitution of their 0-0 draw in Kiev on Tuesday, but FIFA have suddenly realised what a shambles it promises to be.

After Qatar were awarded the 2022 competition, it may have been a cynical reaction to say FIFA officials were blinded by the piles of gold that simmers in the desert of sheikhs and oil magnates in the Far East. Yet it seems that the governing body of the football world may have indeed been confused that much by the sight of bank notes and the smell of giant wads of cash that simple common sense was bypassed in the decision-making process.

“It may well be that we made a mistake at the time,” said FIFA president Sepp Blatter, almost as if he had waited a couple of years after the initial 2010 award to read the brochure of Qatar’s actual bid. As he glanced into the “climate” section, he would have discovered why it was graded as a “high-operational risk” by FIFA a month before they made the decision.

In a tournament traditionally hosted in the summer, teams will be playing in temperatures rising up to 50 degrees, though it seems to be the case that FIFA, not averse to financial scandal or accusations of bribery and deceit, see playing football there as secondary to making money there.

Blatter’s answer, typical of his presidential lunacy, is to move the tournament to the winter, an idea that will rip through most country’s domestic calendars like an almighty hurricane.

Blatter’s defence of that idea was even more laughable, attempting to appear as some kind of altruistic anti-colonialist sticking up for the under-privileged folk in the east who don’t get to witness such football first hand. “I think it is high time that Europe starts to understand that we do not rule the world anymore, and that some former European imperial powers can no longer impress their will on to others in faraway places,” he said.

In saying that, Blatter does have a point. After all, football is a global sport and the success of the tournament held in post-apartheid South Africa enlightened many people culturally, though any validity in his opinion is undermined by hosting the competition in surroundings that are practically impossible.

Plus, Blatter also fails to notice that the same kind of imperialism he attempts to so admirably speak out against, currently exists in countries like Qatar, an autocratic rule that views homosexuality as illegal and has many outspoken critics of its human rights record.

A recent Amnesty International report found that women face discrimination and violence while the same report, covering January to December 2009, read that 18 people were sentenced to lashings for offences related to sexual activity or alcohol consumption.

A totalitarian state which harbours anti-homosexual views is of course a fine place to host a worldwide event which warrants compromising FIFA’s campaign for fairness and equal rights. Why keep your morals intact when you can put a price on them?

It is clear that Qatar are paying through the nose for this World Cup and FIFA are lapping it up, seemingly in the clear after Phaedra Almajid retracted her allegations of bribery that saw four senior members of the authority investigated.

With a bottomless supply of oil reserves that currently sees them operate a GDP of €187.1 billion and a natural gas supply that puts Qatar as the 3rd biggest exporter in the world, Qatar has money to burn, as well as to plough into western real-estates, shopping malls and football clubs.

Not content with bankrolling Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain et al, the Arabs want football to come to them and Blatter, in his new role as ambassador for internationalism, is happy enough to give it to them, just as long as he adds a few extra noughts to his already-sizeable Swiss bank account.

It will also come at the sacrifice of domestic European football, trampling all over the schedule so they are forced to play in the summer for three years or so, but seemingly that doesn’t matter with vast sums of money involved.

“Who are we, the Europeans, to demand that this event has to cater to the needs of 800 million Europeans above all?” asks the bumbling Swiss, whose FIFA reign has lurched embarrassingly from one controversy to another.

Though awarding the World Cup to a country in which it would be infeasible, as well as unearthing a chest full of social and human rights issues, it is perhaps the biggest embarrassment of them all.

Dyke may have set the cross-hairs on his bright new plan for English football on the 2022 World Cup, but he may be better positioned to think again. It would be more reasonable to avoid entering it altogether.

Blog by: Shlok

The Doha Port stadium is pictured in this artist's impression as a venue for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar

Doha Port stadium is pictured in this artist’s impression as a venue for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

You walk out of Doha International airport on mid-June afternoon. It’s humid, sunny and hot and you probably want to get yourself into a cooler. The thermometer reads 45 degree Celsius. Then, you suddenly realize that after a decade, players are going play 90 minutes of hard, world class football in these scorching conditions.

This is just a short sketch of what the FIFA officials must have gone through when they arrived in Qatar to inspect the developments of the projects being undertaken for the FIFA world cup in 2022. It will be exciting to see a major football tournament being played in a region which is promising the world with so much in the future. But the question that everyone needs to ask is, “Is it practically possible to stage a FIFA world cup in a location where temperatures reach as high as 50 degrees Celsius?”

Qatar’s FIFA world cup journey is as dramatic as a typical Hollywood movie. A lot of twists and turns have been taking place since the evening of December 2, 2010, where Qatar stood proud in front of the world as it was announced as the host of the 2022 showpiece event. It’s not just the climate that has made the headlines regarding Qatar’s world cup dream, but it has also been marred by bribery accusations.

Mohammed Bin Al Hammam, the head of the Qatar Football Federation, is a disgraced man charged for bribing officials in exchange for votes. The bribery saga all began in May 2011 when Lord Triesman submitted a convincing report of the illegal acts that Qatar used to acquire the world cup.

He accused Trinidad and Tobago’s Jack Warner who demanded $4 million for an education center in his country, and Paraguay’s Nicolas Loez, who asked for an honorary knighthood in exchange for their votes. He also added Jacques Anouma of the Ivory Coast and Issa Hyautov of Cameroon, who were  each paid $1.5 million in exchange for votes. Mohammed Bin Al Hammam has been accused of bribing 25 officials from FIFA as well. This certainly tainted Qatar’s image.

Elsewhere, the country’s scorching heat is another issue that they are fighting. Many associations have been debating the issue about the possibility of a summer world cup with a temperature of 50 degree Celsius. A proposed move was to shift the world cup to winter, but that would mean a total change in schedule in domestic leagues as well. But, recently many leading clubs have given the thumbs up for a winter world cup as well.

A winter world cup seems the most practical route to take. It will not only benefit players, but the spectators as well. Qatar has planned a canal system which will act as a shuttle from the parking to the stadium. Is it possible for 90,000 people to be transported comfortably across the canals at scorching temperatures? The answer could be a big ‘No’.

But the technology proposed by Qatar to beat the heat seems very promising and they have made statements which show their confidence in their project. Qatar’s delegates have strongly opposed Premier League chief Richard Scudamore’s proposal of shifting the World Cup to a cooler place by saying that it was “the right place to host the world cup” and that the Gulf had the right to host it.

The biggest moment though was when Sepp Blatter told the media that rewarding Qatar the World Cup might be a ‘mistake’. Elsewhere, UEFA President Micheal Platini had also expressed concerns over the heat and has said that the world cup should be played in the winter.

The Qatar World Cup dream seems to be nothing less than a thriller. We can do no more but stay tuned for more updates on this debate, where every day seems to deliver some more drama.

Blog by: Srihari
Ten teams have already qualified for the World Cup, while giants like Germany and Spain are on the cusp of qualification. But then there are plenty of other teams, which are looking at qualifying for the very first time in their history.

Let us take a look at five of the best placed teams, who look like they will be able to make it to Brazil and feature in their first-ever World Cup.

Bosnia-Herzegovina pose before their FIFA 2014 World Cup qualifier vs. Slovakia at the MSK Zilina stadium on September 10, 2013 in Zilina, Slovakia.  (Getty Images)

Bosnia-Herzegovina pose before their FIFA 2014 World Cup qualifier vs. Slovakia at the MSK Zilina stadium on September 10, 2013 in Zilina, Slovakia. (Getty Images)

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Since becoming an independent nation in 1992, after being a part of Yugoslavia, the Bosnians have come close on quite a few times. During qualification for the previous World Cup, they lost to Portugal in the playoffs and before that they failed to win their last game, which would have given them a chance in 2006.

This time around, they have already booked a playoff berth and if they manage to win their remaining two games, they will qualify outright for the World Cup as group winners. They are currently ranked 13 in the world – the highest they have ever been ranked.

With an attacking trio of Edin Dzeko, Vedad Ibisevic and Zvjezdan Misimovic, they have racked up 25 goals in just eight games and only Germany have scored more than them so far. They certainly look set to take Brazil by storm in 2014.

Ethiopia poses before their 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifier vs. South Africa on June 16, 2013 in Addis Ababa. (Getty Images)

Ethiopia poses before their 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifier vs. South Africa on June 16, 2013 in Addis Ababa. (Getty Images)

Ethiopia

Whilst the Ethiopians are probably more famous on the athletics track than on the football pitch, they still have a very good chance of making it to Brazil, if they get a favourable draw in the final playoff round.

The Walia Antelopes, as they are fondly called, have rich history dating back to 1957, when they were one of three teams – Egypt and Sudan being the others – to be a part of the inaugural African Cup of Nations. After having won the tournament five years later, success has eluded the Ethiopians, ever since.

Although they were sanctioned for fielding a suspended player against Botswana, which almost dashed their hopes of qualifying for the World Cup, they have since managed to go on a run of wins, which has seen them leapfrog South Africa into first place and go into the final playoff round as group winners. Only time will tell if they will be able to make it to Brazil.

Cape Verde pose before a FIFA World Cup qualifier vs. Tunisia on September 7, 2013 in Rades Olympic Stadium in Tunis. (Getty Images)

Cape Verde pose before a FIFA World Cup qualifier vs. Tunisia on September 7, 2013 in Rades Olympic Stadium in Tunis. (Getty Images)

Cape Verde

A total of 72 countries remain in contention for qualification, the most unlikely of them all: Cape Verde, which is a group of small volcanic islands lying isolated in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Senegal.

And while they are ranked 172nd in the world in terms of population, according to the latest FIFA rankings they are the 36th best team in the world. That is not too bad, when you consider the fact that just four years ago, they were ranked 112th.

The Blue Sharks proved that their run to the African Cup of Nations quarterfinals this year was no fluke, by beating Tunisia 2-0. By doing so, they topped their group and through to the final playoff round, where they will be seeded for the very first time.

Although they have scored just five goals, not counting the two games against Equatorial Guinea which was forfeited 3-0, their striker Nhuk and attacking midfielder Platini certainly look like they might be able to take them to Brazil and guarantee the presence of an African debutant in Brazil.

Iceland players celebrate at the end of their FIFA World Cup 2014 qualifier vs. Switzerland at the Stade de Suisse on September 6, 2013, in Bern. (Getty Images)

Iceland players celebrate at the end of their FIFA World Cup 2014 qualifier vs. Switzerland at the Stade de Suisse on September 6, 2013, in Bern. (Getty Images)

Iceland

The 2-1 win over Albania means that the Icelanders are in control of their own destiny, as victory in their final two games, will guarantee them a spot in the playoffs. Currently in second place, one would assume that it shouldn’t be all that hard for them to get through.

That is certainly a huge achievement for a country with a population of merely 320,000, which makes it the most sparsely populated country in Europe. Iceland are certainly making a fair case for being the least populous nation to make it to the World Cup.

Their recent exploits sees them ranked 70th in the world, which is a stark contrast to just 18 months ago, when they were ranked 131st in the world. If they continue their good form, they might just sneak into Brazil.

Panama pose before the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup Final vs. USA at Soldier Field July 29, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. (Getty Images)

Panama pose before the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup Final vs. USA at Soldier Field July 29, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. (Getty Images)

Panama

With the disastrous form of Mexico, Panama might well make it to Brazil, if they manage to beat the Mexicans, when they play each other next month in the final round of qualifiers. They are currently in fourth place with eight points, level with Mexico, and are in pole position to make it to the playoffs against New Zealand as they look to make it to their first-ever World Cup.

Having finished runners-up in the 2013 Gold Cup, Panama might well make it. But their path is anything but straight forward, as their final two games are away to Mexico and at home to USA. If they get through both these games unscathed, they certainly deserve their place in Brazil.

Blog by: Anirudh

FBL-WC2014-UKR-ENG

Ukraine

Andriy Pyatov (6)

Did sometimes flap at crosses but was always quick to come off his line. Made brave early block to deny Walcott and a good save from Gerrard.

Artem Fedetski (6)

Given relatively few offensive problems by Milner and frequently pushed forward to offer width in attack before heading straight at Hart from a wonderful second-half chance.

Yavhen Khachiridi (7)

Lambert was effective in holding the ball up but Khachiridi ensured that he rarely got behind the Ukraine defence and his anticipation limited England’s chances.

Olexandr Kucher (6)

Selected as captain in the surprise absence from the team of Anatoliy Tymoshchuk and was sound defensively despite being erratic in possession.

Vyacheslav Shevchuk (6)

Had the difficult task of containing Walcott and was given several difficult moments early in the match but improved and also tried hard to get forward in support of Konoplianka.

Taras Stepanenko (7)

Asked to sit in front of the Ukraine defence and was successful both in dictating possession and breaking up the rhythm of England, notably Wilshere.

Edmar Halovskiy (6)

Technically competent and was particularly energetic in the first-half. It was his partnership with Stepanenko that ensured Ukraine controlled most of the game.

Andriy Yarmolenko (5)

One of the main dangermen for Ukraine. Began well, pulling Cole out of position with his crossfield runs but was ultimately beaten in his head-to-head with the Chelsea left-back.

Oleh Gusiev (5)

Asked to unlock England with his passing but wasted a succession of good positions. Generally was kept quiet by Gerrard’s patrolling of the space in front of England’s defence.

Yehven Konoplianka (7)

Ukraine’s most threatening and direct player. Seemed to target Walker at right-back for England and went only inches wide with a freekick that deflected off England’s wall.

Roman Zozulya (4)

A real weak link in an otherwise competent Ukraine team. Might have won an early penalty but his heavy touch meant wasting several very promising positions.

England

Joe Hart (6)

His confidence does seem bruised by recent mistakes. Might have conceded a penalty with early challenge on Zozulya and did not always look in command of his area.

Kyle Walker (5)

Given a big test against Konoplianka and found himself frequently dragged out of position, most notably when he almost conceded a second-half penalty. Also offered little help in attack.

Phil Jagielka (6)

Partnership with Cahill is developing but remains an area of relative weakness in the England team. Improved in the second-half but was least convincing of the two centre-backs.

Gary Cahill (7)

Vital to England’s rearguard action. Made a series of important interceptions and also went close to scoring himself with two first-half headers.

Ashley Cole (8)

Remains the man for the big occasion and still seems to retain that priceless ability to raise his game against better opponents. Yarmolenko was kept very quiet.

Steven Gerrard (6)

His discipline and workrate were admirable in front of England’s defence. Had an early shot well saved but, like the rest of his team, struggled to keep the ball.

Theo Walcott (6)

Began brightly, immediately getting behind Shevchuk to force a brave save from Pyatov but his influence faded as England endured considerable second-half pressure.

Frank Lampard (5)

A match to savour for winning his 100th cap rather than the performance. England struggled to get any control of the midfield and Lampard did not offer his usual attacking threat.

Jack Wilshere (4)

His worst game for England. Was slow on the ball and frequently caught in possession before being replaced midway through the second half by Ashley Young.

James Milner (6)

Did the job that Hodgson brought him into the team to do. Worked diligently down the right, helped break up Ukraine pressure and then moved infield when Wilshere came off.

Rickie Lambert (6)

Starved of possession but did offer an outlet, particularly in the first-half when he held the ball up effectively. Was less influential during the second-half.

Blog by: Ani

Ukraine v England - FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier

It isn’t really meant to be a surprise.

In fact, when you say it out loud, it’s fairly obvious. Roy Hodgson’s England are not genuine contenders for the World Cup.

No matter how you slice it, even if England win their two remaining qualifiers and secure qualification for Brazil 2014, they have no hope. A last eight spot (if that) is optimistic. A last-16 one may be also, considering that only San Marino and Moldova have been put to the sword in qualifying.

Agreed that it’s a cup competition, the best side doesn’t always win, and Hodgson’s men have only lost on penalties in competitive games since his arrival. Look at Brazil in 2002 and the horrendous way they qualified, or Italy in 2006 when no one gave them much hope in the midst of the Calciopoli scandal. They both took the crown despite not being favourites.

Yes, it’s true that both Italy and Brazil weren’t expected to leave either Japan/South Korea or Germany with the World Cup trophy in their hands. However, make no doubt about it, they were both very good sides with astute tactical plans, capable of keeping possession when necessary and with individual talent—Ronaldinho, Rivaldo and Ronaldo for Brazil, Francesco Totti, Alessandro Del Piero and Andrea Pirlo for Italy—which set them apart.

They, unlike anything Hodgson’s England have shown thus far, were capable of doing more than just not losing matches; they had it in them to win against good sides also.

The Three Lions on the other hand…Not so much.

Wayne Rooney is an excellent striker but hasn’t done it at an international tournament since his breakthrough in 2004 when he frightened the life out of European defences, while Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard are now very much in the twilight of their careers and all together have never been further than the quarter-final stage.

As for the younger brigade, Danny Welbeck has eight goals in 18 internationals to suggest he’s finding his feet with the national team (more so than his goals record at Manchester United does), Jack Wilshere shows promise but needs to be protected with bubble wrap to stop from breaking down every five minutes, while Theo Walcott remains Theo Walcott; blessed with outstanding pace, but the infuriating tendency to pick the wrong option time and again.

A defence of Cahill and Jagielka, despite a responsible performance in Ukraine, doesn’t scream out Cannavaro and Materazzi, while the fortunes of the England Under-21s in Israel doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence.

Aside from personnel, the age-old adage still rings true. England simply do not keep possession well enough.

In the Olympic Stadium in Kyiv on Tuesday evening, against a toothless Ukraine side, the Three Lions were at it again. A couple of decent passes, go backwards, run out of ideas and aimlessly clear it long for another 50-50 between their defenders and our isolated centre-forward. Other nations see such acts as sacrilege, a very last resort. England see it as a way out of trouble despite other sides having realised that retaining possession stops trouble from occurring in the first place.

They give the ball away because of the few options for the man actually in possession. Whether it’s 4-4-2, 4-1-4-1, 4-3-3, whatever the tactical plan, it doesn’t make a difference.

Sure, it sees off Moldova and San Marino. But England will be facing names slightly bigger than those in Brazil, to say the least.

The likes of Gerrard and Lampard can sit in front of the back four and give it to an unmarked centre-half throughout the game, or look for the adventurous Hollywood pass to exploit Walcott’s pace. Inevitably, Walcott’s pace makes him the furthest man forward, but he was never known for his dribbling skills. He thrives on smaller passes inside the full-back like the one Cleverley provided against Scotland, not 60-yard long-rangers that stick him along the touchline.

And how is Michael Carrick, a five-time Premier League winner and perhaps England’s best recycler of possession, still not worthy of a starting place? Against Ukraine it was clear as day that Hodgson’s XI weren’t keeping possession well and were turning it over all too easily. But Carrick wasn’t called upon.

And away from just keeping possession, what about their ability to actually create chances. Once again against a reasonable defence, they were few and far between.

As a national team, England’s interpretation of space and movement in the final third proves time and again a let down. Too few angles, too few purposeful runs and too few goalscoring opportunites.

The closest the Three Lions have to a Thomas Mueller, a player who picks up intelligent positions off the flank is arguably Welbeck, but for all his potential he isn’t in the same league as the Champions League winner.

Jack Wilshere can drive through midfield past his man, only to be greeted by a wall of defenders and no passing option, from where his thin frame is inevitably pushed aside.

At the club level he has two No.10’s to play to in the shape of Santi Cazorla and now Mesut Ozil, who can then influence proceedings in the final third. Unfortunately, those No.10’s do not exist for him on the international stage.

Maybe Rooney could fit in, but he hasn’t put in a good performance against a quality side in a really long time.

Other than Rooney? The options are bleak. Ross Barkley may be talented, but he’s had three matches to start his club season and 30 minutes against Moldova. He could be the future, but surely isn’t there yet.

New FA chairman Greg Dyke spoke of winning the 2022 World Cup. People were surprised that he did not indicate the same for next year, but at least someone was being realistic.

The Three Lions should now qualify and take their place alongside 31 other nations. But without tactical changes, its going to be a similar story to South Africa 2010 and Poland/Ukraine 2012.

Hodgson’s men will never be found wanting for effort. But unfortunately, inspiration, both on the pitch and on the bench, remains lacking.