The Great Messi Golden Ball Farce

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Messi was positively jubilant after taking Fifa’s Golden Ball trophy

 

Last night Germany won the Fifa World Cup for the fourth time in their history, but before they could walk up some stairs to receive the trophy, Argentina’s Lionel Messi had to walk up the aforementioned steps to collect a golden football on a stick. Now this wasn’t just any golden football on a stick, but it was in fact the fabled Fifa Golden Ball trophy, which is presented to the best player of the tournament according to footballs world governing body.

What annoys me about this is that everyone knows that Messi wasn’t the best player at the tournament. After he shone in the group stages he was average at best and a shadow of his usual self. It seems as if Fifa gave it to him out of sympathy, because beyond that, there is very little logical argument which results in Messi deserving the accolade.  Below are some players who deserved the golden ball more and why;

Javier Mascherano; he had a far greater influence over Argentina after the group stages, personifying their fantastic defensive displays which got them to the final. Whilst Messi was shrugging his shoulders doing very little in the World Cup final, Mascherano was running around all over the place trying to stop the Germans any way he could. In this way he was far more deserving of the golden ball and was Argentina’s player of the tournament if not the best at the whole tournament.

Thomas Muller; named man of the match in two of Germany’s wins, the gangly forward scored an impressive 5 goals in 7 matches. Against Argentina he was less effective than in all of the previous games, where he ran riot, especially against hosts Brazil. Throughout the tournament his unpredictability caused problems and he didn’t have a bad game.

James Rodriguez; the tournaments top goalscorer lit up the tournament with 6 goals in the 5 matches, one of which being the goal of the tournament. Playing for a lesser known nation he catapulted Columbia into the quarter finals, where he was kicked out of the game by the cynical Brazilians. He truly was deserving of the golden ball trophy even if his side didn’t progress past the quarter finals, if they would’ve, he would have been a shoe-in for the trophy.

All of the above players deserved the award far more than Messi did, after what surely he himself would admit, was an average tournament. Notable mentions of players who also could have won it ahead of Messi go to Robben, Hummels, Neuer, Sanchez and Benzema. 

And with this my final World Cup post has been published and now we all have to live with the World Cup blues. It has been an incredible tournament with some outstanding games and a deserved winner in a genuine team, Germany. Now all that’s left to say is, see you in four years!

 

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Hanns and Rudolf- Book Review

 

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Hanns and Rudolf tells the tale of Rudolf Hoss, Kommandent of Aushwitz and Hanns Alexander, a German Jew turned Nazi hunter who eventually caught Hoss. The narrative takes the form of an interweaving biography of the two figures. This is done by separating each of their stories into different chapters. The book is written by Thomas Harding, who is Hanns’ great nephew. The family tie that the author has helps to give the book a purpose as after all, this is a period of history written about constantly.

Firstly I would like to point out that this book was not what I thought it would be. I thought that it would tell the lengthy story of Hanns trying to catch Rudolf, when in fact the vast majority of this book is about their completely separate lives and their journeys pre war as much as their actions during and postwar. The link between the two is that they are both involved in WWII, not that Hanns was the man to catch Rudolf. Whilst the book does include this, it didn’t feel like the main part of the book as you would expect from reading the front cover, which says”The German Jew and the hunt for the Kommandent of Auschwitz”. I therefore found this slightly misleading, so if you are to read this book, don’t expect a lengthy detective novel as this is not what the book offers the reader.

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The book tells the tale of Hanns Alexander (right) and Rudolf Hoss (left) 

Hanns and Rudolf is very well researched, with great detail given about both the characters childhoods. However a lot of the information about Rudolfs early life seems regurgitated from other sources. The Hanns sections stand out because he is a new character to amateur historians and the authors family ties help to personalise him to the reader.  This book is all about portraying the two characters as people, rather than symbols of their armies or  nations. It is a human story of how one German Jew ended up hating his country and how Rudolf became a mass murderer . This personalised take on the characters is typified by the fact that throughout the book they are referred to in first person (because of this, I have decided to do the same).

One of the books most interesting facets  is how Rudolf Hoss did what he did, was he simply following orders, or was he not sane? It certainly is intriguing reading about Rudolf and the extent of his crimes against humanity. It’s compelling reading when Harding writes about Hoss’ constant struggle to keep up his family life normal whilst being Kammondent of Aushwitz. Equally absorbing is Hanns’ journey out of Nazi Germany and his decision to fight against them in the war and him becoming one of the very first Nazi hunters after the wars end. On top of this there is the story of Hanns’ twin brother Paul and how they constantly seem to keep bumping into each other during the war. Both Hanns and Rudolf are very interesting characters and the format of having their stories told in interlinking chapters works very well for the narrative. This book is extremely readable because of this.

The book is a well written account of the two characters. It’s engaging you and wills you to read on to the end. Overall I would give this book an 8 out of 10. It is not as insightful or as original as a book like Monuments Men and is not as well written as a Bryson, but it is an interesting and personal story of two contrasting characters in WWII. I was personally disappointed with the shortness of Hoss’ capture, which should of been the crux of the book, but was relegated to a couple of pages.

 

 

 

 

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Valiant Hearts: The Great War- Game Review

Valient Hearts

Valiant Hearts: The Great War

 

Valiant Hearts: The Great War is a side scrolling puzzle game available on the Playstation Store.

First and foremost Valiant Hearts is a stunning game. The reason I decided to buy it was purely for the unique artistic direction. The visuals are something of a cartoon, but they manage to convey such emotion. The character design is simple, none of the characters have eyes, or even movable mouths, but they still seem like coherent characters with different personalities. The simplicity of the characters is what makes them. You as the gamer convey all of your emotions onto them. The backgrounds and the environments are equally beautiful. They are very similar to what you see in the recent Rayman games, from the same developer, but with a much more sombre atmosphere.

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Just one of the many beautiful scenes in the game

The game is an adventure puzzle game. Most of your time will be spent working out numerous different puzzles. These range from trying to get objects to finding your way around objects blocking the trenches as well as a few adventure sequences. Each of these are satisfying to complete, but it must be said that this is not a challenging game. This didn’t put me off particularly, due to the fact that I wanted to progress through the story, but if you are looking for challenging puzzles look elsewhere.

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The puzzles in the game are charming rather than challenging

The story follows the 4 protagonists journey and experiences throughout WWI. The characters stories interlink at numerous points, with them sharing the overriding joint goal of taking out a German commander. You will play as each of the four characters; Emile, an ageing French farmer, Karl, German born, living in France, is forced into the German army (he is also the son in law of Emile), Freddie, an American soldier bent on revenge for his fallen wife and Ana, a Belgian nurse. You also order around a dog, who helps you to complete the puzzles. Each of the characters play the same, apart from their special abilities, such as Emile being able to dig. The characters are simply designed, but due to cut scenes they all have meaningful back-stories which give them unique personalities. Playing the game, you definitely feel empathy for each characters position as well as the war itself. Needless to say this game is a melancholy affair, due to the subject matter. But there are uplifting moments, like saving the lives of opposition soldiers and riding a taxi out of Paris whilst avoiding objects. The game is a human story, it tries not to portray any politics, simply that it was an awful time to be a human in Europe. However it must be said that the villain, the German commander, is a somewhat negative stereotype that doesn’t fit the atmosphere of the game as a whole. He is a lazily created and by far the worst in the game.

The audio of the game is fantastic. The whole game has piano driven and orchestral pieces which really ramp up the emotion. They help to convey a sense of melancholy which is needed in a game about the great war. However there are some more upbeat sounds as well, such as a band playing in the train station before Emile enters the war. It is one of the stand out features of the game and it combines with the visuals perfectly to provide a coherent overall atmosphere.

One of the criticisms I have read elsewhere  is of the historical notes that appear during the game. Throughout, as you reach new levels, notes are available, detailing the actual history of WWI. I find this criticism completely unfounded. The notes appear in the corner of the screen  and you have to press a button for them to pop up. They don’t appear on the screen by themselves. If you don’t want to read the historical notes provided, there is no reason for you to do so, you can easily play the game without reading them. But for me, as a bit of a history nut, it was great to read the true stories behind the environments and the narrative. The game places you in areas of real significance to WWI such as the Somme. This was an added bonus for me, but even if you don’t like the history, it’s not a negative that they accommodate for those interested, which is why I find the criticism unfounded.

At just £11.99 this game is fantastic value for money. It gives you a unique experience in a period of history which is not often portrayed. If your looking for a simple game with high emotion and fantastic artistic direction, give this a try. In fact if there is anyone reading this who is looking for a unique experience, just try it, this game is full of character and is suitable for people without much gaming experience. There is no denying that this game isn’t perfect but it is very good indeed. I would rate this game as 8.5 out of 10. Valiant Hearts: The Great War puts to shame the amount of games being priced at around £50 and is well worth the money for an interesting and emotive gaming experience.

 

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Long Walk to Freedom- Film Review

 

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Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is the film adaptation of the late Nelson Mandelas autobiography. The film stars Idris Elba as Mandela and Naomi Harris as Winnie Mandela (Nelsons wife).

Unfortunately, this film is  plagued by its source material. The book, which I have read, is excellent, the film is less so. I was truly willing this film to be better. Elba is one of my favourite actors, due to his performance as the title character in Luther and at the time of filming he was my favourite to receive an Oscar for this performance, but unfortunately it was below that calibre. That is not to say that his performance was anything short of excellent, simply that there were better performances in the movie year. The book is so unbelievably thorough, it delves into the dark times Mandela spent in prison as well as his time in hiding. The film simply fails to translate these moments. This is due to the fact that the book is so large, it is absolutely impossible to get across everything that happens. By picking the so called best moments of the book, it fails to show the extraordinary life which Mandela led in any truly meaningful or deep way.

One of the main issues with the film is the bizarre way that Nelson and Winnies relationship is portrayed, it’s highly confusing for the audience. Throughout the film they have almost separate, yet parallel character journeys. Both have to suffer for their beliefs, but both react to this suffering in different ways which ultimately pulls them apart. However the impact of their ever distanced relationship appears very minor to both the characters. No anguish is portrayed about their relationship and Winnie seems to not care that her husband is in prison for twenty years. There is no emotional impact, which I found surprising.

The film always feels like it has a big moment, an emotional speech or an act of rebellion, waiting to happen, but I was left waiting for something that never came. There are several emotive speeches in the film, but only one was really moving. There lacked a sense of realism to the speeches, to the reactions of the crowd. Maybe the overly emotive soundtrack distracted from what could of been more sincere moments. It’s difficult to put your finger on, but there is simply no real ‘goose-bump’ moments in the film. I expected these moments based on the source material.

I feel that due to the fact that its source material is so thorough the film would have done better to portray a short period in Mandelas life rather than the whole thing. This would have resulted in a far more complete film. But the director bit off more than he could chew, which resulted in a film that lacked any fresh insights into Mandelas extraordinary life. What makes the book absorbing is the way that everything is described. It is very difficult for a film to portray 27 years in prison in the space of 10 minutes. This is exactly what ruins the film. I don’t know whether this makes the director overly ambitious or simply naive.

It must also be said that this film is not awful. It has its moments. The acting is strong, but then what’s entertaining about the film is the subject matter and not the portrayal. The film does nothing cleverly or nuanced or anything other than what you expect. It is therefore a thoroughly average film. I’m sure people will enjoy it, I didn’t hate it myself, but its just not the film it had the potential to be.

I would give this film a rating of 5 out of 10, as it is an average film which could have been so much more. If you felt differently about the film I would love to know your perspective so feel free to comment.

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Why YOU Should Support USA

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Team USA

With England out of the World Cup, it’s time to pick your second team. In 2010 it was Ghana, they shouldered the hopes of the continent, only to be dumped out unceremoniously by the ever popular Luis Suarez.This time around it’s time to raise our star spangled banners in support of USA and here’s why;

It would be great for the world of ‘soccer’ (when in Rome), if the US became a real force. Major long term support could provide the world with millions of enthusiastic fans as well as substantial commercial opportunities. The world game needs more than Europe and a couple of south American teams competing to survive and grow, it needs worldwide backing. This would see the games wealth more equally balanced and would therefore fuel genuinely compelling world competitions.

They are a real team. As a group of individuals they are weak, but as a group they are strong. They work incredibly hard for each other and disciplined, they all put themselves before the team. A team without ego’s is hard to come across but the US appear to have just that.

They are underdogs in the truest sense.  The USA defied expectation by reaching the knock-out rounds from the so called ‘group of death’. If they went one step further and beat Belgium it would be a great sporting story, the team that’s new to the sport beating a team filled with premier league stars.

So there really is only one more thing to say; USA!USA!USA!

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The England Autopsy

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The English Hopefulls

With the group stages of the World Cup over and teams like Costa Rica, USA, Algeria and Columbia through to the second round, it’s high time to analyse what went wrong for our plucky English underdogs.

Firstly it’s important to state that our English underdogs were not underdogs at all. The press had downplayed England’s chances so significantly as to raise the expectations back up again due to this lack of perceived expectation. As a result the England players yet again went into A World Cup under crippling pressure and after their opening loss to Italy, they looked like shadows of men, too afraid to receive the ball against Uruguay.

A problem seemingly ignored by the press is that Gerard was awful and was partially responsible for the three goals conceded at this World Cup. But then again he did spray the ball outside at awkward heights for his team-mates to receive, so maybe he deserves to be let off. In defence of Gerrard he had just completed a gruelling, yet disappointing season. However if this was in any way likely to hamper his performance he should of put his team first and let someone else have a go.

Another problem for England was there lack of finishing ability. Given the chances England had in the first two games at least two points were a real possibility. The ability to be clinical is what separates the good from the average on the world stage. As a result of this England dropped out. This lack of ability to finish our chances can be seen as a large reason for the disappointing early exit. However you cannot blame the personnel as both Rooney and Sturridge were clearly the best candidates in their position, it’s just slightly disappointing that they couldn’t replicate their club form on the global stage.

Two of the worst players for England were Everton duo Baines and Jagielka. Both of them looked completely all at sea. They looked incapable to deliver in major tournament football and the question has to be asked as to whether England would have been more solid with Cole and Terry occupying these positions. The answer to that question is almost resoundingly yes. Jagielka was particularly culpable for the Uruguay goals, mainly for not keeping his eye on Suarez, a threat he should of been all too aware of. Baines on the other hand was culpable for the Italy defeat, allowing Candreva to whip in dangerous balls into the England box, one of which resulted in Balotelli’s winner. Both of these players showed an inability to perform at the top level and therefore must shoulder some responsibility for the death of England’s unlikely dream.

But hey, it’s not all doom and gloom England fans, we did manage a unbelievably boring draw with Costa Rica to round off our role in the football festivities.

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One Summer- Book Review

One Summer

One Summer by Bill Bryson

One summer is an interesting proposition for a book, telling a somewhat chronological story of a few months in time. The fact that the summer of 1927 in America was one of the most fascinating periods in modern history makes for a compelling tale indeed.

Having read previous Bill Bryson books, A Short History of Nearly Everything and Shakespeare, World at Stage, (both of which I recommend despite them being rather heavy reading!). I was excited when I came across a new book emblazoned with his name and ‘The Spirit of St Louis’ flying across the cover.

The book follows the main headlines of the year, focussing loosely on the biggest events in the months of May, June, July and August.  Each of these months have particular focuses, these are; Charles Lindbergh, Babe Ruth, President Coolidge and alleged anarchist murderers Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. Whilst these figures are the focal points of the chapters, there are numerous other stories interwoven with them.

The talent that Bryson uses to maximum effect, is to pick out of history what’s interesting, something which many historical fiction books fail to recognise or achieve. This results in a thoroughly entertaining, absorbing book which entices the reader to continue on. Brysons writing style brings the period to life, his constant comparisons to modern day life illuminate the vast contrasts between then and now. You feel the optimism of the roaring twenties pulsating from every page. The wild excesses of the time highlight what a remarkable and unique period it was, particularly in America. The book is fantastically well researched, with a wealth of information everywhere you look. All this information is written in Brysons trademark light-hearted style and I believe this to be the most readable Bryson book to date, from my experience.

A criticism that can be voiced about this book is it’s somewhat disjointed format. The action seems to jump arbitrarily between events. The chapters are named after a figure but only parts of the chapter talk about them. Some of the jump off points for the topics are supported by tenuous links. One moment you will be reading about Babe Ruth, then Charles Linbergh and then Henry Ford, all in a couple of paragraphs. The action also deviates from the year 1927, as the title of the book suggests, but goes on to discuss events throughout the twenties and beyond the forties. This makes the title of the book at the very least, a little bit misleading. However neither of these are an issue for me, if anything they add pace to the action and underline what a remarkably busy summer it was. The jumping between different time periods help to give contextual background to the events of 1927.

I would rate this book as 9 out of 10, for the simple fact that it is truly entertaining, informative and completely absorbing. I found this book very difficult to put down and for those reasons it goes down as one of my literary highlights of recent years.

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Saving Italy- Book Review

 

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Saving Italy by Robert Edsel

Saving Italy, The Race To Save A Nation’s Treasures From The Nazis, is Edsel’s follow up to the critically acclaimed Monuments Men, which recently became a major motion picture starring George Clooney. As a result of this I expect this book to get more attention, which is great because it truly deserves it, for both the book itself and the families of the Monuments Men.

The book again stars the Monuments Men, a group of academics, sculptors and  artists who enlisted in the army to save the artistic heritage of Europe, and in particular for this book, Italy. The book follows several of the Monuments Men’s journeys through Italy, in particular the journeys of Deane Keller and Fred Hart, two contrasting individuals who disagreed regularly but pulled together for the cause.

On top of the journey of the monuments men, the book documents the extensive looting operation of the Nazi’s. In particular it follows Karl Wolff, the leader of SS troops in Italy. These moments also include more general war information and history about the Nazi’s occupation of fascist Italy. This ongoing narrative is splendidly put together by Edsel who manages to weave the stories of several individuals together into a coherent, somewhat sequential collection of events .

What really makes this book shine, is the sheer wealth of research that Edsel and others have put into it. This is all that is needed to allow this staggering true story to shine. The story includes genuinely draw dropping factual moments , moments that see some of the greatest cultural treasures in the world at risk. The sheer rate of Nazi looting takes a lot to be believed, but throughout, Edsel recounts the events as they’ve been reported, rather than dealing with the Nazi’s in a hyperbolic way. This is a positive way of dealing with the issue as it makes the book appear more reliable.

Their are touching moments to this book. these come in the form of letters that the men and wives exchanged. They give a sense of humanity to proceedings. The emotional attachment to the soldiers is not something I expected when picking up the book, it serves to add another dimension to the intrigue.

It’s important to add that their is no need to read the previous books to enjoy this one, if you haven’t it will probably result in you reading the previous episodes, as this novel is unlike anything I have ever read, it brings together art, culture, war and humanity in a way that remains refreshing even after reading the previous instalments. It poses the unanswerable question of how valuable art is and what lengths humans should go to protect our cultural heritage.

A negative point about this book is that if you aren’t aware of what the cultural objects are, it’s hard to imagine the scenes in the book. As a complete amateur in artistic history, I had no idea who some of the artists in question were and therefore how priceless their works of art are. I can see that this could take away some of the meaning of the book, due to blind ignorance. However I liked to see every piece of art that was being mentioned so that I could imagine what it meant to the Monuments Men when they saw these sacred items. I did this simply by Googling the works of art just to get a feel for them. Also some parts of the book slow the pace considerably, most notably when talking about the more military history of the war in Italy. I sometimes found these to be of unnecessarily dense detail, which distracted me from the trials and tribulations of the Monuments Men. However these military moments are thankfully short-lived and the action resumes within a couple of pages.

Overall I would give this book an 8.5 out of 10. Due to the book being of a unique nature. This is not just another war novel! It’s an exciting, narrative driven account of an almost unbelievable historical event.

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The Tunnel- TV Review

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Series stars Clemence Poesy and Stephen Dillane

The Tunnel is a sky TV drama series adaptation of the popular Danish and Swedish show The Bridge. The Tunnel places both British and French detectives on the case of a killer who places a body on the borderline between France and England in the channel tunnel. This therefore gives both detectives mutual responsibility of the case and an intriguing relationship ensues. The show is simply intriguing from beginning to the end, with genuinely surprising narrative turns around every corner.

The show starts when, without spoiling anything, a politically motivated serial killer named the Truth Terrorist, or TT, comes to the fore by murdering a woman and placing their body in the border between France and England. It is this chase for TT along with the relationships between the detectives which makes this essential viewing.  The pendulum swings throughout the series between TT and the detectives and it’s this unpredictability that makes the show so gripping. As the series progresses, more is learnt about the characters, which makes you as a viewer emotionally invested in the actions of the protagonists.

On top of this the Truth terrorist is an engaging and mysterious villain. Many of the politically principles make you uncomfortable as a viewer as you engage in what TT is fighting for, even if the means are rather homicidal. Indeed the truth terrorist gains a degree of support from the wider public. This makes the viewer feel like their is a choice to be made over who to support, TT or the detectives.

However it’s not all positive. Towards the middle of the series the show loses a little bit of pace. The detectives continue to chase TT and the show feels like it is just waiting for something to happen. But something does happen and the show kicks back into life for the final three episodes. This lull in the shows momentum never made me want to switch off, so the implications of this slow down are limited.

The main weakness of this show is the supporting characters, many of which have no impact on the story. The worst of these by far is tabloid journalist Danny Hiller. The character is woefully cliché and annoyed me most of the time he was on the screen. The character is in the role of a facilitator to the main plot and therefore I understand that he is a necessary character, but he is so dislikeable that it was difficult to have any interest in his activities.

I was a massive fan of BBC 1’s detective series Luther. There are many similarities between the two, the foremost of this being the pacing. The imagery is also very similar as well as the  engaging villain and an overall air of unpredictability. So if you are a fan of Luther than this is definitely worth a watch.

Overall I would rate this television series as a 9 out of 10, it’s a truly gripping crime drama, with engaging character and plot development. I hope it gets a second series!

 

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An Alternate Take on England v Italy

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The media tirade surrounding Rooney is unfair

Watching England’s unfortunate defeat at the hands of Italy in Manuas on Saturday left me with mixed emotions and now that the dust has settled on the somewhat disappointing result, I thought why not review the game from my own opinion as well as reacting to the media response to the game. The general consensus in the mainstream media is that whilst England lost, they at least had a go and therefore the focus of the majority of the reports is on the promising performance of the losers.

In particular, Raheem Sterling was picked out for individual praise after his impressive first half performance. Whilst this praise is fair considering the problems he caused the ageing Italian defence, I felt that he was completely impotent in the second half and should of been taken off considering his increasingly lethargic movement from the beginning of the second half.

Another omnipresent story in the British media after the defeat was the continuation of the ongoing saga regarding Wayne Rooney’s place in the team, with many papers stating that he had an unimpressive game against Italy. I couldn’t disagree more. I, along with the nation have come to accept that a post-Euro 2004 Rooney is incapable of performing as he did in that tournament, where he tormented opposition defences with his direct running. For the first time since that tournament Rooney showed the same child-like enthusiasm and a willingness to take on a defender. This, as an England fan, was exciting to see. This coupled with his fantastic assist for Sturridges goal, capped off a promising performance from Rooney, The mainstream press are focusing on Rooney’s mistake in the match, which was the wasting of a decent opportunity. Although I acknowledge that that was an important moment in the match, it seems unnecessarily negative to disregard his promising performance to focus on the one miss. It’s even more unfair to create a media tirade aimed at getting Rooney dropped from the England starting XI. I believe this to be outstandingly negative and not useful journalism at all from the British media. Rooney is the one player in the team that strikes fear into the opposition and instead of supporting him, the media aim to weaken him and affect the decision making of Roy Hodgson.

Credit must be given to Italy, who produced a fine performance, reminiscent of their recent 2006 world cup triumph. They dictated the tempo and took their opportunities when they came. Above all this they adapted to the temperature much better than England, due to their almost monopolization of the ball. After this performance I fully expect Italy to go far in this tournament. A place in the quarter finals is the bare minimum that this side can now go on to achieve.

From an English perspective, I think they will go on and qualify second in the group. Costa Rica made Uruguay look a thoroughly average team and their reluctance to play Suarez shows just how unfit he is. The problem area for England is certainly at the back where Jagielka looked out of place in the international stage and Baines looked extremely vulnerable. In my opinion these two positions would be much stronger with Ashley Cole and John Terry occupying them, but that’s a separate issue altogether. I feel that the so called “young lions” showed enough to display that they are capable of stepping up to this level and I expect us to outscore both Uruguay and Costa Rica, but a place in the quarter finals is the best I expect England to do, which is not to say that that is a disappointing outcome.

Keep enjoying the footie,

Joe

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