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Sunday, 29 July 2012

Brazil continue their Samba beat.

Manchester went all samba yesterday afternoon as Brazil's young prospects came to Old Trafford in search of qualifying for the knock-out rounds of the Men's Olympic Football Tournament. It was a Brazil team that featured superstars like Neymar, Ganso, Pato, Hulk, Thiago Silva, Oscar etc. many of whom are suggested to be on their way to England or Europe or have already joined in the case of Oscar who joined Chelsea a few days ago.

However, the first order of business was to perhaps seek who would join Brazil in the next round, with both New Zealand and Egypt narrowly losing their first matches of the tournament they desperately needed the three points.

Egypt started the better of the two, Salah who recently joined Swiss club FC Basel was lively on the wing, however despite all their early dominance, West Bromwich Albion striker Chris Wood opened the scoring for New Zealand after sixteen minutes with an attempt which tried its hardest to miss the target completely. A flick on from a corner fell to Wood who completely miss-hit the strike but luckily beat the Egyptian goalkeeper to give New Zealand a hope against an Egypt who dominated this match.

That domination would be paid off with five minutes of the opening half remaining when the lively Salah just poked the ball past Michael O'Keefe.

The second half fizzled out of life with both teams coming close and O'Keefe having to make some terrific saves whenever Egypt attacked. It was the Eqyptians who should have taken all the points when one of their three over-age players Emad Moteab who plays for Egyptian Champions Al-Ahly went round the goalkeeper but put his effort straight into the Stretford End in a moment so reminiscent of Spain and Chelsea's Fernando Torres who missed one so similar at the opposite end last season.

Still in keeping with the Olympic tradition both teams received a round of applause after the match in an atmosphere similar to one of an exhibition match than a competitive one. It was a match that although supported adequately by both New Zealanders and Egyptians was very much enjoyed by all in the stadium, most of whom were more interested in the main event.

From two teams that will now have to rely on a final game in the groups to go through, New Zealand having to hope for a heavy victory over Brazil whilst Belarus and Egypt draw and Egypt or Belarus having to hope to beat one another to qualify to a team many from every length and breadth of the country turned out to see mixed with some native Brazilians and even some Belarusians in scattered areas of Old Trafford too.

Perhaps the most hilarious moment of the day was the electronic screen showing GB's James Tomkins to be lining up for Brazil's substitutes, such a ludicrous selection that was even read out over the PA in both French and English with absolutely no hesitation or confusion. No offence to Tomkins but his name alone maybe the last thing I expect to see on a Brazilian team sheet. This was later corrected at Old Trafford when later showing the substitutes when Tomkins was replaced by Bruno Uvini although no announcement was made over the PA.

Team GB & West Ham's James Tomkins supposedly on the substitutes bench for Brazil.

The match itself did not end up the one sided affair most predicted, minnows Belarus who to their credit went into this game level on points with the favourites to win the group and one of the favourites to win the tournament took the lead after eight minutes when Renan Bressan, who believe it or not was born in the Brazilian city of Tubarão and holds dual Brazilian/Belarusian nationality made a great leap and got his headed effort past the young Brazilian Neto for an early lead. It was a moment that switched some of the 'neutral' crowd, many of whom came into the game solely to see Brazil presumably, did give the former Soviet nation who were competing in their debut Olympics Football event some support.

Perhaps one of Old Trafford's more shocking scoreboard readings, although it would not read that way at 90 minutes.

That was until Brazil began to dominate as expected, seven minutes after conceding Brazil set the record straight with a header of their own by AC Milan's Alexandre Pato. The game like the first was starting to fizzle out, amazing pieces of skill were exhibited by players like Neymar, other than that the goals seemed to have dried up a bit that was until the second half. Around a twenty-five yard free-kick saw what must go down as one of the goals of the tournament already when Neymar smashed his free-kick into the top corner that saw a bizarre celebration and a 60,000 strong crowd at Old Trafford in awe. I'm sure Premiership fans in the Stadium must be hoping the rumours he's going to FC Barcelona aren't true and one day he'll be a Premiership player for their club.

Neymar had been hyped up as big as a second-coming in Brazil and really did prove today he could challenge players like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in future years, I can't help think a European move could be around the corner, although I think Santos may want quite a huge slice of money before letting him go anywhere.

He then helped new Chelsea boy Oscar show the Premiership fans what he would like to be doing in a Blue shirt of Chelsea next season when he rounded off the scoring thanks to a nice assist from Neymar's fancy movement and a quite spectacular dink finish which confirmed Brazil will be in the knock-out stages.

Much like the match before it, the players got a standing ovation and although Brazil dominated the second half Belarus gave it a very good go of things and possibly scoring that early against any other team may have seen then win, like they did against New Zealand and I'm sure only losing 3-1 when no-one gave them much hope may give them some confidence to see off Egypt and qualify with Brazil.

Brazil I'm sure will take many positives from this display and know that their top boys can take a game's rest (not that you can make too many changes with an eighteen man squad) as they make a final trip to Newcastle's St. James' Park on Wednesday to face New Zealand.

Also in a weekend that saw many justified complaints about ticketing it should be noted over 60,000 were in Old Trafford yesterday afternoon with only the closed top tier of the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand empty. I think that despite perhaps not being one of the well-focussed on events of the Olympics in Britain due to GB's reluctance to compete in it, it may be one of the more enjoyed events with many football fans coming from all areas, not just Manchester, to see many foreign stars they may never see at club level and many growing talents that they can boast to have seen before their possible major rise to fame with Brazil especially with their hosting of the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

As a final note, although I'm not abandoning you lovely people here at robbietktalksfootball I would like to direct you to Arsenal fan blog site where I shall be along with many other great Gooner bloggers shall be contributing as our topsy turvy season get underway, in fact you can even read an exclusive article written about Robin Van Persie by myself on there now!

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

The Inevitable.

It was the news we all wished we didn't have to hear that captain Robin Van Persie was choosing not to renew his Arsenal contract that currently has a year left to run. Although it's sad and people are rightfully angry and hateful towards Van Persie, what could we expect? Loyalties been dead in football for years and since 2004, we've just had to deal with the fact that unless you pay the most or win the most no-one wants to play for you anyway, just so happens that coincidentally the one's who pay the most win the most too.

It's sad, no doubt, another player who believes his bank balance is more important than loyalty to the coaches who have assisted in him in his development and therefore future endeavours and the fans who kept patience with him. Let's not forget, or at least Van Persie shouldn't that he wasn't always 'all that' and there were years where he spent most of them on the surgeons table and when he was in the 'workplace' he wasn't the best player in the world either.

However, why should we expect loyalty? Ever since 2006 the club's slowly declined from a team who lost a Champions League final to a team who for the most part of this season looked like they'd struggle to qualify and Van Persie had to witness the best years of his career almost ruined by some really inconsistent and incompetent players. I mean if I was playing in a foreign country and wasn't a die-hard fan I'd find it tough not to want to be playing for another club who win things, have better players and being a greedy bugger that I am, pay higher wages. For a start, Van Persie's Dutch, not saying disloyalty is a trait of the Dutch people just that he's not from Islington, he's not like Tony Adams who spent his whole career at Arsenal. It's easy to say well Dennis Bergkamp remained with Arsenal, but then Bergkamp for one couldn't leave England unless on a boat and by that time the transfer market would have closed and his journey would be wasted and also Arsenal just so happened to be one of the best clubs in England when Bergkamp was playing, his only other option was Manchester United and they were never interested anyway. Whereas now there's a whole host of clubs who are better than Arsenal and more fashionable too, sad but true. Van Persie didn't show loyalty to his home club Feyenoord when he moved as a kid to Arsenal so why should we expect him to suddenly be loyal to a club he isn't a fan of (even if he was pictured as a child in an Arsenal shirt)?

The fact of the matter is, most players are no longer loyal, players like Adams, Giggs and Scholes who spent their entire careers at one club will slowly become few and far between and most likely eventually extinct and as much as we'd love to believe Robin Van Persie is not like a Wayne Rooney who left boyhood club Everton for Manchester United and then held them at ransom for a new lucrative contract or he was going to leave, the fact is he's not and any wave of a five pound note or shiny medal (that coincidentally is only available to be waved due to the money that club has inherited) causes the player to forget all stuff he told the press in years gone by and move elsewhere, unless the club they are contracted to now try and compete with the money juggernauts and offer stupid amounts of money to keep that player and with Arsenal's finances, the already exploitive season ticket prices and the fact they're trying to pay off a heavy stadium debt would be almost suicidal, despite what people like Piers Morgan would try and tell them.

It's sad but it's nothing new, loyalty in football is dead, it's not dying it's dead, its funeral was years ago it's just we don't like to think the star of our team will leave us so we keep a level of delusion around to make us feel happy at night and keep us away from nightmares, just very unfortunate when it turns out we were wrong causing us to get angry. Oh well, Overmars, Anelka, Petit, Flamini, Fabregas, Nasri and others have all left us before they probably should have and the club goes on, still in the top three or four in the country, Van Persie is no different except the media portrayed him as some great God-like footballer despite the fact he's just a very talented footballer alongside players who like to pass the ball to him, just watch the three Holland games from Euro 2012 to see that when he doesn't get Walcott and Song's constant service he's quite anonymous and unused. Had Chamakh got a good run this season, the amount of chances we create he'd at least gotten half the goals Van Persie did and his confidence wouldn't be as low as it seems.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Samir Nasri: Why I and many others dislike him.

This morning Samir Nasri hosted a Twitter questionnaire which in fairness was sabotaged by Gooners due to this hatred of him we have. Many outsiders don't seem to know why we dislike Nasri, many calling us “bitter” because we just hate him because he left. Let me give you an explanation on why I dislike him which links into an explanation on why some others dislike him too.

I do not dislike Samir Nasri because he left to “win trophies” or even because he left, it would be naïve of me to believe that there is much loyalty left in footballers in the 21st Century, especially from a player who is not English or a native of North London. No, the reason I dislike Samir Nasri is how he's spoken about the club, the fans and the coaching staff after his sale.

From day one, Samir Nasri has criticised the Arsenal fans, saying the stadium lacked an atmosphere, you may agree with that, I have been at the Emirates Stadium when it's been absolutely rocking and deadly silent. The games against Manchester City this season, FC Barcelona last season and most other massive games have been known to have one of the best atmospheres in the country. The thing is, as much as I don't mind Nasri sucking up to his new fans, whatever his thoughts there is no need to criticise the ones who technically paid his wages for the previous three years.

Although it doesn't bother me too much if players want to leave to win trophies, I would like to point out that in his final year at Arsenal, Nasri shut off after one good half of a season (a season where he did not get a single assist), he was a player that did not try and win a trophy in the 2011 Carling Cup final he did not try and win the league title when it was still up for grabs. There's no use using “trophies” as an excuse for leaving when he doesn't try to win a trophy at his previous club.

He has never once thanked the club or the fans for advancing his career, he has only slagged us off. Would he be at Manchester City if Arsene Wenger had taken a chance on him and brought him from Marseille, maybe not. He's not the biggest name in the world, he didn't even get selected for a French World Cup squad in 2010 that was in mass disarray and with Manchester City's millions if it wasn't for his decent half a season at Arsenal in his last year there's a chance City would not have signed him and chosen someone else.

Whilst his team-mates after City's grand title win spoke of how great it was to do it for the fans who had waited so long, the old-guard who are still at the club and who they respect so much, he spoke of a petty Twitter feud with Piers Morgan, a person most Gooners despise even if he is one of our own as if that's getting one over on us. Maybe he was just answering the question, but as we saw on Saturday, he's not a player who likes answering questions on his own performance when his side lose, is he? All I would like Nasri to do is be quiet and if people ask questions simply say he's said all he has on Arsenal because it's annoying that every time he seems to be interviewed he has to squeeze more abuse on the fans and people that supported him for three years and helped his career and his bank balance.

So if you didn't know why I/we dislike Nasri, now you know, it's not a case of him just leaving, Gael Clichy also left that Summer and most Gooners (like myself) have no grudge with him because he's never bad-mouthed the club much like Kolo Toure has never bad-mouthed the club and most Gooners have no grudge with him either. Obviously, I'm sure there are some people who just don't like him because he left for money, I dislike him because he continually bad-mouths this club when he should be thanking us.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Roy Hodgson's England: Not Desirable but Effective.

Three competitive games, no defeats, it's the start most managers dream for, especially those in an England blazer. In fact, if Roy Hodgson was to resign tomorrow, he'd be one of England's most successful managers for win percentage in the national team's history. Yet even with this very good start by England people are complaining because beloved England aren't very nice to watch.

Now as much as that's accurate, England are one of the more boring teams of the tournament compared to the likes of Spain, Germany and even France however, despite lacking flair other than flashes of brilliance from captain Gerrard and Theo Walcott at least against Sweden, England are what they haven't been for years, a well-drilled machine that are getting results which win tournaments.

Why are we continuing this delusional state that England have the same flair as Spain or Germany? Scott Parker is no Iniesta, Milner is no Mesut Ozil even Gerrard is no Xavi and it's quite ridiculous to believe England could play with the sam flair and style as the teams tipped to win the tournament. If you still believe England can win Euro 2012, the thing you should be hoping for are the well-drilled containing results we were able to get against France, Ukraine and to an extent Sweden.

Everyone seems to want entertaining attacking football, with flair players we just don't have. The other popular choice Harry Redknapp, created a very entertaining Tottenham side last season, however, were they very effective? No. They dropped a massive lead over rivals Arsenal and will be playing in the UEFA Europa League next season. Were they very good against sides better than them? No. They lost to both the top two twice and Arsenal once, 5-2 also. Besides did Redknapp's attacking, entertaining Tottenham have English players? No. Luka Modric who pulled the strings is Croatian, their striker Emmanuel Adebayor is Togolese even Gareth Bale is Welsh! Only Scott Parker and Aaron Lennon from the midfield were English, Parker is a defensive midfielder and Lennon didn't make it into Hodgson's squad. As for the flair players of the other top three? For Arsenal it's, Song, Arteta, Rosicky, Van Persie and Walcott, only one of whom is English and is by the most inconsistent, another Oxlade-Chamberlain is young and will grow (hopefully) into another flair player. For Manchester City it's Nasri, Aguero, Silva, Tevez, Balotelli etc. none of them are English. For Manchester United it's Rooney, Nani, Valencia, Young, Giggs, Scholes etc. Scholes who's English has retired from International Football, Young is having a terrible tournament and Rooney (England's best player on paper) has been suspended for two of our three games. Where is this supposed flair?

Face it, we don't have the flair of Spain and Germany, we lack Ozil, Xavi, Iniesta, Silva, Fabregas, Schweinsteiger etc. We can't play attacking football because we cannot keep the football like they do, now maybe with Rooney and Gerrard's continuing form, England can look a little prettier with the ball but to succeed in this tournament we have to be well-drilled, composed at the back and contained. In some games we're struggling to get that right, Hodgson was never going to play beautiful FC Barcelona football, he was however going to get the best results from our boys with the style he is best at, making sure we are good without the ball. Can we beat Italy? I believe we can, Roy knows how to beat Italy, he managed Inter Milan, he beat Juventus in a thrilling turn-around in Fulham's amazing UEFA Europa League run-in a few seasons ago. Give Roy some faith, we may not be good to watch, but we can at least look like we wont be smashed 4-1 by Germany again.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

The issues with the Dutch.

Two games in and the team I tipped to win Euro 2012 (Holland) have lost their opening two games and are on the verge of being eliminated in one of the biggest upsets of recent International Tournaments. What are the issues the Dutch are facing now and could they really beat Portugal and progress?

When ranking the chances of Europe's top nations, I spoke of the Holland squad calling it one of the most “exciting” in Europe. On paper I'm right, any club manager would drool uncontrollably at having either one of Robin Van Persie, Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar even Afellay in their squad, the Ducth have all five. Their attack is fairly sound, whereas their defence is where the issues are, even with the two rocks of Nigel De Jong and Mark Van Bommel in front. Even so, their attack is finding it hard to cope as well.

Starting with their defence, Van Der Wiel at Right-Back is coping probably the best of the four, Mathjisen was okay against Germany after being injured against Denmark and Heitinga has been alright too, but no-where the near the level that players like Mats Hummels for Germany or even Daniel Agger for Denmark in the same group are playing right now. Jetro Willems on the left had a torrid time against the strong German attack, being at fault really for both goals being out of position several other times too. To be fair, they were very good goals from Mario Gomez, but the defence allowed those to happen. Willems has the chance to come good for Holland at the next tournament (assuming they will be there) but Holland's defence is no unit like Germany and the side that could have won the World Cup two years ago looks long gone.

Then there's this awesome attack which to me just isn't working. It's well documented there's issue between a few players in attack, Sneijder doesn't like to pass to Van Persie and Robben it seems doesn't like to pass. Robben's inability to play a ball in has cost the Dutch dearly. Both Van Persie and Huntelaar are some of the most in-form strikers in World Football right now. Really only Lionel Messi is ahead of them for goals, for Van Persie at Arsenal you see constant supply and therefore constant goals, whether it be from Alex Song and Mikel Arteta behind him or Gervinho and Theo Walcott next to him, Van Persie is fed the ball all the time, it's how he gets thirty goals, not often does Van Persie create goals for himself like a Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo even his Arsenal predecessor Thierry Henry would with majestic runs with the ball. That doesn't make Van Persie a worse player, it makes him a better goal-poacher and finisher, alongside his ability to make chances for other players in a deeper more Dennis Bergkamp position. However, you don't see this constant feed to him for Holland. He's had chances, he scored the consolation tonight, but most times the ball is out wide to Sneijder and especially Robben, where Arsenal's players would look for Van Persie, these players go for goal almost every time and so far no shot of there's has looked like coming off. To me, this is their biggest issue, no player at Holland seems to want to feed Van Persie like they do at Arsenal, they're in it for themselves, they don't even want to feed Huntelaar when he's on the pitch.

To get Van Persie scoring, same really with Huntelaar you have to give them constant service and in this last game Sneijder and Robben have to be told their role is to get it into Van Persie and let him do his job, stop going for the spectacular shot to win Goal of the Tournament, because for two games it hasn't worked and they wont be scoring it if they continue anyway. Can Holland beat Portugal? Yes, they can, can they win by two goals? If they start working as a team then yes. Can they keep Cristiano Ronaldo quiet? Judging by his performance against Denmark, I'd be more scared of Postiga, but seriously, perhaps.

They're not on the plane home yet Holland, they perhaps wouldn't deserve a Quarter Final place at the expense of Denmark or even Portugal, but they can try and get it, otherwise this is one of the biggest tournament disappointments in years.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Szczesny is still a young prospect, he's no finished article

The opening day of the 2012 European Championships has finished in Poland and whilst we get ready for tomorrow's action in Ukraine with the thrilling Group B, there's one player dominating the talking points, Arsenal and Poland's goalkeeper Woijciech Szczesny who not only was at fault for ten-man Greece's equaliser in the second half but was also sent off in the opening game of the tournament. It begs the question whether he really is one of the top keeper's in Europe as a few have suggested.

There's no doubt Szczesny is a character, and a usually competent goalkeeper but his decision making seems to be a little off and in big games he seems to make most of his mistakes. In last year's Carling Cup Final he arguably had the worst game of his short Arsenal career, heavily tipped to be the next big thing (not just due to his enormous size), Szczesny could easily have been dismissed for a foul on Lee Bowyer just minutes into the game, an incorrect offside flag saved Szczesny, but he played a part in the goal that lost Arsenal the cup when miscommunication between him and centre-half Laurent Koscielny let Obafemi Martins in to win it for Birmingham. He also could of been sent off again seconds from the end when he came racing out of his goal and took out Martins but the officials deemed it to be fair.

It's not the only time Szczesny has made mistakes, late last season in a crucial game against Norwich, Szczesny made several mistakes which led to Norwich gaining a three-all draw which almost cost Arsenal UEFA Champions League qualification. Szczesny also blamed himself for the 2-1 defeat against Fulham in that season.

It seems in the big games Szczesny, most likely due to his lack of experience gets nervous, in today's opening game of his country's European Championships in Woijciech's home-town of Warsaw he made an error which allowed Greece to equalise and was later sent off. These mistakes don't brand Szczesny a terrible goalkeeper, even though his save percentage is low, his commanding of his area and ability to deal with crosses make him a better candidate in goal than other Arsenal predecessors but the mistakes in big games are causing him to gain critics. It could be that Szczesny's tournament is over, his replacement Tyton had a much more relaxed and better game, saving the penalty Szczesny gave away. Tyton, who is three years Szczesny's senior plays for PSV in Holland.

Perhaps it is Szczesny's predecessors that make Szczesny look even better than he is, he has made some crucial saves, for example his amazing penalty save against Udinese in the UEFA Champions League Play-Off last season and his amazing double-save against Liverpool later on that season, but no Arsenal fans would have stood for the mistakes he has made had they have come from players like Manuel Almunia, Lukasz Fabianski or Vito Mannone and although he has time to improve and he's getting his mistakes out early, but unfortunately in the first team, Szczesny has made some pretty poor mistakes, especially in big games. Had Szczesny been replacing David Seaman or even Jens Lehmann, I think he may have been received the same way that players like Almunia and Fabianski have, as he is replacing those players who have had bad spells at the club (other than Fabianski's very good run before injury the season before last) it is fair to say he may get an easier ride than most as he does look more stable.å

There is time for him to improve, lets not doubt he is a good young talent, but one of Europe's best he is yet not.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Euro 2012: Who Will Be There or There About's?

With the 2012 European Championships just around the corner, it's that time again where sixteen European nations rate their chances of international football glory. In this article, I'm going to rate the chances of the potential winners, potential shockers and England.

Potential Winners
The runners-up of the last World Cup, Holland have one of the most exciting squads in World Football and after the pain of recent years in tournaments the Dutch will be looking to turn their fortunes around and bag the European Championships and hit top form heading into the World Cup in two years time.

The only things standing in Holland's way is a tough group going up against not only Germany but a solid Denmark and a potentially tricky Portugal that and the Holland squad's tendency to implode if it's not going right. However, it seemed that wasn't an issue in the last World Cup and with Robin Van Persie having a superb season with Arsenal scoring over thirty goals, if he could carry that form into the Euros alongside players like Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and the young protégé Afellay, Holland could be in for the win. Even back-up players like Huntelaar and Van Der Vaart add to Holland's already stunning attack.

Alongside one of the most formidable forward lines they also have a defensive rock with Nigel De Jong and Mark Van Bommell being a very solid defensive midfield partnership who wont allow teams to play.

Holland are my personal pick for the tournament due to their squad's seemingly endless talents however, they could be upstaged by several other nations who could too be destined for European success.

Germany always seem to have a chance at any major tournament, in the last ten years they've finished in the top three in four of the last five tournaments. Their amazingly talented young squad sparkled at the World Cup, going out in the semi-finals to eventual winners Spain. With an almost identical squad to the one that played so well two years ago, you have to admit that Germany are up there with Holland as favourites to win the tournament also.

The reliability of Klose who loves scoring in major tournaments as much as Robin Van Persie loves scoring alongside the talented Mesut Ozil and then another youngster who looks promising in Mario Gotze, Germany too have the squad to win the Euros.

Much like the Dutch, the tough group may hurt Germany although it will more than likely be settled in their second game against Holland who may finish in the top of the group and Germany must be favourites with the Netherlands to qualify but this team has come up short in recent tournaments towards the end and that could happen again depending on their draw in the knock-out round.

However, Germany will be thrilling to watch with the attacking likes of Klose, Gomez, Gotze, Ozil, Podolski etc. and then the defensive quality of Hummels and Boateng with Neuer behind them in goal, Germany will not only get goals, they'll be hard to beat also.

The current World & European Champions Spain are a completely different side than the one that used to be the underachievers of tournament football. Their football is beautiful to watch but is it starting to wear thin?

With most of the squad made up of Barcelona and Real Madrid players, two teams who embrace the football philosophy of Spain themselves both beaten in the UEFA Champions League semi-finals, you have to worry that they may come up short in this tournament too.

Spain's main advantage in the last two tournaments have been their two in-form strikers David Villa and Fernando Torres who have gone into the tournaments in stunning form domestically. With David Villa out injured and questionable form from Torres for Chelsea this season could harm they're goalscoring as seen when they lost to England in a friendly late last year.

However, with Torres unhappy at Chelsea and needing to prove himself, it could be that his form does hit a good run during the tournament and Fernando Llorente also looking to prove himself as he may be getting a move to the Premiership or at least away from Athletic Bilbao.

One thing's for sure is that Spain have the quality to be in the last four, whether they can go all the way against teams like Holland and Germany is questionable.

Potential Shockers
The French have been very disappointing in the last two tournaments. Two points over the last two tournaments and bottom of the group stages both times France have failed to sparkle like they did in 1998, 2000 and even 2006.

However under Laurent Blanc they've rebooted and are favourites to take Group D, with strikers like Karim Benzema who's been in fine form for Real Madrid, Olivier Giroud who's been in fine form for Montpellier, two strikers who have just won the domestic titles of the countries they play in. Behind them, Ribery and Nasri can always be threats and the great seasons of Hatem Ben Arfa and Cabaye at Newcastle is also a good sign for France and they also have the defensive midfield qualities of Yann M'Vila if he is fit.

Their only weakness if their tendency to also self-destruct in major tournaments as the last two have shown. They also have a bit of a shaky defence with Mexes and Rami, however, Laurent Koscielny could easily be picked ahead of either after his great season at Arsenal which inspired them to third place.

Out of the two co-hosts, I feel Poland have the better chance of going further. Home advantage and some names like goalkeeper Woijciech Szczesny who is mainly reliable and a hot-prospect in Robert Lewandowski of Borussia Dortmund could see them get to a Quarter Final at least and if lucky could shock a few better teams.

The Italians were poor at the last World Cup, crashing out at the group stage despite being holders, however, being Italy they always have a chance at going far. The problem seems to be their old squad, although most of it comes from the Unbeatable Juventus team, most of it is over thirty and even a few of their eldest players are Free Agents after being released by their clubs. Depending on how well they can contain Croatia and even Ireland they might be able to get out of the group, but the age of their squad which couldn't get out of the group stages two years ago really hinders them.

EDIT: After looking at the squad it seems I have seen the wrong Italian squad and some of the players referenced aren't in the actual squad, meaning comments on age are inaccurate. Even so, Italy I believe may struggle to get out of Group C.

What of Portugal also? They almost did it eight years ago in their own back yard but were beaten by a defensive Greece but with Cristiano Ronaldo there is the potential not only for flair but for goals. Alongside him is Manchester United's Nani who has the potential to be deadly and gives Ronaldo a quality not too distant from the one he regularly receives at club level with Madrid, that makes him second best only to Lionel Messi as the World's Best Footballer.

The only issue for Portugal is their group, with Holland and Germany expected to go through and their other opponent being Denmark, a nation who pipped them to automatic qualification in the Qualifiers it could be that Portugal finish bottom of their group as easy as they could win it. The factor of their success is not just keeping their opponents out but making sure Ronaldo has a much better tournament than two years ago where he was very lacklustre.

Finally, England. This seems to be the first major tournament of my lifetime where England are entering without a delusional patriotic view that we shall win it, a view I share. England wont win it. There's simply too many teams better than them, all of which (except probably most of the shockers) have been mentioned before. Wayne Rooney and perhaps Joe Hart and Ashley Cole are the best players England have (but even Cole is ageing) and Rooney is probably the only player who could walk into a Barcelona or Real Madrid team seeing as Hart is not better than Casillas and maybe on the same level of Valdes and Cole's age may hinder him.

So with Rooney suspended for two games, it becomes incredibly hard to attack teams and get the same passing rhythm going that Rooney can conduct so easily for club and country. Roy Hodgson is a very good international manager and he will ensure England are hard to beat and the defensive Greece model maybe our best hope for our two Rooney-less games against France and Sweden to try and get success.

Personally, a Quarter-Final place is a good triumph for England and with the probability of Spain or Italy to follow or if not one of those a tricky Croatian and should they get through pumped Ireland side in their way of a semi-final place, England probably will be back on the plane at the same time as usual. Even if they did manage to beat Spain in a friendly last year.

However, the one to watch is definitely Arsenal's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. If he is selected it will be good to see if he cuts it on the international stage as well as he has breaking into the Arsenal team this season. It could be he features more than thought with England's midfield troubles, losing Lampard and Barry and now potentially Parker at any time, it will be nice to see if 'The Ox' as he is known can be one of the young stars of the tournament even if England can't win it.