World Cup Special: 18 Tournaments, 18 Moments – Italy 1990

World in motion

The 1990 World Cup in Ital is roundly criticised by pundits as being one of the most dour tournaments ever.

However, for the fans of my generation- as our first true taste of the greatest international competition – the tournament has an air of the exotic and retains its romance even to this day.

Amid the draws and defensive football of Italia ’90 there are still so many instances of magic.

There is the performance of Cameroon, who finally put Africa on the football map, unlucky losers in the quarter-final against England but propelled by the dancing Roger Milla they stunned a number of top teams – including Argentina in the group phase.

Despite not winning a single game in normal time throughout the tournament. The Republic of Ireland bundled their way into quarter-finals only to lose to hosts Italy.

Maradona produced another moment of brilliance, his mazy run and clinical threaded pass allowing Claudio Cannigia to score the only goal in the round of 16 game against Brazil.

And then there was England.

Under Bobby Robson, hammered by the press in the run-up to the tournament, England, once they gathered momentum, actually began to look like a football team.

Failing to impress in the groups, England built up steam with David Platt’s fantastic volley against Belgium and Gary Linker’s two penalties (including dives) against Cameroon before eventually losing to the Germans on penalties.

The run produced many unforgettable moments, Paul Gascoigne’s tears in the semi final, Chris Waddle’s penalty miss, which brought the journey to the end, and Bobby Robson’s dance down the touchline.

And for that summer, to the soundtrack of New Order’s World in Motion, a technically gifted England side finally made a nation believe.

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World Cup Special: 18 Tournaments, 18 Moments – England 1966

Pickles the Dog

Every man, woman and child across the length and breadth of the country knows the time worn tale of England’s 1966 World Cup triumph.

The years of hurt that have followed it, the dodgy Russian linesman and Hurst’s hat-trick are etched into the nation’s conscience.

Perhaps a more interesting, and slightly less travelled yarn, is that of Pickles the dog and the stolen Jules Rimet trophy.

It is a misadventure that is quintessentially English. The trophy had not gone missing in its 36-year history but as soon as it reached old Blighty it was half inched from a display exhibition.

The trophy was on show at a stamp exhibition at Westminster Central Hall in March just months before the start of the tournament.

Understandably uninterested in pictures of the Queen’s head, the thief decide to ignore the valuable stamps and sought out the more culturally significant World Cup. The cocky light-fingered ne’erdowell also sent the police a ransom note for the return of the trophy.

But cometh the hour, cometh man’s best friend.

Pickles, a black and white mongrel, discovered the trophy a week later under a garden hedge in South Norwood, South London wrapped in newspaper.

As a reward, which is probably small beer for today’s dogs, Pickles was invited to a celebration dinner and – unhygenically – was allowed to lick the plates clean. His owner David Corbett, picked up a £6,000 reward.

However, the tale, much in the same vein as England’s World Cup legacy, did not have a fairytale ending. The Jules Rimet Trophy was stolen again in Brazil 1983 where it was melted down and made into coins.

Pickles met his own unfortunate end, strangling himself on his lead while trying to chase a cat some years after his great find.

And England, despite their heroics in the tournament, as we all know, are still yet to pick up a second major trophy.

Selfish Beckham not a loss to World Cup squad

Sadly – almost solely on a personal note – David Beckham’s achilles tendon has ruled him out of the World Cup squad.

But while it would be wrong to welcome an injury to a player, even if grossly overrated, Beckham’s injury is likely to solve more problems than it creates.

With Beckham no longer available for selection the door has been opened for a number of other more talented but less media-hungry players such as Joe Cole, James Milner and Theo Walcott to stake a meaningful claim for a place in the England midfield.

It may sound harsh but hopefully, the injury will end the career of an England international who once an inspirational performer and captain (the memories of the Greece game at Old Trafford will continue to linger) but has now become an unwelcome sideshow.

Like Beckham off the field, Beckham on the field has become an increasingly about the brand and not about the team both for club and country.

His quest to become England’s most capped player, by playing five minutes of meaningless friendlies, has made a mockery of the honour of representing one’s country and is unquestionably about feeding his ego.

Even while playing for AC Milan, Beckham, in spite of his side’s horrendous loss against Manchester United in the Champions League still managed to make the back pages by draping himself in an anti-Glazer scarf.

Like a boxer who doesn’t know when to retire Beckham has simply kept on going, not for the good of the team but for personal glory and a will to be seen on the world’s biggest stage.

But finally – and thankfully – it looks as if his mind has been made up for him.

The three horse title race, Birmingham City and England’s World Cup chances

The three-horse title race

During the past week Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal have all has their turn at the top of the Premier League.

Despite all the talk of the bug four dominance there has not been a genuine title race with more than two teams since Liverpool pushed Newcastle and Manchester United close in 1995/96.

Currently at the top of the table, with more than half the games played, just three points separate the top three sides.

Although Chelsea are favourites, United have hung in there despite their poor form and injury problems and if Arsenal can pick up a decent haul from their next four games (when they face Aston Villa and Liverpool in addition to Chelsea and United) the title could go right down to the wire for the first time in 15 years.

Birmingham continue to impress with cup win

While Birmingham were many pundit’s favourites to plunge straight back into the Championship they continued to prove doubters wrong with an away win at Goodson against a resurgent Everton side on Saturday.

The FA Cup victory set-up an away tie with second-tier strugglers Derby County but more importantly stretched the club’s record unbeaten run to 15 games.

With Cameron Jerome and Christian Benitez looking impressive up-front, Joe Hart solid in goal and Lee Bowyer recapturing his Leeds United form City look a good bet for a top 10 finish.

A real test of the side’s credentials will come on Wednesday when they face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

England World Cup bid already in doubt

Most sensible fans would probably tip Spain and Brazil for this year’s World Cup but anyone brave enough to back England would already be fearing for their chances.

While it might seem odd to write-off one of Europe’s better sides before a ball has been kicked, the current state of the squad must be a worry.

No-one has seized the number one jersey, with David James unsettled at Portsmouth, and the defence might creak with Glen Johnson, Rio Ferdinand and John Terry suffering from injury and loss of form.

In midfield, Steven Gerrard has been well below his best and it is unclear who will start on the flanks, while the only player on good form at the moment is Wayne Rooney.

The upcoming game against Egypt in March will be an important barometer for Fabio Capelllo’s men and will give some players a chance to book their seat on the plane to South Africa.

Man Utd, Liverpool and the defence of Adebayor


Owen late show steals points for United

Any away fans at Old Trafford over the last 20 years would have had sympathy for Mark Hughes this weekend.

The former United striker saw his unfancied City wide comeback three times yesterday – only to lose out to a 95th minute strike from Michael Owen.

Pundits have pointed to the fact that the referee was in his rights to add an additional two minutes to the allotted four minutes – due the Craig Bellamy’s dramatic equaliser and the introduction of Michael Carrick during injury time.

But over the years United definitely seem to have the rub of the injury time green securing late, late wins against QPR, Wimbledon and Sheffield Wednesday in the last two decades.

Whether ‘Fergie-time’ exists or whether the Red Devils have a knack of securing late victories is unclear but we’ve all seen enough to it is not purely coincidence.

Liverpool show frailties in West Ham win

While Liverpool also took all three points at Upton Park this weekend manager Rafa Benitez must be concerned over his side’s defence.

The bedrock of Liverpool’s relative success has been built on a sturdy defence but it seems the Reds will not be able to rely on their rearguard action at least for the time being.

While Jamie Carragher has always lacked pace and has been prone to a mistake he has been worse than usual of late. And the jury is still out on Martin Skrtel.

Liverpool need to get Daniel Agger back quickly or cross their fingers until January and dip into the transfer market.

Adebayor criticism masks appalling fan behaviour

No-one could dispute that Emmanuel Adebaoy’s stamp on Robin Van Persie recently was disgraceful.

But over the last week he has been roundly criticised for running the length of the pitch to celebrate in front of the Arsenal fans after his recent goal at the Ctty of Manchester Stadium.

However, very little has been said about the Arsenal fans.

While his actions were not wise fans should not be excused for the aggressive reactions.

There was no need, and no point, in surging forward to remonstrate with the Togolese – especially after the abuse they gave to him all game.

England boy-boys wrong to target Cole

Even as an Arsenal fan I had to admit that the treatment of Ashley Cole during England’s win over Kazakhstan at Wembley was disgraceful.

While the home side cruised to a 5-1 victory over the international minnows, sections of the crowd were more content to dish out abuse to the former Gunners left-back.

No-one would disagree that fans have the right to voice their views – after all they pay through the nose to attend matches.

But why abuse one of your own?

The mistake made ultimately led to a goal but England were well on top and were good value for their victory.

Listening to 606 last night an irate Alan Green turned his anger on the ‘morons’ and those who called in and tried to defend their actions.

Some said the jeers were for Cole’s treatment of his wife Cheryl, other claimed that the fans were reacting to his exorbitant wage demands in his soured contract negotiations and others claimed it was because he was arrogant.

Of course Cole is not the first England player feel the fans fury with Beckham, Lampard and more recently Bentley also being booed but it seemed that some were waiting for the Chelsea full-back to make a mistake just so they could have a pop at him about his personal life.

The cold hard fact of the matter is that elite modern day footballers are millionaires, with pretty spouses who may think highly of themselves and jeering them will not change that fact.

While their lives are far removed from ours we are called supporters for a reason – our job is to support them.

After all they could never be truly successful without our backing.

Is it any wonder that England haven’t won a major trophy in 50 years.

Capello to good for undeserving England

Fabio Capello looks set to become the new England manager but in all fairness England don’t deserve him.

As Steve McLaren huddled under his umbrella in the Wembley rain, Brian Barwick and the FA were sealing his fate.

And from that moment Capello declared his intentions.

The stylish Italian coach threw his hat into the ring amidst renewed calls for an English man to take the helm.

But his declarations have not been well received among those in the English game, with few have been more vocal than Portsmouth pairing of Tony Adams and Harry Redknapp.

Adams made very similar noises when Arsene Wenger began his revolution at Arsenal in the late 90’s and hasn’t learnt his lesson from history.

And Redknapp made his claims with his eyes firmly on the hot seat hoping his comments would strengthen his position.

But what about the fans?

When Mourinho was the favourite the supporters conveniently forgot that he was Portuguese but no-one can forget that Capello is Italian.

Despite the lack of a home-grown manager who has the credentials of the former Real Madrid man, many still seem unmoved by his appointment.

Considering the current state of the national side we cannot afford to turn our nose up at a man who was won almost every accolade possible.

We should be welcoming him with open arms.