Saturday, 19 June 2010

Blog #3: Shining stars

Now that the 2010 edition of the greatest tournament on Earth is more than a week old, we can start to dissect its stars. Who has lived up to their hotly tipped billing? And who has been embarrassed on a worldwide stage?

Having picked Calamity James for last night's drab 0-0 draw with Algeria, it appears Fabio Capello may not give Rob Green another chance to show the world what he can do. That said, I'm not sure what there is to show... This is the man who stood between the sticks for West Ham in a season where they finished 17th, just barely out of the drop zone. Impressive!

Algeria, on the other hand, have proven they have their own stars. Gerrard's statement that this was their "World Cup Final" was condescending nonsense from Liverpool's favourite bar brawler, and David James then went on to imply that the Algerians put 11 men behind the ball. Far from it!

I thought the African team did themselves proud with a reasonable attacking effort against the team ranked 8th in the world. The game confirmed for me that I was right to tip one of their stars to shine, namely 'MAGIC' BOUGHERRA.

Long gone are the days that the Scottish Premier League could boast a huge list of world-class talents such as Rene Gattuso (now a Champions League and World Cup winner), Brian Laudrup, Henrik Larsson, Paolo Di Canio, Mikel Arteta, Frank De Boer, Roy Keane, Van Bronckhorst...

However, in amongst the dross and journeymen who make up today's Scottish teams, one of the few gems in recent seasons has been Rangers' Bougherra. On the strength of his first two WC performances, the Gers have about as much chance of keeping him this summer as they do of beating Barcelona to Cesc Fabregas' signature.

The fate of England's Group C is far from sealed after the second lot of games; any team can still climb their way out of it. What is more than likely is that the team placed second will face Germany in the round of sixteen, who should still win Group D despite a shock 1-0 defeat to Serbia.

The Germans have their own young star in MESUT OZIL. At only 21, and earning his corn at Werder Bremen, it's unlikely that many fans had heard of the talented playmaker before a ball was kicked this summer. I've read enough about him to know he's one to watch, but the German demolition of the Aussies last Sunday was the first chance I've had to see him play - and I thought he ran the show. How long until Man City gobble him up for a bargain £150 million?

Ozil's hero is apparently Zinedine Zidane, which should tell you something about his style of play. Another favourite of mine who draws comparisons with the great Zizou is YOANN GOURCUFF of Bordeux, who plays for the French. Or, as the case may be, doesn't...

The skillful youngster has been limited to just 75 minutes in a Blues shirt, in the terrible 0-0 draw with Uruguay. He spent Thursday's game against Mexico warming the bench, and for that reason I've subbed him out of my fantasy football team - I'd still tip him to shine if he gets game time, as anyone who can do this is one to watch!

Another player you may not have heard of who could earn you dream team points this month is Hamburger SV winger ELJERO ELIA of Holland. The only reason I know of the tricky 23 year old is because he dumped Scotland out of qualifying with his goal in the 1-0 win at Hampden. When the Dutch subbed him into the game against Denmark, I instantly remembered the name and was blown away by what an instant impact he had.

His tricky play set up Dirk Kuyt (or Sloth as I like to call him) for their second goal.

I also reckoned Real Madrid forward GONZALO HIGUAIN would show he is amongst the world's best (indeed, I picked him over Messi for said fantasy footie team!) That prediction is looking spot-on now, so of course putting him on as Top Scorer is one bet I didn't think to make... Hindsight, a wonderful thing.

Other players I'd like to see more of are ANGEL DI MARIA (Argentina), KEISUKE HONDA (Japan), MICHAEL BASTOS (Brazil) and ALEXIS SANCHEZ (Chile).

Of course, every World Cup is preceded by talk of what players will make a name for themselves. One of my favourite aspects of the tournament is seeing who lives up to the hype as the games roll on. So many fail, but those who don't may just be the one with their hands on that coveted trophy come July...

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