Sky Bet League 2 Season Preview 2013/2014. 31/07/13

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Newport County will be looking forward to their first taste of league action for 25 years, whilst Pompey will be hoping for a swift return to League One.
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Accrington Stanley
James Beattie’s first foray into management poses a difficult challenge for him. Accrington Stanley have always had one of the lowest budgets in the Football League not helped by their average attendance; 1539 last year. But year after year they have continued to upset the odds and even managed to get into the play-offs on one occasion. The signing of Danny Webber is one that will intrigue fans, still only 31, Webber’s career has stalled of late but perhaps he could rediscover his scoring boots in League 2. Expect Accy to battle to another season of safety.
Prediction: 21st

AFC Wimbledon
Dons Manager Neal Ardley will be hoping his first full season in charge will not end with a last day survival battle just as the 2012/2013 season ended. It will be a tough season ahead, with the budget still tight, the club will be relying on the goals of striker Jack Midson. Charlie Sheringham has been brought in to ease the burden, and it is about time he made a name for himself in League Football just as his Father did at his age.
Prediction: 23rd

Bristol Rovers
Pirates fans will have been disappointed with last season’s performance. A 14th place finish well below what was expected. However that has done little to sway bookmakers making Bristol Rovers one of the favourites for promotion for the 3rd consecutive year. John Ward made progress last year, and the experienced Manager knows this league well. The signing of John-Joe O’Toole could be the catalyst of a promotion campaign. More goals will be needed and expected from David Clarkson though.
Prediction: 6th

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Burton Albion 
Gary Rowett showed last year that he was more than ready for management. He guided Burton into the play-offs and were unfortunate to lose out to a strong Bradford side. They will be hoping to go one better this year, but things haven’t been helped by the loss of Jacques Maghoma and Calvin Zola to Sheffield Wednesday and Aberdeen respectively. Furthermore Goalkeeper Stuart Tomlinson has unfortunately had to retire due to a knee ligament injury. Experience has been added through Rory Delap, who is a great acquisition for League 2. Rene Howe has also joined the Brewers and has a fine pedigree at this level. Despite some upheaval Burton will be a very hard team to beat, and will be challenging at the top.
Prediction: 3rd

Bury
Bury fans will be grateful they still have a club to support after their well publicised financial troubles last season. It’s fair to say the fans weren’t happy with the crisis, with a fans meeting with Blackwell ending up as a slanging match. Bury have risen from the ashes though with new owner Steven Day leading the revival and clearing the decks to start afresh. Kevin Blackwell was left with just 7 first team players, and the losses of David Worrall and Captain Stephen Schumacher could be detrimental. Recruitment has been wise though, the additions of Andy Procter and Richard Hinds add experience whilst Tom Soares signed up after a short spell last season. If he can reproduce the form he showed for Crystal Palace earlier in his career then he will be a cracking player in this league. With a decent squad assembled, Bury could find themselves repeating Port Vale’s success last year after starting with a minimal squad.
Prediction: 8th 

Cheltenham Town
Cheltenham always seem to be hovering around the top 7 when in the 4th tier of English Football. After falling short in two successive play-off campaigns to Crewe and Northampton, they will be hoping to go up automatically this time. The addition of Jamie Cureton is a shrewd signing, given that they only managed 58 goals last year. Cureton will now play for the 12th English club of his career, and who’s to say he won’t match his tally of 21 goals last season for Exeter. A great goalscorer. The loss of Marlon Pack will hurt the Robins with a contract unable to be agreed on. They are however still paying his wages until he can find a new club and will then be due a fee. Ashley Vincent and Matt Richards are two other signings who will need to be at the best to replace the lost quality from last season.
Prediction: 7th

Chesterfield
The Spireites will be expecting a big season this year and so must Leam Richardson after being persuaded to leave his Manager position at Accrington Stanley to reunite with Paul Cook. Ian Evatt has just signed a deal with his former club and will be wearing the Captain’s armband this year. This transfer alone could be pivotal to the success of the campaign. Evatt was a key part of the Blackpool side which gained promotion to the Premiership just 3 years ago and this represents possibly the best signing in League 2 this summer. Pre-season has gone well with good results against Huddersfield and Forest, and the signings of Jimmy Ryan and Gary Roberts will add flair to the side to make them one of the strongest challengers in the league this year.
Prediction: 2nd

Dagenham & Redbridge
A tough season ahead for young Manager Wayne Burnett. He tried to encourage a more fluid style of play last year and the onus will be the same this season. With this style a more creative midfield will be needed. With just the one win in his 12 games in charge last season, it will be key that Burnett’s side get off to a good start. Over £1 million was received via the deal transferring former player Dwight Gayle from Peterborough to Palace and this will give some stability to the finances. It will be hoped that ex Gunner Rhys Murphy will provide some firepower but the loss of Dagenham and Redbridge legend John Still is one that could hurt for a number of years. Irreplaceable almost after the journey he took them on.
Prediction: 24th

Exeter City
Tight finances meant the Grecians could not hold onto Jamie Cureton for another year but they have managed to keep hold of experienced midfielder Matt Oakley, a player that I have always admired and will be key to Exeter’s season. I don’t expect Sam Parkin to light up the league having slowed down in Scotland. A lot of emphasis will be on the younger players of the squad and they will be expected to step up to the plate after playing a bit part last year. A play-off push may just be out of the reach, but Tisdale has worked his magic before.
Prediction: 17th

Fleetwood Town
The sacking of Micky Mellon last season was one that raised a few eyebrows but the appointment of Graham Alexander seemed a sensible one at the same time. Although the Cod Army’s play-off push grinded to a halt last season, much will be expected of their 2nd year in League 2. Stephen Schumacher pushes Ian Evatt (Chesterfield) close for signing of the summer. The former Bury captain was more than capable of lighting up matches in League 1 and I expect him to be a key player for Fleetwood this year. Fleetwood’s defence was a bit leaky last year, and Mark Roberts has been convinced to leave Stevenage and League 1 which is an astute signing by Alexander. Sarvecic arrives after a superb campaign for Chester but much will be asked over whether he can make the step up. Jeff Hughes represents another signing who is more than capable of playing higher. Furthemore Jon Parkin will always be a threat at this level so expect to see Fleetwood flying for further success this year.
Prediction: 5th

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Hartlepool United
Colin Cooper and his assistant Craig Hignett will be looking to bounce back up to League 1 at the first attempt. Jack Compton and Nialle Rodney remain the only signings to date, and this doesn’t give the fans too much to shout about. Hopefully a young new partnership of local lads Cooper and Hignett will provide Hartlepool with a breath of fresh air. However there are better teams in this league so expect Hartlepool to be hovering around mid table obscurity.
Prediction: 13th

Mansfield Town
The Stags return to the Football League after a 5 year absence and will be hoping to start this season in the same fashion that they finished the last one off. 20 wins from the last 23 games helped Paul Cox’s side usurp Kidderminster at the top of the Blue Square Premier. Top goal scorer Matt Green has left to join Birmingham City, and has yet to be replaced. Centre-back John McCombe has arrived, and arrives with much experience from his time at Port Vale. Off field problems between current and former owners aren’t what Cox will want, but at least they have a pretty face at the front of it all in the form of Carolyn Redford. Mansfield could cause a few surprises this year, and generally the Blue Square Champions do carry on their form into League 2.
Prediction: 20th
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Morecambe
The 2013/2014 season could be a tough one for the Shrimps. Attendances have dropped by almost 50% since their arrival into League 2 falling below the 2,000 mark. This has meant finances are as tight as ever and Jim Bentley has had to let go many of Morecambe’s best players. Deals were offered but at reduced to terms to Captain Will Haining, Gary McDonald and Jordan Burrow, but they left for pastures new. Perhaps the highlight from last year was the performances of Jack Redshaw and fans will be looking to him to guide the team to safety again. However Redshaw has been ruled out until the new year and that is a monumental loss for the side. More youngsters may have to be blooded but experience heads in Barry Roche and Stuart Drummond will be there to lead the way.
Prediction: 22nd

Newport County
Newport County triumphed over favourites Wrexham in the Blue Square play-off final last season, and highly rated manager Justin Edinburgh believes that there is more to come from his side. He has compared them to Swansea City and their own meteoric rise. Perhaps not now, but in the next 8,9 or 10 years, Newport could continue climbing the ladder. With Swansea and Cardiff both now plying their trade in the top flight, perhaps Edinburgh can use this as a chance for loan players from both sides. The signing of Chris Zebroski is sound one for this level and will most likely reach double figures.
Prediction: 10th

Northampton Town
Despite narrowly missing out on promotion last season Northampton will welcome at least one League 1 side to the Sixfields Stadium this year. Coventry City will be sharing the stadium with the Cobblers this season, providing extra income and not causing any amendments to their own fixture schedule. Aidy Boothroyd will be hoping for an automatic promotion spot this year and the signings of Matt Duke and Darren Carter are of a high standard. Carter especially is more than capable of plying his trade in a league or 2 above and will prove to be a great acquisition providing both goals and assists aplenty. The loss of Adebayo Akinfenwa and his ‘Beast Mode’ this year will hurt and has yet to be replaced. JJ Hooper has joined but is far from the finished article. Good side and good Manager though, will lead to a promising campaign.
Prediction: 4th

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Oxford United
Oxford is a big city and they possess a big club which should probably be playing at least a tier above. This summer they have added a big signing in Dave Kitson who reportedly turned down offers from higher leagues. Kitson’s career has gradually slowed down since his height with Reading in the Premier League. However dropping down to League 2 for the first time since his Cambridge United days, he could rediscover his form and fire Oxford up the table. They still possess a solid team but perhaps not as strong as others in the League and face a tough test in their first match away to Portsmouth.
Prediction: 9th

Plymouth Argyle
Carl Fletcher had a tough job on his hands last season especially with it being his first managerial job, but once he was fired, John Sheridan managed to guide the Pilgrims to safety. Fans will be hoping they can get out of the basement of the Football League having flirted with the Championship play-offs not too long ago. Many would settle for a mid table finish however after the drama of recent seasons. Marvin Morgan and Romauld Boco will grab some goals for the side and mid table beckons.
Prediction: 15th

Portsmouth
Pompey will be many pundits favourites for a lot of reasons this season. As recently as 2010 they were still playing in the Premiership and in the FA Cup Final. Defoe, Campbell, Muntari, Johnson, James, Crouch, and Diarra are all but memories now as the League 2 season dawns upon them. Off field difficulties have been the downfall of Pompey and fingers crossed these seem to be resolved now. Guy Whittingham is at the helm and has brought in an abundance of players. Patrick Agyemang and David Connolly have signed on permanently and at this level this experienced duo will provide problems for all defences. However I think Portsmouth’s main weapon this year will be there fans. They will travel in their numbers and Fratton Park will be a tough place to get points from. Despite being a potential scalp for many, expect to see Portsmouth make a swift return to League 1.
Prediction: 1st

Rochdale
Rochdale fans will be delighted that Keith Hill is back in the hotseat. He worked wonders last time at Spotland and will be hoping for similar success this time. Matty Done joins from his former club Barnsley and that represents a key signing going forward. Rochdale were in League 2 last time for 36 consecutive seasons. This will be their second since relegation from League 1, and if they are to be promotion candidates this year their home record will have to improve. Just 8 wins from the 23 matches at Spotland last year.
Prediction: 12th

Scunthorpe United
Brian Laws is back where his only success as a Manager came from, and this year success can only be deemed as promotion. It’s a tough job though, with problems off-field regarding ownership of the club. Laws has brought in some old pros in Chris Iwelumo and Deon Burton. Whether they can provide any fortune for the Irons remains to be seen. This season could really go either way, but how fans will be wishing they still had Nigel Adkins in charge.
Prediction: 11th

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Southend United
Phil Brown finally landed himself a job after publicly declaring his interest in pretty much every job going in the last year or so. He didn’t start too well, with the season  panning out after a chance at a top 6 finish. A reported Jeremy Kyle half time team talk didn’t do much for Mr Brown, and I’m sure fans will be hoping for less antics like that almost replicating the stupidity of his famous on the field team talk whilst at Hull City. Brit Assombalonga will be missed having returned to parent club Watford and then onto Peterborough. Ryan Cresswell is also a big loss (Fleetwood), and with a transfer embargo in place, perhaps the retention of Barry Corr is the only promising sign of the summer.
Prediction: 19th

Torquay United
Alan Knill takes charge for this season after Martin Ling moving on. After recent pushes for promotion fans will settle for mid table after almost all the star players from recent seasons moving on. This year Rene Howe and Brian Saah have departed, and Knill has a job on his hands. I have a question mark over the Manager’s ability and have personally never rated him so expect the Gulls to struggle this year.
Prediction: 18th

Wycombe Wanderers
With Gareth Ainsworth in charge anything is possible. This man was a magician on the pitch and I myself enjoyed watching him play for Preston North End. The passion that this man exhumes will be fantastic for the Wycombe dressing room. Expect the team to be pumped up for all games and raring to go. Stuart Lewis epitomises Ainsworth’s spirit and fight and will be key. Joel Grant has moved on to Yeovil but Jon-Paul Pittman and Paris Cowan-Hall could prove to be double digit scorers as well as double barrel names.
Prediction: 14th

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York City
Nigel Worthington did a great job in steadying York to safety last year, and his heights will be set higher this season. He will have picked up a great deal of knowledge from his time as Northern Ireland Manager, and this is shown by the signing of experienced Estonian midfielder Sander Puri. Having discovered him myself on Football Manager a few years back, I have a feeling he will be one to watch this year. Wes Fletcher has been brought in from Burnley and has shown glimpses in his various loan spells that he could have what it takes to bang in the goals at this level. An improvement on last year, but still short of a play-off push.
Prediction: 16th

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Prediction League 2 Table 2013/2014

1.Portsmouth
2.Chesterfield
3.Burton
4.Northampton
5.Fleetwood
6.Bristol Rovers
7.Cheltenham
8.Bury
9.Oxford
10.Newport
11.Scunthorpe
12.Rochdale
13.Hartlepool
14.Wycombe
15.Plymouth
16.York
17.Exeter
18.Torquay
19.Southend
20.Mansfield
21.Accrington
22.Morecambe
23.AFC Wimbledon
24.Dag + Red

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Excitement for new Football season heats up, with an influx of new managers and potential big money signings. 19/07/13

Pellegrini, Moyes and Mourinho looking to make their markMoyes-Mourinho-Pellegrini_2961665
Ever since Sir Alex Ferguson announced his retirement towards the end of last season, it was clear that the 2013-2014 Barclays Premiership would bring about a new era with the old guard stepping down. It is David Moyes who has stepped into the Old Trafford vacancy and certainly has an impossible task to follow. It would be unfair to ever compare him to Sir Alex, but nonetheless Manchester United fans will still have a certain level of expectations. I believe Moyes is the perfect choice for United and as a Preston North End fan I am delighted the former Deepdale player and manager has landed the biggest job in Football. He is a tough man and should attain instant respect from the players. At the same time he is human and he must be tremendously excited and will relish the opportunity to usher in a new era at ‘The Theatre of Dreams’. He has already made sound decisions in appointing Ryan Giggs and Phil Neville to his backroom staff.

Then followed the announcement of ‘The Special One’ returning which had been much speculated towards the end of the season. Jose Mourinho wasn’t taken to in Spain, but whether you are a Chelsea fan or not it is hard to disagree that Mourinho brings so much to the game, and he is indeed loved in England. The combination of his character and the excitable, flippant personalities of Ian Holloway and Paulo Di Canio are sure to make press conferences and interviews this season unmissable. Jose is clearly a talented manager, his record is perhaps only second to Sir Alex in the modern era. This man was adored by Chelsea and the fans are delighted to see him back. His exit from his first stint was unfortunate, but Roman Abramovich has now realised that in order to try and wrangle the title away from Manchester then there is no better man. Success will be expected in the first season from himself and the owner, and Chelsea must build on from their impressive finish to last season following a great but unheralded job from Rafa Benitez.

After the harsh dismissal of Roberto Mancini, Manchester City looked to ‘The Engineer’ Manuel Pellegrini. Not a bad choice from the outset having relative success at all of his clubs, and perhaps harshly relieved of his job at Real Madrid. A better manager than Mancini? Only time will tell, but hopefully the Sheikhs at City do give him enough time. So far it would seem Pellegrini is a man who likes to get on with the job in hand rather than talk about it and make headlines, and will be leaving that to the aforementioned. Fernando Soriano chief executive at City has set Manuel the target of 5 trophies in 5 years. With those trophies having to be either the Premier League, the FA Cup or the Champions League. A big ask for a club who just 14 years ago was plying its trade in Division 2 (League 1). Obviously circumstances have changed a great deal, but it will still take a long time for everything to come together on and off the pitch, before Manchester City are a consistent major force throughout world Football. That is not to say that I don’t think they will be challenging for those honours this season, they will. But if they end up trophyless I wouldn’t say it was a failure and more changes are needed.

PSG and Monaco splash the cash in order to compete with the big boys

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PSG will be hoping Cavani can work miracles like his lookalike.

Whilst rumours continue to circulate around England of Rooney and Suarez’s futures, the main transfers have been occurring in France. PSG and Monaco have stolen the headlines so far. The latter did their business towards the end of May with the capture of FC Porto players, James Rodriguez and Joao Moutinho for a reported combined £60m. Monaco and their Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev are clearly looking to make an instant impact on their return to Ligue 1. They followed this up with the £50m signing of Radamel Falcao from Atletico Madrid. Falcao is clearly a talented player and one of the best strikers around at the moment. With this in mind I find it disappointing that he has not made a move to a big big club in his career. Porto, Atletico Madrid and now Monaco are all good clubs, but this man should be playing for a Barcelona, or Chelsea type team. I hope he isn’t going for the money, and rather what should be an interesting few years for Monaco. PSG on the other hand signed another wanted man in the shape of Edinson Cavani, costing the Qatari owners a cool £55m. Cavani joining the likes of Ibrahimovic, Lavezzi, Pastore, and Lucas Moura make PSG a formidable team. Last year they found success in winning the league and pushing Barca close in the Champions League. Laurent Blanc is at the helm this year and they will be looking to progress further. Again I am sad that Cavani could not be enticed to England with a few teams linked. The Premier League didn’t used to have much competition when it came to attracting the top talent, but with the backing of oil rich owners it seems the competition is rife.

Rooney, Higuain, Fabregas, Jovetic, Suarez – The rumour mill is in full swing once again

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David Moyes has only been in the job a few weeks but he must have been asked about Rooney’s future over a hundred times. He must already be beginning to get sick of the media attention in a club like United and their assets. The speculation over Rooney has continued to gather momentum ever since Fergie stated he has asked to leave towards the end of last season. With Van Persie having a superb debut season for the Red Devils, Rooney is said to be unhappy that he is not guaranteed a starting place up front anymore. Rooney wont be able to find himself a better club than United in terms of somewhere that will always be challenging for the major honours. Whilst that have been whispers of a move abroad, the main talk includes Arsenal and Chelsea. There always seems to be one transfer saga in this country that drags on throughout summer and it looks as if this will be this years. Although Suarez is running a close second. Jose Mourinho has publicly stated that he is interested in Rooney and that is his only target. On a completely unrelated matter he has also said this week that players wanting to be part of the World Cup next summer cant afford to be playing second fiddle at their clubs. Personally I can’t imagine Rooney playing for Chelsea or Arsenal, but it would certainly be fascinating if he did make the move.

Arsenal look set to spend big this summer for once, with Wenger realising that their once guaranteed top 4 finish is becoming a little precarious in recent years. Gonzalo Higuain of Real Madrid has been linked for a long time. I believe this would be a great signing for Arsenal and he would fit in well, this appears to have dragged out a little too long as well. Alternative targets have included one Luis Suarez with a reported £35m bid being rejected by Liverpool. Suarez has repeatedly said he would like to move on, with Real Madrid initially looking like the most likely destination. But it was The Gunners who made the first move, and may make another in the coming days. Suarez is a typical villain of the game which is controversial actions a lot of the time taking over from his actual footballing talents. He is a great player and perhaps could have won PFA and Writers Player of the Year last season if it wasn’t for his temperament. I am not condoning racism or cannibalism but he is an entertaining character, and a very skilful player, one which adds an unpredictable dimension to the Premiership. Initially he did say that he wanted to leave England but if he did end up moving to Arsenal, it would be one of the more surprising transfers in recent years.

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Manchester City have been the busier of the two Manchester clubs so far. The signings of Fernandinho, Jesus Navas, and Alvaro Negredo have already been confirmed with Stevan Jovetic’s signature imminent. These transfers will amount to £100m near enough, and how they will adapt to the English game remains to be seen. The confirmed signings are heading toward there late 20’s and so will be expected to make an instant impact. United have made a bid to sign another former Arsenal captain, Cesc Fabregas, whom would be exactly what they need. A superb, technical player who wears his heart on his sleeve, did not leave Arsenal in bad circumstances, but if a move to Old Trafford did transpire, I would imagine he would be in for a frosty reception when the two meet at the Emirates.

Extra Time – England’s Women’s team knocked out, and the introduction of the best moustache in the Premiership

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The England women’s team last night compounded a miserable summer for the country’s national sides, failing to make an impact in their competition just as the men’s Under – 21 and Under 20 sides did. Hope Powell has been in charge of the side since 1996 and has done a tremendous amount for the women’s game. The fact the Women’s European Championship was covered heavily by BBC shows just how much the game has come along. 4  years ago England found themselves in the Final of the competition, and unfortunately succumbed to a much stronger German side. Results leading up to this year suggested that another successful competition would occur. However it was not to be. An opening 3-2 defeat to Spain largely due to a poor performance from England Goalkeeper Karen Bardsley left the team with an uphill battle. A late draw against Russia gave hope but they were then outclassed by France in a 3-0 loss. Hope Powell’s position comes under question, with other nations seemingly rapidly improving and leaving England behind. Perhaps Hope Powell should be moved into a role with the FA to continue the development of the women’s game, and someone new should be brought in to lead the national side in a new direction.

Last week Mohamed Al Fayed sold Fulham to American Shahid Khan, 62. Khan already owns NFL team Jacksonville Jaguars and he also possesses quite a remarkable moustache. This ended Al Fayed’s 16 year association with Fulham Football club. In that time Fulham climbed the Football League in rapid fashion thanks to heavy investment and managers such as Keegan and Tigana enjoying great success. It was no surprise when Fulham entered the Premier League in 2001. What is a surprise is how in that time they were very rarely lingering around the bottom 3 and relatively quickly established themselves securely as a solid Premier League club. Their greatest achievement came under current England manager Roy Hodgson who led them to the Europa League Final in 2010. They very cruelly lost to a late extra time goal from former Manchester United man Diego Forlan. Nonetheless it was a superb season. Perhaps the only low light in Fayed’s reign was the shocking statue of Michael Jackson which was place outside the ground, I still don’t have a clue why that is there. Mohamed Al Fayed bought Fulham Football club for £30m in 1997 and this transaction has taken place for a reported £150m-£200m. A fantastic job all round for the 84-year-old Egyptian.

The Confederations Cup proves to be not such a meaningless competition after all 01/07/13

A suprisingly thrilling Confedarations Cup concludes with a win for the hosts over the World Champions

Brazil triumphed over reigning World and European champions Spain last night with a convincing 3-0 win. It could be said that it was a much needed win for the Brazilians with the tensions off the pitch creating many of the headlines during the competition. The Samba team did not disappoint the expectant nation with a dominant performance restricting Spain to minimal chances.

Fred and particularly Neymar once again impressed, sharing the goals between them. It certainly wasn’t the final that Football entusiasts were expecting but nonetheless it still turned out to be a memorable spectacle as Spain succumbed to their first defeat in 29 competitive matches.

Jumping the Gun

Straight after the final whistle blew on the final, there were already mentions on Twitter, and Footballing websites that Spain’s dominance and their golden era was over. What a load of nonsense! Admittedly they didn’t look themselves against Brazil and were punished, and were pushed to the brink by an Italy side that they thrashed just a year ago in the European Championship Final. However any suggestions that Spain are no longer a major force are premature. You just have to look at the depth in their squad, and the up and coming players in the Under 20 European Championship winning Spain side from this summer, to see that there is certainly a chance they can continue to be win the top honours in International Football. This combined with their Football philosophy of high pressing play, shows that on their day they could still beat any other country. Perhaps Vincente Del Bosque will have to tweak a few things to ensure his team evolves, but it would take a very brave man to bet against Spain at least reaching the final of the World Cup next year.

The Underdogs

The four semi finalists; Brazil, Italy, Spain, and Uruguay provided no shocks in reaching that stage. It would of been a surpises if one had not made it past the group stages. However that is not to say the other 4 teams were below par, and pushed the favourites close a few times.

Tahiti were a major talking point in the competition, mostly with people speculating how many goals teams could manage to score against them. Robbie Savage said “Having poor teams like Tahiti devalues the competition”.  Well Robbie, Tahiti were there by right, and deserved their moment having won the Oceania Football Nations Championship in 2002. The winners of this competition will always qualify for the Confederations Cup and whilst they will not be the standard of the European winners they will still form an important part of the competition.

Tahiti did not disgrace themselves in the competition and they were an intriguing team to watch. Fascinatingly their squad contained 4 players all from the same family; the Tehau’s. It was a Tehau of the Jonathan variety that scored Tahiti’s one and only goal of the competition coming against Nigeria who themselves showed Football in the African continent is continuing to improve. Despite later going on to score an own goal himself, and losing the game 6-1, Tehau’s goal will live long in the memory of players and fans alike. A great moment for the country and the celebrations duly reflected this. Despite Tahiti going onto lose their next game 10-0 against Spain a missed penalty from Fernado Torres lead to further celebration from the fans and more particularly the Goalkeeper Xavier Samin. Samin celebrating as if he had scored a goal himself, despite not actually saving the penalty, with Torres missing the target completely. Surely a highlight in Samin’s career and probably his life.

Steevy Chong Hue – a name not that well known in the world of Football, but this man certainly stood out for Tahiti and made sure all the opposition defences were on their game. He particularly gave Celtic and Nigeria’s Efe Ambrose a tough time. In their 8-0 defeat to Uruguay Steevy completed more dribbles than Gaston Ramirez, Alvaro Pereira and Abel Hernandez. He also had a pass completion rate of 92% in the competition. Hopefully he can progress from here and perhaps secure a move from AS Dragon to a bigger club. If he was just known as Steevy and came from Brazil he would probably be snapped up in no time. I hope his nationality does not hinder him in his Football career. It never stopped Georgi Kinkladze and George Weah.

Mexico found themselves in a tough group with Brazil, Japan and Italy. However in their first game they very nearly grabbed a draw against Italy, but ‘Super’ Mario Balotelli scored a late winner. They managed to finish 3rd in the group after an enterrtaining 2-1 victory against Japan.

Japan found themselves very unlcuky propping up the group, especially after their performance against Italy. In what was one of the most entertaining matches that  I had seen all year, Italy edged out a very attacking Japanese side 4-3. Japan played a brillaint game and showed at times a beautiful range of passing with 349 passes attempted in Italy’s half. Their gung ho approach paid off initially taking a 2-0 lead after half an hour. Italy fought back and found themselves in front remarkably after 5 minutes. Japan did not give up though and at times they stretched the usual resilient Italian defence wide open. Shinji Kagawa and Sheinsuke Honda were able to find gaps throughout the Italy backline. Shinji Okasaki also proved to be a thorn in Italy’s defence constanly causing problems. It was that man who got the equalis.ing goal. However it was to end in tears with Italy grabbing the seventh goal of the game via the penalty spot. Japan almost secured a point which was the least they deserved, after hitting the crossbar and then having a goal disallowed.

Despite not progressing any further, this display showed that there is a huge potential for the Japanese team, and Honda in particular will find himself a wanted man this summer, being available on a free transfer.

The Fruition of  a Blossoming Young Talent

It would be an understatement to say that that has been much talk of Neymar being a star of the game. Having seen him myself first hand at a Brazil U23 v Great Britain U23 game last year at the Riverside Stadium, I thought that there was perhaps too much hype surrounding this young man. After seeing further performances against England within the last year, I came to the conclusion dare I say it, that the 21-year-old was overrated.

Wow, how I and I’m sure many others were hugely proved wrong. This man has got talent, and he showed it within the first few minutes of the competition, scoring a cracking volley which flew into the top corner against Japan. He then went on to score a free kick against Mexico, and his overall performances showed exactly why Barcelona have paid a reported £48 million. The combination of Neymar and Lionel Messi in a Barcelona frontline is a mouth-watering prospects for all Football fans. How they might fit into Barcelona’s tactics and lineup is intriguing as they could be described as similar to each other. Either way Neymar is now in the best place he could be to develop his game and go on to be a huge star for both club and country.

After his first season at Barca he will have the hopes and expectations of 196 million Brazilians on his shoulders hoping he can secure the World Cup trophy for the host nation. Based on this competition, he has a very good chance of doing that.