As a new World Cup year dawns, it's time to don the rose-coloured specs and give the crystal ball a rub to see what might lie in store in the weird and wonderful world of football. TFP has some form after putting the kiss of death and life (albeit briefly) on Manchester United and Tottenham respectively last week, so it's time to go big.
It will be an all-South American final between Brazil and Argentina, with Argentina to cause a massive upset at the Maracana, led by Sergio Aguero and Lionel Messi. Off the field, no one expects the tournament go off without a hitch. There will be the odd drama off the field but the dissenters will soon be swept up in the action, and overall it will be remembered as the vibrant, colourful spectacle everyone expects. TFP only hopes (and prays) that Peter Hore - or that mad Irish priest - doesn't run on and pull off a goal-saving foul tackle in the final, and that we don't wake up in Venezuela with a full beard and one kidney.
Ange Postecoglou will take a young team of up-and-comers to Brazil where they will give one or two of the big teams a fright and rally the nation behind them. They won't make the second round but won't be disgraced either. One or two players (Tomi Juric and Tom Rogic) might seize the chance in the biggest shop window to attract the attention of big clubs. That may be extra incentive for a hungry young side with no expectations, no fear hopefully, and everything to play for, although the national team should always come before personal ambition. The Socceroos will leave Brazil with their heads held high this time and restore pride in the shirt, lost under the previous regime. More importantly, they will have a platform on which to build for the future, particularly the Asian Cup at home the following year. Brazil is a great opportunity, but the Socceroos will only be competitive if they are one of the fittest, freshest and well drilled squads going around. It will be their only hope against the likes of Spain and Holland after a marathon season in Europe.
England will also be on the plane out of Brazil after the first round. The combination of the long season, the conditions and an ageing playing group will count against them in the furnace of Brazil where they face a tough group including Italy and Uruguay. A win or draw against Costa Rica will be their best result. The choice of base on the beach in Rio has to be queried. Is it more for the WAGs or the players? Or is it a red herring and they have a purpose-built bunker waiting deep in the Amazon, Dr No style. The amount of matches they play in an English season is ridiculous. Something has to give, such as the League Cup for starters. They should restrict it to the Championship and lower divisions then have the winners play the FA Cup winners in a Super Cup to double as the Charity Shield at the start of every season.
The FIFA supremo will be his gloriously awkward self in Brazil, where he will make at least one major gaffe and be booed by crowds whenever he puts his head above the parapet. But he will be forever remembered for helping introduce the vanishing spray to the game at Brazil … and for Qatar, of course.
English Premier League
Despite all the nay-sayers and death riders, Arsenal will break the bank for a striker in January and win the league to end their nine-year trophy drought, ahead of Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool in the tightest finish of the Premier League era. Expect the lead to chop and change in the nail-biting final weeks as the mad month of March looms as a feast of season-defining clashes, beginning with the Manchester derby on March 1. Other red-letter fixtures include: Chelsea v Spurs (March 8); Man Utd v Liverpool and Spurs v Arsenal (March 15); Chelsea v Arsenal (March 22); Arsenal v Man City and Liverpool v Spurs (March 29). The Gunners won't do it easy with a string of banana skins against relegation-threatened sides to follow in the last few weeks. Trophy safely in hand, Arsene Wenger will bow out on top after 18 years at the club, just like his old mate Fergie. Meanwhile, Manchester United, despite splashing the cash in January, will finish trophyless but David Moyes will keep his job, just.
Bayern Munich will make their third final is as many years as Pep Guardiola looks to transplant his Barca dynasty to Bavaria. They will meet Real Madrid in Lisbon (draw permutations permitting) where Cristiano Ronaldo will be the difference in front of his home crowd, and Bayern will just fail to become the first side to defend their title in the Champions League era.
The Roar and Wanderers will finish in that order and square off in the grand final at Suncorp. There will only be a goal in it, and don't rule out extra time. But it will prove third time unlucky for the Roar as the Wanderers stun the hosts at the Cauldron in a fittingly dramatic finale to go one better than they did last season. And there will be no violent clashes between fans.
Asian Champions League
A-League sides will again struggle against the pace, skill, movement and technical ability of their Asian counterparts, showing the gulf in standard between the regions, which is closing, albeit very slowly. It's the pace of the game and speed of ball movement in general that is most noticeable compared with other leagues. At the top of the league, the standard is definitely improving but other matches can resemble park kick-abouts. Dry, hard and lumpy pitches are a big part of the problem, one the FFA should make a priority of addressing.
The FFA Cup
The new competition will be a hit, generating interest as one or two state league sides go on a run, claiming some big A-League scalps along the way. It will also provide a platform for unknown players to attract the attention of A-League scouts, and is long overdue. Bring it on.
Football lost one of the good guys, and one of the all-time great players in Eusebio at the weekend. He played some 500 games in a glittering senior career, scoring at almost a goal a game throughout, even better than that in his prime. The Mozambique-born striker made his name as the golden boot winner at the 1966 World Cup where he scored nine times for Portugal, who finished third, knocking out the holders Brazil along the way before succumbing in a tight semi-final to the eventual winners, England. His passing will provide extra motivation for Portugal when they travel to their former colony, Brazil, for the World Cup in June, as if the needed any.
Spray of the week
“The players are always trying to cheat because football is cheating.”
Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini, who has several doppelgangers on Easter Island, gives a free kick to all the haters.
Chant of the week
“He scores when he wants, he scores when he wants, John Obi Mikel, he scores when he wants.”
Chelsea fans laud their prolific Nigerian after he headed in the opener at Derby County in the FA Cup, doubling his tally this season after six long seasons without a goal for the Blues since two Cup goals in his debut season, 2006-07.