Thursday, June 5, 2008
My first memory of the Euro dates back to 1980, thanks to Shoot! magazine which featured great action pictures of the English team in their Admiral kit (see pic, courtesy of footballshirtculture.com), Bernd Schuster in full flow, the gritty Belgians and what else, the Germans lifting the Henri Delaunay trophy.
By the time the next edition was held in France, I was in Form 2 and already familiar with most of the French players, having been an avid fan long before they reached the Espana 82 semi-finals.
I shall not bore you with the details but I pick Portugal and Turkey from Group A, Croatia and Germany from Group B, France and Netherlands from Group C and Russia and Spain from Group D to make the last eight.
Sure my predictions don't always come true, but when I was with the Malay Mail, I had predicted Italy to lift the 2006 World Cup, picked France to win the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 as well as AC Milan for the European Cup in 2007.
My pick for the final? Well, it's hard to predict but I suspect Germany or Netherlands would be at the Ernst Happel Stadium come June 30, Malaysian time.
The French? Despite its potent combination of young and old, I can only see them being dominant in matches but failing to translate their tecnical superiority into goals!
The last big thing that took place when I was with the MM was the 2006 World Cup. We had our own writers penning columns using pseudonyms. Among those who gave their feedback was:
I like to say kudos to the new The Malay Mail sports pages.
Your coverage of the recent World Cup in Germany was both exciting and
Each day, I would look forward to reading the previews and reviews of
Then, there were the columnists who offered a refreshing change from
the dull columns of the past.
With the World Cup over, I will miss the musings of Point Blank, El
Loco, Herr Blitzkrieg, Don Catennacio, Seeing Red, Van Gyzi and
Due to the quality of the articles on the World Cup, my interest in
reading your pages has been piqued again.
I must confess I stopped reading The Malay Mail two years ago.
The local sports coverage then was boring and repetitive.
The writers just kept generating high hopes for our athletes before a
major event, only to bash them when they fail.
They rarely did any in-depth analysis on the athletes' performance and
objectively see what really went wrong.
Columns like Game All and Sports Icons were yawn-inducing stuff which
offered little insight into sports development, much less solutions to
Editor's note: All the World Cup columnists are local writers
As a preview of the World Cup 2006 final, all the columnists predicted Italy would win the Cup. Moi, moi was the only one to pick Italy to win, before the tournament!
By JOE KAMPUNG
THE final that no one saw coming will be a bruising - yet, entertaining
- battle royale.
In the blue corner, we have a solidly constructed squad that combines
style and grit to perfection - a combo of virtues not often found in many
an Italian team.
Having conceded only a single goal so far, the Azzurri's defence will
take some doing to crumble. High balls, low balls, through the flanks,
through the middle - Marcello Lippi's men seem to have all the answers.
Add to that a marvellous midfield, an effective frontline, and a master
tactician of a coach, Italy ARE this World Cup's most complete squad.
Meanwhile, in the white corner - with an average age of 103.2 - we have
the fired-up French. Looked to be dead and buried after two pathetic
performances in the group stages, Henry and co have done a Hulk Hogan to
prove that old can indeed equal gold.
Some say Raymond Domenech's team has been wrongly underestimated, thus
making their job easier these past two rounds, but you don't get to the
World Cup final without that bit called quality.
Led by a resurrected Zinedine Zidane, their mountain of experience will
again come in handy to soak up the pressure of the Italian onslaught
while patiently waiting to land that fatal sucker punch.
Question is: do they have enough magic left in that tank to take them
past the finishing line first? Probably not.
Prediction: The pasta posse to be World Champs, clinching it via a
ITALY look too good for France. That's what El Loco feels after
They have produced some delightful performances, especially in
disposing hosts Germany 2-0 in the semi-finals. Italy also have talent
and experience in every department.
They have the best goalkeeper in Gianluigi Buffon, who has only
conceded a goal thus far. It will take something special from France to
beat him. In defence, they have skipper Fabio Cannavaro who has enjoyed a
Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso will be instrumental figures in
midfield for the Italians to take care of Zinedine Zidane and company.
Many have talking much about Zidane. But he did nothing much other than
scoring a pondan goal from a penalty for the winner against Portugal.
Up front, Italy have Luca Toni and super sub Alessandro Del Peiro
although the French defence has proven to be a tough nut to crack.
However, Italy must not allow the French to take the lead or they may
find themselves in trouble. This is because the tired Old Coqs will be
extremely defensive if this happens - just like in their unconvincing 1-0
win over Portugal in the semi-finals.
Prediction: The Italians to win the World Cup for the fourth time!
In Herr Blitzkrieg's first column ahead of the opening match, I stated
Brazil would play Italy in the final and the Azzurri to illuminate the
German skies with the colour azure.
Indications are it could turn out to be true, except that it's not
Brazil but France who are Italy's opponents.
Man for man, the Italians have the edge, while France perhaps possess
more fantasy in their approach. Neutral observers would love for Zinedine
Zidane to be given a perfect ending to his career but it will be Fabio
Cannavaro to lift the coveted Cup.
In the final analysis, the hunger, drive and younger legs of Italy will
bring Marcelo Lippi the biggest title in his coaching career.
Prediction: Forza Italia
THERE'S no stopping the Azzurri now. The stage is set for them to rule
While it's debatable whether Italy have played the best football,
they've certainly been the most effective. It's amazing Marcello Lippi's
side can be so adventurous in attack without compromising on their solid
The pace at which they counter-attack can be frightening. They only
need to string four or five passes to penetrate the opposition's defence.
It's doubtful whether the aging French side can cope with the speedy
raids of the Italians.
France only stand a chance if they take the lead. Italy have never gone
a goal down and that'll be a test of their nerves.
Prediction: Expect Italy to be champions with a signature 2-0 victory.
Italy or France? Honestly, who cares?
This has not been the World Cup everyone had hoped for as cheaters,
divers, potential Oscar award winning actors disguise as footballers and
card happy referees have spoilt what was supposed to be the greatest show
this side of Anfield.
Negative tactics have meant that, not including the play-off for third
and the final, the tournament has averaged 2.27 goals per match, just a
shade above the record low of 2.21 from 1990.
Beautiful game? Nothing could be further from the truth.
Between the two finalists, Seeing Red hopes the Italians win it as they
committed less con jobs than the Old Coqs of France (and oh, their women
are hotter too ... check out page 64).
Plus, if the French were to win, the crowing from the Arsenal
supporters aka The Thierry Henry fan club, will be too much too bear.
Prediction: Please God (and I don't mean Fowler) let the Italians win
It will be a 1-1 deadlock till extra-time and for the second time in
World Cup history, the winner will be decided on penalties.
Italian goalkeeper Gianluca Buffon will be the Italians saviour as
he'll save a couple of French penalties.
The Italians lead by talisman Fabio Cannavaro, will get the goals to
bring the World Cup to Italy thanks to a shaky Fabian Barthez, who looked
to be on the bookies' payroll in the semi-finals against Portugal.
Prediction: Italy on penalties
IN all honesty, not the final everyone had envisioned, but mark my
words, this match-up's gonna be a classic.
In an ideal world, Zinedine Zidane will score the match winner and
cement his status as a world footballing legend, waving farewell to his
adoring fans around the world as he lifts the World Cup trophy in
As much as Goalfinger would like sentimentality to prevail, the harsh
truth remains that Marcello Lippi's boys, throughout the tournament, have
displayed their ability to ride out any attacking wave and hit teams on
the break with ruthless efficiency.
Thierry Henry looks set to run into a (short) brick wall in the shape
of Fabio Cannavaro, while Zidane will be regretting not putting on an
extra pair of ankle guards when Gennaro 'The Growler' Gattuso begins
chomping at his heels on Sunday.
Prediction: Cheers for Italy, tears for Les Bleus