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Archives for November 2009

Can history be made in South Africa?

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Tim Vickery | 15:42 UK time, Monday, 30 November 2009

In the build up to the draw for the first World Cup to be held in Africa, you can guarantee that one piece of information will be cited time and time again - that no European nation has ever won the tournament outside its home continent.

It's one way of looking at it - a Eurocentric way. The statement means just as much, if not more, if it's flipped around. Only South America has won the World Cup away from home.

There's Brazil's win in 1958 in Sweden - had it not predated the age of mass TV, it's probable that the '58 team would be considered a candidate for the all time best. There's Brazil again in Japan and South Korea in 2002, and in 1994 in the USA. And there's both Brazil and Argentina triumphing in Mexico, in 1970 and 1986 respectively.

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Will South Africa 2010 produce a new Pele?

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Tim Vickery | 16:10 UK time, Monday, 23 November 2009

Last Thursday was the 40th anniversary of Pele's 1,000th goal when he rolled a penalty past the Vasco da Gama keeper in his favourite stadium - the Maracana.

Subsequent research has revealed that the milestone had probably been reached a few matches earlier and the achievement is open to question anyway, as the numbers were inflated with goals scored in army matches and so on.

The point is, though, that Pele's greatness as a footballer cannot be reduced to grim statistical accumulation. He is remembered not for scoring over 1,000 goals, but for shining so brightly for so long at the highest level of the game.

Pele and the World Cup are synonymous. And it is a testament to his extraordinary quality as a player that I don't believe the tournament ever really saw the best of him.

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Maradona earns World Cup reprieve

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Tim Vickery | 09:00 UK time, Wednesday, 18 November 2009

How will Diego Maradona fare as Argentina's coach in next year's World Cup?

The light punishment he received from Fifa at the weekend means that now there is nothing to stop Maradona sitting on the bench and standing on the touchline in South Africa.

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Brazil refine tactics for World Cup

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Tim Vickery | 07:41 UK time, Monday, 16 November 2009

You had to feel sorry for those fringe England players pushing their claims for a World Cup squad place against Brazil. There were few chances to shine and they were outgunned individually and collectively.

Unsurprisingly England's under-strength line-up looked like a collection of players. Brazil, meanwhile, looked like a team - and for this, plenty of credit has to go to Dunga.

I've been critical of Brazil's coach in the past and doubtless will be again in the future. For what it's worth, my preference would be for more football and a better range of passing from the central midfield duo.

But pleasing me, or those who think along similar lines, is not going to be high up on Dunga's list of priorities. He goes about things his way, and, with no previous coaching experience, what stands out is the clarity of his concepts. His team consistently seem to have a clear idea of what they are trying to achieve.

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Brazil's new breed of guard dog

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Tim Vickery | 11:25 UK time, Monday, 9 November 2009

Brazil coach Dunga is fiercely loyal to his group of players - which is hardly surprising.

When he was appointed after the last World Cup, this novice coach was widely seen as a short-term solution, a poor man's Luiz Felipe Scolari keeping the seat warm while the real thing was unavailable.

Instead of which, Dunga and his band of men have, bar last year's Olympics, won everything in their path - they have claimed the Copa America, Confederations Cup and finished top of South America's World Cup qualification table.

Dunga, then, stands by those who have stood by him - none more so than Gilberto Silva. The more his central midfielder is criticised, the more firmly his name is written on the team-sheet.

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The two sides of Lionel Messi

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Tim Vickery | 08:48 UK time, Monday, 2 November 2009

The candidates were announced last week for the Fifa World Player of the Year award. Am I the only one out there who's not too interested?

My problem with the thing is that this concentration on the individual can tend to overshadow one of the fundamental truths of the game - the stars shine brightest when the collective balance of the team is right.

The point is proved by a brief look at the performances this year of one of the favourites. Based on what he has done for Barcelona, Lionel Messi would be a worthy winner - but that would certainly not be the case if the criteria was restricted to his form with Argentina. How can this be true?

For a start I think we can discount the leaden-minded nationalistic nonsense that Messi lacks motivation when he plays for his national team, that he is too European, and so on.

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