Friday, 28 May 2010

Weekend Betting Tips

Chile v Northern Ireland

Chile are tipped to do well at the World Cup and this is their last warm-up before they head out to South Africa. They are splitting their squad between this fixture, and a game against Israel on the same day, but they should still have enough for a depleted Northern Ireland. They had a comfortable 3-0 victory over Zambia on Wednesday, and this should be more of the same.

Northern Ireland have travelled without 17 regular internationals, and their defeat against Turkey on Wednesday featured no fewer than 5 players from the domestic Northern Irish league. It will be a good learning experience for the players, but I cannot see them getting anything here against a strong Chilean outfit.

Bet: Chile to win to nil @ 2.2

Final Result: Chile 1 - 0 Northern Ireland

Serbia v New Zealand, Mexico v Gambia & England v Japan

Serbia are one of the sides that I expected to do strongly in South Africa, and they will come into this game with New Zealand hoping to prove a point. They have won 7 of their past 9 games, with victories over Sweden, Romania and South Korea. New Zealand are one of the weaker sides at the World Cup, although they put up a strong fight in a 2-1 defeat to Australia last weekend.

Mexico have played friendly matches against England and Holland in the past week, and have impressed in both, despite two defeats. Gambia is several levels below those opposition, and Mexico will be looking for a good win to boost confidence before they head out to South Africa.

England beat Mexico 3-1 without playing well, and this will be their final game before heading to South Africa. Capello should start with a near full-strength side for this, and Japan are a team in crisis at the moment, with the coach having offered to resign on the eve of the tournament.

Bet: Serbia, Mexico and England to win @ 2.46

Final Results: Serbia 0 - 1 New Zealand, Mexico 5 - 1 Gambia, England 2 - 1 Japan

Azerbaijan v FYR Macedonia

Only 6 of Azerbaijan’s last 24 matches have contained more than 2 goals, and two of those were 4-0 and 6-0 defeats to European heavyweights Germany and Spain respectively. Whilst they struggle to score goals, they do not concede too many either.

Macedonia are missing 3 of their main attacking players – Inter’s Goran Pandev, Stojkov and Naumoski. However, they have a relatively strong defence, and should not concede too many.

Bet: Under 2.5 goals @ 1.74

Final Result: Azerbaijan 1 - 3 FYR Macedonia

Ivan Ljubicic v Thomaz Bellucci

Ivan Ljubicic came into this tournament with an injury concern, having pulled out of tournaments in Rome and Estoril in recent weeks. However, he has won two matches here so far, but an epic five set match against Mardy Fish that he won 10-8 in the final set will have taken a lot out of him. He was clearly struggling toward the end, but poor tactics from Fish allowed him to grab the win.

Thomaz Bellucci came into the tournament in relatively poor form, and struggled to a five set victory over Spanish qualifier, Pablo Andujar, in the second round. He is finding it difficult to come to terms with the slow conditions, but will hope to take advantage of Ljubicic’s physical problems in their match.

Bet: Thomaz Bellucci to win @ 1.8

Final Score: Thomaz Bellucci wins 7-6, 6-2, 6-4

Shahar Peer v Marion Bartoli

Shahar Peer has been in good form on the clay this year, having only lost to Venus Williams and Justine Henin. She wobbled in the first set of her second round game against the American, Bethany Mattek-Sands, but went on to complete a 3-6, 6-0, 6-1 victory comfortably.

World number 14, Marion Bartoli, is not at her best on the clay. She has not beaten a player in the top 50 in her last 7 tournaments on clay. She beat #111, Maria Elena Camerin, and French wildcard, Olivia Sanchez, to reach this stage, but is up against a far superior opponent here in the third round.

Bet: Shahar Peer to win @ 1.56

Final Score: Shahar Peer wins 7-6, 6-2

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

World Cup Countdown - Part 1

The 32 nations that will compete in the World Cup in South Africa are almost ready to begin their challenge on the famous Jules Rimet trophy. This article is the first in a series that will take a brief look at the warm-up games for each of the sides in order to try and give an impression of how each side is looking less than 3 weeks before the tournament begins.

Australia 2 – 1 New Zealand

Australia were expected to put in a strong performance against their close neighbours in their first warm-up for the World Cup. However, they needed a last gasp winner from Brett Holman to spare their blushes. Despite missing six first-choice players, Australia were comprehensively outplayed by their less illustrious neighbours and can consider themselves lucky to have snatched the win.

Chris Killen gave the Kiwis the lead after only 15 minutes, latching onto Shane Smeltz’s flick to place his shot beyond Adam Federici. Australia’s frustration showed, and both Vince Grella and Tim Cahill were grateful to the referee for not showing them red cards, due to the fact that the game was a friendly. Grella’s challenge in particularly was shocking, and deserved a straight red.

Just after the break, Dario Vidosic found himself behind the defence and finished well to bring the Socceroos back level, and after Brad Jones saved well from Rory Fallon, Brett Holman struck in the 94th minute to grab the winner.

Australian manager, Pim Verbeek was very upset with his team’s performance, having been booed off at half time, and blasted the two tackles from Grella and Cahill in the first half.

Japan 0 – 2 South Korea

Japan went down to South Korea for the second time in the space of a few months, after goals from Park Ji-Sung and Park Chu-Young gave the Koreans a 2-0 victory.

South Korea started well with Park Ji-Sung scoring after only six minutes in Saitama. Japan controlled most of the first half, with the Koreans happy to sit back and hit them on the counter. Despite this, Japan never really threatened to create too much before the break. After half time, South Korea took the initiative more, moving the ball around nicely. However, chances were rare, and it wasn’t until stoppage time in the second half when Park Chu-Young was brought down in the area, and he picked himself up to settle the game.

South Korea are now unbeaten in four games, whilst Japan’s preparations have been thrown into turmoil by the news that manager Takeshi Okada has been in discussions with the Japanese Football Federation over whether he should continue in the job.

Portugal 0 – 0 Cape Verde Islands

Portugal’s preparation for the World Cup started poorly with a goalless draw against the African minnows. It was a strong Portugal side featuring the likes of Ronaldo, Nani, Deco and Ricardo Carvalho. They dominated the game but were unable to create many chances, with Ronaldo and Hugo Almeida missing the best chances.

Described as a performance lacking organisation or speed, and having few opportunities, the Portuguese will be looking for a dramatic improvement in their next warm-up game.

South Africa 1 – 1 Bulgaria

South Africa put in a bright performance against European opposition, but despite an impressive performance, they were unable to come away with the victory. Siyabonga Sangweni gave them the lead after 20 minutes, although they had forced a number of chances already by the time they scored. However, it was sloppy defending that led to the Bulgarian equaliser, with Valeri Bojinov finding himself unmarked in the box to score.

After half time, the game slowed and it was Bulgaria that looked the more likely to win, although there were to be no more goals in the game. South Africa have another warm-up game on Thursday and will be looking to build on an improved performance.

England 3 – 1 Mexico

England were without their Chelsea players for this warm-up at Wembley, giving a few of the squad players a chance to shine. Mexico were the better side in the first half, passing the ball around nicely and carving out a few decent chances. However, they found themselves 2 – 0 down after 35 minutes with goals from Ledley King and Peter Crouch, both from set pieces. However, Guillermo Franco pulled one back on the stroke of half time.

England improved in the second half, and finished the match as a contest only 2 minutes in, when Glen Johnson cut inside and curled a beautiful effort beyond Oscar Perez. They could have had more, but both Gerrard and Lennon were cynically fouled when through on goal.

England will be happy with the result, but looking for an improved performance against Japan at the weekend, whilst Mexico will be relatively happy with their performance overall.

Argentina 5 – 0 Canada

A virtually full-strength Argentina cruised past Canada, with goals from Maxi Rodriguez (2), Angel Di Maria, Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero. The Argentineans were rarely tested at the back, and they will have been satisfied with good performances from Juan Sebastian Veron’s understudy, Javier Pastore, Angel Di Maria and Carlos Tevez. Furthermore, Veron showed his class after coming on at half-time, not misplacing a single pass in the second half. A good confidence boost in their final warm-up game.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Scratching under the surface of Barcelona

On the surface of things, Barcelona are virtually the perfect club. Their style of football is a joy to watch, their fan-ownership set-up is envied by many an English football fan as is their highly successful youth system, whilst they seemingly have the finances to spend big whenever they desired. However, when we begin to scratch under the surface, the polished veneer begins to show flaws – somebody described Barcelona as the footballing equivalent of Coldplay: a bit self-righteous, adored by the masses and just a little too free with their opinions.

Real Madrid came under a huge amount of criticism for their public courting of Cristiano Ronaldo last season. Indeed, they riled Sir Alex Ferguson so much he stated that he would ‘not sell that lot a virus’. However, there is seemingly little difference between their behaviour regarding that deal and the Barcelona tactics to unsettle Arsenal’s Cesc Fabregas. People seem to justify it by the fact that he is a former Barcelona youth player, so they have an almost accepted right to take him back. If reports are to be believed, Barcelona have not even been in contact with Arsenal yet.

But ignoring the fact of whether Barcelona are acting in an appropriate manner – can they afford to buy him? Spanish football is not in a good situation at the moment – indeed, it has recently overtaken the Premiership as the most indebted league on the planet with debts of over £3bn. One of the major problems is that TV rights are negotiated individually, rather than collectively as in the majority of other leagues. Only this week, Real Mallorca narrowly missed out on the Champions League, but were forced to enter voluntary administration with debts of nearly €85m. Valencia’s financial problems are well documented.

However, Barcelona is an interesting case. In their recent financial report, their debt was reported at €30m – a loan taken out in February from Spanish bank La Caixa. That sounds relatively respectable for a club of their size and stature. However, new Presidential candidate, Sandro Roselli this week claimed that Barcelona’s debt was in fact a staggering €489m. There are also various other reports of amounts between the two – a club spokesman has referred to net debt of €202m, whilst the English media has quoted figures of €350m.

Which figure we believe depends entirely on how exactly we define debt. At its most narrow definition, the figure of €30m would be correct, since that is the only money that they owe the banks. However, if we take the broadest possible definition of debt, we would take total liabilities, including all financial obligations, debts, claims and potential losses. In this situation, the debt matches Roselli’s claims of €489m.

If we scratch the surface a little more, we find more details that tarnish Barcelona’s squeaky clean exterior. In recent months, the club has had to pay over €36m to the Spanish tax authorities over irregularities that occurred in the last ‘90s. This is in addition to the €25m that they have already paid regarding similar irregularities in earlier years. They have paid a reported €16m against claims brought by a Spanish TV company, Sogecable. Barcelona were found guilty of having breached their contract with the company. Sogecable had paid a fixed sum to the club and claimed that it was entitled to get all of the club’s international income between the seasons 2003/04 and 2007/08. However, the club withheld income from advertising and image rights, claiming it was not part of the deal. However, given that they did not appeal against the decision, it appears like an admission of guilt on their part. They also owe almost €50m to various clubs on transfer purchases that have not been paid yet. This includes almost €16m to Arsenal – €12 for Thierry Henry and €4m for Aleksandr Hleb.

The TV rights deal is a big issue in Spanish football at the moment. Barcelona’s current TV yearly income is an enormous £134.9m. Compared to even the English giants, this is impressive – Arsenal’s TV income is a measly £73.2m in comparison. They earn more than double the amount that 3rd placed Valencia receive and over 15 times more than 7 of the current La Liga teams. Clearly, this will only serve to ensure that Real Madrid and Barcelona are permanent fixtures at the top of the table. Indeed, a large number of the teams have threatened strike action if there is not a move to collective bargaining – a move that would reduce the top two divisions to eight teams each.

Barcelona continue to ignore calls for this to happen. A Barcelona director said that rather than spending time on this issue, they should spend the time ‘focussing on getting their finances in order’. However, how are they meant to do this without the revenue from TV deals? It is almost inevitable that the move will happen in the near future. Although Real Madrid and Barcelona have almost 80% of the TV audience, the interest will die off if they have no other teams to play.

The move to have UNICEF as their shirt sponsor won the club a lot of positive publicity, and rightly so. However, to assume that they do not rake in a huge amount of money from sponsorship deals would be foolish. The club has a list of 26 other sponsors, including Nike who pays a guaranteed minimum amount of €30m per year. They also retain player image rights, allowing them to make millions of euros on advertising deals.

This allows them to pay high wages – they have 8 of the top 38 highest paid players in the world, and 4 of the top 12. The Spanish ‘Beckham Law’ gives them a huge advantage over English clubs when it comes to paying wages. This law allows foreigners in the top tax bracket to pay only 23% tax for their first 5 years, in comparison to the 50% rate in England.

Whilst this all seems a very negative review, I must admit that there are a huge number of things related to Barcelona that are hugely admirable. The youth system is second to none – Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Victor Valdes, Gerard Pique, Carlos Puyol, and indeed, Fabregas himself – have come through in recent years. The election system, where the chief executive is directly accountable to the club’s fans in another. However, we need to be careful not to be blinded by what we are allowed to see. There is a lot lurking just under the surface to suggest that Barcelona does not match the squeaky clean image that it projects.

Their highly public pursuit of Cesc Fabregas has been going on for years, and we shall have to wait and see whether it will end this summer. Currently there is a huge gap between the relative valuations of the two clubs, and there will have to be a lot of tough negotiations if the deal is to happen. However, the first blow has been struck by the Catalans. Their public pursuit has reportedly led to Fabregas requesting a move away from the club.

However, in the words of Arsene Wenger: “I can't see anyone who has a competitive edge going to Spain. They have two good teams, but the third team is 21 points behind and this week the players threatened to go on strike because they are not paid. It's a league that is in complete disarray. If you are competitive you stay in England, that's where the competition is and that's where the best players want to be.”

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Magnificent Blackpool take their place in the Premiership

The most valuable game in professional football. 90 minutes that can make or break a club. With a place in the Premiership worth £90m at stake, one might have expected a tight, nervy game. Within 15 minutes, this had been proved spectacularly wrong.

Under the scorching sun at Wembley, Blackpool and Cardiff put on a footballing spectacle. Much of the talk ahead of the game was whether the big name players would turn up – Peter Whittingham and Michael Chopra for Cardiff, and record signing Charlie Adam for Blackpool. Whittingham has surprised people to become the league’s top scorer with 20 goals; Michael Chopra has chipped in with 16, whilst Charlie Adam also has 16.

The action kicked off almost instantly as Cardiff’s two stars combined excellently – Whittingham’s cross from the left was flicked onto the bar by Michael Chopra. Only five minutes later, the pair combined again, but this time, Chopra drilled the ball perfectly past Matt Gilks to give Cardiff an early lead. However, never count Blackpool out. Having come from behind on the last day of the season to secure their playoff spot, and in both legs of the semi-final, it was no surprise that they came back strongly. Stephen McPhail gave away the free-kick, and Charlie Adam, signed for a club-record £500k last summer, curled a magnificent strike into the top corner. Any player would have been proud of an effort like that.

Blackpool continued to press forward; Cardiff being forced to repel wave after wave of Tangerine attacks. However, it was Cardiff who grabbed the next goal – Joe Ledley playing the one-two with Peter Whittingham and keeping his cool to lift the ball over Matt Gilks to give the Bluebirds the lead once again. But yet again, there was no holding Blackpool back. They swarmed forward yet again; Gary Taylor-Fletcher hitting the post with a cracking volley after some nice passing from Blackpool. From the resulting corner, Ian Evatt’s shot was cleared off the line by Mark Kennedy, but Gary Taylor-Fletcher was on hand to nod home. Only 3 minutes had passed between the two goals.

The first half still had more to give. On the stroke of half time, good work by DJ Campbell on the edge of the box created some space, and although he mishit his shot, it fell for Brett Ormerod to poke under Marshall to give Blackpool the lead for the first time. Nine years ago, Brett Ormerod scored in a playoff final to lift Blackpool out of the bottom tier of English football, and it looked as though he might have done the same again.

The second half began in the sweltering heat, with the pitch-side thermometer showing temperatures in excess of 106°F. Blackpool suffered a set-back when Gary Taylor-Fletcher limped off within 5 minutes of the restart, but the game seemed to have settled back in the previous pattern. A high tempo open game hinted at more goals, but they were not to come. Despite the lack of goals, the half was no less absorbing. Cardiff, knowing they needed to score, pressed forward with Blackpool content to play on the break.

They created chances with Michael Chopra hitting the bar, Joe Ledley flicking a header just wide, Ross McCormack putting his shot wide and Joe Ledley being prevented again by Matt Gilks. Gilks had a nervous moment when he lost a cross, but watched the ball trickle wide of his left hand post. Ian Evatt and Alex Baptiste, who was relegated from the football league with Mansfield only 2 years ago, were both magnificent, winning countless headers and tackles.

As the final whistle was blown, the Blackpool players celebrated with their fans and manager, whilst the dejected Cardiff players collapsed to the turf. Ian Holloway’s transformation was complete. Formerly regarded as a bit of a comedy sideshow, he went away for a year, and returned a more serious manager with a new style. Inspired by Roberto Martinez’s Swansea last year, Blackpool play with an open, passing style, reminiscent of the Dutch total football. Whether they will be able to stay in the Premiership is another question, but for now, Blackpool will celebrate, as they should.

Ian Holloway has built a team of loan players and lower league journeymen, with an overall wage budget of only £4.8m – less than John Terry earns. Their average attendance is below 10k, and Bloomfield Road’s East Stand is a temporary construction. However, tonight, none of this will matter to the 35k Blackpool fans, the players, management and owner, Valeri Belokon. After 90 minutes of enthralling football, the Tangerines are now £90m richer and will look forward to taking their place at English football’s top table next season.

Friday, 21 May 2010

World Cup Antepost Betting Tips - Part 3

Group F

Group F contains reigning champions, Italy, South American side, Paraguay, Slovakia, and minnows, New Zealand. It would be a major surprise were Italy not to qualify from the group, as reflected by the odds of 1.11, whilst New Zealand proved in the Confederations Cup last year that they simply do not have the quality to compete at this level. The second qualification place is likely to be decided between Paraguay and Slovakia, and whilst I expect Paraguay to come through, there are no good value bets in this group.

Group G

Group G has been classed as the ‘group of death’, containing 5-time champions, Brazil, Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, African heavyweights, Ivory Coast, and Asian minnows, North Korea.

Brazil are expected to go far in this tournament, as reflected by their status as 2nd favourites for the title behind Spain. Dunga has put together a physical and gifted squad, despite the omission of a number of big-name players. They were victorious in the Confederations Cup in South Africa last year, after an excellent second half comeback in the final. Led by Lucio, they have a solid backline, and the threats of Kaka, Luis Fabiano and Robinho are well documented.

Portugal came through after a playoff against Bosnia after a disappointing qualifying campaign. However, they are unbeaten in their past 13 internationals and have a squad that could threaten. Former World Player of the Year, Cristiano Ronaldo, will team up with former teammate, Nani, as well as the likes of Simão, Deco, João Moutinho and Ricardo Carvalho in a strong line-up. They reached the semi-finals in Germany and will be hoping to put in a similarly strong performance this time round.

The Ivory Coast enter into their second world cup with high hopes. They have a number of talented individuals in their side – Didier Drogba will lead the attack alongside Salomon Kalou and Aruna Dindane, whilst Yaya Toure and Didier Zokora are the base of a solid midfield. Premiership pair, Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Eboue make up part of the defence. One of their major weaknesses though is in goal, where Boubacar Barry has been known to make some crucial mistakes. They were a major flop in the 2010 African Nations Cup, drawing with Burkino Faso before being knocked out in the quarter-final stage by Algeria. Whilst they have a number of talented individuals, their major challenge will be gelling together to play as a team, rather than as individuals.

North Korea are built on a solid defence, and have had some good performances recently. Victory over Mali last year has been followed by narrow defeats against a number of good teams, including Mexico, Paraguay and Iran. It is a nightmare group for them, but I would expect them to battle hard, and although they are likely to lose all three games, it is doubtful that they will suffer any large defeats.

There is huge pressure to win this group, since the runners-up are likely to play favourites, Spain, in the second round. I fancy Brazil and Portugal to qualify here, with Ivory Coast finishing third. Ivory Coast may suffer from a lack of quality in goal, and they tend to underachieve given the players that they have.

Bet: Ivory Coast not to qualify @ 2

Group H

Reigning European champions and World Cup favourites, Spain, are the seeded team in this group, whilst Latin America duo, Chile and Honduras, and European side, Switzerland, will be looking to battle it out for second place.

Spain rightly come into the tournament as favourites. They have a host of top quality players to choose from. David Villa and Fernando Torres make up the most dangerous forward line in international football, and a midfield consisting of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, David Silva, Xabi Alonso and Cesc Fabregas shows the great depth they have. They also have a solid defence with Iker Casillas behind Gerard Pique, Carlos Puyol and Sergio Ramos. Until Euro 2008, the perennial underachievers seems destined to fall short every tournament, but having won their first competition, few would bet against them being in the final reckoning here.

Switzerland have named an experienced squad for South Africa. They reached the second round in 2006, but crashed out in the group stage in a disappointing Euro 2008. Despite an embarrassing home defeat to Luxembourg, they qualified top of their group to take their place in the World Cup. They will be hoping that captain, Alex Frei, and Hakan Yakin will be able to score the goals that have been missing for them in recent tournaments, whilst Premiership duo, Valon Behrami and Philippe Senderos, are also in the squad.

Chile are tipped to be the surprise team in this tournament. Under Marcelo Bielsa, they have been transformed into a highly attacking outfit, playing a 3-3-1-3 formation that promises excitement. Humberto Suazo was the top scorer in South American qualifying, and he is backed up by the talented duo of Alexis Sanchez and Mati Fernandez. Whilst they are without a world cup victory in their last five appearances, hopes are high this time around after finishing second behind Brazil in qualification.

Honduras surprised people to qualify ahead of Costa Rica for this tournament. They reached the semi-finals of last year’s Gold Cup, losing to the eventual runners-up, USA. However, some impressive results in qualifying, including a 4-0 victory over Costa Rica and a 3-1 victory over Mexico confirmed their place in the World Cup for the first time in almost 30 years. Led by hugely experienced captain, Amado Guevara, they boast three Premiership players in their side – Tottenham’s Wilson Palacios and Wigan pair, Maynor Figueroa and Hendry Thomas – as well as the brilliantly named, Georgie Welcome.

It would be a huge shock were Spain not to qualify here with a perfect record, but the second qualification place is up for grabs. Personally, I believe that Chile will be good enough to take it – their attractive attacking play should cause problems, and with only 3 defeats in the past 18 months, they have proved that they have plenty of talent in their team.

Bet: Chile to qualify @ 1.73

Other Interesting Tips

With the World Cup being such a big event, there are a whole range of possible markets that are provided by the bookies. An interesting one is the best Asian/Oceania team in the competition. This is between the two Korean sides, Australia, Japan and New Zealand. Realistically, we can discount North Korea and New Zealand, and probably Japan straight away. North Korea have a horrible group, whilst the other two simply do not have the quality at this level. As I said earlier, I expect South Korea to qualify for the second round, and as such would be a good tip in this market. However, it is possible to cover yourself by tipping Australia as well, to guarantee a profit whichever of these sides is more successful.

Bet: South Korea best Asian/Oceania team @ 3.25
Bet: Australia best Asian/Oceania team @ 2.6

Another hugely popular market is the top goal-scorer. Generally, you look for a player that will grab a couple of goals in the group stage, whilst being part of a team that will go deep into the tournament, providing the greatest number of opportunities to add to your tally. David Villa is the favourite in this market, and for good reason. He won the Golden Boot at Euro 2008, and is the penalty-taker for Spain as well. He regularly outscores his partner, Fernando Torres, at this level, and with Spain expected to go all the way, will have ample opportunity to grab the goals.

Holland are another team that are likely to grab a few goals. They have a relatively weak group, and will be fancying their chances of some easy victories. They would also have a relatively straight-forward second round game, giving them plenty of hope of doing well in this tournament. Robin van Persie does not have the greatest record at this level with only 14 goals in 41 internationals. However, he has been impressive when fit this season for Arsenal, and will be fancying his chances of hitting a few goals in this tournament.

Brazil are another team expecting to go far. Whilst they have a tricky group, they will be hoping to have plenty of games over the course of the tournament to score the goals. Whilst Luis Fabiano is the main striker, Robinho floats around just behind him and despite only having scored 20 goals in 73 internationals, he has impressed recently. A decent outside bet for this market.

Other names to bear in mind include Miroslav Klose (34), who has an excellent record at big tournaments, England’s Wayne Rooney (13), who has been in scintillating form this season, and Argentina’s Lionel Messi (12). A couple of interesting outsiders may include Uruguay’s Diego Forlan (81), Chile’s Humberto Suazo (101) and Serbia’s Nikola Zigic (151).

Bet: David Villa Golden Boot @ 10
Bet: Robin van Persie Golden Boot @ 29
Bet: Robinho Golden Boot @ 59
Bet: Diego Forlan Golden Boot @ 81

Bet: Spain/David Villa Winning Team/Golden Boot @ 26

Thursday, 20 May 2010

World Cup Antepost Betting Tips - Part 2

Part two of this World Cup preview looks at Groups C, D and E. England, Germany and Holland are the top seeds in these groups, but there are a number of other teams that will be hoping to spring a surprise here.

Group C

There is not much to say about this group that hasn’t already been said in the press – England will be strong favourites to qualify top of their group, and potentially go a long way in the tournament. After a strong showing at last year’s Confederation’s Cup, the USA will be looking to build on their victory over Spain and pushing Brazil in the final to reach the knock-out stages of the World Cup. Slovenia will be looking to go one better than their previous World Cup appearance, where they bowed out in the group stage, whilst Algeria came through a tricky playoff against African Nation’s Cup champions, Egypt to book their place in South Africa.

There are no obvious value bets in this group – England will almost certainly qualify, but the odds are ridiculously low, whilst it is difficult to find value in any of the other sides to qualify. Algeria could be worth an outside bet, but personally, I’d stay clear of the betting in this group.

Group D

Group D contains 3-time World Cup champions, Germany, four-time African champions, Ghana, European side Serbia, and Australia.

Germany name a strong squad, with all their players playing in the domestic German league. The loss of captain, Michael Ballack, will be a huge loss for them, and Thorsten Frings no longer commands a place in the international side. They have several strong creative midfielders in Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mesut Ozil, and whilst their strikers have been out of form domestically, they will be hoping to improve on the international stage. Miroslav Klose in particular has a good record at the World Cup, having won the 2006 Golden Boot and finished runner-up in 2002.

Ghana have named a very different squad from that which finished runners-up at the African Nation’s Cup. They welcome back a number of more established players, and have a strong squad for this tournament. Despite a lack of match practice, Michael Essien will be a key member of the side, alongside captain Stephen Appiah, and Inter Milan’s Sulley Muntari. Young AC Milan striker Dominic Adiyiah will be looking to make the step-up after being named MVP at the U20 World Cup last year.

Serbia qualified top of their group ahead of France to reach South Africa, conceding only 8 goals in 10 games, and scoring 22. They have a strong defence consisting of Nemanja Vidic and Branislav Ivanovic, alongside promising youngsters, Nevan Subotic and Aleksandar Lukovic. Ahead of that, they have the hugely experienced Dejan Stankovic for support, and the exciting attacking trio of Milan Jovanovic, Milos Krasic, and Zoran Tosic. Giant Nikola Zigic provides the threat up front. Serbia were widely mocked for conceding 10 goals in their 3 games in 2006, but they have more experience, and a classy line-up this time and could surprise a few people.

Australia were unfortunate to be knocked out by the eventual winners, Italy, in 2006. A controversial penalty was the difference that day, and they will be hoping to put in a similarly good performance this time. They have 11 English-based players in their preliminary squad, as well as Harry Kewell, who is well-known to English supporters. Fulham keeper, Mark Schwarzer, has had a good season domestically, reaching the Europa League final, and Tim Cahill continues to grab vital goals for Everton. They will battle hard as Australian teams always do, and hope they have enough quality to get out of the group.

Germany will fancy their chances of qualifying for the knock-out stages, as they invariably seem to do in the big tournaments. Personally, I believe that Serbia will be tough opposition, and should tip themselves to do well in this tournament. A strong defence is always a crucial attribute for teams hoping to go well, and Serbia have one of the best in the tournament in my opinion.

Bet: Serbia to qualify @ 2.1
Bet: Serbia to win group @ 4.5

Group E

Group E contains Holland, top-ranked African side, Cameroon, former European champions, Denmark, and Japan.

Holland qualified with consummate ease, winning 8 out of 8, scoring 17 and conceding just 2. Whilst their defence may prevent them going all the way, they have plenty of threats in an attacking sense, with Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben, Rafael van der Vaart and Robin van Persie all having good seasons for their respective clubs. They have the experienced Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong to anchor the midfield. They should be hoping to qualify from this group with relative ease.

Cameroon are led by former 3-time African player of the year, Samuel Eto’o, who can always be relied on to provide a threat up front. He will be joined by English contingent, Alex Song, Sebastian Bassong and Benoit Assou-Ekotto. The appointment of Paul Le Guen turned around a stuttering qualifying campaign, but they were disappointing in the 2010 African Nation’s Cup, losing to Gabon, before going out in the quarter-finals to eventual winners Egypt.

Denmark impressed to qualify ahead of Portugal for this tournament, including a 3-2 win in Portugal. Led by highly-experienced striker, Jon Dahl Tomasson, they have named an experienced squad for the World Cup, with six players having over 50 caps. They have an injury concern over first-choice keeper, Thomas Sorensen, but have named him, along with other English-based players, Daniel Agger, Lars Jacobsen and Nicklas Bendtner, in the squad. They failed to qualify in 2006, but on each of the three occasions that they have reached the finals, they have made it out of the group.

Japan are the underdogs in this group. They were expected to qualify easily, but they struggled with too many draws. They have a strong midfield with the likes of Shunsuke Nakamura, Junichi Inamoto, Makoto Hasebe and Keisuke Honda, but they have a major weakness up front. They have not been in great form this year either, winning only 3 of their 7 games, including a comfortable 3-0 defeat against Serbia last time out. Their victories have come against Yemen, Bahrain and Hong Kong, and while you can only beat the teams you play, these results are hardly likely to worry the bigger sides in this group.

Holland should qualify with ease from this group, and the second qualification spot will be contested between Cameroon and Denmark. I suspect Denmark may be the side to get through, but either way, I simply cannot see Japan making any impact on this group with the squad of players that they have at their disposal.

Bet: Holland to win group @ 1.67
Bet: Japan to finish bottom @ 2.1

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

World Cup Antepost Betting Tips - Part 1

With the World Cup just over three weeks ago, there are bound to be some decent opportunities to make a bit of money. This is the first of four posts analysing each of the eight groups, looking for the best value bets in each.

Group A

Group A contains 2006 beaten finalists, France, the host nation, South Africa, Central America superpower Mexico and the winners of the inaugural tournament, Uruguay.

France only just scraped into the tournament following the infamous Thierry Henry handball against Ireland in the playoffs. They have plenty of talent in their squad, even with the exclusion of Karim Benzema and Samir Nasri – Hugo Lloris is one of the best young keepers in Europe, whilst the likes of Patrice Evra, Nicholas Anelka, Franck Ribery and Yoann Gourcuff are very talented players. However, the major problem for France is their coach, Raymond Domenech. He has been highly criticised in France in recent times for some controversial selections and lack of results.

South Africa will be hoping to put in a strong performance in front of their own fans. Traditionally, the host nation always does relatively well, although recent results suggest that South Africa may struggle a little. Draws with Namibia and North Korea were not great, but a draw with Paraguay and recent victories over Jamaica and Thailand are encouraging. They made it to the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup last year, but in a group containing Iraq and New Zealand, it wasn’t too tricky. Defeat to Brazil in the semi-final put an end to their tournament. They have several Premiership players – Aaron Mokoena, Steven Pienaar and Benni McCarthy – and they will be vital if South Africa are going to get anything out of the tournament.

The Mexicans are regulars at the World Cup, having qualified for 5 straight tournaments. They have reached the final 16 on each occasion, and will fancy their chances of making it again. Their defence is one of their strongest features, having conceded only 3 goals in their past 14 internationals, and they won the 2009 Gold Cup with a crushing 5-0 victory over the USA in the final. They have struggled for goals in recent games, but these were without some of their European stars, such as Guillermo Franco, Carlos Vela, Andres Guardado and Giovanni Dos Santos.

Uruguay clinched their place after a playoff with Costa Rica. They have a strong selection of strikers to choose from, with the likes of Diego Forlan, Luis Suarez and Edison Cavani. However, whether they have the midfield and defence to get results against France and Mexico is questionable, with quite a few South American based players. They got an impressive 3-1 victory over the Swiss in their last friendly match, so could be a decent bet to qualify from the group.

Despite the fact that the hosts have never failed to qualify, I simply do not think that the South Africans have the talent to make it out of the group. They are up against three talented sides, and home advantage can only get you so far. France have plenty of talent in their squad, and as long as Domenech does not spring any more surprises, should fancy themselves to make it out of this group. The second qualifying place will be between Mexico and Uruguay, and I fancy the solid defence of the Mexicans to be the difference.

Bet: South Africa not to qualify @ 1.45
Bet: South Africa to finish bottom @ 2.4

Group B

Group B contains Diego Maradona’s Argentina, former European champions, Greece, two-time African Nations champions, Nigeria, and South Korea.

Argentina have an abundance of talent in their side. Attacking options including Lionel Messi, Carlos Tevez, Gonzalo Higuain, Diego Milito and Sergio Aguero are backed up by experienced creative midfielder, Juan Sebastian Veron. However, the omission of Javier Zanetti and Esteban Cambiasso was a shock. Despite lining up against each other in the Champion’s League final, Walter Samuel and Martin Demichelis are likely to partner each other at the back, with Newcastle’s Jonas Gutierrez doing the running in midfield. However, Diego Maradona is the weak link in the Argentinean bid – his undoubted talent as a player does not seem to have transferred into the management arena, and they struggled to qualify for the tournament, needed a victory on the final day to scrape in.

The Greeks are still coached by Otto Rehhagel, who led them to the historic Euro 2004 triumph. There is a strong domestic bias to the squad, although Euro 2004 hero, Angelos Charisteas, and Liverpool defender, Sotiris Kyrgiakos are included in the squad. However, they failed to reach the last World Cup, and lost all three games at Euro 2008. They needed a playoff victory over Ukraine to reach the finals this time around, but they are unlikely to have the quality to qualify from this group.

Nigeria only just scraped into the tournament, needing a 92nd minute goal to beat Mozambique, and deny them a place at the World Cup. Despite defeat to Egypt in their opening game, they reached the semi-finals of the 2010 African Nations Cup, before succumbing to losing finalists, Ghana. The majority of their squad is European-based, and the likes of John Obi Mikel, Dickson Etuhu, Yakubu and Obafemi Martins mean they have quality in their side. Whether they are good enough to make it to the knock-out stages is a different matter though.

South Korea had a magnificent run to the semi-finals in the 2002 World Cup, and only missed out on qualification for the knock-out stage in 2006 after a controversial defeat to Switzerland. They were unbeaten in qualification for the 2010 World Cup and have impressed in recent friendly games, beating the Ivory Coast (3-1), Ecuador (2-0) and Japan (3-1). They have some classy players – Manchester United’s Park Ji-Sung, Bolton’s Lee Chung-Yong and Tomsk’s Kim Nam-Il are solid midfielders, while Monaco striker Park Chu-Young scored 8 goals this season in Ligue 1.

Despite Diego Maradona, Argentina have the talent to go far in this tournament, and should qualify from this group without too many difficulties. The other three sides are all of a relatively similar quality, but I fancy South Korea to take the other qualifying position. They have been in good form recently, and beat Ivory Coast, who are of a similar quality to Nigeria.

Bet: Argentina to win group @ 1.54
Bet: South Korea to qualify @ 3.75

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Irresponsible Newspapers and Corruption in FIFA

The Mail on Sunday has faced a huge backlash in recent days over its decision to publish the allegations of former head of the FA and key member of the 2018 World Cup bid, Lord Triesman. Quite rightly so in my opinion. The press in general are beginning to come under pressure from fans, who are sick of them constantly undermining the national team, simply to sell copies of their newspapers. Admittedly, newspaper editors’ primary mandate is the success of their newspaper, and so they will claim that they are simply acting in their best interests. And maybe they are. But this does not quell the growing feeling that they should take some responsibility for their actions.

Whilst it is not clear yet, the actions of the Mail on Sunday may have dealt a fatal blow to England’s hopes of hosting the World Cup in 2018. The crushing disappointment to millions of fans nationwide, simply for the success of increasing their sales by a couple of thousand copies on one single Sunday. Indeed, it may backfire with a growing number of fans talking of boycotting the paper as a result of their actions.

With the World Cup itself starting in just over 3 weeks time, the press seem to be going into overload in trying to target and undermine England’s chances. This year alone, there has been the exposure of the John Terry affair, the completely irrelevant criticisms of the Capello Index, and now this sting operation on the chairman of the FA. The England captain, the England coach and the chairman of the FA in less than six months – will they be targeting Wayne Rooney next? What Lord Triesman said was not illegal, it was not libellous – it was a simple comment made in private to a person that he regarded as a friend. If every private remark were to be published as a truth, the world would collapse into chaos within hours. Yes, it was not a smart thing to have said, but surely a responsible press would have got in touch with him, told him about what they had, and told him to be more careful in the future.

This has been a situation where somebody in a position of trust with Lord Triesman has been recruited, sends her to meet him with a tape recorder in her bag, simply to induce him into saying something that they can then publish on the front page of their newspaper. For me, this is a hideous way of operating and obtaining a story.

The other interesting thing to note is that, despite all of what has been happening, Lord Triesman has not withdrawn his allegation. That seems to have been swept under the carpet with all the attempted mending bridges that has been going on. Head of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, has called the FIFA Ethics Committee to investigate this matter. However, they are investigating whether England has broken the regulations over bidding for the World Cup. There has been no investigation either by FIFA, or by anybody in Moscow or Madrid, over whether there is any truth behind these allegations.

Chances are, there is no truth behind what Lord Triesman has claimed. But what if there was, even if only an ounce of truth? It has not been the first rumour concerning corruption that has surrounded FIFA in recent times. And conveniently, these have been hidden away as well. Lord Triesman claimed earlier in the year that one FIFA executive committee member requested an honorary knighthood in exchange for a vote in the ballot. If there is any truth to this, surely this is a form of corruption? And yet FIFA have not even asked Lord Triesman for the name of the individual involved, let alone launch any form of investigation.

Last year, the British FIFA vice-president, John McBeth, was forced to resign after he accused CONCACAF President and FIFA executive committee member, Jack Warner, of corruption. Rather than launch any form of investigation, Jack Warner accused McBeth of racism, and FIFA forced him to resign his commission.

Now, I am not for a moment suggesting that there is any truth to the accusations made by Lord Triesman over the agreement between Spain and Russia. However, can we take the risk that there could be something behind the rumours. Often there is no smoke without fire. And FIFA hardly have a strong prior record on investigating allegations of corruption. So whilst it was irresponsible by Lord Triesman to have made these comments, they are surely worthy of at least a cursory glance by the Ethics Committee.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Torres to Chelsea? Should we believe what we read in the papers?

As the season comes to a close, attention once again turns to the transfer window. Fans expectantly wait to discover who their club will bring in over the summer, and which players are deemed surplus to requirement. The problem is that clubs generally keep their transfer dealings quite private. This means that fans resort to following the rumours published in the daily newspapers. However, it is difficult to know how reliable these rumours actually are – do they actually know something or have they simply made them up? And are some papers more reliable than others?

The tabloids are by far the most prolific rumour-starters. In particular, the News of the World has produced an average of 6.94 rumours per day, since the beginning of the 2006 summer transfer window. They are followed by the People (3.27 per day), the Daily Mirror (2.97) and the Sun (2.12). Unsurprisingly, the broadsheet press publish far less rumours – the Daily Telegraph produce only 0.29 per day, followed by the Guardian (0.32), the Independent (0.36) and the Times (0.65). These statistics are not really that surprising. It is common knowledge that the tabloids tend to print more rumours, compared to the broadsheets, which tend to post more analytical material. However, is there any correlation between the type of newspaper and the accuracy of their rumours?

Despite printing by far the greatest number of rumours, the News of the World has the lowest percentage of correct rumours. A correct rumour is defined as one that has led to either the player making the transfer mentioned in the rumour, or signing a new contract as specified in the rumour. The News of the World has a success rate of only 12.19%, although it is generally more accurate for the larger teams, such as Manchester United (20.41%) and Chelsea (18.18%) than some of the smaller clubs like Stoke (4.55%) and Hull (4.00%). The People is only fractionally better with a success rate of 13.25% and the Daily Mirror scores a 18.05% success rate.

The most accurate newspaper in England is the Guardian, which accurately predicts 30.34% of its rumours. It is closely followed by the Independent (26.69%) and the Times (25.79%)

Therefore, it is noticeable that the broadsheets, despite printing far fewer rumours, are actually far more accurate. It seems to suggest that they are generally far more careful with the rumours that they print, taking more time to research them, rather than the somewhat scattergun approach of the tabloid press, who are more likely to publish their ‘big scoops’ solely to attract new readers.

The final interesting thing to look at is which teams’ transfer activities are usually most accurately captured in the rumour columns of newspapers. Interestingly, it is Burnley, Wigan and Birmingham that come out highest in this. Manchester United are the first big team to show up in the list in 4th, with 26.3% of rumours printed about them turning out to be true. Liverpool are the only other big spenders to appear in the top half of the table, with a 25.5% accuracy rate.

Chelsea languish down in 18th place in the table, with only a 18.15% success rate. Other upper half Premiership sides, Manchester City, Tottenham, Aston Villa, Everton and Arsenal are all in the lower half of this table. This is interesting as it suggests that the more successful a side is in the Premiership, the less accurate the rumours concerning their transfers. This could potentially be because more obscure links begin to spring up concerning the bigger sides, especially those that tend to spend larger amounts of money in the transfer windows.

For example, in the past couple of months, Chelsea have been linked with Fernando Torres, Angel Di Maria, Sergio Aguero, Frank Ribery, David Villa, Edin Dzeko, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Kaka on more than one occasion. Clearly all of these are not going to be true – indeed, it would be surprising to see more than about two or three of these at Chelsea next season.

It is only natural that the big sides should have more rumours printed about them – it is these big sides that sell newspapers. As a result, it would only appear natural that fewer of these rumours are correct. It is not the case that big sides buy more players than the small clubs – if anything, it is the reverse. However, it is interesting to see that it is the broadsheet newspapers that are the most accurate, despite printing the fewest rumours.

(Data from

An Alternative Relegation System

One only needs to look around the grounds at the end of the season to see the devastating effect that relegation can have on a club, their players, and more importantly, their fans. For many, relegation would rank as one of their darkest moments – it is almost treated with the same grief as a death in the family.

In Argentina, they have a curious style of determining the teams that get relegated from the top division. It is decided on an average points system, where the total number of points that a team has acquired over the past three seasons is averaged out. The teams are then ranked in order of these average points, and the bottom three are relegated. If a team has not been in the division for three years, then their points total is simply divided by the number of seasons that they have been in the division.

While this system is generally perceived to be a mechanism to protect the big teams if they have one particularly bad season, it would be an interesting test to see what impact this might have had on the Premiership since its inception. Would former top division regulars such as Leeds, Newcastle, Sheffield Wednesday and Southampton have been saved by this new system? Would we have seen the same teams relegated, or have certain teams benefitted from the occasional strong season to boost their average?

We will look season-by-season to determine how different the Premiership landscape would have looked if it had decided to use this new method of determining relegation:


Hull City were unable to turn their poor form from the previous season around, and they were joined by Burnley and Portsmouth, who had suffered major financial problems, going into administration in February.

However, recent good performances would have saved Portsmouth, even with the points deduction, seeing Wolves joining Hull and Burnley in the Championship. If investors knew that Portsmouth would be remaining in the Premiership, might somebody have moved in already to save the struggling club?


The demise of Newcastle United was the major story of the 2008/09 season. Major infighting, constant managerial changes and a lack of real quality saw the famous club suffer the ignominy of relegation to the Championship. They were joined by north-east rivals Middlesbrough and West Brom.

Intriguingly, under the alternative system, both Newcastle and Middlesbrough would have stayed in the Premiership, and their bitter north-east rivals, Sunderland, would have taken their place in the Championship, along with recently promoted Hull City.


Reading suffered severe second season syndrome, having just missed out on a UEFA Cup place in their first season at the top level. They were joined by Birmingham and the woeful Derby County side, who secured the lowest ever total of points in the top division.

Reading’s previous heroics would have been enough to save them, and would have seen Sunderland drop down into the Championship instead. Maybe Reading would have been able to hang on to some of their young stars, and Sunderland may have parted ways with Roy Keane and would almost certainly not have signed the likes of Kieran Richardson, Kenwyne Jones and Craig Gordon.


This season saw Sheffield United relegated, following West Ham’s dramatic late recovery, led by the ineligible Carlos Tevez. The matter would eventually go to the courts, where Sheffield United were awarded compensation, but this mattered little to them at that stage. Charlton and Watford joined them in the Championship.

Under the Argentinean system, the whole Carlos Tevez affair would have been less relevant, since Sheffield United would have been relegated anyway. Even if West Ham had gained less points, Charlton had a higher average than Sheffield United, so would have stayed up instead.


Birmingham City joined West Brom and Sunderland in losing their Premiership place in this season. Portsmouth had looked likely to go down, but a miraculous escape, masterminded by the returning Harry Redknapp saved them.

Portsmouth would not have been so lucky under the average points system. Even their dramatic late recovery would not have been enough, and they would have gone down in place of Birmingham. Considering they went on to solidify their position in the top flight, winning the FA Cup only two years later, and suffering crippling debt as a result, would things have been different had they gone down this season?


Southampton were the major casualties in the 2004/05 season. They had been in the top flight since 1978, famously pulling off a number of great escapes over the years. However, they finally succumbed to relegation by two points. They were joined by Crystal Palace and Norwich.

West Brom were the lucky team to survive. They would have gone down at the expense of Southampton had the Argentinean system been in place. Southampton suffered major financial difficulties as a result of relegation, dropping all the way to League 1, experiencing numerous points deductions en-route.


Leicester and Wolves were both relegated in 2004, but their demise was overshadowed by the relegation of Leeds United. Only three years before, they had been playing in the Champions League, but missing out on 4th spot in the 2001/02 season had led to the onset of major financial problems, leading to the departure of a number of major players.

They would have been saved by the alternative system, although whether they would have survived much longer in the Premiership is another question. However, their subsequent financial demise may not have been as dramatic as it turned out to be. Interestingly, Portsmouth would have been the unlucky team to replace them, despite finishing 13th in their first season in the top flight.


West Ham were deemed to be too good to go down, but this was not the case. A poor season led to their relegation from the Premiership, where they were joined by West Brom and Sunderland.

The Hammers would have comfortably retained their place in the top flight following their 7th placed finish the previous season. Bolton would once again have been the team to take their place in the lower divisions. Following their relegation, the likes of Joe Cole, Michael Carrick, Glen Johnson and Jermain Defoe all departed the club. They may have re-established themselves as a solid Premiership club at the expense of others had they been able to stay in the top flight.


This season saw UEFA Cup participants, Ipswich Town, suffering a major case of second season syndrome, collapsing to a poor 18th placed finish. They were joined by long-term top division sides Derby County and Leicester City.

Under the average points system, Ipswich’s solid showing the previous season would have been enough to save them, whilst newly-promoted Bolton Wanderers would have taken their place. Considering Bolton went on to solidify their Premiership status, even qualifying for the UEFA Cup, how different things might have been for Bolton and Sam Allardyce had the side not remained in the Premiership in 2002.


Manchester City, Coventry and Bradford suffered relegation in this season. Having flirted with relegation the previous season, Bradford simply did not have the quality to survive in the division. Coventry City had been a fixture in the Premiership since its inception, but this season saw the culmination of a long decline in their performances.

All three sides would have been relegated under the alternative system.


The turn of the millennium saw two former regulars in the top flight fall away, never to be seen again. Wimbledon and Sheffield Wednesday had been established members of the top flight in recent years, but were unable to retain their places. They were joined by Watford.

The Argentinean system would not have been enough to save Wimbledon, who had been flirting with relegation for several years. However, Sheffield Wednesday would have stayed up at the expense of Bradford. Their relegation led to severe financial problems and they have recently returned to League 1 – would things have been different had they stayed in the top flight?


Blackburn Rovers were the major casualty of the 1998/99 season, suffering the heartbreak of relegation only five years after being crowned champions of England. They were joined by newly-promoted Charlton and Nottingham Forest.

Everton would have been the unfortunately club to drop out of the Premiership, ending their record-breaking 96 year stay in the top division of English football. Everton have since re-established themselves as one of the major forces in the Premiership, having been one of the few to break the monopoly on the Champions League, but how different might their fortunes have been had they been relegated in 1999.


This was the first season of the Premiership where all three promoted clubs immediately dropped back down to the Championship. Bolton, Barnsley and Crystal Palace were all unable to make the step up to the big time.

For the first time, the alternative system would have made no difference whatsoever regarding the teams that fell out of the Premiership.


Sunderland, Middlesbrough and Nottingham Forest were the unlucky teams to suffer relegation in the 1996/97 season. Once again, Nottingham Forest were the shock team to go down, having comfortably finished in the top half in recent seasons. A poor start had given them little hope, and despite a late revival led by player-manager Stuart Pearce, they finished bottom.

They would have survived under the average points method, being replaced by Leicester City, who would have been relegated, despite a 9th placed finish and victory in the Carling Cup. Had they been relegated, would Martin O’Neill have remained at the club or would the highly-talented Northern Irishman have moved on to a bigger job.


The 1995/96 season saw Manchester City, QPR and Bolton fall out of the league. QPR had been a strong upper-half Premiership team up until this season, where the wheels really came off, after selling club record goal-scorer Les Ferdinand the previous summer.

As expected, QPR’s previous strong showings would have excused them this one failing, where they would have been replaced by Middlesbrough. QPR have never returned to the top flight since, having gone through a large number of managers, and even falling down to the third tier of English football.


This season saw four teams relegated as the Premiership downsized from 22 teams to 20. The unlucky four were Crystal Palace, Norwich, Ipswich and Leicester City. This had been a dramatic fall from grace for Norwich, who had finished 3rd in the inaugural season of the Premiership, and having beaten Bayern Munich in the UEFA Cup the previous year.

Under the Argentinean system, their previous success would have saved Norwich City, who would have retained their place in the Premiership at the expense of Southampton. However, Southampton remained in the top flight, hanging on to star player, Matt Le Tissier, and Norwich would fall into the lower divisions and it would be almost 10 years until they returned to the promised land. This relegation led to the departure of Chris Sutton to newly-crowned champions, Blackburn Rovers.


Sheffield United, Oldham, and recently promoted Swindon Town were the teams to go down in the 1993/94 season. While Oldham had been regularly flirting with relegation since their promotion three years earlier, Sheffield United had been fixtures in mid-table for the past couple of seasons.

Indeed, under the other system, Sheffield United would have retained their place in the Premiership and would have been replaced by recently promoted West Ham, who actually finished comfortably in mid-table. However, their poor showing two seasons previously would have dragged their total down. Considering West Ham went on to solidify their position in the Premiership, how different their fortunes might have been had they gone down to the old Division 1?


The first season of the new Premiership era saw Crystal Palace, Middlesbrough and Nottingham Forest fail to retain their places in the top division. Nottingham Forest were a big name to go down, having been a fixture of the top flight for 16 years, winning 7 trophies during that period. It was this relegation that led to the end of the legendary Brian Clough’s tenure at the club.

However, had we used the Argentinean system, both Crystal Palace and Nottingham Forest would have been saved, with Southampton and Coventry joining Middlesbrough in relegation. Who knows whether Brian Clough might have stayed around longer had they stayed in the top flight?


As we can see, the Premiership landscape might have been very different had they decided to adopt this alternative style of relegation. The older, more traditional clubs would have been saved, and may have gone on to re-establish their position in the top division. On the other hand, the smaller, less fashionable clubs would not have been given the opportunity to solidify their position – the likes of Bolton and Portsmouth would all have been relegated before having the opportunity to concrete their position in the division.

Personally, I think it would be a terrible decision were the Premiership to adopt this system. It gives an enormous boost to the established sides, giving them the leeway to slip up occasionally. However, the newly promoted sides would have to significantly perform above average to simply stay in the division in their first season. This season is an example of this – Wolves have done magnificently to finish 8 points clear of relegation in 15th place, but would have been relegated simply due to Portsmouth, Wigan and West Ham’s previous good performances. This would simply preserve the position of the elite, although one might argue that it would boost the quality of the league in the long term.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

More important than a matter of life and death?

The great Bill Shankley once said that football was more important than a matter of life or death. Whilst it is difficult to contest most of what he did, this is one thing that is simply not true. Clearly, this was said somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but to him, football may have been that important. The game provided him with his life. And while he understood that tragedy and football can never be wholly separated, he never lost his staunch belief that football was the most important thing and that through the bad times, football must continue.

Football is more important than a matter of life and death

However, when the bad times come, it is never easy to separate the tragedy and grief from the desire to see the game continue. Earlier today, it was announced that Besian Idrizaj has become the latest footballer to tragically pass away in recent years. Whilst it is doubtful that the majority of football fans will ever have heard of the Austrian, this should make no difference. Football has always been a tight community, and the loss of one of its members is a tragedy.

Idrizaj passed away last night, having suffered a heart attack in his sleep. He was only 22 years old. He came to England at a relatively young age, having been signed to the Liverpool youth academy. However, he never quite made the grade there, and had loans spells at Luton and Crystal Palace, before returning to his homeland for a season. He moved back to England to join Swansea City last summer, but only made four appearances after a spell out of the game.

Besian Idrizaj is the latest tragedy to befall football

He had collapsed twice before on the pitch within two months of each other. At the time, it was thought to have been a heart attack, but it was later confirmed as a virus. However, despite recommendations that he should quit the game for health reasons, his love of the game convinced him to carry on playing.

A tribute to Marc-Vivien Foe

He is not the only player to have tragically passed away in recent times. Indeed, there seems to be a growing number of players that have suffered heart attacks – many during a match. Three of the highest profile cases in recent years are Marc-Vivien Foé, Miklos Fehér and Antonio Puerta. Marc-Vivien Foé collapsed during the second half of the 2003 Confederations Cup semi-final. Despite numerous attempts to resuscitate him, they were unable to. Miklos Fehér was a Hungarian international, who collapsed on the field during a league game in January 2004. His teammates rushed to him, performing CPR before the medics arrived.

Team-mates rush to the aid of Miklos Feher

Antonio Puerta is possibly the highest profile case. A Spanish international, he played for Sevilla, but collapsed in his own penalty area during a match. After recovering consciousness, he was substituted and walked off the field. However, he collapsed again in the changing rooms and tragically passed away.

Spanish international Antonio Puerta collapsed in August 2007

However, there have many a number of other cases recently. Less than a year ago, Espanyol captain Dani Jarque passed away ahead of a friendly match in Italy. He had been on the phone to his girlfriend, when he suffered a heart attack. Closer to home, Motherwell captain, Phil O’Donnell died after collapsing on the pitch toward the end of a league game in December 2007. One particularly tragic, and preventable, death was that of Croatian footballer Hrvoje Custic, who passed away after hitting his head on a concrete wall during a game. It raises the question of why there was a concrete wall less than 2m from the touchline – it was a tragedy waiting to happen.

Tributes left for Espanyol captain, Dani Jarque

Football cannot take any blame for these tragedies. Virtually all of them were as a result of pre-existing heart conditions. However, it should be argued that there should be a greater focus on screening for these conditions, not only at the highest level, but throughout the footballing pyramid. Earlier this year, Sevilla defender Sergio Sanchez had a heart condition detected that would potentially have been a serious risk. Also in Spain, Real Madrid midfielder, Ruben de la Red has been sidelined since collapsing in October 2008.

Sergio Sanchez's career is in the balance

There are signs that football is beginning to implement the tests and screening procedures that may help to detect these heart conditions before they lead to a tragic end. However, it is then up to the player whether he continues. Besian Idrizaj made this choice with tragic consequences. As Bill Shankley said, for some, football is more important than life…

Friday, 14 May 2010

Weekend Betting Tips

Laval v Brest

Laval are ending the season strongly, with a victory against league leaders, Caen, 10 days ago, and following that up with a 3-2 victory at Vannes last weekend. They are missing a couple of players, but have Gabon striker Do Marcolino back from injury.

Brest are already promoted and have a chance to win the title here if they win, and Caen slip up. However, they have been poor recently, going down 4-1 at home against Dijon last weekend, and seem content to play out the season and plan for top division football next season. They are without 4 first team regulars, and have struggled away from home recently.

Brest will be happy regardless of the outcome tonight, having secured promotion. Laval are finishing well and will be confident of finishing on a high in front of their own fans.

Bet: Laval 0AH @ 1.75

Metz v Vannes

After 9 games without a win, Metz have given themselves a chance to salvage their season with victories over Angers and Caen in recent weeks. They are 1 point behind Arles and promotion going into this final match of the season, and need to win this to give themselves any realistic hope. They have plenty of experienced players and few injury concerns ahead of the game.

Vannes still need a point to make their survival absolutely certain, although will stay up should other results go their way. 3 wins in 4 games looked to have pulled them clear, but a poor defensive performance against Laval last weekend saw them slip back into danger.

Metz will have a strong home crowd roaring them on as they look to get an early lead to put the pressure on Arles. They need to win to give themselves a chance, and should achieve this.

Bet: Metz -1AH @ 1.9

Sampdoria v Napoli

Sampdoria did well last weekend, gaining a crucial point against their Champions League challengers, Palermo. They played a solid defensive game, knowing that Palermo had to win. However, this week, they need to win. Palermo play already relegated Atalanta, which they will be confident of taking 3 points from. This means that Sampdoria must beat 6th placed Napoli.

Napoli have already secured a Europa League place for next year, and technically have nothing to play for. However, they have several players looking to put in a good performance and secure a WC place. They have a number of classy players, although the suspension of Lavezzi is a blow for them.

The pressure is on Sampdoria, and I have a feeling they may slip up here, especially if news filters through of Palermo taking the lead at Atalanta.

Bet: Napoli +0.5AH @ 3.0

Osasuna v Xerez

Osasuna lie safely in mid-table going into the final game of the season, and are only playing for pride now. Only 1 win in 6 games is not a great record, although only 1 defeat in the past 10 home games suggests they are relatively strong in front of their own fans.

Earlier in the year, Xerez were over 10 points adrift at the bottom, but they go into the final day with a chance of survival. They have 33 points, while the four teams above them all have 36 points. However, Xerez have a positive head-to-head record against them, and the teams above them have difficult final day games – Tenerife go to Valencia, Valladolid go to Barcelona, and Malaga play Real Madrid. Thus, they have a realistic chance of surviving if they win here. They have lost 3 of their last 7 away games, but these were against Villarreal, Barcelona and Valencia. They beat Malaga and Atletico Madrid, and will fancy their chances here.

Xerez looked doomed only a few months ago, but now have a realistic chance of survival. Whether they can win is a different matter, but they have the motivation.

Bet: Xerez DNB @ 2.14

Chelsea v Portsmouth

Ancelotti is looking to surpass the achievements of Mourinho and becoming the first Chelsea manager to lead the club to a league and cup double. Their scoring record in 2010 has been simply incredible, having hit 7 goals three times, and 8 last weekend to seal the title.

Portsmouth have had a nightmare 12 months, but have the chance for one final big day out before they drop down to the Championship. They have a number of injury worries ahead of the game, with O’Hara, Dindane, Boateng and Wilson all facing late fitness checks. They will play a similar game to the semi-final, defending bravely and hoping to nick something on the break.

An early goal for Chelsea could open the floodgates here. They scored 5 at Fratton Park earlier in the season, and much as an upset appeals to the neutrals, Chelsea will be too professional to let that happen.

Bet: Chelsea -1.75AH @ 1.73
Bet: Chelsea -4.5 corners @ 1.875

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Individuals win matches, but groups win titles

When one thinks of Brazilian football, we conjure up images of exquisite skill, flamboyant passing and a carnival-type atmosphere. However, the current Brazilian side has little of these traits. Built in the image of their coach, the gritty former holding midfielder, Dunga, there is no space for the big names and the extravagant expansive play that we come to expect. The Brazilian media are still to be convinced, despite his prior success, but if he were to be standing on the pitch in Soccer City, Johannesburg on July 11th, he will be hailed as a hero.

Dunga knows what it takes to win the World Cup

When Brazil crashed out of the 2006 World Cup in the final eight against France, the media latched onto the supposed excesses of the side as the excuse – the team played as talented individuals, not as a talented group. It was this that led to the appointment of Dunga. He emphasised that while individuals may win matches, groups win titles. Since he was appointed, he has backed up his words with success – winners of the Copa América in 2007 and the FIFA Confederations Cup in 2009 – and they will begin the 2010 FIFA World Cup as second favourites behind reigning European champions, Spain.

The reigning Confederations Cup champions

However, the squad of 23 that will travel to South Africa is missing a number of big names that the media have been campaigning hard to have included. A brief look at the players that will be missing out would make the majority of other national coaches green with envy – the players that will be watching from home include AC Milan pair Ronaldinho and Alex Pato, Chelsea’s Alex, Juventus’ Diego, Real Madrid’s Marcelo, Flamengo pair Adriano and Wagner Love, Corinthians’ Ronaldo and Santos pair Neymar and Paulo Henrique – the list goes on.

Ronaldo and Ronaldinho - neither of them will be in South Africa

Instead, the likes of Felipe Melo, Gilberto Silva, Kleberson and Josue join Kaka in the midfield, and Nilmar and Grafite will be battling for a place with Robinho and Luis Fabiano up front. It is difficult to criticise Dunga, given that Brazil have only lost one of their past 23 games – a defeat at altitude in Bolivia. However, it seems unlikely that we will see Brazil playing with their characteristic spark. Rather they will try to grind down teams with a physical style that has become noticeable in recent years. Whilst there is a good chance that this will be effective, it will not be the Brazil that people have grown up wanting to emulate.

There were calls for Neymar and Paulo Henrique to be taken to South Africa

However, it would be easy to look at Brazil in a negative light. However, they still have a number of top quality players, and goals should not be too much of an issue. Kaka will be the driving creative force for Luis Fabiano and Robinho; Maicon and Daniel Alves will provide support on the wings, whilst in Julio Cesar and Lucio, they have one of the best keepers and defenders that will be in South Africa.

In Julio Cesar, they have one of the top keepers

Only a fool would count Brazil out in the final reckoning, but if they do make it, it is unlikely to be with the samba-style football that they are famed for. Dunga knows that anything less than raising the trophy will be perceived as a failure, and he has put his faith in a group of players, rather than individuals. In just under two months time, we will know whether he has made the correct call.
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