Boyd quits as Scotland stumble

13 10 2008

I haven’t updated this blog in quite a while, so I felt it was time for a fresh post. As with every other international weekend, it’s all about Scotland and as if the performance against Norway on Saturday wasn’t bad enough, Kris Boyd has now decided he will not play for George Burley again.

His decision comes after watching from the bench as the Scots put in a dire performance in the 0-0 draw with the uncapped Chris Iwelumo getting the nod ahead of Boyd as a second half substitute and miss an open goal from 3 yards out.

Not that the result is simply down to Iwelumo, as a goal and win would simply have papered over what was a poor Scottish display.

The team selection and tactics to go with James McFadden up front on his own with James Morrison and Shaun Maloney in support was baffling and within 5 minutes as John Carew threatened for the first time during the afternoon that it was not going to work.

In fairness, Maloney did see plenty of the ball early on but we had nobody in the box to take advantage before Age Hareide changed tactics slightly to have 2 players double up on Maloney, thus nulifying any threat he was posing.

As Norway sat and frustrated Scotland in midfield, high hopeful balls were aimed towards McFadden who continually lost out to the giant centre backs of Kjetil Waehler and Fulham’s Brede Hangeland.

It was obvious Faddy needed someone alongside him to give him help and the loss of Kenny Miller clearly had a detremental effect on the team. However, it meant a chance for either Boyd or Iwelumo, with most observers including myself stating that Boyd, with 7 goals in just 15 caps, should be man to help spearhead the Scottish attack.

However, Burley stuck rigidly to his system until 57 minutes with Scotland only having a Morrison header over and a low ball across the six yard box from the West Brom man with no takers to show for their efforts.

The changes the punters wished for happened and as Morrison was replaced by Steven Fletcher, Burley hooked the deeply frustrated McFadden, to the displeasure of the Tartan Army, in favour of Iwelumo.

One can only wonder what Boyd thought as an untried striker was thrown into such an important game while a proven goalscorer at this level was left on the bench, playing only 26 minutes under the former Hearts boss.

And while Scotland did fashion a few chances, notably the shocking Iwelumo miss below, Norway still had the majority of the chances and had it not been for the heroics of Craig Gordon and poor finishing, notably from Carew, then Norway would’ve deservedly headed home with 3 points.

The Scots midfield, Brown aside, failed to compose themselves on the game and really do miss Barry Ferguson while there was no guile or creativity to break Norway down. Starting with just one up front gave Norway the confidence to go at Scotland, instead of us forcing the pace of the game and going at them with 2 up front.

Burley has continually preached about how he likes the wingers and full backs to bomb on and get crosses into the box. Seems a bit pointless when we don’t have anybody of a physical presence to try and get on the end of them.

But the final straw for Boyd was Burley stating pre-match that Boyd had to “prove himself” and “establish himself in the Rangers team”.

Now, forgive me for perhaps being simple, but is a goal ratio of nearly 1 in 2 games at international level not proving himself that he can play there? And also, if he hasn’t established himself at club level as much as Burley would like, then why has he been picked in the first place?

Iwelumo is not proven in a Scotland shirt; Boyd is. These are facts and while Iwelumo came on, worked hard and did OK apart from his miss, Boyd should’ve at the very least been brought on.

While the timing of his decision smacks of throwing his toys out of the pram, you can sense Boyd’s frustration. I don’t agree with any player deciding to turn their back on their country but I also didn’t agree with Burley’s tactics and team selection on Saturday.

One thing is certain- Burley now has an even bigger job on his hands. Not only to rescue our World Cup dream, but to probably save his job.

To read my match report from Scotland V Norway, click on the following link to www.footballnewsblog.co.uk





Team GB? Thanks, but no thanks

4 08 2008

If you can manage to see through the thick Beijing smog, the torch is about to be lit to mark the start of the 2008 Olympic games on Friday. As always, hopes are high that on these shores that Team GB can bring home some gold medals across various disciplines. Memories of Kelly Holmes becoming double Olympic champion 4 years ago in distance running, Edinburgh’s Chris Hoy taking the gold in cycling and Jonathan Edwards victory in the triple jump in Sydney are still vivid.

The British team will of course be made up of athletes from right across the British isles, with Scotland’s own Andy and Jamie Murray the sole representatives in the tennis event. And while we are there in number, there will be no GB participation in a few events.

And one of those is our national sport; football. The Olympic football competition is now taking on more importance than it has been previously, with Brazil sending superstars such as Ronaldinho to compliment the main squad comprising of under 21 players. But there will be no such players from these islands there.

However, with the 2012 Olympics being held in London, the pressure is on for there to be a British football team participating in the games. Sebastian Coe, one of the leading figures of London 2012, has demanded a British team be included while FIFA president Sepp Blatter has again waded into the debate, again insisting that “in 2012, there will be a British team”.

But the Scottish Football Association and their Welsh and Northern Irish counterparts are completely against the idea of a British national side. They say that such a move could be the start of a move to rip apart the individual associations and eventually create a united British side to compete on all fronts. Blatter could deny this, but there is a great feeling that that is what FIFA would like to see happen.

So the SFA et al are digging their heels in, and rightly so. Each of the home nations have long and established footballing histories, and Scotland V England is the oldest international match in the world. Each nation is proud of their footballing independence and a Great Britain side could threaten that. If all the associations went for the British team, then it may provoke FIFA into thinking “hang on here, they might want to go for that full time”. Which we don’t, despite the numerous lows which come with watching Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or indeed England.

Another point is the picking of the players. Motormouth Blatter has once more commented “for us it is not important if the players are all from England.” Comments like these only harden the stance of the other home nations. The majority of the players would be from England anyway, and as we regard England as footballing rivals, how could we be expected to support it? Would Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish players even get a look in, despite the fact there are plenty who are good enough? One would have to question that.

The individual identity of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland is important, but especially so in football terms. It is not something we are willing to lose, for the sake of one Olympic Games which claims to benefit the whole of the country, when in actual fact the only real benefits will be seen in the East end of London, where the majority of events will be held.

I will as ever hope that the British athletes do well in Beijing and bring home some medals, from the Murray brothers of Dunblane to Paula Radcliffe. But team GB at the football? Coe, Blatter et al- you can keep that thank you. Preserve our independence.





Pars make solid start as Bamba gets set for Watford

28 07 2008

So the season officially got underway for Dunfermline on Saturday in the 1st round of the highly prestigious Scottish League Challenge Cup. The priority of this tournament was reflected in the attendance of just 1340 for the clash with Stirling Albion at East End Park but the Pars got their season off to a confidence boosting start, easing to a 3-0 success.

Of course, victory over part-time second division opposition in this particular competition does not immediately give an indication as to how the season will go but the manner of victory will give manager Jim McIntyre belief that the team, starting with Saturday’s First Division opener away to Partick Thistle, can mount a challenge for promotion.

There was growing discontent prior to the season starting about McIntyre’s failure to sign strikers other than Graham Bayne, having lost the likes of Mark Burchill and Stevie Crawford in the close season. And while Bayne in his early performances has gone some way to winning over any doubting supporters, concerns still remain about the lack of a suitable partner for the former Inverness target man.

This has been put down to being priced out of signing targets, but the club received an unlikely boost this week thanks to Dundee United and former player Noel Hunt. His sale to Reading for £600,000 provided the Fifers with a £120,000 windfall, generated by the 20% sell on clause negotiated in the deal which took Hunt to Tannadice in the summer of 2006.

But the chances of McIntyre seeing that money are pretty slim in order to appease the club’s finances. However, the manager’s budget looks set to be given a boost with the sale of popular defender Sol Bamba. The Ivory Coast under 23 skipper has been on trial with Championship side Watford and manager Aidy Boothroyd, impressed with what he saw, has tabled a bid of over £100,000 and a deal should be concluded in the next few days.

The erratic performances of Bamba has made the sale an easy one for the fans to take, added to the fact that we have the likes of Greg Shields, Scott Wilson and Scott Thomson all able to slot into the centre back positions. He has also made no secret that he would like to try his luck darn sarf so a move will benefit all parties.

So the freeing up of Bamba’s wages will ensure McIntyre can hopefully sign a new striker for Saturday, and rumours of interest in ex Hearts and Kilmarnock player Gary Wales again resurfaced on Saturday as he was supposedly spotted in the directors box.

If he was, he’d have been impressed at how Dunfermline confidently knocked the ball about and created a lot of chances using Bayne as the lone front man in a 4-5-1, with the likes of Kevin Harper and Alex Burke supporting. Burke opened the scoring on 4 minutes and Harper set up Nick Phinn, impressive in midfield, for the second while young striker Iain Williamson netted the third.

Some fans again had reservations about the system operated by McIntyre. Needs must while the striker search goes on but if the formation is successful, who will complain? 4-5-1 doesn’t immediately mean a negative way of playing- look at Holland at Euro 2008. Using quick and incisive midfield players to create can result in a fast moving game, and that was the case on Saturday.

So the championship charge starts at Firhill this weekend, probably without Bamba, and perhaps with a new striker in tow. A start has been made, while promotion favourites St Johnstone and Dundee slumped to defeat in the Challenge Cup; now it’s time for the team to hopefully send a big travelling support home to Fife with real optimism for the campaign ahead.





Moyes the key to Everton’s progress

16 07 2008

Having been on holiday for the past week, I have been devoid of any major football news recently. Not surprisingly, the Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Barry transfer sagas continue to rumble on, while Alexsander Hleb has left Arsenal for Barcelona.

But whilst at the beach on the final day before setting off for home, I picked up a couple of British newspapers to try and get up to speed with the footie news and, as an Evertonian, a small piece on David Moyes being close to agreeing a new contract with the club caught my eye.

The article said that the Toffees manager was close to agreeing a new 5 year deal worth £60,000 a week after seeking assurances about the club’s future transfer dealings from chairman Bill Kenwright. Everton have, so far, been quiet on the transfer front while losing a vital cog and one of the Premier League’s most underrated players in Lee Carsley to Birmingham City.

But, as players come and go, the most important thing for Everton has to be securing Moyes on a long term deal, which I’m sure they will, but I’d rather see it done sooner rather than later. In my view Moyes has cemented his place as one the top managers in the British game with his work at Goodison Park.

When he arrived, the club were a sinking ship. The memories of the successful era of the 1980s, when League and European success was the norm, had long gone as relegation battles became common place, with two great escapes in 1994 and 1998. Joe Royle’s 1995 FA Cup win wasn’t built on in the way the Goodison faithful had hoped.

In stepped Moyes. He steered the club away from relegation and has secured European qualification, including the club’s first ever Champions League campaign, 3 times. Much of this achieved on a shoe string budget, though he has three times smashed the club’s transfer record- £6 million on the departed James Beattie, £8.6 on Andy Johnson and £11 million on Yakubu, who had a terrific first season last term.

Moyes initially made Everton a hard working team who were well organised and hard to beat. Indeed, the number of 1-0 scorelines in Everton’s favour in that historic 04/05 Champions League season indicated that. But a team of grafters has slowly been added to with gifted, technical players- Mikel Arteta, one of the finest midfielders in the league, the aforementioned Yakubu, Joseph Yobo and Joelon Lescott, a fine footballer for a centre back and scorer of 10 goals last season.

Everton’s fans are keen to see the club build on last season’s fifth place finish, run to the last 16 of the UEFA Cup and Carling Cup semi final appearance. Hopefully a trophy and a top 4 finish could be achieveable and of course the manager needs funds to bring more quality to what is already a talented squad.

But firstly, the board should give Moyes the assurances he needs and sign him now. It is clear that he loves the club and its fans and it is hard to see him manage elsewhere. If he keeps progressing, he may become a target for an even bigger club than the Blues, but if the board back the manager in the transfer market, why would he want to go anywhere else? Under his guidance, Everton are going places and tying him down could be one of the most important the signings could make in recent years.

The ongoing Kirkby stadium yes/ no debate still rages on and may or may not have an impact on the manager’s transfer budget. The new stadium is a debate for another day, but what is clear is that an Everton with David Moyes will continue to be a prosperous and strong Everton. An Everton without, well, I’m not so sure it would be so bright.





Pars fans prejudging? Who’d a thunk it?

4 07 2008

Being a Dunfermline Athletic supporter guarantees quite a few things. For every high point, you know that just around the corner, a low point awaits you. It is ingrained in you to be rather pessimistic about things, as if you dare be optimistic, it all goes pear shaped (see last season’s First Division campaign as proof).

Back in the mid 1990s when I first started attending Pars matches home and away, we had a terrific core support. Now, currently we still have a good core support in terms of number, which can hover anywhere between the 4-6,000 mark. Back then though, the crowd were right behind the team from the off- and could act as the proverbial 12th man.

Manager of the 1995/96 First Division winning team, club legend Bert Paton, noted that, in reference to the 1-0 defeat of Dundee United in the penultimate day which almost assured the Pars of the championship, “anyone who doubts our support is a 12th man should have heard the volume that day.”

Those days are still there for the big games, but Pars fans in recent years have taken on a new side to their persona, and it is one of prejudging players, or finding a scapegoat for if things don’t work out too well on the pitch.

Why am I bumbling on with this? Well, manager Jim McIntyre finally secured the signing of his top summer target this week in the shape of Inverness Caledonian Thistle striker, Graham Bayne. The Athletic paid the Highlanders £30,000 to lure the Fifer back to the Kingdom to bolster our attacking options which had been left down to the manager and youngsters such as Iain Williamson, following the departures of Mark Burchill and Stevie Crawford, adding to Jim Hamilton leaving for St Mirren in January.

Having seen him play with Caley against us before, I know exactly the kind of player we’re getting. Bayne, as McIntyre points out, will bring a physical dimension to the team. He will act as a player to link the play, bring his team-mates into it and create chances for them.

“He is strong in the air and can hold the ball up. He is good with his back to goal and his strength is his team play. He works hard, runs the channels- he is just a good all round team player,” McIntyre commented.

However, despite this, some Pars fans have immediately dismissed him as “rubbish” and “a waste of money”. Why? The only thing they have looked at is his goalscoring record- 33 goals in 159 games. Admittedly, strikers will always be judged on their goalscoring record and Bayne’s isn’t exactly prolific, but I can’t get my head around punters immediately dismissing him as a no-hoper.

McIntyre is fully aware that he isn’t renowned for hitting 15-20 goals a season, but he will be able to lay on chances for a more prolific strike partner, with the boss working hard to sign at least 2 strikers as well as a right sided midfielder before we kick off our First Division assault at Partick Thistle in August.

Instead of prejudging, I wish some Dunfermline fans would wait until they’ve at least pulled on the black and white before assessing the contributions, or lack of, a player can make to the team. What should count in the hitman’s favour is that he’s determined to come in and work hard- Pars fans love a grafter- and is a Fifer, which is another plus point when playing for the West Fifers.

I welcome Graham to the club and am sure he will be a success. It would be ironic if he went on to score 20 odd goals and have his most prolific net bulging season- the opinions of those already judging him would soon change.





Goodnight Vienna for brave Turks as Germany reach final

26 06 2008

They do it all too often that it shouldn’t surprise anymore. They can play exceptionally well and win football matches. They can also play rather poorly and still win football matches. Germany have such a great habit of winning games even with their backs against the wall; a winning football mentality which is why they have been world and European champions three times apiece.

And it happened again last night in their Euro 2008 semi final against shock troops Turkey. An enthralling match ended in what had been expected beforehand; a German victory and place in Sunday’s final against Spain, who defeated Russia, another tournament shock troop, with surprising ease this evening. But not before Germany had effectively got out of jail against a Turkish team who were bereft of a whole host of their first choice players.

Their star striker Nihat was injured towards the end of the quarter final with Croatia and missed out along with Newcastle United’s Emre, while first choice goalkeeper Volkan Demirel was also serving the second of his two game suspension after a red card in the group game with the Czech Republic which dramatically saw the Turks progress.

All pointed to a comfortable evening for Jochaim Low’s team, who had impressively disposed of new Chelsea boss Luiz Felipe Scolari’s Portugal at the last eight stage. With the luxury of a full squad to pick from, it seemed that it be a certain victory for Germany.

But Fatih Terim’s Turks had other ideas and London born former Bury, Brighton and Sheffield United striker, Colin Kazim Richards, gave the favourites their first fright of the night when his fierce drive rattled goalkeeper Jens Lehmann’s crossbar after only 12 minutes.

It should have served as a warning to Low’s team who had started in a really sluggish and lethargic fashion. They were failing to create anything going forward, skipper Michael Ballack was anonymous and defensively they were all over the place. And they were made to pay 22 minutes in.

Kazim Richards again caused the problems, and another of his efforts hit the woodwork but fell for Ugur Boral, who squeezed a shot between Lehmann’s legs to give the outsiders the lead. Cue pandemonium from the Turkish supporters, who had seen their team lead in these championships by all of 3 minutes prior to kick off.

The lead did last longer than that- 4 minutes to be precise as the Germans hit back with an excellent leveller. In their first meaningful attack, Lukas Podolski broke down the right hand side and his low ball into the area was finished via a deft touch from Bastian Schweinsteiger, who has responded to criticism from German legend Franz Beckenbauer earlier in the tournament in style.

His second goal of the tournament was a blow to the impressive Turks and Podolski blazed over with Miroslav Klose unmarked in the middle, but not before Lehmann was caught out completely by a Hamit Altintop free-kick, very much akin to Ronaldinho’s effort against David Seaman at the 2002 World Cup. But the Arsenal goalkeeper just about got back to push the ball over.

Germany were rocking and Lehmann made a better fist of things as he was called into action again, this time pushing away a fierce free-kick from Ugur.

Low would’ve been relieved to get his troops into the dressing room still level at half time; the lack of urgency and invention from Germany was puzzling, in complete contrast to the quarter final with Portugal. Ballack was anonymous and Torsten Frings, not fit enough for the starting XI, was introduced in place of Simon Rolfes, who had received a nasty head wound.

Frings for me has been one of the outstanding players of Euro 2008 but even he couldn’t inspire his side to rise above, at best, mediocrity as Turkey continued to look the better team and Ugur against had Lehmann worried with a fine shot.

But, as they so often do, Germany made their opponents pay for failing to take advantage of being on top with 11 minutes remaining, and it was a massive error by veteran keeper Rustu, who today confirmed he has retired from the international arena, which gifted the Germans their second.

Full back Philip Lahm sent over a cross ball which looked like it would be easily dealt with, but instead Rustu got nowhere near it and Klose was on hand to nod Germany into the lead.

2-1 down, it looked over for Turkey but the team who had come back from the dead with 3 minutes left against the Czech Republic by scoring twice to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, and who equalised Croatia’s 129th minute opener in the Quarter Final, roared back in sensational form once more.

Superb play on the right hand touchline by Sabri Sarioglu saw him knock the ball around Lahm, and from the goal-line he played the ball to the near post where Semih Senturk was on hand to flick the ball into the net with four minutes to play.

But Turkey’s celebrations were short-lived as Germany gave them a tase of what the Czechs and Croatians had to endure in the last minute by stealing a winning goal. And with the German defence rocky all evening, it was ironic that a defender should send them through. Lahm charged forward and, via a neat one two with ex Aston Villa man Thomas Hitzlsperger, he planted a shot high into the net to break Turkish hearts.

As Germany celebrated their place in the final out of relief more than anything, Turkey’s players sank to the ground in the midst of such an agonising and cruel defeat. A team which had a patched up look about it again confounded experts and produced a display which deserved to take them into Sunday’s showpiece with Spain.

One wonders how they would’ve fared had Nihat et al been available, but it’s goodnight Vienna for them. If Germany are to waltz their way to the trophy Viennese style, they will have to play a lot, lot better than they did against the brave Turks.





Domenech on the brink

18 06 2008

There was one camera shot of Raymond Domenech, the France coach, which summed up his Euro 2008 last night. His team were seven minutes from the departure lounge back to France, 2-0 down to Italy and down to 10 men following Eric Abidal’s first half red card. Thierry Henry looked to have won his side a corner in a desperate effort to give Les Blues a glimmer of a chance of qualification. But referee Lubos Michel incorrectly awarded the Italians a goal kick.

The coach’s reaction? One of disbelieving laughter. It had been a night where everything that could go wrong for his team, did go wrong. Captain Lillian Thuram was left out due to concerns over his attitude, which marks a sad end to international football for the French’s most capped star. They lost the influential midfielder Franck Ribery to injury, then the opening goal on 25 minutes thanks to Andrea Pirlo’s penalty after Abidal hauled down Luca Toni to earn an early bath. Ribery’s replacement, Arsenal target Samir Nasri, then had to be sacrificed for defender Jean-Alain Boumsong before Daniele De Rossi despatched a free kick via a big deflection from Henry into the net to clinch a quarter final with Spain for the World Champions.

Whilst Roberto Donadoni’s team have recovered from their opening defeat to the Netherlands, France haven’t got going in the tournament. Indeed, even during qualification they very rarely looked the impressive force they were in 1998 and 2000, and in the latter stages of the 2006 World Cup. Scotland defeated them twice in the qualifiers and in the match in Paris (the glory goal below), we rarely looked troubled; France lacked any imagination or craft to fashion any clear cut openings.

And it was a similar story in their snore draw with Romania. The Romanians were content to sit in and see if Domenech’s team could break them down- they couldn’t. Indeed, France could’ve lost it towards the end as Romania adopted a bloder approach.

They then took on the Dutch, who have taken the tournament by storm with their fast, free flowing attacking style. And they showed no mercy, inflicting a painful 4-1 thrashing to set up last night’s make or break game with Italy, providing Romania failed to beat Marco Van Basten’s team.

But it all went spectacularly wrong for the 2 time European Champions and they have to endure the humiliation of finishing bottom of the “group of death” with just one goal to their name. Domenech last night looked like a man about to pay for the price of failure- his look in the camera shot I mentioned had one of resignation about it.

France may be lacking the creative genius of a Michel Platini or Zinedine Zidane currently, but they have enough gifted stars to have made a better fist of things. The likes of Henry, Claude Makalele and Franck Ribery are established world class stars, playing for some of the biggest clubs in Europe. Added to that they have rising stars such as Lyon’s Karim Benzema and Nasri to call upon. They are not a side lacking in talented players.

The buck ultimately stops with the manager and it seemed to me that some of the players had lost confidence in Domenech. His team, for most of his tenure, looked unconvincing and with the likes of Makalele and Thuram retiring from the international scene, a fresh start all round could be wise for France as they build towards the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Au’ revoir Domenech and bonjour Didier Deschamps? I would not be surprised.