Saturday, 16 June 2012

Unleash the O'Walcott

And so New Ireland continue to prosper, besting the mighty, bearded Swedes (well, Olof Mellberg) with three fine goals from Andy Carroll, The O'Walcott and Danny "boy" Wellbeck. It's like Brian Boru and the Battle of Clontarf all over again. That Zlatan Ibrahimovic would look just dandy in a wolf-trimmed cloak with a raven on his shoulder, sneering as a scampering Seb Larsson offered up the mead horn.

Given the number of current and former EPL players on the pitch, not to mention the dodgy level of technique of what are two ordinary sides even by their own standards, the game was unsurprisingly one long string of errors: misplaced passes, blind-alley runs, falling over when tackled. But we shouldn't just focus on Ashley Young and James Milner. The defending by both teams was relegation quality.

With the final round of group games starting today, now is a good time to review progress in Rob Baillie's fine online prediction game. Yesterday was particularly good to me as I'd predicted 0-2 for Ukraine-France and 1-3 for Sweden-England, thus netting 16 out of a possible 20 points. I'm currently in 2nd place out of a field of 74, which means this is probably as high as I'll get and the only way now is down. Had it not been for Mellberg's second goal I might have gone top. Naturally I blame John Terry, who looks increasingly poor (seeing the languid Ibrahimovic skin him was hilarious).

My "system" to date is based on three simple principles (in addition to a lot of luck):
  1. I made all my predictions for the group stage games in one go, ahead of the tournament. I suspect some people changed theirs after the first round of games. The old pub-quiz maxim applies here: "go with your first answer".
  2. I (largely) ignored recent form and went with the historical record between the teams. This psychological precedent tends to come to the fore in tournaments. For example, Germany-Holland games are usually decided by a single goal.
  3. I assumed the tired old cliches would hold good, thus the opening game would be a low-scoring draw, England would do enough to make the third game matter (they can still blow it), Italy would dice with death, and Germany would get better by the game.
I have no cunning plan once we get to the knockout stage, as chance and injuries start to affect the outcome more. I may need to sacrifice a chicken and study its entrails. Ideally I'd like to sacrifice John Terry.

Footballistically speaking, Spain, Germany and Russia all look good bets for the last four, but the final shuffling of the pack this coming week could throw up some tricky quarter-finals. Holland still have an outside chance, and France look like they can improve. Assuming they don't self-destruct against Ukraine, England will probably lose to Spain in the first knockout match. Their best hope is for France to drop points against Sweden and for Italy to fail to beat Ireland, which could set up a tie with a beatable Croatia. Bilic & co would certainly be wary of Theo.

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