The Welsh Gull

Torquay United, the Football League and other stuff

World Cup Teams That Never Were: East Germany 1990

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The 1990 World Cup was a particularly symbolic triumph for West Germany. Lothar Matthaus lifted the trophy just nine months after the fall of the Berlin Wall, in what was recognised at the time as the last World Cup for a divided Germany. Reunification was completed less than three months later, and the team competed simply as Germany in Euro 1992 and the 1994 World Cup, continuing the record, colours and traditions of one of the world’s dominant teams. Just as capitalism had triumphed over communism in the Cold War, so in football it was West Germany that emerged with the silverware at the end of the years of division. All’s well that ends well.

Except that there was another side to this. The last World Cup where two German teams entered nearly saw both qualify for the finals, as East Germany took their competitive qualifying group down to the last game, just days after the fall of the wall. Instead, the East Germans, who only ever qualified for one major tournament, narrowly missed out on creating one of the most bizarre spectacles in the history of the World Cup – that of a doomed country in its final months competing for the biggest prize in the sport.

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Written by James Bennett

March 3, 2018 at 13:22

World Cup Teams That Never Were: Netherlands 2002

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Soccer - European Championship 2004 Play-Off - Second Leg - Holland v Scotland
If there’s one generation of players that deserved to win an international trophy, it’s the generation of Dutch players that emerged in the mid-1990s. Some teams are feted never to win the World Cup, but they still manage to win something else along the way, or at least get to a final. But the enormously talented Netherlands team that came to prominence via Ajax’s 1995 Champions League win, and went on to become leading contenders at most of the major tournaments over the next decade, somehow always contrived to fall short.

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Written by James Bennett

February 22, 2018 at 22:47

World Cup Teams That Never Were: Czech Republic 1998-2002

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Despite a patchy qualifying record, Czechoslovakia were always one of the leading teams in the second tier of European international football, behind the traditional elite of Germany, Italy, France, Spain and England. But the 1980s and early 1990s had been a fallow period. While they qualified for the World Cup in 1982 under Dr Jozef Venglos, they failed to progress from the group stage, and then failed to make it to Mexico in 1986; it was their third absence in four World Cups, or fourth in six. They also failed to qualify for Euro 1984 and 1988, before finally qualifying for the 1990 World Cup.

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Written by James Bennett

February 21, 2018 at 21:25

World Cup Teams That Never Were: Portugal 1998

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There is a certain misconception about the Portuguese “Golden Generation”. The term has been used and abused so often that today there is a certain amount of crossed wires, as people confuse the generation of players that got to the final of Euro 2004 on home soil and the World Cup semi-final two years later with the original Golden Generation, the one that brought the term into common use in international football.

These were the players that formed the backbone of the team between 1994 and 2002, many of whom had come through the junior ranks as part of the U-21 side that won the FIFA World Youth Championship in 1989 and 1991. While we all know that this is not a guarantee of success as “adults” in the full national team, huge expectation at home was placed on these players as they developed through the 1990s.

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Written by James Bennett

February 15, 2018 at 23:21

World Cup Teams That Never Were: Australia and Peru 1998

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1998 was the first World Cup with 32 teams, which in theory provided fewer opportunities for the big teams to slip through the net. However, the trend has continued ever since, and there were scalps a plenty in qualification, including the European finalists, 1994 semi-finalists, and several other notable teams. Among the teams that made it to the 1994 tournament but failed to qualify for 1998 include the Republic of Ireland, Bolivia, Switzerland, Russia and Greece, though there were welcome returns for England, Scotland, Yugoslavia, Paraguay, Chile, Denmark, Austria, Iran and Tunisia, and debuts for Japan, Jamaica, Croatia and South Africa.

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Written by James Bennett

February 12, 2018 at 22:05

World Cup Teams That Never Were: 1994

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It’s a World Cup year! Another 32 teams have made it to the main tournament in Russia. But for all of the celebrations, there’s also sadness for all the teams that fail to qualify. Many of these don’t expect to be there anyway, but for some, like the Italians, the Dutch, the Cameroonians, and the Americans, there will always be the question of “what if…?”

As someone who has always been interested in international football ahead of major club football, I’ve often thought about that question for my own country and others – as seen on this very blog in the past. So to mark this World Cup year, this is a series of articles on the teams that should have been at a tournament. These don’t have to be the best teams to not qualify. They don’t have to be the teams that got closest to qualifying without making it. But they are amongst the most significant absentees from that year, be it for being a major nation surprisingly not qualifying, or because for their country it was a landmark near-miss.

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Written by James Bennett

February 1, 2018 at 22:33

2016 NFL predictions

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I’m always terrible at this. Don’t listen to me.

Full game predictions here

AFC East
1. Patriots (12-4)
2. Bills (10-6)
3. Jets (7-9)
4. Dolphins (5-11)

Tom Brady starts the season suspended but even though every single one of his back-ups has gone on to be terrible at every other team, there’s no reason to think they will totally sink. The worst that can happen is that they lose all those games he’s missing for, but even then, knowing the Patriots, they’ll just win every other game he’s there for instead. We aren’t getting rid of them any time soon, no matter how many daft trades Bill Belichick makes.

Meanwhile, they finally do it! I’m tipping Sexy Rexy Ryan and his walking gif of a brother to guide the Bills back to the play-offs for the first time since 1999 and to end the longest play-off drought in the NFL. The title would be handed over to the Browns, obviously.

The Jets…went 10-6 last year? Really? That’s not happening again any time soon. I’d say 8-8 is the ceiling. I can’t see there not being a drop-off in Todd Bowles’ second season, especially as (I think) they’re still holding about 18 quarterbacks on their roster at the moment. Or something like that. None of them are actually any good.

The Dolphins are crap and will continue to be so for a while yet. The frustrating thing for them is they continue to be not crap enough for good draft picks, although that’s probably a blessing in disguise as they would waste them anyway. It says a lot about how bad the NFL is at the moment that this Dolphins team continues to win more than a couple of games a season.

AFC North
1. Steelers (12-4)
2. Bengals (11-5)
3. Ravens (9-7)
4. Browns (2-14)

The Steelers have an annoyingly good team at the moment and I don’t see them losing the division. As long as Roethlisberger doesn’t get mashed into a million pieces (and to be fair, that’s not exactly out of the question), they should go deep into the play-offs, as you’ll see later.

The Bengals have a toughish opening which may affect them through the rest of the season as they could be playing catch-up in the division – away to the Jets, away to the Steelers, home to the Broncos, home to the Dolphins (OK, that should be easy), and away to the Cowboys. Given how good the Steelers are now, that puts them in the prime position for their annual Wild Card Round defeat. The Bengals are the Arsenal of the NFL – the yearly “this is the year the Bengals push on to the Super Bowl” routine followed by the standard loss in their first play-off game never gets old.

The Ravens can’t possibly be as bad as last year, but I’m not convinced they can immediately jump back to being the Ravens of old – I mean in terms of performance, rather than pure evil, which they will no doubt continue to be. Joe Possibly Elite Flacco should be a steady enough hand to guide them to at least .500.

I feel like I might have been generous to the Browns giving them 2 wins. Or any wins at all. They are baaaaaaaaaad. The rotting remains of RG3 can’t save this team. I’ve predicted the unfortunate victims of this dross to be the Giants and the Chargers, both in Cleveland. Even that is optimistic.

AFC South
1. Colts (11-5)
2. Texans (8-8)
3. Jaguars (7-9)
4. Titans (3-13)

There are massive question marks over the Colts after last year but I still think they will be passable enough in what is a desperately mediocre division. A functioning Andrew Luck is still comfortably the best QB here, possibly even the best QB in the AFC. They still should make the play-offs.

There’s a certain amount of “the Texans are improving” stuff going around but their QB is Brock Osweiler, who lost his spot in the Broncos team to a man who couldn’t feel his arm and was hobbling around on one leg. Lamar Miller is an improvement at running back on the basis that he’s healthy. JJ Watt is coming back from injury. Clowney’s a bust. It’s all on the defence and Hopkins. I don’t see them making the play-offs.

The Jaguars also have a bit of hype about them, but this is the Jags that we’re talking about. The moment they look vaguely decent, their best players will spontaneously combust on the field and they will return to being 2-14 terrible. I don’t see this team getting above .500 before the inevitable move to London.

The Titans are coached by Mike Mularkey. They will still be terrible. I find it hard to give a shit.

AFC West
1. Chiefs (11-5)
2. Broncos (8-8)
3. Raiders (8-8)
4. Chargers (4-12)

In the current AFC, the Chiefs have enough good players, a good enough QB and a good enough coach to do reasonably well. The problem is they will forever be stuck at “OK-to-mildly-good”. Even when they got the first pick of the draft, they spent it on a mediocre offensive lineman. They are Vimto – nice enough as a one-off but I could never drink it on a regular basis.

The Broncos have Mark Sanchez at quarterback. They will not be good.

The Raiders are upwardly mobile but I’m not sure they’re ready to make the next leap, even with the Broncos in decline and a bang average AFC in general. They might scrape the last wild card spot but I really doubt it. Amari Cooper will be really good, though.

The Chargers are treading water until Spanos gets the stadium he wants, be it in San Diego, Vegas, San Antonio or some other gullible metropolis willing to sell its soul to the devil for an NFL presence for about 15 years. The same goes for the Raiders to a point, but at least the Raiders have some vaguely promising prospects. The Chargers are still relying on Christianity’s Philip Rivers. Once Rivers is gone, this team will nosedive.

NFC East
1. Cowboys (9-7)
2. Washington (7-9)
3. Eagles (6-10)
4. Giants (6-10)

The Cowboys are an easy candidate for bouncing back now that Romo and Dez are healthy again. The problem is Romo and Dez usually aren’t healthy for very long. Dez is a walking questionable status. He may already have past his peak at 27. I have him in fantasy. This is not good. Meanwhile, Romo’s body continues to fall apart. Once his sternum gives way in week 4, rookie Dak Prescott will be thrust in and, err, that’s a risk. But this is a crap division which they should still win.

The Washington football team is still bang average. Kirk Cousins is yet to be traded. They got rid of Alf Morris and Matt Jones is now injured. Dan Snyder is vile and also chasing a new stadium. And yet – AND YET – it’s still very plausible that they could win the division. Fuck the NFC East. It’s terrible.

Chip Kelly’s finally gone. So is DeMarco Murray (why did they do that thing again? That was dumb). Doug Pederson was a really unconvincing appointment. Sam Bradford is a really unconvincing QB. OL Lane Johnson is suspended. This team has very little going for it, without being as abysmal as several other teams. But at least Kelly’s gone.

Tom Coughlin is also gone, removing the final traces of sanity from the Giants. This may be the year they finally plunge off the deep end. Ryan Nassib is now entering his fourth year as Eli Manning’s back-up, and not once has another team looked to trade for him, which is not a good sign. Behind him is Logan Thomas, who the Cardinals couldn’t even trust ahead of Ryan Lindley when they lost Carson and Stanton two years ago. JPP has half a hand and can’t tackle any more, and they lost their leader in sacks. They are very reliant on Manning and Beckham. Far too reliant.

NFC North
1. Packers (14-2)
2. Vikings (10-6)
3. Bears (7-9)
4. Lions (4-12)

Disclaimer: I am a Packers fan. But then I’m normally pessimistic about my team’s chances (in any sport), so this is essentially a prediction for us to 16-0 and win the whole thing. With Jordy Nelson coming back, we should be stronger. At the very least, I can’t see us losing the division. We do seem all set for another heartbreaking loss in the latter stages of the play-offs.

But for Blair Walsh, the Vikings could have eliminated the Seahawks last year. Could have. But they didn’t (and anyway it was a weird game in freezing conditions). They have some good parts to this team and should still get a wild card spot but I can’t see them finishing ahead of the Packers this time. I like Teddy Bridgewater and I wish he could throw the ball.

When Jay Cutler has his annual injury which keeps him out of 2-3 games, the Bears will have to turn to Brian Hoyer or Connor Shaw – not one shit ex-Browns QB but two. Did they come as a buy one get one free deal? Also they got rid of Matt Forte. It’s all on Alshon now, guys? D’you think the other teams might pick up on that? Not sure, myself.

RIP Megatron. RIP any need to be interested in the Lions.

NFC South
1. Panthers (13-3)
2. Falcons (7-9)
3. Saints (7-9)
4. Buccaneers (3-13)

The Panthers will regress, no doubt, but they are still by far the best team in a terrible division. I’ve got them going 5-1 in the division but that could so easily be 6-0. Cam is still Cam, one of the best QBs in the NFL. And they have Kelvin Benjamin coming back. I don’t see them not being good again

The Falcons are such a non-entity. 7-9 just seems the right final outcome for them. I don’t see them winning 9 games. I don’t see them being terrible. Matt Ryan is alright. Julio Jones is still there. Devonta Freeman is still there. And they still lack talent in every other area. Meh.

The same goes for the Saints, although I think they may be more prone to a complete collapse. With Sean Payton and Drew Brees they still should prove to be a difficult opponent, especially at home. But if Brees hits the cliff (it’s the final year of his contract and he’s now 37), the back-up plan is Luke McCown. Ugh.

The Bucs are so nondescript I accidentally left them out of this originally. Says it all really.

NFC West
1. Seahawks (13-3)
2. Cardinals (13-3)
3. Rams (7-9)
4. 49ers (2-14)

The Seahawks will never go away now. Their nauseating tedious bluster which supposedly passes for “character” is here to stay. This is the image the team will maintain, regardless of however they build their team from now on. If there was any karma, Russell Wilson would fall off the pitch straight into Richard Sherman’s lap, ending both their seasons. But that won’t happen. They’ll stay good.

Apparently the Cardinals got to the NFC Championship Game last year. The Cardinals are good again now? Really? Carson Palmer won’t allow that to stay that way for long. Don’t worry – he’ll either return to mediocrity or lose a leg in time for them to lose in the play-offs again, so we won’t have to consider the prospect that they might actually win the Super Bowl, which will never happen. (Fate tempted sufficiently there, I think – I’d actually quite like them to win it, or at least get to the Super Bowl, because that would be infinitely preferable to the Seahawks AGAIN)

So the Rams are in Los Anguluss now, yeah? Good, it won’t make any difference. Jeff Fisher is still the head coach. He’s been head coach since 2012. Nothing has changed. No forward progress. Nada. Same old. It’s Case Keenum or a rookie at QB, so they’ll be relying on hurly burly from Gurley then. Another great player wasted on a bang average team.

And finally we come to the Santa Clara 49ers, who have come down faster than the walls of Candlestick Park. Colin Kaepernick is now no longer preferable to Blaine Gabbert, who lost his starting job in Jacksonville to Chad Henne. By that extension, Chad Henne would be starting QB here. Maybe new signing Christian Ponder does have a shot here…nah, that’s probably a bit too far. Either way, this team is still terrible and it will be a lot of fun watching them be terrible, because this is an awful organisation and Chip Kelly is a fraud.


Wild Card Round
Chiefs beat Bengals
Colts beat Bills
Cardinals beat Cowboys
Panthers beat Vikings

Divisional Round
Steelers beat Chiefs
Patriots beat Colts
Seahawks beat Cardinals
Packers beat Panthers

Championship Games
Steelers beat Patriots
Seahawks beat Packers

Super Bowl LI
Seahawks beat Steelers

Ugh, that’s depressing.

Written by James Bennett

August 25, 2016 at 23:14

Posted in NFL