Football: Injured Oxlade-Chamberlain still in England equation
Photo: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Getty Images)
By: Nick Walker, | Football News | Thursday June 12 2014 6:25
There's hope within the England camp that winger Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain may miss just one game at the Football World Cup.
Oxlade-Chamberlain injured his knee in a friendly against Ecuador last week, and there were fears he may miss the entire tournament.
However, manager Roy Hodgson is optimistic he'll be fit to play their second match against Uruguay.
"There's no guarantee and if you really wanted an extremely truthful sort of report, if you like, you'll have to go to the medics. But we're hoping by the second game he could be fit."
Hosts Brazil kick off the tournament against Croatia at 8am tomorrow in Sao Paulo.
Football: Hodgson advises caution over England's chances
Photo: England manager Roy Hodgson (Getty Images)
By: Nick Walker, | Football News | Thursday June 12 2014 5:26
An early effort from Roy Hodgson to avoid the mistakes of World Cups gone by.
The England football manager has been quick to try to prevent any kind of media hype around his side, heading into the start of the tournament tomorrow.
Hodgson says while his young squad has plenty of potential, he wants to see good performances before good press.
He's advising caution, because the players haven't had much chance to show their potential can be realised.
Hosts Brazil open the tournament against Croatia from 8am tomorrow in Sao Paulo.
Tim Cahill ready for underhanded tactics from Chile
June 12, 2014 - 4:18PM
Tim Cahill is a potent attacking force with his headers.
Tim Cahill is expecting the Chileans to try to put him off his game with some underhanded tactics at the World Cup and the Socceroos striker says to bring it on.
The Chilean squad is the shortest at the World Cup, making Cahill's aerial strength in the box an even more potent threat than usual in the crucial opening clash in Cuiaba on Friday (Saturday morning AEST).
"I know for a fact that they'll have someone, or a few holding and shirt pulling and things like that to put me off my game. But that's no different to what I've had in the past," he said.
"It's a competition where a little nudge can change the way you head a ball or the way you attack a ball or even defend a ball.
"So it will be no different to the way we're going to be and for us we're up for every single battle. We're going to stand up and be counted.
"Hopefully the referees clamp down on it."
At 176cm, the Chileans sit at the bottom of the list for average squad height but Cahill says size doesn't matter and it would be a mistake to underestimate how strong they are in the air.
"A few of those players can actually jump quite high," Cahill said.
"Watching them attack in corners and set players I've been pretty impressed with the amount of leverage they can get.
"I know that you don't have to be big to jump that high.
"It's all about where you put the ball at the end of that jump."
Chile's key midfielder Arturo Vidal is set to miss the clash with inflammation on his knee after having surgery last month.
But the Juventus star was reported to have rejoined team training on Wednesday and appeared to be moving well.
Cahill said he wouldn't be surprised if creating doubt about Vidal's availability was just a tactical move from coach Jorge Sampaoli.
"It may be a tactical advantage for them, maybe he'll show up on the day and play," Cahill said.
"So for us we have to worry about ourselves. Vidal is a player that brings a lot to their team but at the same time, whoever steps in can do just as good a job as he can."
The South Americans will still start as short-priced favourites in the opening-round clash in the brutally tough Group B.
Chile are 14th on the FIFA rankings, while the Socceroos have slipped to 62nd, the lowest of the 32 teams at the World Cup finals.
Australia's other two round-robin opponents, Spain and the Netherlands, meet earlier on Friday (Saturday AEST) in Salvador.
The Socceroos had their first partially closed training session on Wednesday since arriving in Brazil as they try to fine-tune their gameplan for Friday away from prying eyes.
All 23 squad members have been declared fit. Veteran playmaker Mark Bresciano, who has been battling a back complaint, is a likely starter against Chile.
Cahill, Australia's all-time leading scorer, will start at the point of attack, with Tommy Oar set to be on the left wing and Mathew Leckie on the right.
Skipper Mile Jedinak and Mark Milligan will complete the midfield with coach Ange Postecoglou to field the same back four who started the recent friendly against Croatia – central defenders Matthew Spiranovic and Alex Wilkinson, right back Ivan Franjic and Jason Davidson on the left.
Nervous Brazil awaits World Cup
June 12, 2014 - 9:34AM
Brazil anxiously edged towards the opening of the World Cup with the spectre of threatened protests and FIFA corruption claims looming large.
The football-besotted nation nervously awaits the opener between Brazil and Croatia on Thursday (Friday 8am AEST), hoping on-field action releases pressure caused by troubled preparations.
Protests, transport strikes and corruption allegations engulfing soccer's world governing body FIFA have taken prominence leading into the global event.
But FIFA president Sepp Blatter insisted on Wednesday he was confident Brazilians will be in a "better mood" once the ball gets rolling.
Blatter rejected calls to quit amid claims of corruption dogging FIFA's decision to award hosting rights to Qatar for the 2022 World Cup.
But in a speech to the FIFA congress in Sao Paulo on Wednesday, he acknowledged the governing body must change.
"It is our duty to lead by example and behave like an example, with integrity," he said.
Blatter's comments came as much of Sao Paulo, which hosts the first game at the Arena Corinthians, was bedecked in yellow and green Brazilian flags.
A massive security operation will be launched around the 61,000-capacity arena amid concern by authorities of a repeat of nationwide protests at the Confederations Cup last year when one million people took to the streets.
About 150,000 police and soldiers and some 20,000 private security officers will be deployed in the the 12 host cities to counter protesters whose slogan is "the Cup will not take place".
The protesters argue Brazil would be better served by spending the $US11 billion cost of staging soccer's showpiece on health and education.
But Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff insisted the expected 600,000 overseas visitors would be welcomed with "open arms".
"We will guarantee the security of Brazilians and of those who come visit us," she said on Wednesday in the north-eastern city of Salvador.
Rousseff made the comments while visiting a subway project - an ironic location, given Sao Paulo subway workers have threatened to walk out during the Cup's opening day after some workers were fired for taking part in a previous strike.
World Cup organisers are counting on the subway system to carry tens of thousands of fans on Thursday to the stadium, far from hotel areas where most tourists are staying.
The stadium itself underwent final checks on Wednesday, with workers seen checking beams and installing wiring on the eve of the opening game, to be attended by a dozen world leaders including UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.
The 12 World Cup stadiums were due to be ready by the end of December but six missed that deadline. And eight workers died in the construction, including three in Sao Paulo.
Despite the off-field problems, the tournament itself promises to be memorable as Brazil seek a record sixth title by triumphing in a field of 32 nations including defending champion Spain.
Lionel Messi carries weight of a nation
June 11, 2014
Weight of expectation: Lionel Messi Photo: Getty Images
Shortly after coming on as a second-half sub in Argentina's last World Cup warm-up, Lionel Messi doubled over and appeared to vomit on the pitch.
He's done it at least a half-dozen times with Argentina and club team Barcelona, mystifying doctors and fans alike.
"Nerves," says Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella, and that's a diagnosis as good as any.
The Argentina captain and four-time world player of the year is under tremendous pressure to lead the Albiceleste to its first World Cup trophy since 1986.
"I reckon that in these moments there is anxiety more than anything," Sabella said before the team departed for Brazil, where it opens its World Cup campaign against Bosnia-Herzegovina on Sunday. "It's difficult to remain calm."
After Messi threw up less than 10 minutes into a friendly match between Argentina and Romania in March, his coach at Barcelona, Gerardo Martino, said "something is not right," though he added that it wasn't affecting Messi's play.
Messi made that point clear against Slovenia on Saturday, scoring Argentina's second goal just four minutes after TV cameras showed him dry-heaving and receiving a tablet from the bench.
Similarly, in 2011, he scored for Barcelona after throwing up in the Spanish Super Cup Final against Real Madrid.
Barcelona's medical staff hasn't been able to find the cause. Neither have Argentina's team doctors, nor Messi himself. The decorated forward tends to not make a big deal of it, saying it's just something that happens to him in training, during matches and even when he's at home.
In those decisive moments that make or break a football career, Messi doesn't show any nerves or lack of confidence. His more than 350 goals for Barcelona, a club record, and 48 goals for Argentina speak for themselves.
Even though he's just 26, his impressive record with Barcelona, including six Spanish league and three Champions league titles, has already brought comparisons with all-time greats like Pele and Diego Maradona. His detractors like to point out that unlike those two, Messi has not won a World Cup. He's only scored one goal and never gotten past the quarter-finals in his two attempts on football's biggest stage.
Argentina counts on Messi to do a lot better in Brazil, where the team is considered one of the title favourites.
Adding to the pressure is the view among many Argentines that Messi, who left the country at 13, doesn't play his heart out for the national team.
That's something Messi admits affects him deeply. "Argentina is my country, my family, my way of expressing myself," he recently told Spanish sports paper Marca. "I would change all my record to make the people in my country happy."
http://news.smh.com.au/breaking-news-sport/mat-ryan-wont-be-caught-stargazing-20140611-39wkx.htmlMat Ryan won't be caught star-gazing
June 11, 2014
Socceroos shot-stopper Mat Ryan will be playing the ball, rather than the man, when some of the greatest attackers on the planet come charging at him in Brazil.
First up are Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas when Australia open their World Cup campaign against Chile on Friday (Saturday morning AEST).
Further down the track, Ryan will confront the likes of Dutchman Robin van Persie ad Spanish superstar Andres Iniesta.
But he insists there will be no time for star-gazing.
"You have the likes of Alex Sanchez who plays for the best club in the world at Barcelona," said Ryan,
"You use those sorts of guys playing FIFA and you see them in footballing headlines all over the word so it is a little bit daunting.
"But you have no time come the day of the match to be in awe of them, because if that happens I'll probably be kicking the ball out of the net.
"So I'll just have to do my best to look at the ball and not at the player to see who it is and hopefully I can stop the ball from going in."
With the Socceroos to also face the Netherlands and Spain, the raid on their defence is set to continue.
But Ryan, who was named goalkeeper of the year in the Belgian top flight for his standout campaign with Club Brugge, says he can't wait to confront the assault.
"I definitely thrive on that - stopping a shot from the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Andres Iniesta or Robin van Persie," he said.
"After the World Cup when I can reflect on my performances, hopefully they haven't put a few past me and I can say that I've saved more than they've scored."
After weeks of what Ryan described as brutal training the Socceroos were given their first day off since arriving to Brazil late last month.
In a rare treat, they got to leave the confines of their hotel and wander to a local cafe.
While the physical intensity may have dropped off, the tactical work is ramping up.
"The goalkeepers did a video session yesterday and we did a team video session last night and have another one tonight," Ryan said.
"So we're getting all the research out of the way and to make sure we know what we're expecting from Chile and for us players to learn the gameplan that the coaching staff and the technical staff are putting together."
But all the research and advice will count for nothing on game day if the Australians aren't ready to back it up with actions.
"Words can only go so far," he said.
"So now for my sake I have to go out there and back my ability to do the job for the team and for the country."
Underdogged: Will Socceroos embrace their World Cup status?
June 10, 2014
Sport reporter for The Age online
The only people in the world predicting anything but a quick Australian exit from the World Cup are its players. Socceroos talisman Tim Cahill’s vision is inspiring: "Why can't we be the best Australian team ever regardless of age, or regardless of what people say about lack of ability or experience?"
The answer to Tim’s question, from the rest of the world, is that Australia, however game, is just not good enough.
Tim Cahill is revelling in Australia's underdog status. Photo: AFP
A New York Times graph, featuring what looked like a soggy pile of jello, described us as the tournament’s most unlucky competitor, with a "luck factor" of 0 per cent. Blessed Mexico’s rating was 99 per cent. We had too much jello on the wrong side of the draw.
"Among the thousands of draws that Australia could have received, its actual first-round grouping is the worst one possible," the Times sympathised.
"In concrete terms, Australia will need to beat out two of the world’s 15 highest-ranked teams in order to advance. Nigeria, by comparison, needs merely to beat out either the 25th-ranked team (Bosnia and Herzegovina) or the 37th-ranked one (Iran)."
David and Goliath by Orazio Gentileschi. Photo: Art Gallery of NSW
Movies rely upon underdog narratives as a matter of course.
The Times believes "Australia will need something close to a miracle to do so well".
We were the lowest-ranked team to qualify. Not long ago we were getting flogged 6-0 by the sort of heavyweights one plays as a matter of course in the finals.
Hell, even a glamorous UK afternoon TV presenter-cum maths expert tipped trouble for the Aussies. Analysing goal averages, goal scorers, win rates, climate, geography and previous results, Countdown’s Rachel Riley predicted Chile would win the entire shebang. That just leaves Spain and the Netherlands for us to beat. They played off for the last title.
Movies rely upon underdog narratives as a matter of course.
Sportsbet rates Australia a $9.00 chance to beat Chile. To qualify for the next round, the Socceroos are $13.00, Spain is $1.12; Netherlands $1.57; Chile $1.91. They are encouraging us to bet with the slogan "Keep The Faith".
Bloomberg Sports’ boffins rate the title chances of group B nations thus: Spain, 9.1%; Netherlands, 3.9%; Chile, 1.2%; Australia, 0%.
But all of this negative sentiment gives Socceroos fans a major luxury going into the World Cup: they can barrack for an underdog.
The underdog has been defined as "anyone who is at a perceived disadvantage, who is perceived by others to be weak, who has a history of failure or challenges, or who people believe is likely to fail."
"We like to back the team that has its back against the wall, not because we like backing losers, but because we like to see a team beat the odds," wrote Nathan Helfick in Psychology Today.
Underdogs "will concentrate on every minute detail in order to perform optimally," writes sports scientist and soccer player Duncan Foster. "The superior team is always expected to win comfortably, but a hint of complacency on their part can be a huge downfall, as they could be outworked by the underdog."
Psychologists investigating this phenomenon have found that we gravitate to underdogs because of "character strengths" their stories provide. Researchers propose that those who are viewed as disadvantaged arouse an inherent sense of fairness and justice that lurks within human beings.
Underdogs must persevere against the odds, expending more effort than the favourite. Their effort inspires us to be braver and battle our own weaknesses. As a result, we empathise with the disadvantaged, and Hollywood's top 100 movies are largely populated by the journeys of underdogs who persevere.
In a study of 100 students at Bowling Green State University in 1991, 81 per cent chose the underdog over the "highly favoured" opponent in a simple hypothetical contest. Behavioural economists believe this is because of the "availability heuristic". That basically means that an underdog's triumphs stick in the mind more readily than a favourite’s expected victory.
"Our dislike for inequity in sports could explain why we appreciate teams that appear to try harder on the court. Natural talent is unfair: You either have it or you don't. But a game that's decided on effort alone gives everyone an equal shot," wrote slate.com’s Dan Engber.
He went so far as to suggest that Americans love an underdog because they live in an "unequal society" and the outsider "offers something precious - the belief that anyone can overcome his misfortune."
"The average American roots for the underdog in sports because he's an underdog in life."
New Yorker writer and author Malcolm Gladwell took on perceived disadvantage head-on in his book David and Goliath.
He says for the weak, "the act of facing overwhelming odds produces greatness and beauty."
He believes limitations beget strengths, citing the example of a dyslexic construction worker who became a great trial lawyer because of an ability to listen.
But Engber concludes that we only care about the less fortunate in less important matters.
Quoting the work of Scott Allison, a professor at the University of Richmond, Engber says our connection to a lesser team "is a mile wide and an inch deep," and perhaps only applies in the "trivial world" of team sports.
"With nothing much at stake, we're free to indulge an idle preference for an upset."
Engber is obviously not that passionate a fan. Other studies prove that the hormone rates and self-esteem of true fans – even how they rate their chances with the opposite sex – fluctuate with the performance of their team. It can mean that much to us.
Underdogs lose their status if they are expected to lose but have a lot of resources. Our well-funded Socceroos may lack a raft of world-class superstars, but they come from a largely peaceful, affluent nation.
Teams with better draws, such as Honduras or Nigeria, better fit many of the criteria of the classic underdog.
But when we line up against the might of Chile, Holland and Spain, I suspect most Australians will adopt the underdog posture. Only 3 per cent of us believe we will get out of the group stage, or record a win, at the World Cup.
We will be hoping that our opponents are complacent, and burdened by the weight of expectation, and we catch them off guard.
To that end, back to Tim Cahill, on low expectations of the Socceroos: "For us it's perfect."