After launching my Palermo diaries as a way of tracking my journey with La Rosanero it feels only right to start one with my other love…..Lille OSC. Although I was born in Glasgow and Celtic are my “team” for the past six years I have followed the fortunes of a small team from Northern France. And now I would consider my love for them just as passionate.

My Lille journey started with a friend’s parent buying me a scarf during a trip to France. Ever since that moment I have grown to love Les Dogues, following them from the heights of the Champions League to the poor seasons when everyone was sold to the highest bidder.

Today saw the Derby du Nord played at the Stade Lille Metropole, local neighbours and rivals Racing Club Lens travelled the forty miles trip to take on the league leaders in what was always going to be a furious and heated match-up. Now if anyone can think of a better day to start a “Lille Diary” let me know.

In hindsight I should have started this diary back in August 2006. It wasn’t till the end of the 2005/06 season that I caught my first Lille game; I watched Peter Odemwingie scored twice against Bordeaux, and I was hooked.

The new season couldn’t come fast enough. Opening the campaign with a 2-1 win away at Rennes, the next weekend saw the opening home game against who else but Les Sang et Or. Nothing like a derby game to kick start your season. It will be hard to forget what I watched that day, it was glorious day in sunny Lille and the players were in the mood.

Mathieu Bodmer opened the scoring and then passed the baton to Odemwingie. Three beautiful goals later, two of which were set up by Abdul Kader Keita, it was a vintage performance from Les Dogues and there was no doubt in my mind, I loved this team.

Fast forward to today and it is exactly twenty eight days until I will be standing in the Metropole watching Lille take on Lyon in what could be a massive game in the title charge. First things first though, Lens are not in contention for the title or a European spot, but they are fighting for their place in Ligue 1.

Derby games are always tough, but when your opponents are trying to stay up a wounded animal is always more dangerous than a dead one. Two wins in a row meant Lens were as dangerous as any side in the division.

The match itself was not a great watch; you could clearly see the influence of new manager Laszlo Bodoni flowing through his side, very tough, well organised and they made it very difficult for the home side. Tackles were flying in and let’s just say they were as accurate as the shooting.

As expected Lille had the majority of the ball, lead by the little magician Eden Hazard they tried to break down the Lens defence. The home side only managed four shots in the first half, none of which were on target. The league’s top scorer Moussa Sow and highly rated winger Gervinho had quiet games, the longer the game went on the fans knew it would come down to a moment of “Hazgic” (that’s Hazard magic).

Lens came out in the second half with a bit more attacking intent, well it’s not hard when you don’t even get a single shot off in the first half. Straight from kick off Toifilou Maoulida made a bee-line for the goal and his 20 yard effort flashed safely wide but it showed more attacking intent.

Watching each unsuccessful Lille attack it was obvious that the eleven players on the pitch weren’t going to breakdown this stubborn well organised defence. The style of the match was screaming out for some height upfront, and with half an hour to go Rudi Garcia noticed it too. He made a double substitution, Ludovic Obraniak and Tulio de Melo coming on for Florent Balmont and Moussa Sow.

It is wonderful when subtle changes make a huge difference, and in just under ten minutes Lille had the lead. Eden Hazard began the move down the left, beating his man he then found Obraniak on the edge of the box, the Pole without controlling the ball chipped it towards the penalty spot and the big Brazilian de Melo stretched out his right foot and flicked the ball with the outside of boot and past the outstretched hand of Vedran Runje. A wonderful goal, and the first shot on target of the entire game, I’m sure Garcia would have had a wry smile on his face.

Yohan Cabaye could have extended the home sides lead, once with a shot from just inside the box that he should have put away and then late on when Runje had to stop Cabaye’s free kick from nestling in the top corner. Lens had a great chance to equalise in the 92nd minute but Akale was offside and his volley went over the bar.

The Heat map of Cabaye just shows the amount of work he will put into the game. With Balmont concentrating on the right side of the field and Mavuba mainly sitting deep it is up to Yohan to patrol the rest of the pitch and when he is on his game he will cause problems for any defence.

From an individual point of view the best player on the pitch was of course Eden Hazard. His heat map shows that it is impossible to pin him down, playing mostly on the left but given license to drift all the way to the opposite flank. Most of his good work is done from the left but it is impossible to man-mark Eden as he will drag your team all out of position.

Although you only get rewarded three points like any other win, derby wins are very important for the team’s morale. Lille keep their four point lead over Paris St-Germain and with Lyon and Rennes both getting beat the gap from third is now seven points.

At the start of the season the thought of Lille winning the league was a dream, now with every win it doesn’t seem as farcical. The goal should still be to qualify for the Champions League…a boy can dream though.

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Now I know a fixture between Wigan and West Brom doesn’t send a tingle down the spine of most neutrals out there but there were a few reasons I decided to take a trip to the DW. Ethan one of the guys from the podcast is a West Brom fan, so it was a chance to meet him while seeing a game, but the main reason to go was my love of Peter Odemwingie.

It has been mentioned a few times my affection towards the Nigerian forward and the chance to see him in person couldn’t be missed, it would also provide a slight chance of maybe getting my Lille jersey signed.

The journey was quite pain free, a bus to Manchester then train to Wigan Wallgate. The DW Stadium is a good 20-25 minute walk from the station, down past the canal towards the retail park in which it sits. Walking down it was clear that West Brom had brought a big away support, I walked past more Baggies fans than Wigan fans, and obviously the trip up the M6 had gotten them in good spirits.

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Below is the piece I wrote for the fantastic blog The Equaliser my contribution on his excellent Favourite Footballer series, I hope you enjoy!

81 minutes into his first game in English football, websites, mobile phones and vidiprinters around the country were for the first time typing the name of Peter Odemwingie. I’m sure there were plenty of people around the country thinking “Who?” – I too was once in this position. Today, however, I class him as one of my favourite footballers.

You could say it was fate that brought my attention to Odemwingie, while on holiday in France a family friend had the chance to go watch Lyon v Lille at the Stade Gerland and, while at the game and knowing my love of all things football, picked me up a scarf without thinking what team the scarf represented. The team, it turned out, was Lille OSC.

Being the curious fan that I am, I researched this French enigma through the only channel a fan could before the days of Wikipedia – I popped Pro Evolution Soccer into my PS2. Makoun and Bodmer were there but there was one name that stood out, Peter Odemwingie. I can’t think back to how I may have pronounced his name then, but I would put money on it having been wrong.

Peter had only just moved to Lille from La Louviere (in the 2005 January Transfer window) and, playing the majority of his football on the flanks, he scored four goals in his first season; the next year he had a great season scoring 14 goals and leading Lille to an unprecedented third place and Champions League football.

It wasn’t until the 15th of April 2006 that I finally saw the man in action. Through the wonders of the World Wide Web I found a barely visible feed of Lille’s match at home to Bordeaux and, after six minutes, I was hooked. Mathieu Bodmer opening the scoring in the second minute before Odemwingie found the net four minutes later. On the half hour the Nigerian had two and Lille were 3-0 to the good, the game eventually finishing 3-2. Les Dogues had a new fan.

Two weeks later, while playing scrabble with my girlfriend at some ungodly hour of the morning and flicking through the TV channels between turns, I discovered Channel 4’s French Football coverage. The match in progress was Lille v Lyon and I watched agog as Lille destroyed the all conquering Lyon 4-0. Odemwingie scored two goals, the best of which was a delightful chip over the helpless Remy Vercoutre.

Unfortunately the season was drawing to a close and it would be another three months until I could watch the fascinating Odemwingie again. He would not disappoint – the season kicked off with a great 2-1 win over Rennes away from home, the next week bringing the visit of Lille’s arch-rivals Rennes.

This was the game where Odemwingie would truly capture my imagination. After Mathieu Bodmer had given Lille an early lead the game belonged to the number 14, the flying forward turning past Marcos Ramos and racing towards goal before curling his shot beyond Charles Itandje. His second was the easiest of tap-ins, Kader Keita doing the hard work and squaring the ball for Peter to make it 3-0.

He was not going to be denied his hat-trick, Keita again charging down the right teasing a wonderful cross into the box where Odemwingie, unmarked between two defenders, expertly powered the header into the back of the net. The home fans were enchanted just like their newest fan, captivated, watching in awe of his new favourite player.

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The new season in France’s Ligue 1 started this week, in anticipation I read many previews telling me who the best teams would be and the dark horses etc, the usual suspects were there, Lyon, Bordeaux and Champions Marseille all favourites for the title, There was a name I kept seeing with the same prediction it worried me, all the previews tipped Rudi Garcia’s Lille for a title push, the outside bet if you will.

All this expectation should be a good thing, If “the experts” believe Les Lillois have the players and management in place to have a real good crack at the Ligue 1 title, then surely there must be something there, from following the team for 6 years now it’s not a position myself or the team are used to being in. Since I started following LOSC back in 2004 I have always viewed them as a team happily performing under the radar, no big flashy signings, a very stable club, developing good young players, European football was the cherry on top.

Not a household name by any means, however 3 Champions League appearances in the past 8 years and some great finishes in Ligue 1 make it hard to fathom that only 10 years ago the club gained promotion to Ligue 1, Bosnian manager took over a club trying to stay afloat in Ligue 2 in 1998, and by 2002 they were finishing 3rd in Ligue 1 a meteoric rise in fortunes for the small northern club.

Claude Puel - The Mastermind

Claude Puel was the man in charge when my affinity began and he had a very good team, with an excellent work ethic, Gregory Tafforeau and Mathieu Chalme were the fullbacks, I really admired Tafforeau, a no-nonsense hardworking fullback with a great left-foot, you could see the potential to be the Captain he became, Chalme I must say looking back never impressed me the way he has at Bordeaux, however he was steady and a decent defender and went about his business, I preferred the now Lazio player Stephane Lichsteiner and was happy when Chalme left to Blanc’s Bordeaux, Stephane impressed with willingness to attack and quality of crosses.

Puel’s team suffered defensively, not a week went by when there wasn’t a Tony Sylva goalkeeping error or Tavlaridis had messed up causing another goal, Vitakic, Rafael and then Plestan were all chosen as Efstathios’s partner and they never looked very solid, but somehow in the 2005/06 season they only conceded 31 goals the same amount as Champions Lyon, and finished 3rd, this was mostly down to the hard work of the midfield. Puel’s team philosophy was based on discipline, effort, and the desire to close the opponent down at all times, the less time they had on the ball, the quicker you could retrieve the ball.

Most games the team was set-up in a 4-5-1 formation with Abdul Kader Keita playing on the right as an advanced midfielder, the mercurial Jean Makoun was the general, alongside him, the long serving Stephane Dumont who was the captain at the time, ex-Tottenham man Milenko Acimovic was the “playmaker” so to speak and on the left was young local boy Mathieu Debuchy; Debuchy, Dumont and Makoun were the ones who pressured the most, and they were backed up by the impressive youngsters Mathieu Bodmer and Yohan Cabaye, this left the trio of Acimovic, Keita and Odemwingie to hit teams on the counter attack.

Peter Odemwingie

This was the team I fell in love with, the duo of Odemwingie and Keita were just breathtaking, I will never forget the first home game of the 2006/07 season what better than a match against your bitter rivals, Lille did not let the home fans down, on a high after the 2-1 away win at Rennes Les Dogues turned on the style, RC Lens were handed a thumping 4-0 defeat, Kader Keita delivering two fantastic crosses for Peter Odemwingie to put away in style, apart from a 3-0 win against Bordeaux the league campaign never got much better than that first home game, a tough Champions League campaign ultimately cost the team dear and Lille finished that season in 10th place. Victory over Milan in the San Siro followed by the high profile 2-0 aggregate defeat by Manchester United was the highlights of Lille’s season.

By the start of the 2007 season it was all change in Lille, Puel was still in charge but the team I knew and loved had been ripped apart 13 players left the Metropole that summer, Odemwingie, Keita, Bodmer. Chalme, Rafael and Tavlaridis the big name departures, in their place brought in was Marko Maric, Franck Beria and Luis Yanes.

As a fan I was gutted, I had planned a trip to Lille in March 2007 to watch them take on Le Mans at the Metropole, only to have the trip cancelled the night before due to a fire at a warehouse in London, all Eurostar trains were cancelled for 24 hours, gone was my chance to see Odemwingie & Co.

It was obvious the intentions of the Lille board, sell the stars and bring in the youth, Only 4 of the players that played in the opening win at Rennes started the first game of the 2007/08 season in a 0-0 draw at home to Lorient, a very frustrating season 18 draws in 38 league games, saw Lille finish in 7th place.

The only bright sparks of the season were the young players coming through, Cabaye, Chedjou, Rami, Mirallas and the exciting Brazilian Michel Bastos.

In 2008 the unthinkable happened the mastermind behind all the success Lille had had Claude Puel left the club, his excellent results with a small club had earned him the job at French Champions Lyon taking with him the philosophy that had led this team to Champions League football, in all fairness he had taken the club as far as he could and you cannot take away the man’s ambition, Jean Makoun followed him to the Stade Gerland, the new Lille era would start without their best player.

Rudi Garcia

Rudi Garcia was man picked to led this young team an ex-Lille player who had performed miracles with a team that had gained promotion to the league in 2004 and he took them to the heady heights of 9th a tremendous achievement, Garcia known for his attacking brand of football, how would a team brought up on a counter-attacking disciplined formation take to a forward thinking coach. Garcia went about bringing his own players in, midfield dynamo Florent Balmont was joined by Ligue 1 veteran Pierre-Alain Frau, striker Tulio De Melo, the permanent signing of Rio Mavuba who had impressed on loan, and increased minutes for young players Emerson, Rami and youth sensation Eden Hazard, the squad looked weak in areas, I had doubt over how they would cope in the 38 game season.

Three games into the season and it wasn’t looking good, a decent draw away at Nancy then a home defeat 3-1 against Le Mans, and an away loss against Rennes by 2 goals to 1, the future did not look bright at all, Garcia then signed Robert Vittek and the formation changed from what was mostly a 4-5-1 to a more attacking version of 4-3-3, Vittek and Hazard began to play more and Lille went on a unbelievable run, in 19 matches they only lost once, conceding 18 goals but scoring 31 they began to create a reputation of being a very dangerous team, scoring the 4th highest amount of goals in the league and finishing an impressive 5th, for a season that started poorly there was many positives to take, Garcia had given Lille an identity again, combining Puel’s high pressure game with an attacking mindset that teams had to be wary of.

The 2009/10 season was met with a mixture of expectation and cautiousness, Rudi Garcia was briefly sacked by the Lille board, only to be brought back in, which could explain why only two players were brought in to strengthen the side, ex-French International Goalkeeper Mickael Landreau and Le Mans winger Gervinho, the former excited me and fellow Lille fans, known for his explosive pace and goal scoring abilities he could form a potent strike force with De Melo and Hazard, Landreau a very experience keeper, brought in to try and sure up a shaky defence, disaster struck in a pre-season training session Landreau ruptured his right knee and wasn’t seen in a Lille jersey until October, a major blow to Rudi Garcia’s plans.

Eden Hazard - The Young Wizard

A very poor start to the season defeats to Lorient, Marseille and PSG in the first 4 games saw Lille with only 1 point out of a possible 12, the first win of the season came at home to Sochaux, Debuchy scoring the only goal of the game, this sparked a fantastic run over 21 games they lost only 3, 14 wins scoring an amazing 46 goals, the catalyst behind the great run were new signing Gervinho with 13 goals, youth sensation Eden Hazard and the goals of ageing striker Pierre-Alain Frau having an Indian Summer to what could only be described as a faltering career 13 goals his biggest haul since 2002, Lille ended the season with 5 wins out of 6, that last win however cost Les Dogues a place in the Champions League, losing out to Auxerre by one point, they finished the season with 72 goals scored more than any other team in the league and 40 goals conceded, only 4 teams conceded fewer, Eden Hazard picked up the award of best young player in Ligue 1 for the second year in a row, more importantly they were amongst the top-tier of French clubs again, their star players linked again with the cream of European Clubs.

In what has been a very slow summer for transfers, Moussa Sow of Rennes has been Lille’s only new signing, this season they will rely heavily on the stars of the last campaign, I would love all the “experts” to be correct and Les Dogues push on and challenge for the title, however with the history the club has you will forgive me if I am very sceptical, Pierre-Alain Frau will not have another 13 goal season, the chances of Tulio De Melo staying fit for a whole year are just as unlikely and with the transfer deadline still 21 days away, somewhere a big name player is going to move, and replacements have to be bought, if Gervinho, Hazard, Rami and Cabaye are all still present at the Metropole come the first of September I will be a very happy fan. Lille are a selling club and you could argue that last season they punched above their weight, Lille have to sell their star players to make money, with the new 50,000 sweater stadium due to be opened in 2012 bills have to be paid, every player not matter the talent has a price.

When you see a team you support constantly linked with having a good season, it puts you on edge, why can’t they just leave us alone, and let a great season happen by surprise, experts, bookies, ex-players the more they mention your chances the more you believe it yourself, only then to be brought crashing back down to earth when you lose 3-0 at home to a relegation candidate, luckily Lille started their season with a good 1-1 draw away at another top tip Stade Rennais, I just hope all the expectation doesn’t turn into a curse, and Rudi Garcia and his men can play to their best, Champions League qualification for me would be a great year.

I was lucky enough to visit Anfield in March and watched my team in the flesh for the first time and just like in 2007 I plan to visit Lille this season and watch a game at the Metropole, not sure who the opponent will be and it doesn’t matter, I will be going to see Hazard, Gervinho, Cabaye & Co. Hoping nothing stops my journey this time, not only because I want to visit the Metropole and sit in the Stade du Nord with the hardcore fans, but I feel that if I don’t visit this year and see the current star players then just like in 2008, 2011 could be the start of another rebuilding job for Rudi Garcia.

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Two of the big guns played today and with mixed results, the big winner today was the Korea’s a great result against Greece, followed by Argentina’s slim 1 -0 victory over Nigeria, in a game that could have been 4-0 or 1-1, then England stepped up and failed to deliver the result their thousands of fans beleived was due to them, drawing 1-1 with the United States

SOUTH KOREA 2 GREECE 0

SOUTH KOREA: 18 Jung Sung-Ryong - 12 Lee Young-Pyo, 4 Cho Yong-Hyung, 14 Lee Jung-Soo, 22 Cha Du-Ri - 19 Yeom Ki-Hun, 17 Lee Chung-Yong, 8 Kim Jung-Woo, 16 Ki Sung-Yong, 7 Park Ji-Sung – 10 Park Cho Young
Subs - 5 Kim Nam-Il on for Ki Sung-Yueng (74mins), 11 Lee Seung-Yeoul on for Park Chu-Young (87mins), 13 Kim Jae-Sung on for Lee Chung-Yong (90+mins)

GREECE: 12 Tzorvas – 2 Seitaridis, 8 Papadopoulos, 6 Tziolis, 15 Torosidis – 11 Vyntra, 21 Katsouranis, 10 Karagounis – 7 Samaras, 9 Charisteas, 17 Gekas
Subs – 4 Patsatzoglou on for Karagounis (46mins), 14 Salpingidis on for Samaras (59mins), 20 Kapetanos on for Charisteas (61mins)

Goals - Lee Jung-Soo 7′ (1-0), Park Ji-Sung 52′ (2-0)

MY THOUGHTS:

An entertaining game to start the day, the impressive Koreans started very brightly, Ki whipped in a good free-kick after 7 minutes that missed everyone apart from the centre back Lee he appeared unmarked at the back post to make it 1-0, then the very busy Park Ji-Sung stole the ball in midfield and ran through to place the ball past Tzorvas and the Koreans held on after a bit of Greek pressure near the end, a great start to their tournament.

The centre backs for Korea Cho and Lee did very well against all the high balls the Greeks threw at them, Right Back Cha was tireless in running down the right flank troubled Torosidis all game until he was replaced, the Koreans controlled the midfield the trio of Park, Ki and Kim ran the show, Ki never lost the ball once, and Park was the spark of class the team needed, Bolton’s Lee was quiet on the wing, one player that was fantastic was Park Cho-Young he worked the Greek centre backs all game was superb in the air, the myth that Koreans are small is gone Ki, Yeom, Kim and Park are all 6 feet tall, and Park played even taller winning nearly every ball in the air.

Really enjoyed the Koreans style of football, nice one touch passing, pace and really just doing the simple things well, ineresting to see how they match up against the Nigerians.

The Greek team will need to step up increidbly fast if they want to progress in this tournament 16 years ago they left USA ’94 without scoring a goal, and you could see it happening again, tough games against Argentina and Nigeria could prove extremly tough, the tactics just didn’t work, 2 big men on the wings and not a lot of pace in midfield, Samaras and Charisteas were awful the game plan seemed to be long balls up to the front men, but I can’t remember them winning one ball, Gekas was a non entity, and Karagounis didn’t show the creativity he is known for.

The only life they showed is when Salpingidis and Patsatzoglou came on and they showed more creatvity down the left and maybe left a little bit of hope for Rehaggel for the next match, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was 3 or 4 changes for their next match, god knows they need it.

ARGENTINA 1 NIGERIA 0

ARGENTINA: 22 Romero – 17 Gutierrez, 2 Demichelis, 13 Samuel, 6 Heinze – 14 Mascherano, 8 Veron, 7 Di Maria – 11 Tevez, 10 Messi, 9 Higuain
Subs – 20 M.Rodriguez on for Veron (74mins), 19 D.Milito on for Higuain (79mins), 4 Burdisso on for Di Maria (85mins)

NIGERIA: 1 Enyeama – 17 Odiah, 2 Yobo, 6 Shittu, 3 Taiwo – 20 Etuhu, 15 Haruna, 14 Kaita, 19 Obasi – 19 Obinna, 8 Yakubu
Subs – 9 Martins on for Obinna (52mins), 11 Odemwingie on for Obasi (60mins), 12 Uche on for Taiwo (75mins)

Goals - Heinze 6′ (1-0)

MY THOUGHTS:

Not the scoreline the Argentines would have hoped for but 3 points is 3 points, this game could easily have been 3 or 4 nil, but as long as the game went on the Nigerians looked just as likely to pull out a equaliser, for Argentina there was some good performances but also signs they are not as strong as the fans would hope, Messi looked in the mood, picking up the ball in space and attacking the Nigerian defence, only 2 great saves from Enyeama stopped him opening his World Cup account, in this form though his time will come.

Mascherano and Veron were superb, controlling the game, breaking up everything that Nigeria tried to create, Veron showing his passing abilities are still at their peak, Di Maria did well when he got the ball but wasn’t used enough, just didn’t seem to get involved enough, Tevez and Messi linked up really well, and created quite a few chances for Higuain who surely on another day he would have put them away.

For as well as Argentinas attacking players played the defence seemed suspect, Gutierrez looks vulnerable his positioning needs to improve, Samuel and Demichelis could be troubled by attackers with pace and purpose, and Romero is yet to be tested.

Nigeria’s best player by far was Goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, pulled out about 4 fantastic saves, 2 top notch saves from Lionel Messi, in the first half Nigeria struggled to get going the inexperience of Haruna and Kaita got overrun with Argentinas 4-3-3 and the front 2 of Yakubu and Obinna were isolated, Lagerback made a great decision in the second half bringing on Peter Odemwingie and it changed Nigeria’s play completely adding pace and composure to the attack, after his performance I’m sure he will start the next game, sub Uche had a great chance to equalise but just went over the bar.

Nigeria need to start their next game better if they are going to make the second round, they have the tools to win, it’s just whether they put it together or not.

ENGLAND 1 UNITED STATES 1

ENGLAND: 12 Green – 2 Johnson, 6 Terry, 20 King, 3 A.Cole – 7 Lennon, 8 Lampard, 4 Gerrard – 21 Heskey, 10 Rooney
Subs - 17 Wright-Phillips on for Milner (31mins), 18 Carragher on for King (46mins),  9 Crouch on for Heskey (79mins)

UNITED STATES: 1 Howard – 6 Cherundolo, 5 Onyewu, 15 DeMerit, 3 Bocanegra – 8 Dempsey, 4 Bradley, 13 Clark, 10 Donovan – 20 Findley, 17 Altidore
Subs – 14 Edso Buddle on for Findley (77mins), 11 Holden on for Altidore (86mins)

GoalsGerrard 3′ (1-0 ENG), Dempsey 41′ (1-1 USA)

MY THOUGHTS:

The big game of the day, the two top teams in Group C battling out for the advantage in the group, England of course the favourites couldn’t have started out any better a great move between Rooney, Heskey into the captain Gerrard and he finished calmly past Howard, everyone including myself expected England to charge on after a great start, wasn’t the case though England stood back and let the US come onto them, Milner got caught out on the right a few times by Cherundolo and after receiveng an early yellow, Capello had no choice but to remove him, then the massive moment that changed the game Dempsey hit a speculative shot looked easy for Green to collect but somehow the ball spilled off Green’s arm and into the net.

Gerrard really steppd up for England, playing with the captain’s armband, charging forward at all times Gerrard’s good play seemed to keep Lampard quiet not his best game, surprisingly Emile Heskey was one of the other best players in the game, holding up the ball very well, had a couple of chances that he could have scored but over all he was pretty good, Lennon and Johnson were good down the right, both troubling the American team with their pace, and provided quite a few crosses that could have easily have counted.

Overall I am against all the negativity headed towards the England team, they created quite a few chances if I was an England fan, you’ve got to think on other day it could have been 3 or 4 and if they create the same against Algeria or Slovenia they will have no problems, Green’s place is looking shakey now, and King’s injury will see Upson come in, and maybe also the inclusion of Gareth Barry this might change the side too much, will be interesting come Friday.

The USA played very well at times, started off looking very nervous and the goal would not have helped their nerves, Clark fell asleep for the goal, however he and Bradley managed to play better throughout the game in the middle, Donovan was their best player playing some great balls in the box and creating some chances too, I was surprised that Robbie Findley started up front with Altidore, Buddle was the striker in form but Findley picked for his incredible pace, and at times he troubled the back line and nearly got inbehind a few times.

Cherundolo had a great first half, terrorising Milner till he got booked and had to come off, Wright-Phillips kept him busier in the 2nd half and pinned him back, Jozy Altidore had 2 great chances to score, one from a Donovan cross where he should have done better, only managing to glance a header past the post, then he beat Carragher for pace and only a great save from Rob Green which tipped the ball off the post kept the scores level.

A great point for the US they will fancy themselves to go on and win at least 1 of the other 2 games, and show more attacking prowess, however they will remeber the night they took a point of one of the favourites in Rustenberg.

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Only 4 days now till the big kick off, and I can’t wait, every four years there are players that play great, players that don’t live up to the hype, and players that come from nowhere to entertain, and this is what makes it the greatest tournament on Earth.

I have picked out 32 players, 1 from each team that I will be keeping my eye on throughout the 4 weeks, some that are already known by everyone, some unknown, some I have never seen and can’t wait to catch them playing, for whatever reason, I hope some of those players catch your eye too, and light up South Africa for all the right reasons.

32 players all at once is too much to digest, so I will split it up into 4 days, concluding on Friday before the ceremonies begin.

GROUP A

Bernard Parker – South Africa – 29 caps (9 goals)

This 24 year old plays his club football for Dutch Champions FC Twente, played 10 games this season and failed to score, his luck has been better for the national team, scoring twice against New Zealand in the Confederations Cup on home soil, then 2 friendly goals against Thailand and Guatemala in the run up to the World Cup.

A player I have never seen, decent reports though, good pace, can play on the wing or upfront, could cause some damage to Uruguay and Mexico.

Javier Hernandez – Mexico – 12 caps (7 goals)

A player that will be watched by half of Manchester this summer, Javier recently had his Work Permit approved and officially signed for Manchester United, Only 22 years old “Fergie” could have unearthed a gem known as “Chicharito” to the eye he looks small reported at 5 foot 7, his size does not let him down, and regularly scores with his head, small and strong, quite fast, looking forward to seeing more of him.


Nicolas Lodeiro – Uruguay – 3 caps (0 goals)

Although not experience for club or country I have heard lots of good things about Nicolas, the ability to beat players with skill and pace, able to play anywhere in midfield, can use both feet but has a lethal left foot, all these reports make me excited to watch him play, wasn’t able to see any of his 5 appearances for Ajax after his January move, at only 21 he has plenty of time to make a name in the Dutch Eredivisie.

It seems to be between Nicolas and Nacho Gonzalez for the starting spot I hope to see Nicolas line up against France on June 11th.


Mathieu Valbuena – France – 2 caps (1 goal)

Maybe a bit of a surprise selection for Les Bleus for outsiders, but for me Mathieu deserves his place in the 23 man squad, great performances for Marseille in their run to the title this year, whilst people were being linked with Ben Arfa, Valbuena continued to mesmerise defenders and score goals in the process, really tricky winger, low centre of gravity and pace to burn.

He couldn’t have asked for a better International debut either coming on against Costa Rica as a sub, and 16 minutes later he had scored the winning goal, If he gets a chance to play I can see big things happening, luckily for Marseille they have him tied up till 2013.

GROUP B

Angel Di Maria – Argentina – 8 caps (1 goal)

I think like most people I have known the name for quite a while, regrettably I’ve not seen as much as I would have liked of the Argentine winger, my first memory of him is the fantastic chip over the Nigerian keeper in the 2008 Olympic Final in Beijing, a superb finish.

In the recent friendly against Canada he scored his first International goal, and he is touted to be a star of this World Cup, every transfer window he is linked with moves to all the big clubs maybe his performances will excite them to pay the €40 million minimum release fee, reports are he’s already talking of a move to Real Madrid, one to watch.


Peter Odemwingie – Nigeria – 47 caps (9 goals)

Someone who is not going to move for a massive transfer fee after the tournament, however a player I really enjoy watching, part of the Lille team that made me fall in love with them, good in the air, pace, can finish and can play anywhere on the front line, be it on the wing or as a striker, could be a name that flourishes for Nigeria, it’s unsure whether Lara Lagerback will play him, an experienced head in the team he was the captain for the 2010 African Cup of Nations when Nigeria got to the Semi-Finals.


Ki Sung-Yong – South Korea – 20 caps (4 goals)

This one is more of a personal scouting mission, signed by Celtic in August 2009 he moved in the January transfer window, and made 10 appearances, from what I’ve seen he looks a very talented player, poise on the ball, great technique and great from set-pieces, I am interested to see what he plays like for his national team, and hopefully has a good summer, ready for a push at the Celtic first-team next season.


Vasilis Torosidis – Greece – 26 caps (2 goals)

Another player that I have heard loads about and lots of good reports but never actually seen play, a major factor in Olympiakos team, can play as a fullback, centre back or this season he has been playing in central midfield also, again always linked to all the big teams could be a very good signing if the rumoured €7 million fixed fee is correct, Olympiakos may regret that after the tournament.

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