25 August 2005

season preview (now with more teams), or, we wish we could get paid to talk about football


After dumping Veron, Kezman, and Smertin, and bringing in Del Horno and Wright-Phillips, Chelsea still have the squad to challenge on all fronts. Widely tipped by every pundit in the known universe to retain the championship, they will see before Easter how difficult that feat really is. With only one game outside London before October, they won't have much travelling to do at the start of the season, but they will have to play Arsenal and Tottenham, both of whom will be in the running for Europe by the end of the season. In the opening two months, they play enough low-table teams to build up a solid points lead to take into the winter, and have also been presented with a fairly easy Christmas week. The kings of the 1-0 win may find it harder going this season than last, if their opposition can figure out how to shut them out, or if Petr Cech makes any mistakes, something he didn't do in at least 24 clean-sheet matches last season. It may be another story if Tiago and Drogba start living up to Jose's hype, or if Hernan "Oh, my hair is so pretty" Crespo remembered to bring his shooting boots back from Italy.


Arsene Wenger continues to display a fantastic eye for a young player. Hleb was a standout in the Community Shield, and Flamini, Fabregas, Clichy, Senderos are all very promising. Those young players may not get the playing time they need to become the cohesive unit that can really threaten Chelsea in the table, particularly without the firm guiding hand of Patrick Vieira. However, the team will not wind up in shambles without the long-legged Frenchman, and may in fact be the better for the new blood, eventually. With early games against Newcastle, Chelsea, Liverpool, Boro, and Everton, they may find it tough going at the start, but if they take fifteen points from the first six games, that will be enough to worry Chelsea. Christmas will see them play some so-so teams (it remains to be seen whether or not Man Utd will be described in that way). Arsenal also play Man Utd and City away in their run-in, which includes the home derby with Tottenham. One doubts whether the Gunners can repeat their amazing run of '03-'04 this season, but their style of play should still be technically impressive and may be more enjoyable to watch than the eventual champions.

Manchester United

With several important contract renewals and the offloading of Phil "I wish I could grow a moustache like me brother" Neville and "World Cup Winner" Kleberson, United have strengthened their squad. Park may be a useful sort, but he doesn't look like he's going to break into the starting eleven any time soon. The away game against Newcastle immediately after the away game in Europe at the end of August could see United with their first loss of the season. Fergie needs to strengthen the aging midfield trio of Giggs, Scholes, and Keane if he is to put in a serious challenge domestically and in Europe. Van der Saar is a real star-quality 'keeper, which ManYoo have not had since the erratic but occasionally brilliant Barthez, and everybody's favorite Dane. Rumours abound regarding Smith moving to midfield where he began in the Leeds academy. Not sure what this would do for Smithy's England career, but it could potentially be fantastic for his club career, as well as his club. Man United fans should not worry about the games over Christmas, but should be concerned about player fatigue against what should lower quality opposition. Why? Because the first three games of the new year are Arsenal away, City away, and Liverpool home. Liverpool fans are pleased with the Man United run-in, as it includes Bolton away, Arsenal, Spurs away, and Chelsea away. Red Devils fans surely cannot want to see Chelsea crowned repeat champions at the last Manchester home game of the season.


David Moyes and his players achieved the improbable last year and deserve much of the credit they gave themselves for that. Last season's "best team in Liverpool" were unable to attract much new talent this summer, though, and the "buzz" from the signings of Kroldrup, Arteta, and P. Neville was not enough to stop Everton from succumbing 2-1 at home to Villareal, which almost certainly puts them out of Europe. However, this is not bad news for the blue half of Merseyside, since it allows them to concentrate on the domestic front. Moyes didn't do nearly enough to strengthen the squad for their much-celebrated return to European competition. One does have to wonder what exactly Moyes spent the Rooney money on. Blues fans might want to stock up on the booze over Christmas, since they will be hosting the Reds just before the new year. Even the most enthusiastic pundits believe Everton are more likely to repeat their '03-'04 performance than their '04-'05. With a run-in that includes teams pushing for Europe and teams (probably) battling to stay up, they will have their work cut out for them. Beattie and Bent should be a great partnership, but if either of their histories is anything to go by, they flatter to deceive. It is likely their top players this season will be Arsenal reject Richard Wright, the energetic Tim Cahill, and the perpetually underrated James McFadden. Sadly, that trio will not be enough to save them from eventual mediocrity.


The bad news is that Liverpool play Arsenal, Man Utd, and Chelsea at home before we turn the clocks back. Also, that is the good news, since they get some big games out of the way while the table is still settling. Rafa brought in a few world-class players, and Peter Crouch--the sexiest beanpole tomboy on the planet (with apologies to Keira Knightley, whom Rafa would no doubt have signed if he could have). Liverpool's world-class attack should have no problems scoring against the best defenses in the league (despite a lack of Premiership experience up front), but that is not where the Reds' deficiencies lie. Their defense is worryingly leaky at times and a strong challenger to Hyypia and Carragher is desparately needed to introduce some competition for places in the heart of the defense. The midfield includes some fantastic individual players, but it remains to be seen whether or not they will gel quickly enough to dominate the center of the pitch. While everyone else was playing pre-season friendlies in Japan, Belgium, and America, Liverpool were beating the Welsh, Lithuanian, and Bulgarian champions in matches that mattered. Although not necessarily "competitive" matches, they surely have focused Liverpool for the task at hand earlier in the season than their Premiership opponents. With Cisse clocking sprint times faster than this time last year (and remember he's had a broken leg in the intervening months), it must scare the crap out of defenders who don't regularly compete in the Olympic 100m race. Benitez has his own brand of "total football", which is to say he coaches his teams to play in many interchangeable formations. Last season, this was a new concept to the Reds, but twelve months later, they could look just as comfortable playing 4-5-1 as they do playing 3-4-3. If they get to Halloween with just one loss and only minor injuries, they should easily qualify for Europe without FIFA intervention next term. This may not be the year they push for the title, but with a bit of luck, there is the possibility of significant progress from last season's domestic frustrations.


Big Sam (I wonder if that's what his wife calls him) may not be haute couture, but what he lacks in elegance, he makes up for in bulldog determination to not be on the losing side. Bolton shouldn't really see any major challenges on the pitch until they travel to Stamford Bridge in October, but it gets dicey from there. The festive season includes back-to-back games against United and Liverpool, while their run-in includes home games against ManYoo and Chelski (prawn) sandwiching a visit to Anfield. New signing Jared Borghetti fits right into Bolton's multi-national squad and also with the Wanderers' combative style of play. He could be pivotal for Bolton this year (Djorkaeff), or he could turn out to be yet another international that struggles with the English game (Tofting). Allardyce somehow manages to find cheap rejects and "international bargains" for his hard-working side. It's hard to see them finishing out of UEFA contention, but it's unlikely they'll be in the Champions League next season. It will be hard for anyone to loosen the stranglehold of the top three, and Bolton don't have the depth to be a real contender for fourth. What they need is a 20-goals-a-season striker and Kevin Davies doesn't look like it. El-Hadji Diouf just might be, but he has to stop spitting on people long enough to get a good run-out.


Steve McClaren looks and sounds like the nicest boss in the world. However, letting Bolo Zenden go for free might not have been the most astute piece of business done at the Riverside. What surely is the most astute piece of business done in Teesside is the addition of Yakubu to an attack force that already includes Szilard Nemeth, Massimo Maccarone, Joseph-Desire Job and the very physical presence of silverware-winning strikes Hasselbaink and Viduka. Maybe having seven strikers on the squad will be enough to keep Boro in UEFA territory this season and mask their considerable defensive deficiencies. One wonders if Emanual Pogatetz knew what he was getting himself into. Depending on who you believe, Stewart Downing is, or is not, the answer to England's left-side problem. But depending on who you ask, England do, or do not, have a left-side problem. Bigger than the question of where Middlesboro will finish in the table is whether McClaren will succeed Sven before or after the World Cup. The former ManYoo number two has successfully guided Boro from the bottom third to the top third of the table and you have to wonder who will succeed him, and if the team will continue to progress through the transition. Boro's tough games seem to be spaced out between low-to-mid-table opponents, so they should have no problem recharging their batteries for the big games.

Manchester City

City have signed a formidable strike force this summer in the form of Andrew "Andy" Cole and Darius Vassell. Sadly, it seems unlikely that Reyna, Sibierski, and Trevor Sinclair will provide them with enough chances to score goals. The Citizens surprised everybody, including their managers, last season, by not getting relegated. Way to go, lads! Stuart Pearce, bless 'im, got himself 16 of 27 points at the end of last season, narrowly avoiding a UEFA place that the squad surely could not have handled (see Everton). The exit of Wright-Phillips the elder (also the shorter) gives the Blues a good chunk of change to spend on a midfield which is among the oldest in the Premier League (see Manchester United). As Shaun scored a quarter of City's goals last season, it is certain that City will miss his contribution from midfield and so far have nobody to fill his spot. But they might not miss him as much as we think. If Dunne can win his fitness battle early and if Kiki Musampa continues to show the promise of last spring, the twenty million pounds Pearce took for Wright-Phillips might be the seller's deal of the summer. Like Middlesbrough, the Blues have tougher games spaced out between the easier ones for most of the season. If Pearce can keep his team fit and focused, they might be able to claim that European spot next year.


In their last home game of the season, Tottenham will face Bolton. Given the strength and depth of these two squads, it looks a cert that they will be within a few points of each other, and this game could certainly decide a European spot. Given their run-ins to that point, Bolton look like they have the upper hand, as Spurs have a pretty tough April. Martin Jol is putting his faith in the established talent of his countryman Edgar "I'm a little teapot" Davids and the precocious abilities of Tom Huddlestone and Wayne Routledge. Spurs have a significantly bigger and more versatile squad than most other UEFA contenders, and many would argue it is a better squad. Being largely made up of the England under-21 team from a few years ago, Tottenham surely has the heart to get something out of the season. They have a couple of tough weeks in their schedule, and cup games may put more of a strain on them, but there is nothing to suggest they should not be able to put together a decent run. Martin Jol is relatively new to English football, but he seems to be acclimatizing quickly. Six clean sheets at White Hart Lane and seven away indicate that Tottenham's defense is not necessarily the problem, and Jol will expect Defoe, Keane, and Kanoute to pick up the slack this campaign. He may also expect Robbie Keane to update his goal celebration; after all, a bow and arrow hasn't been fashionable since some Swiss guy gave his boy an apple and said "Go stand over there".

Aston Villa

Aston Villa is a local team for local players, except Milan Baros, who won't even bother to look where he is, so it doesn't matter. Villa bolstered their "all-star" lineup by snagging Eric Djemba-Djemba from United, and Kevin Phillips from the doomed Southampton. They also added youth to their squad in the form of Patrik Berger, from the almost equally doomed Portsmouth. O'Leary proved he still has it when it comes to the transfer market by giving away Thomas Hitzlsperger to Stuttgart for no money, and Darius Vassell to Man City for almost one-tenth the value of Shaun Wright-Phillips. With Deadly Doug back in control after his "illness", O'Leary has to know that his head will be on the block if he goes into the Chelsea game at the end of September with Villa still in single digits for points. Villa's Christmas is nothing special; the only gift they're likely to get is a home fixture against Everton on Boxing Day. Their run-in may scare them somewhat: if you don't include Liverpool, all the teams they play will be either in the hunt for Europe or trying to avoid the drop. The Villans' squad is short on attacking players, which will surely find them out if they have a cup run of any note. You could do worse than put money on O'Leary to head back to Royston-Vasey before any other manager gets their P-45.


At the latest count, Alan Curbishley had spent a grand total of nothing on new players. Despite that, the Addicks have picked up rejects from several other clubs on free transfers (Ambrose, Myhre) and loans (Spector, Smertin) to augment their squad of players who are unimpressive on paper, but are capable of drawing with just about anyone on their day. Curbishley has made steady progress with his club over the last fourteen years, turning them from a mid-table Championship side, to a yo-yo team, to a squad that has contended for a UEFA spot for the past several years running. Curbs himself has suggested that it might be time for a change, and if this season does not provide some excitement, it will surprise no one to find someone else in the driver’s seat at The Valley come next summer. Charlton’s fixture list does not pose any insurmountable challenges, but last season’s negative goal difference suggests that the back line will need to be tightened up considerably for the season to be successful. The sale of Paul Konchesky would not seem to be a step forward in that direction, but six of the eight new squad members play across the back, so it looks like Curbishley has a keen awareness of last season’s failings. As with other mid-table teams, a lot depends on how the Addicks fare against teams around and below them in the table.


It is difficult to see Birmingham being in the drop zone at Easter, but it’s equally difficult seeing them pushing for a European place. Tenth is their best finish in the last three seasons. Last term it was some dreadful play away from home that no doubt cost them in the league. A record of 16 goals scored on the road was less productive than West Brom or the eventually-relegated Crystal Palace, while the defense found a way to concede 31. The acquisition of two defensive midfielders in the off-season indicates that Steve Bruce holds his less-than-robust midfield accountable. Nicky Butt’s presence may calm down some of the more erratic defensive tendencies of the Brummies and provide a base from which they can attack confidently. Pennant and Pandiani, the other two purchases, have worked with some of the best managers in the world, and should provide more firepower. Birmingham has the opportunity in the last weeks of the season to decide where they finish, as their run-in includes Bolton, Everton, Villa, and Newcastle. Wins against these clubs could see them jump a place or two in the table.


Sixteen times last season, Fulham conceded two or more goals, and as a result took one of the 48 points available to them in those matches. But it wasn’t a lack of goal-scoring that resulted in their disappointing finish, they were simply unable to keep the ball out of their own net once it started going in. With a goal-scoring record that could have put them in Europe, Chris Coleman must have been frustrated enough to make sweeping changes to the defense. Like Everton, though, few players see Fulham as a stage to show off their abilities in the run-up to the World Cup. So far, Coleman has managed to hang on to some key players, such as Malbranque and Boa Morte, but how long they will be satisfied at Craven Cottage remains to be seen. If a European club comes in for either of them before September 1, Cookie might have another Louis Saha situation on his hands. The depth and balance of Coleman’s squad demonstrates that the young manager can plan a solid league campaign, even if his staff are unable to execute effectively. With a Christmas spent in and around London, and a run-in that could yield twelve or more points from the last seven matches, April may be the most important month of Coleman’s managerial career. And if they can fix their defensive problems, look for them in the top eight. If they can’t, well, perhaps he can get work stunt-doubling for Milan Baros.


Like Liverpool, Newcastle have the weight of a city’s expectation on their shoulders. And like Liverpool, they secured the signature of one of the city’s most beloved footballers of recent years. Unlike Liverpool, this signing is probably not the first step on their road back to glory, since Lee Clarke has not had a decent season in almost a decade. Some would question the logic of sending Nicky Butt to Birmingham, while bringing in the aging Clarke, but as Liverpool know, there is nothing quite like homegrown talent to get the fans behind the team. And who knows, maybe Lee Clarke can referee next time Dyer and Bowyer shake the gloves off. The other important news from St. James’ over the summer is that Mary Poppins Shearer is not quite ready to succeed Graeme Souness hang up his boots. With European football no longer a possibility, the Magpies must focus their efforts on rebuilding morale on Tyneside. Assuming that tiny little striker, Michael Owen, renews his England partnership with Alan Shearer, it is unlikely that Newcastle will have problems scoring and their fans would definitely prefer to win 4-3 than 1-0. Both of the Toon’s northeast derbies away from home come in their run-in, which cannot make the Toon Army happy. Though many pundits tip Souey to be to the first boss at the dole office, it’s unlikely he’ll be sacked before the Sunderland game in late October, and if he makes it into September, he’ll have done better than Newcastle's previous three managers.


For some reason, Mark Hughes looks set to stay, despite Blackburn's disappointing finish to last season. Perhaps it's because he's shown a willingness to add anyone, with any sort of record, to his playing staff. For some clubs, that would be off-putting; for Blackburn, it seems to be just fine. They managed to avoid the drop last year, despite having the lowest goal total in the league. Hoping to address that, Hughes has picked up two strikers in the off-season. If Sparky can figure out how to get the best from his newest addition, the mercurial Craig Bellamy, they might have a chance to stabilize their position in the middle of the table. The former Premiership champions will have to go yet another season without European football, though, since a European place is out of reach and the Intertoto Cup not even a remote possiblity. Bellamy's yellow cards to goals ratio is heavily weighted on the side of goals, unlike his new teammates Paul Dickov (10 goals, 11 yellows last season) and Robbie Savage (5 goals, 11 yellows, 1 red). To be fair, though, it's not just Dickov and Savage: Blackburn saw an impressive total of twenty different players booked last season in all competitions, for 70 yellows and 5 reds. One of the oldest squads in the Premiership, the average player age approaches 29 years. Be that as it may, they're obviously still a combative side, making up in ferocity what they may lack in youth, and their opponents will do well to bring an extra physio to matches at Ewood Park.


Perrin has managed to offload some of his older players, in favor of different older players, but he will miss Yakubu and De Zeeuw the most. Of the new additions to the squad, perhaps former Liverpool teammates Vignal and Westerveld and former Toon-mates Robert and LuaLua will provide enough defensive understanding and attacking thrust to keep Pompey up one more season. The fixture list was not kind to Alain Perrin’s team; they have what may be the toughest run of six matches of any team in the league this season. Having just come off two matches with Wigan and Sunderland which they must win to stay out of relegation territory, they then face the Reds at Anfield and continue against Chelsea at home, United away, and Tottenham away. West Ham, Arsenal at Highbury, and Fulham during Christmas week may feel like a walk in the park compared to that first tough run of games, but by the time their New Year’s hangovers clear, they will be bottom of the league and favorites for relegation. Given that Milan Mandaric makes Doug Ellis look tolerant of underachieving managers, Perrin can’t be too confident about attending the 2006 Portsmouth Easter Picnic.

West Brom

Bryan Robson may not be a first-rate manager yet, but he has a good eye for talented players. Sadly, his other eye seems to be on the relegation zone, no matter what team he’s with. Bringing in out-of-favor Liverpool keeper Chris Kirkland is a win-win for club and player, since he is a capable shot-stopper who will be aiming for a German stamp in his passport next summer. Like fellow Melwood graduates Steven Gerrard and Michael Owen, he has had an injury-blighted start to a promising career, but also like them, he may yet grow out of it; his recent big-game experience will not do West Brom any harm. Taking any points from their trips to Anfield and Old Trafford during pantomime season may see Albion fans happy to take the audience’s advice to look behind them; if they do, they may see four or five clubs more likely to go down that the Baggies. Oh yes they will. Expect an up and down season from Robbo and his boys. They will lose some 4-0, but they’ll have their fair share of 3-1 wins. If Horsfield and new boy Nathan Ellington (fresh in from Wigan, where he scored 24 league goals last season) can combine for 30 goals or so, it will probably be enough to see them putting up a good fight. If they play with the same determination they showed against Man United last spring, and indeed, most of April and May, the Easter bunny may just bring them another season in the top flight.

West Ham

Poor Ipswich. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. Last season it was West Ham that came out on top in the promotion playoffs, despite finishing a full fourteen points behind second place Wigan and twelve points behind third place Ipswich. Pardew has strengthened the squad somewhat without spending much money, but it’s doubtful whether this will make enough of a difference. The Hammers’ strike force will not have any of their opponents quaking in their boots; unless the manager can do some last minute deal in the transfer market, West Ham will probably struggle to score much in the Premiership this season. We may see a few important goals from Sheringham, but it seems a bit unfair to pin the responsibility of keeping your team up on a 39-year-old striker, even if he did score 22 goals in the Championship last season. Regardless, it’s good to see Teddy back in the top flight. With the leadership of Sheringham up front and Roy Carroll at the back, this squad will fight hard every game, but it’s going to be a long season, and the combination of age and inexperience at the top level could be telling. Discipline may also be a small problem for the Hammers; they had six red cards last season and their squad isn't deep enough to handle the regular loss of key players. Their schedule is reasonably well paced, with not too many sticky patches, but it’s hard to see them anywhere but battling relegation come April.


Sunderland are going back down, so there’s no point in writing about them. They can only hope to earn more than the 19 points they got the last time they were relegated.


Wigan have the potential to be the surprise new boys of the season. If Henchoz can reproduce some of his better days on Merseyside, and De Zeeuw can find the energy for another season in the top flight, Wigan should have no problem in the back third of the field. After losing Nathan Ellington, their number 9 (figuratively, if not actually literally), to the Baggies, you might expect the Latics to struggle up front, but if Henri Camara can reproduce the form that took him to Wolves, they might score enough goals to stay up. Unfortunately, they might run out of Christmas before Santa even squeezes down the chimneys. November/December sees them meeting Arsenal and Spurs at the JJB, before an eleven day roadtrip to Liverpool, Chelsea, and Old Trafford. But wait, it gets better. After starting the season by entertaining Chelsea, Wigan will end the season at Highbury, against an Arsenal side who may need all three points to qualify automatically for Europe (if they’re even still in contention). But expect them to perform well against the bottom third of the table, and those games may produce enough points to let them play with the big boys in 2006-07.

What about Ravenclaw?
patience, young paduwan.
I think Chelsea will manage to keep the to spot. With all their new signings and possibly Michael Owen coming on, I expect Newcastle to do a lot better too.

Somehow I dont see Arsenal being as efficient as last year. Man U should do better though as should Liverpool.

Guess we'll just sit back and watch ;)
It's tomorrow, so what about Ravenclaw?
Newcastle. Bless 'em. Now officially funnier than watching City.
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Spain a Contender in World Cup 2006

This Friday December 9, 2005 saw football lovers round the world clinging to the edge of their seats, ready and waiting to determine who they would play in the group stages of the World Cup 2006 in Germany. The ceremonial occasion contained all the anticipated fanfare and hoopla that a soccer fan would normally link with modern sporting events. In other words, the smitten sports buff was subjected to hours of mindless slobber when awaiting for the unparalleled action to start out. Whosoever puts these events together just can't perchance believe that the football fans who have tuned in to see such an event can be in any way smitten in the flaky magic exhibits and dance troops they force out. One can only believe that heavy numbers of hard cash in brown envelopes that changes hands in order to generate some feeble performers their luck to be on worldwide television. The experience was produced slenderly supplementary endurable with a handsome blonde in a revealing dress co-hosting the program.

When the standoff did at last came it was dragged out, with a horde of footballing celebrities taking balls to pick out the teams. Again, a soccer fan has to accept that the presenters and celebrities were being paid off by the second as they struggled to make this non-event into a television spectacular. This should have taken no further than fifteen minutes to carry through, but no, soccer reporting went on for a undivided three hours! Because this is an indication of affairs to hail it is no question that the tourney will take an entire calendar month to finish.

When the dust settled on the over padded proceedings in Leipzig, England came out of it rather well. Notwithstanding having traditional rivals for Sven's loyalty, Sweden, in the group, Paraguay and Trinidad & Tobago are surely there just to make things fair. With the top two from every group coming along to the second round, England are favorites to proceed into this phase with out too much trouble. Depending on the setting in both England’s group (B) and the Germany / Poland group (A) the substitutions perchance set up an early crunch match with the hosts. Even so this would bank on either Germany or England neglecting to win their various groups and an England vs. Poland second round match is tremendously additional probable. Providing this potential banana skin can be negotiated, the usual is that England will crash out on penalties in the quarter finals to either Holland or Argentina. All England buffs, notwithstanding the optimism that usually rings the ballyhoo to a world cup, hold a sensation of the inevitable heroical defeat in the latter stages of the tourney. The common comments have been made up by the various directors, with Sven contributing in his normal unrestrained flair.

Perhaps the most intriguing groups are C, where Holland and Argentina are drawn jointly, and E, where Italy takes on USA, Czech Republic and Ghana. Normally ho-hum starters to tourneys, and having broke down to go on from the group stages last time around, Italy stand a tough task onwards. Having been drawn with the very much improving USA and a Czech side who are beginning to indicate signals of the retuning glory days with an mythical performance in the last Euro Championships, Italy may be the competitors first large casualty, with Ghana being very tremendously an unsung entity. Group C caters to an early clash of the prominent boys, where the Dutch face are good deal better than their ungraded position suggests, but both Holland and Argentina need be firm enough to overcome Ivory Coast and Serbia & Montenegro to win to the second round. The only question in truth is of who may top the group and in theory cast the easier second round match.

Historically it has been very rocky for a South American squad to win a world cup in Europe and at first site Brazils ranking as clear front-runners might seem a little generous. Notwithstanding, the game is not the equal as it has been in the yesteryear and several of the Brazilian team already frolic in top European sides in England, Spain and Italy. Their adaptation has been years in the forming and the European manner of soccer fused with the traditional Brazilian genius and talent may be mouthwatering to observe. It might take a very expert face to take away their pennant from them and in Ronaldhino they have a player who can bend any play off on his own.

Perhaps the most fun facet of any world cup is catching the dark horses, those minnows from commonwealths not affiliated with footballing grandness, progress and bowl over some of the brighter lights. This time around, there are reasonable aspersions of African commonwealths in the blend and some surprises could come from there. It may be worth looking out for the likes of Ivory Coast and Ghana when determining where to set that venturesome high odds wager at the loan shark. South Korea, Maybe the surprise bundle of the previous world cup in Japan are unlikely to be capable to replicate their heroics and will not be undervalued a second instance

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