World Cup draw 2014: Time to let the games begin

World Cup draw 2014: Time to let the games begin

It was always going to be dramatic, and the World Cup draw delivered with some superb matches and groups selected.

The most eye catching, after all the talk and hype was over, was England being thrown into a group of death with Ururguay, Italy and Costa Rica.

Not only are they tough matches, but the matches will take place in areas of Brazil with high humidty, meaning the Three Lions face a real challenge to go through.

Spain, the favourites to win the World Cup in Brazil, were thrown in with Holland, Chile and Australia in a tricky contest that will throw up some exciting games early on.

Germany and Portugal were paired with Ghana and the USA in another contest, but for me, the most interesting group is C.

Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast and Japan are all in together, and all of them will feel like they could win the group, with Greece maybe the only side who are outside favourites.

All in all, the draw was superb – and it’s just made excitment for the actual tournament go through the roof.

So, click here, grab your tickets – and go and enjoy the action next summer.

The draw in full:

Group A: Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon.
Group B: Spain, Netherlands, Chile, Australia.
Group C: Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan.
Group D: Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, Italy.
Group E : Switzerland, Ecuador, France, Honduras.
Group F: Argentina, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Iran, Nigeria.
Group G: Germany, Portugal, Ghana, USA.
Group H: Belgium, Algeria, Russia, South Korea.

Arsène Wenger’s gamble on Thomas Eisfeld pays off

Arsène Wenger’s gamble on Thomas Eisfeld pays off

Arsène Wenger had to be convinced to sign Thomas Eisfeld in January. He’s glad he did now.

Arsenal had been expecting to sign out-of-contract Eisfeld this summer, but were forced to move in January, over fears that his club Borussia Dortmund were ready to offer bumper terms, to make him stay in Germany.

Wenger described bringing the 19-year-old to North London, six months early, as an opportunity to allow him time to settle. A handful of reserve team run outs and a good holiday later, and Eisfeld’s period of transition looks to have been most valuable.

A diminutive, intelligent and technical play-maker, he returns to London this week having made a notable impression during Arsenal’s pre-season tour of Asia. Three late substitute appearances, two goals and a feeling that this boy really is one for the future. Not bad, considering he only made the trip following a late injury to Henri Lansbury.

Eisfeld is one of Wenger’s most intriguing signings. At 19, he had made little influence on a Dortmund first-team geared to promote from within, and while he might have been given chances by now, he looks to be a genuine talent who has slipped the net.

His inclusion on the trip to Asia has presented Wenger with a key opportunity to take a close look. Eisfeld is a quiet, shy character, who is yet to associate himself with any of the groups within the current setup. Yet his awareness and appreciation of a pass, means he is a valuable and trusted ally on the pitch.

Arsenal just need to find him a position. New first-team coach Neil Banfield operated Eisfeld in an advanced number 10 role on his reserve team debut, but believes he could be a useful false nine – a position where he scored his first goal for the club, in the tail end of last season.

In Asia, Wenger has played him on both flanks, and also as a free player in a three-man central midfield. Either way, Eisfeld has qualities that are adaptable. He makes clever runs into the box, finds space, and can score goals.

Wenger must now decide what next to do with Eisfeld, but the general consensus is that he will spearhead Arsenal’s assault on the NextGen Series, while the Capital One Cup offers further opportunities for him to thrive.

He isn’t the only player to show positive signs in Asia, though. Chuks Aneke, Benik Afobe and Ignasi Miquel all showed glimpses of their potential, but all three are likely to spend next season on loan, polishing their craft.

All in all, the Asia experience will go down as one where youngsters and individuals benefited, and with a handful of squad places up for grabs, there’s plenty for Wenger to muse over.

Fights, crimes and spats; the tale of Arsenal’s Pedro Botelho

Fights, crimes and spats; the tale of Arsenal’s Pedro Botelho

Pedro Botelho departed Arsenal this week in the same way in which he arrived – as a virtual unknown, with serious question marks over his commitment and attitude.

Botelho signed for Arsenal five years ago, joining from Brazilian Série A side Figueirense, after the club had lost out on another South American flyer – Ángel di María. An outlandish character from the streets of party town Salvador, Pedro had been a beach footballer until six month previously, but had finally got his big break.

His tale is one which Arsenal have, and will, learn from. Five years on loan, no first-team appearances, little support and then allowed to return to Brazil for a nominal fee – he was very much an expensive experiment that went badly wrong.

Botelho arrived in England with little hope of a work permit, and was immediately loaned to Spanish Segunda side Salamanca, as part of a link the two clubs enjoyed. But due to FIFA regulations, he couldn’t even be registered to play for six months, and when he did, failed to break into the lineup.

A second season brought more expectation, but despite a number of promising performances, Botelho’s party boy life style slowly took over. He skipped English lessons arranged by Arsenal, training with Salamanca to take his friends to watch Real Madrid, and was eventually kicked out of the club for smashing the vice-presidents car, in a moment of anger.

Celta Vigo came calling a year later, but that deal too ended up in divorce, after Botelho threatened the manager, following a disagreement over a substitution. He moved onto Cartagena, where under the guidance of former Gunner Pascal Cygan, the tide began to turn.

Botelho played some of his best football yet at Cartagena, but turned down the opportunity to stay, to move to La Liga side Rayo Vallecano last summer. Arsenal backed it, but his time in Spain was about to turn sour, once again. Rayo cancelled the loan deal in January, when the player was arrested for a hit and run incident whilst drunk.

He was clearly out of control.

Botelho finished the season with Levante, but Arsenal were eventually fed up. They opted against trying to earn him a work permit, and having had to subsidise his wages during all of his loan moves, eventually accepted a nominal fee from Atlético Paranaense last week.

Now 22, Pedro is back at square one. His story is one of disappointment – a talent who, left to his own devices, has pressed self destruct on what initially promised to be a bright career.

Girls, partying, fighting, fines and crimes – few fit such a collection into a lifetime.

Oxlade-Chamberlain Stakes His Claim

He’s the big prospect with the big name who arrived for a big fee this summer, and tonight, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain sent his clearest message yet that he’s ready for a role on the big stage.

With Gervinho injured and Theo Walcott resting a minor knee problem, Oxlade-Chamberlain was handed a starting role as Arsenal looked for their first three points in Champions League Group F against a potentially frustrating Olympiakos side. It was his debut in the competition, but within minutes, he looked at home.

His confidence began to ooze after some efficient early touches, and just as the Emirates faithful were beginning to expect excitement from the 18-year-old, he delivered. An intelligent run across the front of the Olympiakos back four created uncertainty, but Oxlade-Chamberlain kept his composure to lash the ball across Franco Costanzo into the net.

Costanzo told the media before kick off that Arsenal lacked the threat of previous years, but his sides nervous defence struggled to deal with Oxlade-Chamberlain’s unpredictability, direct pace and threat from crosses.

It’s those qualities he showcased against Shrewsbury Town in the Carling Cup last week, but as promising a performance as that was, it’s easy to get carried away against a League Two outfit. Tonight, Olympiakos were a notable upgrade, and offered tests to Oxlade-Chamberlain’s defensive side, in reading of situations, tracking back and shielding the ball.

It’s fair to say the results were mixed. He protected possession well in the early stages, but pass selection under pressure was inconsistent. He did track back on a handful of occasions after losing the ball, which was a big positive and something Arsène Wenger has been working on with Alex, but reading of dangerous situations will require more of the Frenchman’s time.

However, it’s going forward where Oxlade-Chamberlain is really at his best, and his performance will no doubt have given Wenger something to think about ahead of Sunday’s North London derby. The often frustrating Walcott should be available, but the temptation will be there to stick with a younger model, who has all the talent, spirit and heart to make an impact.

All in all, tonight was an important step for Oxlade-Chamberlain – a player who almost a year to the day was substituted at half time during Southampton’s clash with Yeovil Town, after struggling to get the better of the Town defence.

Fast forward 12 months, and he’s put the ball firmly in Wenger’s court ahead of one of Arsenal’s biggest games of the season.