Azerbaijan's Qarabag (black) are the Europa League's unknown quantity this season

The Stereotypes of European Football

With the Champions League and Europa League group stages now fully underway, Eion Smith takes a look at the types of sides to watch out for when watching continental football this season…

The Big Guns

What To Expect

Always considered amongst the favourites for European success, the big guns are sides bred to win at all costs and generally win their respective country’s league. Expect to see comfortable group progression, big name players and managers and intense scrutiny surrounding their games. The football will have moments of extreme quality but be aware of petulance and aggression in the later stages of competitions as the pressure grows.


Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Real Madrid

The Dangers

What To Expect

The dangers are sides that are top teams but not near the superteam level of the big guns. They are packed full of players hungry and eager to succeed and impress and are usually coached by coaches with the same mentality. They are generally solid defensively, tough to break down away from home and full of lethal attacking players whom shine in their fearsome home ground that is considered to be a “good point if you can get it”.


Porto, Benfica, Atletico Madrid, Napoli

The Constant Champions


Anderlecht (purple) have found the going tough in Europe over the last few years

What To Expect

The dominant force domestically, the constant champions are always in the Champions League and will either make it through to the groups or fall meekly in qualifying. Their sides are filled with a mixture of exciting young, domestic talents; established veterans who are solid and some foreign imports who had a touch of class about everything. Occasionally, they will progress out of the groups but for the most part they are there to make up the numbers.


Anderlecht, FC Copenhagen, Olympiacos

The Eastern Europeans

What To Expect

Formerly the “Behind The Iron Curtains”, the Eastern Europeans are (in some cases) similar to the Constant Champions. They are generally built on good, technical passing from their Brazilian/Portuguese/Premier League reject front line and a  rock solid, tough as nails local defense. They too fall in the tough away game category but for the most part, do not travel that well. With a bit of luck, they can have a solid run in the knockouts.


Shakhtar Donetsk, Zenit

The Regulars

What To Expect

Not a whole lot. Mostly there to make up the numbers, they struggle against the big guns and have a tendency to be embarrassed by unknown/smaller clubs. Full of good players, they consistently qualify for Europe yet never win anything while being solid and unspectacular in their play. Knockouts are the minimum and maximum ambition.


Lille, Schalke, Bayer Leverkusen

The Unknowns

Azerbaijan's Qarabag (black) are the Europa League's unknown quantity this season

Azerbaijan’s Qarabag (black) are the Europa League’s unknown quantity this season

What To Expect

The unexpected to be frank. Usually the side that makes it through all the qualifying rounds with some kind of remarkable story, they dumbfound pundits with impossible names and random location. Terms like “biggest match in their history” and “dream tie” get thrown around a lot as do cricket score predictions. These are usually wrong as the side goes on to put on a good show with their core of good, local players and ragtag bunch of foreigners that only gets this one chance at the big time. Generally the hipster favourite.


Qarabag, Ludogorets

 That sums up what types of teams you can find in Europe this season. Do you agree with these stereotypes? Have there been any that have been missed? Let us know in the comments or over on Twitter (links are next to this). Stay tuned for more coming from The Long Ball (honest!) in the near future.



Magnificent Seven – Marvelous Moustaches

Inspired by a conversation I somehow found myself in on Twitter (found here if you’re curious), Magnificent Seven returns looking at the greatest moustaches in footballing history of which zero of them are Movember attempts…

7. Frank Rijkaard (suggested by @NachikethRamesh)

UEFA European Championship 1988 - VI Archive

Squeezing into the list at number seven is Dutch legend Rijkaard – more well known by the younger fan for gobbing on fellow moustachioed footballer Rudi Voller and managing Barcelona than for any of his playing accomplishments (of which there are many). He has opted for the smooth, Lionel Richie look and managed to pull it off to a point that people remember it to this day. Very suave.

 6. Graeme Souness


Souness rocked the 70s TV cop/pornstar moustache right the way through the 70s and well into the 80s because he was Graeme Souness and nobody dare challenge him. Still, it was magnificent and added to the manliness of Souness who was possibly the one player in history never to be scared of anything. It’s just a shame he shaved it off as he’s only now known for being angry on TV.

5. Vicente del Bosque


The one man in world football who is still holding on to the moustache despite the rise of beards, del Bosque’s has not changed since he was around 6 years old*. Even as his hair greys and disappears from the top of his head and despite the World Cup wins and surprise sackings, del Bosque has steadfastly stuck with his moustache. A marvelous effort sir.

*not factually accurate

4. Henry Mowbray (suggested by @TheSkyStrikers)


A big, burly Scottish centre half in the 60s, it was only natural for Mowbray to have a moustache. And boy did he embrace that. Mowbray embraced the Hulk Hogan look before Hulk Hogan was even a thing and turned a solid yet unspectacular player into someone that would be remembered by a few moustache enthusiasts (and some people with too much time on their hands and a blog).

3. Ronald Spelbos

Soccer - World Cup Qualifier - Group Two - Ireland v Holland

The Dutch are known for introducing some of football’s most beautiful sights (Cruyff, Total Football etc.) but one Dutchman created something so beautiful that it had to be immortalised on a random football blog. Spelbos’ moustache is an incredible feat of manliness, grooming and cojones to pull it off. It’s remarkable he actually had the time to play any football with all the effort that must have took to maintain. Sadly for Spelbos though he’s not the highest Dutchman on this list…

2. Abe van den Ban

van den Ban

Little known Dutch footballer may not have had a spectacular career but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t have a spectacular moustache. That’s exactly what Abe did, making his upper lip look like a bike and making him in the process look like a 1930s cartoon strongman. Amazingly, he still has the moustache and is a bit of cult hero because of it.

1. Antonio Borges (suggested by @TheSkyStrikers)


Borges’ moustache philosophy was simple – forget styling and looking fancy, just grow as much hair as you can on your upper lip. It was a pretty successful one too as Borges grew simply the greatest moustache in football history. It beggars belief that the small gap between nose and upper lip is capable of holding that much hair without suffocating him or having small birds nest inside it. Antonio Borges, we salute you and your wonderful moustache.

Special Mention

How about this effort from ex-France boss Raymond Domenech?

How about this effort from ex-France boss Raymond Domenech?

Who possesses your favourite football moustache? Let us know either here or over on Twitter (link on the left) and give @NachikethRamesh and @TheSkyStrikers a follow for their helpful suggestions. Stay tuned for more from The Long Ball too.



Where Are They Now? #20 – Premier League’s First Weekend Foreigners

With the new Premier League season just around the corner, it’s time to look back with “Where Are They Now?”. We look back to the first weekend of the first Premier League season where only 13 foreigners played over the entire weekend. Let’s see what happened to them…

Arsenal 2-4 Norwich

John Jensen – Arsenal


Fresh off his goalscoring heroics in the European Championship final for Denmark, Jensen was signed not long before the Norwich game as a replacement for David Rocastle in midfield. Despite Arsenal’s poor start, Jensen continued to feature in the first team and his hard working style in the middle of the park helped the club to a FA and League Cup double at the end of the season. Jensen stay in the Arsenal midfield over the next few seasons (helping the club to the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1994) and became a cult hero for his inability to score a goal regardless of how many times he tried. Eventually, Jensen did score for the club and it turned out to be his only goal too before he departed in 1996 to return to Brondby. His third spell at Brondby lasted three years before he joined Herfolge as player-manager in 1999 winning the league title in his first season before being relegated in 2001. He retired completely from playing in 2001 and in 2002 returned to Brondby as Michael Laudrup’s assistant. He followed Laudrup to Spanish side Getafe in 2007 but his time in Spain only lasted a season before he left with Laudrup. He had short stints as Danish side Randers’ manager and Blackburn assistant mannager in 2011 before being named a footballing consultant at Brondby in 2012. Jensen was recently appointed manager of Fremad Amager in his homeland.

Anders Limpar – Arsenal

Anders Limpar

A Swedish international, Limpar had already won the league at Arsenal in 1991 and was in and out of the side under George Graham. He would go on to play 23 times in 1992/93 but only 12 of those were starts and he notched two goals. However, he was out of favour by the end of 1993 and in March 1994 he was sold to Everton. Limpar became a key member of the Everton side and helped the club to the FA Cup in 1995 but he was again out of favour so was sold on to Birmingham in January of 1997. Limpar’s spell in the Midlands was a failure and his contract was cancelled in April after just four appearances. He returned to Sweden in the summer and joined AIK, helping the club to the league title in 1998 before having a short spell with Colorado Rapids in the US in 1999. He returned to Sweden in 2000 with Djurgardens but retired before he could make an appearance for them. He moved straight into coaching with their youth teams before moving to his current role as assistant coach Sollentuna United in 2008. He is also the CEO of a betting website as well.

Chelsea 1-1 Oldham Athletic

Gunnar Halle – Oldham Athletic


Joining Oldham from Lillestrom in 1991, Halle is regarded as one of the better players from Oldham’s short run in the Premier League. He went on to play all but three of Oldham’s games in the first Premier League season and bagged himself 5 goals including the crucial fourth in a final day 4-3 win over Southampton that kept Oldham up. Bar a very short loan spell with Lillestrom in 1994, Halle was a regular with Oldham until 1996, making over 200 appearances before returning to the Premier League with Leeds United. He was with Leeds for three seasons before joining newly promoted Bradford in 1999. He stayed with the club after their relegation in 2001 but left as finances became strecthed in 2002 for a short spell with Wolves. He returned to Lillestrom in 2002 before becoming player-manager at third tier side Aurskog/Finstadbru in 2004. Halle retired from playing in 2005 and became Uwe Rosler’s assistant at Lillestrom and Viking before joining Lyn in 2009 as first assistant before becoming manager the same year. He couldn’t keep the club up before the club declared itself bankrupt in 2010. Halle reunited with Rosler at Molde in 2010 for a short spell there. He became assistant of the Norwegian women’s side in 2012 before moving on to his current job in 2013 – assistant manager at Strommen IF.

Everton 1-1 Sheffield Wednesday

Robert Warzycha – Everton


A mustachioed Polish winger, Warzycha appeared as a substitute on the opening day of the season. He is perhaps best remembered for his role in Everton’s second game of the season – a 3-0 thumping of Manchester United at Old Trafford – where Warzycha became the first player from mainland Europe to score in the Premier League. Sadly, that was the high point of his season as Warzycha never scored again for the club and was sold at the end of the following season to Hungarian side Pecsi Mecsek. He spent a season with Pecsi before a season at Honved lead to him moving to Colorado Rapids in 1996 for the inaugural MLS season. He was key member of the Rapids side for the next six years before retiring in 2002 at which point he became assistant manager of the Rapids. He served as assistant right up until 2009 when he became the boss of the Rapids leading them to the Supporter’s Shield that year. He left Colorado at the end of the 2013 season and took his current job as manager of Polish side Gornik Zabrze earlier this year. If you want to read more on Warzycha then check out this piece on his time at Everton from Rightbankwarsaw.

Roland Nilsson – Sheffield Wednesday


Considered by many to be Wednesday’s best right back ever, Swede Nilsson was a regular during his time in Sheffield. He would end his 5 year association with the club in 1994 to return to Sweden with Helsingborg after starring at the 1994 World Cup where Sweden finished third. He returned to the Premier League in 1997 with Coventry City where he spent two seasons before again returning to Helsingborg for another two seasons. Nilsson was brought back to Coventry as player-manager in 2001 but, despite a promising start, he was sacked in April 2002. He was not out of work for long as he was appointed manager of GAIS in his homeland the same year and led them to the top tier of Swedish football for the first time in six years before leaving for Malmo in 2007. He led Malmo to the league title in 2010 before departing for the FC Copenhagen job in 2011. He was sacked in 2012 and has been out of work since.

Ipswich 1-1 Aston Villa

Craig Forrest – Ipswich Town


Craig Forrest must surely be English right? Nope. He was Canadian. Yet spent the entirety of his playing career in England. Forrest played over 200 times for Town but will mostly be remembered by neutrals for being the keeper that conceded nine at Old Trafford (a Premier League record) in 1995. Forrest stayed with Ipswich until 1997 (he did have a three game loan spell with Chelsea during the 96/97 season too) to join West Ham but his time at the Boleyn Ground never saw be the undisputed number one. He retired from football in 2002 for health reasons and can now be seen doing ambassadorial work as well as being one of the main football pundits on Canadian TV.

Leeds United 2-1 Wimbledon

Eric Cantona – Leeds United


Instrumental in Leeds’ title win in 1992, Cantona was the scorer of the first ever Premier League hat trick. His time at Leeds would not last into 1993 as he was sold to Manchester United in November. This proved to be a massive move as Cantona’s presence inspired United on to the league title. Cantona’s great form continued and he was named PFA Player of the Year in 1994 before being banned for eight months for that infamous kung-fu kick on a fan. When he returned in 1995, he inspired United to another title and the FA Cup before he retired at just 30 in 1997. Following his retirement he went into a number of different areas including acting, beach football and appearing in adverts. He was also director of football at New York Cosmos between 2010 and 2012.

Hans Segers – Wimbledon


Wimbledon’s replacement for FA Cup hero Dave Beasant, Dutchman Segers played more than 250 games for the club before his departure in 1996. His later years at Selhurst Park were marred by his match fixing trial (he was eventually cleared) but he continued to play through it. He left Wimbledon for spells with Wolves (with a brief stint at non-league Woking sandwiched in between) before joining Tottenham in 1998 as a backup. He played just once in three seasons before retiring in 2001. He moved straight into coaching after his retirement and was a goalkeeping coach at Spurs until 2007 when Martin Jol was sacked. He reunited with Jol in 2011 when he was appointed to his current job as goalkeeping coach at Fulham.

Sheffield United 2-1 Manchester United

Peter Schmeichel – Manchester United


Fresh off his starring role in Denmark’s Euro 92 triumph, Schmeichel kept 22 clean sheets as United won the inaugural Premier League title. He would go on to help United win four more league titles in his spell there as well as three FA Cups and the Champions League in 1999. He left United after the Champions League final in 1999 and moved to Portuguese side Sporting where he helped the club to the league title in his first season. He returned to England in 2001 with Aston Villa where he even managed to score a goal in the Premier League before making a surprise move to Manchester City in 2002. Schmeichel retired from football in 2003. He has since made TV appearances and done some punditry work.

Andrei Kanchelskis – Manchester United


The Russian winger was fresh off playing for the CIS side at Euro 92 and was a vital part of United’s early Premier League success. It took him a while to establish himself in English football but by 94/95, Kanchelskis was one of the most dangerous players in the league and was actually United’s top scorer that season. However, he had fallen out with Alex Ferguson and was sold to Everton in 1995 where he continued his sparkling form and earned himself hero status with a brace in the Merseyside derby. However, before he could make an even bigger impression at Goodison, he was sold to Italian side Fiorentina in January 1997. His impact in Italy was minimal and he was sold in the summer of 1998 to Scottish giants Rangers where he featured regularly but never really set the world alight and, after a short loan spell with Manchester City in 2001, he was allowed to join Southampton in 2002. It was clear Kanchelskis’ career was winding down and his spell at Southampton was disappointing and he left shortly after signing. Poor spells with Saudi side Al-Hilal and Russian sides Saturn Moscow and Krylia Sovetov followed before he retired in February 2007.

Nottingham Forest 1-0 Liverpool

Ronny Rosenthal – Liverpool


Israeli striker Rosenthal was never quite as good as the early promise he showed during his loan spell and he only ever scored 6 Premier League goals for the club. His Liverpool career is best remembered for his appalling miss against Aston Villa early in the 92/93 season and it’s really what he is best remembered for. He was sold in January 1994 to Tottenham right before Graeme Souness resigned and his time there was not laden with goals. He scored just 11 in 100 games before leaving in 1997 for Watford whom he helped to the Second Division (third tier) title in 1998 before injuries forced him to retire in 1999. He now works as a football consultant.

Manchester City 1-1 QPR

Michel Vonk – Manchester City


Dutchman Vonk was a big defender who was a big success at Maine Road as he played nearly 100 games in just over 3 seasons at the club. He was allowed to leave in 1995 for Oldham where he barely lasted months before joining Sheffield United. His time at Brammall Lane was hampered by injury and he returned to the Netherlands in 1998 with MVV Maastricht. He retired from playing in 2001 and moved straight into coaching by doing some youth coaching at PSV. He was given the manager’s job at Sparta Rotterdam in 2011 and stayed for two years before being fired in 2013. He has been out of work since.

Jan Stejskal – Goalkeeper, QPR


Czech keeper Stejskal was a commanding presence at the back for QPR but he was never the complete first choice in the Premier League. He only played 41 times in two seasons before returning to the Czech Republic in 1994 after 4 years in London. He returned with Slavia Prague where he spent five seasons  before, after a short spell with Viktoria Zizkov, he retired in 1999. Stejskal moved into goalkeeper coaching when he retired and was a coach at Sparta Prague and for the Czech national side. He quit the national team post because of the amount of extra work he had to do with club commitments. He still works as a goalkeeper coach for Sparta to date.

There are the 13 foreigners from the opening weekend of the first Premier League season. There will probably be many, many more this weekend but hopefully the season will be good regardless. Stay tuned for more from The Long Ball coming soon.


Hungary-El Salvador 1

Historical Football #12 – El Salvador’s Humiliation

With Brazil having been thrashed and humiliated in front of their own fans by Germany, it seems fitting to return to Historical Football with a look back at the World Cup’s biggest thrashing – poor El Salvador’s 10-1 humiliation at the hands of Hungary at Spain 1982…

If there was ever a way to turn yourself from a national hero to a national villain in ninety short minutes then getting humiliated at a World Cup is a sure fire way to do it. Just ask El Salvador’s 1982 World Cup squad. 90 minutes was all it took for them to become figures of ridicule in their own country, unable to achieve anything without the stigma of their humiliation follow them around. Yet, it all looked so promising in the beginning…

The early 80s was a tough time to be in El Salvador. A brutal Civil War saw a lot of people murdered by both the military government and guerilla forces on a daily basis as they fought for control of the country. Football, though, proved to be an escape for the country and the national side brought everyone together as they managed to progress through qualifying to make it to Spain. However, this would be the high point of their journey as the reality of the finals soon set in very quickly.

Immediately they were given the unenviable task of trying to get anything from a group containing Hungary, beaten European finalists of 1980 Belgium and the defending World champions Argentina (with a certain Diego Maradona). They were not expected to do well and their preparations certainly did not help in any way either. While rivals Honduras arrived in Spain a month before the tournament to acclimatise, El Salvador were playing a friendly against Gremio of Brazil just over a week before their opener. Their journey to Spain took the best part of three days, their accommodation was shoddy and they had to ask the Hungarians for some balls to train with because their allocation from FIFA had been stolen. Add on the fact that the El Salvador FA had incredibly decided to register only a 20 man squad and morale was not at its highest point in the camp. Hopes were high for their debut though.

After watching a tape of the Hungarians, the El Salvadorians were convinced they could attack their more experienced opponents and catch them by surprise. Their plan was solid enough and for long periods of the first half at the Nuevo Estadio in Elche it worked. The problem was that the Hungarians were superior technically and picked off their naive opponents when they poured men forward. It also did not help that Hungary captain Tibor Nyilasi was allowed to run free at a corner and head home after just three minutes. Their greater quality told when a simple pass took out the entire El Salvador midfield on the halfway line and Gabor Poloskei ran through on goal (after easily hurdling the most desperate of all desperate lunges) to fire past poor Luis Mora in the El Salvador goal.

Hungary's Imre Garaba

Another desperate El Salvador lunge is evaded

It was not all El Salvador naivety however as Laszlo Fazekas was allowed time to turn, run and smash a long range effort into the top corner showing the vast difference in quality between the two sides. The only positive for El Salvador was that they were only three down at half time and had threatened when they got the ball to Jorge Gonzalez (more commonly known as Magico Gonzalez) whose ability gave the Hungarian defenders nightmares. They had a few attempts on goal and remained positive that the game was still a contest. The second half would very quickly change that.

Every time El Salvador lost possession, Hungary swept forward and it was this that led to the fourth, and ultimately killer, goal. Full back Jozsef Toth’s low cross was cut out by a defender but Toth reacted to quickest to squeeze it home. It was uncharted waters for the Salvadorians who had never conceded more than three in a game. Diaz Arevalo who missed the game through injury stated in an interview with FourFourTwo that the fourth goal was when, “we really started losing our nerves”.

It became five on 54 minutes when Fazekas was allowed time on the left wing to come inside and fire a low shot past Mora at his near post. Still, El Salvador poured forward trying to get something from the game. And, after 64 minutes, they got their goal. Gonzalez tricked his way into the area and pulled it back to Norberto Huezo who seemed to panic but managed to stab it to Luis Ramirez Zapata who passed it in and in the process became a precursor to Marco Tardelli.

Hungary coach Kalman Meszoly had reportedly told his players at half time to show no mercy as it was the World Cup and after the El Salvador goal they certainly put his words into practice. Laszlo Kiss, a substitute, was left free at a corner and fired in for number six while fellow sub Lazar Szentes tapped in to make it seven. Kiss’ second goal was a lovely chipped effort from just inside the area before he completed a record breaking hat-trick by firing through a crowd of defenders to become the first substitute to score a World Cup hat-trick as well as the quickest hat-trick in the tournament history. Nyilasi rounded the scoring off with seven minutes left with another header and the humiliation was complete.

El Salvador shut up shop for their next two games which were not as heavy defeats to Belgium and Argentina. The negative vibe continued around the camp as they fell out with hotel staff, fought with Argentina on the pitch and played that game without any official documents as the official in charge forgot them. They were eliminated and regarded as embarrassments to El Salvador.

Mauricio Rodriguez, the coach, never managed another side and left football after the tournament while the majority of the squad were treated as pariahs in the country. Magico Gonzalez remained in Spain where he enjoyed success with Cadiz despite becoming notorious for his partying lifestyle. The members of that squad are still viewed with contempt by the Salvadorian public, proof that ninety minutes is all it takes to become a villain for a lifetime.

All the goals are in the video below:

That wraps up another edition of Historical Football. Stay tuned for more from The Long Ball coming soon.


Further Reading

FussballMundial World Cup XI

The Teams of the Group – World Cup 2014

The World Cup group stage finished yesterday after two weeks of breathtaking action. With so many twists and turns, myself and first time contributor @FussballMundial have each picked the best eleven players from the group stages for our “Teams of the Group”…


FussballMundial World Cup XI

Honourable Mentions:
  • Serge Aurier
  • Alexis Sanchez
  • Karim Benzema
  • Oscar
  • Vincent Enyeama
  • Jose Juan Vasquez
  • Juan Cuadrado

“I don’t think I’m alone in saying that this has been an outstanding World Cup. Sadly, the group stage has come to an end. A group stage which has truly spoiled us, for the most part, with fantastic games, unpredictable upsets and an abundance of goals. But more important games lie ahead and the excitement is only building.

One of the things I enjoy most about the World Cup is casting an eye over somewhat lesser known players and those whom I don’t get to see on a regular basis. Players who ply their trade in Central and South American leagues in particular, fall under this category. Players such as Columbus Crew and Costa Rican centre back Giancarlo Gonzalez and Club Leon midfielder Jose Juan Vasquez representing El Tri, who have been very impressive and with that, have emerged from the unknown shadows they once inhabited. Costa Rica and Mexico have both surprised me with their performances in this World Cup and having lived in the former nation last year, I have pledged my footballing allegiance to Los Ticos.
It’s a great opportunity for such players to impress in front of potential onlooking suitors. The whole footballing world is fixated on Brazil at the moment and the chance of improving their career prospects, as well as achieving success with their country, are huge motives to perform well. 
What else has made this World Cup such a great spectacle is the big name players have stepped up to plate and performed. Well, most of them. Poor performances from Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney aside, the top earners have delivered. Lionel Messi has produced the magic we hoped he would, Neymar has shown exquisite moments of individual skill, and Arjen Robben can be compared to a fine wine, improving with age.
So in making my World Cup group stage XI, I’ve taken the above factors into consideration and combined them.”
The Long Ball
World Cup XI 1
Honourable Mentions:
  • Juan Cuadrado (Colombia)
  • Guillermo Ochoa (Mexico)
  • Tim Cahill (Australia)
  • Mario Yepes (Colombia)
  • Lionel Messi (Argentina)
  • Thomas Muller (Germany)
  • Arjen Robben (Netherlands)

“Brazil 2014 will without doubt go down in history as one of the great tournaments based purely on the group stage alone. After some of the drab, stale football of four years ago (especially that final) this has been a breath of fresh air. And I am in total agreement with @FussballMundial that some of the real stars of the tournament have been some of the lesser known players. Players like the Gonzalezs and Vazquezs he mentioned have shot to prominence and helped their sides do some great things in this tournament. It’s for that reason that many of the big names have missed out from my team.

Costa Rica’s Keylor Navas was beaten once (from the penalty spot) in a group containing Cavani, Balotelli, Rooney and a number of other great players which speaks volumes about how well he (and the defence in front of him) played in the group stage which is why he is in goals ahead of Mexico’s Guillermo Ochoa. In front of him are the Mexican pair of Hector Moreno – who has been solid and looks set to move to a bigger club this summer – and the reinvigorated Rafael Marquez, who is captaining the side at a fourth World Cup and has not once shown his age. Daley Blind of the Netherlands is in at left back after his outstanding performances so far, most notably in that drubbing of the Spanish, while Fabian Johnson of the United States goes in at right back after his tireless running and consistent performances in the so called “group of death”. Hector Herrera (Mexico) and Jermaine Jones (USA) are the two holding midfielders who will have a licence to get forward and help out with their creativity as well as work hard for the team. Brazil’s Neymar will start on the left as he has been the bright spark of a rather flat opening from the hosts while Croatia’s Ivan Perisic gets the nod on the right ahead of Arjen Robben after his tireless performances and excellent, consistent delivery from the wide areas. James Rodriguez of Colombia will start in the number 10/playmaker role as he has been possibly the best player at the tournament so far and he will be looking to provide service for an in form Karim Benzema who has looked like a completely different player during the tournament.”

Those are the teams we have picked. Do you agree with those decisions? What is your team of the group? Tweet us @LongBallFoot or @FussballMundial and let us know.

As always, stay tuned for more content from The Long Ball coming soon.


Well Drilled Mexicans Progress At Croatia’s Expense


Mexico progressed to the second round of the World Cup after a disciplined 3-1 victory over ten man Croatia in Recife.

Croatia manager Niko Kovac made one change from the side that beat Cameroon 4-0 with Sime Vrsaljko returning to the side at left back in place of Sammir with Danijel Pranjic moving into midfield and Luka Modric playing behind striker Mario Mandzukic. Mexico manager Miguel Herrera named the same starting eleven for the third game in a row.

Croatia needed to win to progress from Group A and started the brighter of the two sides but struggled to break down the five man Mexico defence with only a half chance which Ivan Perisic fired way over the most dangerous Croatia were. They may have looked better in the beginning but the Croatians were thanking their luck after 15 minutes.

Oribe Peralta got the ball to Hector Herrera and the Porto midfielder played a nice one-two with Giovani dos Santos. Herrera took a touch before smashing a left footed shot from 25 yards past Stipe Pletikosa in the Croatia goal but wasn’t celebrating as the ball hit the crossbar and bounced clear.

The Mexicans were beginning to get in behind Croatia and just minutes after hitting the bar created another great opportunity. Herrera splayed a lovely through ball down the right side of the box for Peralta but the striker’s effort went the wrong way as he lost his footing when he was trying to shoot. It was a big let off for Croatia.

The Croatians responded well and began to keep the ball better but were struggling to create any clear cut opportunities to score. Pranjic fired over from the edge of the box while Perisic messed up a half volley from a similar position after Mandzukic had knocked down a long ball for the winger. Darijo Srna then fired a free kick over after Mexico captain Rafael Marquez had rather cynically ended a Croatian counter attack. Sadly, those would prove to be the best chances of the first half and both sides headed in deadlocked at the break.

Croatia began the second half with purpose but again struggled with their final ball as Mexico held firm. It was the Mexicans who had the first real chance in anger of the second half though when Peralta headed over from a corner. It was a dull start to the second half but it livened up when Mexico had a penalty claim just after the hour.

Paul Aguilar got forward from right wing back and turned Pranjic – who had moved to left back – inside out and got to the byline. His cross went right through after substitute Javier Hernandez went down under little contact all the way to Andres Guardado at the back post. The midfielder took a touch before seeing his half volley blocked behind by Srna. Every Mexican immediately claimed handball but to no avail despite replays showing that it was a clear penalty. Herrera’s resultant corner almost went straight in but for a goalline clearance by Vedran Corluka before Pletikosa denied Aguilar with his feet. Mexico were beginning to take charge as the Croatians were beginning to falter and they capitalised.

Herrera swung a corner in from the left hand side and captain Marquez leaped highest and sent a header towards goal. It was close to Pletikosa but the goalkeeper made a meal of it and could only get a hand to it and push it into the net. It was a heartbreaking goal for Croatia but one they richly deserved.

The Croatians were shell shocked and began throwing men forward but almost immediately paid for it. Mexico won the ball back on the halfway line and broke forward. Hernandez slipped the to Peralta on the right side and continued his run into the area. Peralta’s low cross was behind Hernandez but perfect for the onrushing Guardado who smashed it first time past Pletikosa. It was a fatal blow to Croatian hopes with 15 minutes to go but they did not give up.

Substitute Ante Rebic got the ball on the left wing and glided past three Mexican challenges on a mazy run into the area. He slotted his shot past Guillermo Ochoa but before he could celebrate, Hector Moreno slid in and cleared the ball away from goal. It was excellent defending from Moreno and really unlucky for Rebic who was denied one of the goals of the tournament. It proved to be crucial as well.

Guardado sent a corner over from the right to the near post which Marquez flicked on. It was perfect for Hernandez at the back post who was completely unmarked and headed in from a yard out. It was richly deserved for an excellent Mexican performance and really well worked.

The Croatians continued to battle and managed to get a goal back late on. Perisic got the ball on the left and played into Rakitic on the edge of the area. The Barcelona bound midfielder held it up before releasing Perisic with a backheel. The winger composed himself and slotted the ball across Ochoa and into the back of the net. It was nothing more than a consolation but a fitting end to a great tournament for Perisic.

However the game quickly went sour again for Croatia when they were reduced to ten men. Rebic went on another mazy run to the edge of the area where he overran the ball and Mexico sub Carlos Pena cleared. Rebic however challenged Pena with his foot high and caught him late and was deservedly shown a straight red.

Croatia kept trying to get back into the game with Ochoa denying Perisic in stoppage time but in all honesty it was all over for the Croatians who were eliminated by a side that were simply better drilled tactically and that were excellent throughout. Mexico finished second in Group A and will meet the Netherlands in the second round where they will give the Dutch real problems while Croatia head home despite impressing in defeat against Brazil and during that thumping victory over Cameroon.

Croatia: Pletikosa, Srna (c), Lovren, Corluka, Vrsaljko (Kovacic 58), Pranjic (Jelavic 74), Rakitic, Perisic, Modric, Olic (Rebic 69), Mandzukic

Subs: Vukojevic, Zelenika, Schildenfeld, Brozovic, Badelj, Sammir, Vida, Eduardo, Subasic

Goal: Perisic

Yellow: Rakitic

Red: Rebic

Mexico: Ochoa, Aguilar, Rodriguez, Marquez (c), Moreno, Layun, Vazquez, Herrera, Guardado (Fabian 84), dos Santos (Hernandez 62), Peralta (Pena 79)

Subs: Corona, Salcido, Reyes, Jimenez, Pulido, Talavera, Ponce, Brizuela, Aquino

Goal: Marquez, Guardado

Yellow: Marquez, Vazquez


Croatia Eliminate Ten Man Cameroon Easily


Croatia kept alive their hopes of progressing from Group A with a comfortable 4-0 win over ten man Cameroon in Manaus which eliminated the African side from the World Cup with a game still to play.

Croatia manager Niko Kovac made three changes to the side which lost 3-1 to hosts Brazil in the World Cup opener with Mario Mandzukic back from suspension, Danijel Pranjic back from a knock and Sammir brought in for tactical reasons. Nikica Jelavic, Sime Vrsaljko and Mateo Kovacic were the players to drop out of the starting line up. Cameroon manager Volker Finke made a two changes to his eleven after their disappointing showing in their 1-0 defeat against Mexico. Star man and captain Samuel Eto’o was dropped along with Cedric Djeugoue and they were replaced by Vincent Aboubakar and Joel Matip with Nicolas N’Koulou taking the armband.

The game started at a bright tempo with both sides needing to win to stay in the competition and they showed attacking intent. The Cameroonians looked more enthusiastic with Aboubakar up front but they could not fashion a chance for the young striker while Croatia were sloppy in the final third. It was the Croatians who struck first after 11 minutes.

The ball was worked to the right wing for captain Darijo Srna whose cross was aimed at Mandzukic in the penalty box. N’Koulou got there before the Bayern Munich striker but his intervention landed at the feet of Ivan Perisic just inside the area. Perisic calmly played the ball across the box to an onrushing Ivica Olic who tapped home from six yards to give Croatia the lead. It was a well worked goal from Croatia but one that came completely out of the blue.

The Croatians were now really up for it and continued to press the Cameroon defence as their heads dropped for the next five minutes and they almost got a second five minutes later. Pranjic’s corner from the left was knocked on by Mandzukic using his mid-drift. Perisic was completely unmarked six yards out but his first time effort was blocked by Charles Itandje in the Cameroon goal and Eyong Enoh completed the defensive clearance. It was a big chance for Croatia indeed.

The game then settled into an entertaining pattern but neither side was able to really create much in the way of chances. Perisic headed over a Rakitic corner while both Rakitic and Sammir hit tame efforts from range at Itandje. Cameroon got into a number of promising positions but poor decisions and final ball (especially from Stephane Mbia) saw their chances fizzle out. The game was very even though right up until the game changing moment five minutes before half time.

Mbia and Benjamin Moukandjo got in each other’s way in a promising position on the right and Perisic broke away up the wing. He was entering Cameroon territory when he was pulled back by the referee for an off the ball incident for which he showed a red card to Alex Song. The Cameroon midfielder had been tracking back but had his path crossed by Mandzukic. He then stupidly struck the Croatian in the back in the referee’s line of sight and was deservedly shown a straight red. It was a moment of sheer stupidity and one that hindered his team.

To Cameroon’s credit though, they did end the first half on a positive note with more possession that broke down in the final third. Aboubakar had a couple of half chances near the end of the half but he was crowded out in one and fired way over from the edge of the area to end the first half.

The second half began at much the same tempo as the first and both sides created half chances withing the first minute of the second half. Sammir could only put it into the side netting after Cameroon fell asleep from a Srna throw while Eric Choupo-Moting fires a tame effort right at Stipe Pletikosa from range. It was the Croatians who did eventually double their lead two minutes after half time.

Itandje had time to clear up field but his kick was very poor and was intercepted by Perisic on the Croatia left. The Wolfsburg winger sped down the wing away from half time substitute Dany Nounkeu (who started a couple of yards behind Perisic) before firing past Itandje from the left side of the box. The goalkeeper didn’t cover himself in glory either, going down early and letting Perisic slot it past him at his near post. It was a massive blow for Cameroon and it could have been a lot worse a couple of minutes later.

Sammir broke forward from midfield and slipped through Mandzukic. The big striker was clean through but took his time and allowed N’Koulou to catch up. He had the time however to get into the box and all he needed to do was slip the ball past Itnadje from 15 yards but instead he decided to try and loft it over the keeper while under pressure and could only loft it past Itandje’s hands and wide of the post. It was a great chance and should have been 3-0.

Cameroon were struggling at the back but almost fashioned a goal out of nothing. Moukandjo moved the ball left to Benoit Assou-Ekotto who sent a deep cross to the back post. Half time substitute Dany Nounkeu (who had replaced the awful Aurelien Chedjou) came storming forward from right back and fired a volley just over the bar. It was a warning sign for Croatia but, in all honesty, the Croats were dominant.

They began to mount more pressure on Cameroon and were forcing a series of corners as Cameroon struggled. Olic found himself unmarked from a Srna corner but his volley was blocked while the Croatia captain fired over from a free kick on the edge of the Cameroon area. They were soon even further ahead however.

A series of corners ended with Pranjic taking one from the left. The full back swung it in and Mandzukic was unmarked to head past Itandje from 8 yards. It was a really simple goal for Croatia and one which showed the lack of defensive ability displayed by Cameroon at the tournament. The goal did seem to inspire Cameroon a little afterwards though.

Aboubakar became more involved and he got a great opportunity from a Mbia break. His effort from the edge of the area was wild and way over the bar before Mbia fired just over from long range. The Croatians, though, were comfortable and extended their lead with 18 minutes remaining.

Mateo Kovacic – just on for Sammir – got the ball on the right and lost two defenders before playing the ball to fellow substitute Eduardo just inside the area. The ex-Arsenal man set himself on his left foot before trying to place in the bottom corner. Itandje got down well to save but he tipped it right into the path of Mandzukic who gleefully tapped it in for his second of the game.

Croatia continued to carve open Cameroon but they made poor decisions in the final third and great opportunities fizzled out quickly while Cameroon tried but struggled with ten men. They did carve open an opportunity when subsitute Edgar Salli dribbled past two Croatians before teeing up Moukandjo just inside the area but the winger could only fire wide of the far post. Croatian subsitute Ante Rebic then broke clear on the left before seeing his curling effort saved by Itandje.

There were even better chances in the final minutes as Eduardo cleared the ball down the right and Rebic broke. The Fiorentina striker cut back and played in Rakitic who dinked the ball over the onrushing Itandje but he couldn’t reach the ball and went wide of the post. Then, Assou-Ekotto sent in an excellent cross from the left and sub Pierre Webo headed his effort into the ground and saw it bounce off the bar before being unable to get to the follow up. The game ended with Assou-Ekotto attempting a headbutt on team mate Moukandjo as Cameroon were eliminated in shambles. The only positive for Cameroon is that the referee didn’t send the full back off.

It was a comfortable victory for Croatia who now have set up a do or die final game against Mexico to try and progress from Group A. They have looked good so far (even in defeat) and the game against Mexico looks to be a potentially great game. However, for Cameroon, it is another appalling showing in a major tournament and the egos in that dressing room have again been their own downfall as has some shocking defending and poor performances from big names.

Cameroon: Itandje, Mbia, N’Koulou (c), Chedjou (Nounkeu 45), Assou-Ekotto, Matip, Song, Enoh, Moukandjo, Aboubakar (Webo 70), Choupo-Moting (Salli 75)

Subs: Feudjou, Djeugoue, N’Guemo, Eto’o, Makoun, Bedimo, Olinga, Nyom, Ndjock

Red: Song

Croatia: Pletikosa, Srna (c), Corluka, Lovren, Pranjic, Modric, Rakitic, Perisic (Rebic 78), Sammir (Kovacic 72), Olic (Eduardo 69) , Mandzukic

Subs: Vrsaljko, Vukojevic, Jelavic, Zelenika, Schildenfeld, Brozovic, Badelj, Vida, Subasic

Goal: Olic, Perisic, Mandzukic

Yellow: Eduardo