Ruud Doevendans


 
Ruud Doevendans has been an official columnist for a Dutch club and owns one of the largest collections of soccer videos containing hundreds of World Cup matches. We at PWC are proud to have him as a columnist. He will share his views about the past, present and future of the World Cup.

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Saturday? D-Day!



    Tomorrow, saturday september 1st, will be a very important, if not decisive day in European football, as far as the qualifications for the World Cup 2002 are concerned. In group 1 for instance, Switzerland and Yugoslavia play each other, both to secure their last chance to challenge Slovenia for second place behind Russia. Poland and Italy can both qualify, and in group 8 Scotland meets Croatia in a very tight group that also holds Belgium. But for me, the focus will be on two games, first Holland visiting the Republic of Ireland, and later in the evening Germany who take on England in Munich.

    In Holland everyone is convinced. Holland will beat Ireland, and many think they will do so quite easily. I am not one of them. Holland may have played a decent first half against England a couple of weeks ago, a competitive match in Ireland is a horse of another colour. Holland had some outstanding moments in that match at White Hart Lane, Mark van Bommel scoring a smashing goal and Ruud van Nistelrooij outplaying his opponents with Patrick Kluivert also doing well. They could have scored more, but to be honest: England had some fine shots on goal too, and it seemed to me they never gave more than 75%. Holland looked the better team, technically for sure and also for their positional play, but the score could have gone either way. Ireland will be no push-overs. They have a good, spirited team.

    When Holland can not completely reach their full potential, they may not be able to control the pace of the game. And when Ireland can determine the velocity of play, they are a very dangerous side. And there is more. Holland has it's problems in defence. Established right-back Michael Reiziger is out injured, and one can only hope for Holland that Louis van Gaal will not risk unstable Mario Melchiot in this crucial game. On the left flank there is no problem, Arthur Numan and Giovanni van Bronckhorst both capable of doing the job. But then look at the centre, where Jaap Stam had a frightning week being thrown out of Manchester United, and young and promising Kevin Hofland has had an indifferent start of the season. No certainties, and behind this back four is Edwin van der Sar, still the best Holland has but who has hardly ever won the points for the Dutch. I think Ireland-Holland will be a very close encounter, these games often end in a draw which would mean that Holland are out of the competition!

    Later that evening the biggest cracker of the day, Germany receiving Sven-Göran Eriksson's England team. And England still has the chance of going through to the finals as the number one in the group, but they will have to beat their eternal rivals. If they don't, Germany will qualify. It will not be easy for England, although they tore Germany down during Euro 2000. And why not this time? England may have their two best defenders back, Rio Ferdinand and Sol Campbell, and I can see them dealing well with the German strikers, whether it's Carsten Jancker or Oliver Bierhoff. And the real strength of England is in midfield, where they can field two world class players in David Beckham (assumed that he's fit to play) and Paul Scholes. Germany has good midfielders too, but no Beckham and no Scholes! These guys can make the difference.

    Let's not forget that Germany has one big advantage over England, and that is between the posts. Oliver Kahn is widely recognized as one of the best shotstoppers in the game. For me though, England's David Seaman has become too slow to play a good role at the highest level. It's logical that it would be a very harsh decision to make for either Wenger or Eriksson, but my vote would go to Richard Wright, for the number 1 jersey at Arsenal as well as the national team. He is a talented goalkeeper who has proven himself in the difficult Premiership. He is a better option than relying on a nearly 38 year old, who has his best days way behind him. Kahn is a strong factor for Germany, but I like the rest of the England team better than the Germans. And they may not have enjoyed too much success recently against The Mannschaft, the game in Munich is a new one, the score when the whistle goes as always is 0-0, and it's only 90 minutes. One big moment from a big player can be enough to put this group upside-down. A curling free-kick from Beckham, or a typical Scholes hammer can bring England a big win. And I think Owen should be able to escape from his marker a couple of times. The first ten minutes will be important, since Germany has a history of scoring decisive goals in the beginning of a game. They don't need a long warming-up, they are awake from the first minute on. But if England can survive this period, I can see them winning the game. But like Ireland-Holland, it will be close.

    That is what's so great about tomorrow. I will be sitting at the screen for both games. With everything to play for, there is nothing better than that!


 

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