It's a Knockaert

The ramblings of a football obsessive and Game of Thrones nerd.


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WC 2014: Contenders for the Crown

We now know the 32 teams that will grace the world’s biggest sporting event, the FIFA World Cup in Brazil. But who are the teams that harbour genuine ambitions of winning this most prestigious prize? Let’s take a look at them.

The Favourites

Brazil

Best 11:

Cesar

Alves – Luiz – Silva – Marcelo

Hernanes – Paulinho

Hulk – Oscar – Neymar

Fred

Strengths: Home advantage, which as we saw at the Confederations Cup, was a major factor in their victory, as the European teams struggled in the humid conditions. They also boast an impressive array of creative, skillful midfielders – the likes of Lucas Moura, Willian and Bernard in reserve, and two extremely effective full backs in Alves and Marcelo.

Weaknesses: David Luiz. Probably the most polarising footballer of modern times, the Chelsea man is capable of sensational defending – see his goal line clearance in the Confederations Cup final – and moments of equally sensational lunacy. One slip up from him could cost Brazil big time against the likes of Spain, Germany or Argentina. Brazil also lack a genuine world class striker – the likes of Fred, Pato, Damiao and Jo are capable, but not on the same level as some of their competitors.

The Next Big Thing: Marquinhos. The then-19-year-old had only spent one season in Europe for Roma before PSG spent an eye-watering £32 million on him. One of the world’s most promising defenders.

If they were a Game of Thrones character, they’d be: Joffrey Baratheon. Sitting pretty on their home turf, daring anyone to come and get them.

Spain

Best 11:

Casillas

Arbeloa – Ramos – Pique – Alba

Xavi – Busquets – Iniesta

Pedro – Fabregas – Silva

Strengths: Quite simply the best midfield in world football. When the likes of Mata, Cazorla, Isco and Thiago are far from certain of being in the squad, when they would be the main man for most other countries, you know this is a squad that means business.

Weaknesses: Lack of a quality right back. Spain also have a tendency to try and pass the ball into the net, meaning all their possession doesn’t get them anywhere.

The Next Big Thing: Isco. The Real Madrid man would be a definite starter for anyone else, but he should be a regular for Spain in 2 or 3 years as Xavi and Iniesta start to fade out.

If they were a Game of Thrones character, they’d be: Stannis Baratheon. They see themselves as the number one, and they are not afraid to take the fight to Brazil.

Germany

Best 11:

Neuer

Boateng – Hummels – Mertesacker – Lahm

Schweinsteiger – Kroos

Muller – Ozil – Reus

Gomez

Strengths: Versatility – in Gomez and Klose they have 2 very clinical strikers, but they have also been experimenting with Mario Gotze as a false 9, meaning they have 2 potential systems they can use.

Weaknesses: Unlike Brazil and Spain, they weren’t at the Confederations Cup last summer, so they might not be prepared for the conditions.

The Next Big Thing: Julian Draxler. The youngest player to reach 100 Bundesliga appearances is currently the star man at Schalke, but expect him to make a big money move soon.

If they were a Game of Thrones character, they’d be: Daenerys Targaryen. Nice to look at, they are quietly assembling an army to match any other.

Argentina

Best 11:

Romero

Zabaleta – Mascherano – Garay – Ansaldi

Di Maria – Biglia – Banega – Lavezzi

Messi – Aguero

Strengths: The best player in the world on form, Lionel Messi, and the best range of striking options of any nation – Aguero, Higuain, Tevez and Palacio. Their defense is also better than it has been in recent tournaments.

Weaknesses: The centre of midfield isn’t likely to scare many of the other contenders.

The Next Big Thing: Erik Lamela. The Spurs man has yet to show his full ability in the Premier League, but we know from his last season at Roma, that this boy has bags of potential.

If they were a Game of Thrones character, they’d be: Renly Baratheon. Attempting to usurp their big brother, they have all the power of Messi behind them, but will it be enough?

Outside Chance

Italy

Best 11:

Buffon

Abate – Barzagli – Chiellini – Criscito

Pirlo – De Rossi – Marchisio

Insigne

Balotelli – Rossi

Strengths: No longer reliant on Mad Mario for goals, the resurgence of Giuseppe Rossi, and the exciting young talents of Insigne and El Shaarawy mean they have more than one man to bail them out if need be.

Weaknesses: Surprisingly for an Italian team, the defense is the area that could do with improvement. The full backs in particular, while decent, are not of world class calibre.

The Next Big Thing: Marco Verratti. The PSG man has been one of the world’s most promising youngsters for a long time now, and is starting to deliver on that potential in France.

If they were a Game of Thrones character, they’d be: Balon Greyjoy. Learnt from the experience of their last attempted uprising in 2012, they are back with a vengeance.

Uruguay

Best 11:

Muslera

M. Pereira – Godin – Lugano – Caceres

Ramirez – Gargano – Gonzalez – A. Pereira

Cavani – Suarez

Strengths: Two world class strikers who can win games on their own with a moment of magic.

Weaknesses: Midfield is lacking in the creative ability that other nations have.

The Next Big Thing: Abel Hernandez. Has been hyped up for a few years now, but needs to start delivering on it. Relegated last season with Palermo, he is scoring freely in Serie B, but can he step up to the main stage?

If they were a Game of Thrones character, they’d be: Robb Stark. King of their own kingdom at the last Copa America, but can they win on the biggest stage of all?

Belgium

Best 11:

Courtois

Alderweireld – Kompany – Vermaelen – Vertonghen

Witsel – De Bruyne – Dembele

Mirallas – Lukaku – Hazard

Strengths: A very solid looking defence, with several of the Premier League’s very finest on show. The midfield is also looking powerful and creative, and Lukaku, Benteke and Hazard are among the most promising young attackers in world football

Weaknesses: Can they cope with the great expectation on their shoulders? Quite a young squad, if they can deal with the pressure and play to their best they could go far.

The Next Big Thing: Adnan Januzaj. Assuming he opts to play for the country of his birth, the youngster who has broken into Man Utd’s first team has bags of potential.

If they were a Game of Thrones character, they’d be: Arya Stark. Young and full of enthusiasm, they could go on to be one of the finest teams there is.

Colombia

Best 11:

Ospina

Zuniga – Zapata – Alvarez – Armero

Cuadrado – Guarin – Aguilar – James Rodriguez

Falcao – Martinez

Strengths: In Falcao, Martinez and Muriel they have 3 incredibly clinical strikers, who scored 65 league goals between them last season.

Weaknesses – The full backs Zuniga and Armero are most accustomed to playing as wing backs, and can be vulnerable defensively.

The Next Big Thing: Juan Fernando Quintero. Recently signed for Porto on the back of some good performances for a poor Pescara team in Serie A, and an incredible under-20 tournament in January.

If they were a Game of Thrones character, they’d be: The White Walkers. Back after an extended absence, they will take the world by storm if no one stops them.

England

Best 11:

Hart

Richards – Cahill – Lescott – Baines

Gerrard – Wilshere

Lennon – Rooney – Townsend

Sturridge

Strengths: An excellent range of pacey, skilful wingers who could torment most defences.

Weaknesses: A defence with very little international experience. Also, Wayne Rooney was the main man in qualifying, but he has yet to score a single goal at a World Cup finals. For England to get anywhere, he needs to perform.

The Next Big Thing: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. After bursting onto the scene at Euro 2012, his career has been rather stop-start since then due to niggling injuries, but he is still young enough to become an excellent player.

If they were a Game of Thrones character, they’d be: Sansa Stark. They once dreamt of being the best, but they’ve now accepted the cruel reality of world football.

Portugal

Best 11: 

Patricio

Pereira – Pepe – Bruno Alves – Coentrao

Moutinho – Veloso – Meireles

Nani – Postiga – Ronaldo

Strengths: Cristiano Ronaldo is the best player in the world right now, and as we saw in the playoffs, can easily win games on his own.

Weaknesses: No quality strikers whatsoever, Postiga and Almeida are nothing better than average.

The Next Big Thing: Bruma. He left Sporting Lisbon for Galatasaray in acrimonious circumstances, but was another who impressed at the under-20 tournament. Has been called the next Ronaldo.

If they were a Game of Thrones character, they’d be: Roose Bolton. A smaller country, dragged to the top table of football by their ruthless and powerful captain.

France

Best 11: 

Lloris

Sagna – Varane – Koscielny – Evra

Pogba – Cabaye

Valbuena – Nasri – Ribery

Benzema

Strengths: Franck Ribery, Karim Benzema and Samir Nasri are among the best in the business, they just don’t often show it in a French shirt. If they all play to their best, France will be a force to be reckoned with.

Weaknesses: Too often the big French players let them down on the big stage. Their last world cup was marred by in-fighting. Also, being in the 3rd pot for the group draw leaves them with a chance of being in a group of death.

The Next Big Thing: Florian Thauvin was a major force behind their under-20 tournament triumph. Also, watch out for young defenders Kurt Zouma, Samuel Umtiti and Lucas Digne.

If they were a Game of Thrones character, they’d be: Jaime Lannister. Capable of great things, they need to stop making excuses, step up and make their ability count.

Holland

Best 11:

Krul

van der Wiel – Heitinga – Bruma – Pieters

Robben – Van der Vaart – De Jong – Sneijder

Van Persie – Huntelaar

Strengths: Exceptionally experienced midfield and striking talents, especially Robben, Sneijder and Van Persie. And after the disaster of Euro 2012, they will want to show they are still a main player on the biggest stage.

Weaknesses: As always, the defence is far behind the rest of the team in terms of ability.

The Next Big Thing: Adam Maher. Another talented young midfielder who has made his name in the Eredivise, he has already been part of the main squad and will continue to do so for many years yet.

If they were a Game of Thrones character, they’d be: Tyrion Lannister. They excelled at the last world cup, but were then cast down to nothing. Now they need to work their way back up to where they belong.

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WC 2014: Who Should England Take?

This will be a very important season for England’s top players, as they try and stake their claim to be in the 23-man squad that goes to Brazil. Here are the main candidates, and who I think we should take, for each position.

Goalkeeper

Candidates: Joe Hart, Fraser Forster, John Ruddy, Ben Foster, Jack Butland

Despite losing his place for Manchester City, it would be a major shock if Joe Hart was not England’s first choice keeper for Brazil. He will probably start every game, but in case of injury, capable backups are needed. Ruddy and Foster have been solid if unspectacular Premier League keepers for a few years now, whereas Forster has put in some heroic performances in the Champions League for Celtic. Jack Butland is showing promise, and played well for Team GB at the Olympics, but may be considered too young at the moment.

My Choices: Hart, Ruddy, Forster

Right Back

Candidates: Glen Johnson, Kyle Walker, Micah Richards, Nathaniel Clyne, Carl Jenkinson, Matt Lowton

Glen Johnson has for some reason been England’s first choice right back for several years now, but I don’t rate him in the slightest. Kyle Walker is the best attacking full back we have, but is defensively questionable. Micah Richards would be my first choice, but he isn’t a guaranteed stater for his club, so may want to seek a January move or loan to really show what he can do. Nathanial Clyne has been impressive for Southampton, while Matt Lowton would be a surprising inclusion.

My Choices: Micah Richards, Kyle Walker

Centre Back

Candidates: Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Joleon Lescott, Michael Dawson, Rio Ferdinand (currently retired), John Terry (currently retired)

The international retirements of John Terry and Rio Ferdinand have left England without any centre backs with any international experience. If either of them could be persuaded to come back for the tournament, their experience would be invaluable, but it seems unlikely. Jagielka and Cahill have been Hodgson’s preferred partnership in recent games, and seem likely to go. Phil Jones and Chris Smalling are young and have potential, and can also play at right back. Joleon Lescott isn’t first choice for his club but played well at Euro 2012, while Michael Dawson perhaps hasn’t had the recognition he deserves internationally, having been a solid defender for Spurs for quite a long time now.

My Choices: Gary Cahill, Joleon Lescott, Phil Jagielka, Phil Jones

Left Back

Candidates: Ashley Cole, Leighton Baines, Luke Shaw, Kieran Gibbs

This position seems fairly obvious, Cole and Baines will almost certainly both go to Brazil, the more important question is which of them should start? Baines is the most effective attacker, while Cole is arguably better defensively. Shaw and Gibbs will certainly feature more for England in the next few years, but will probably sit this one out.

My Choices: Leighton Baines, Ashley Cole

Centre Midfield

Candidates: Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Jack Wilshere, James Milner, Tom Cleverley, Jordan Henderson, Ross Barkley, Michael Carrick, Scott Parker

Gerrard is still very important for England, he can still win games on his own with a brilliant pass or shot. Lampard is aging and this will probably be his last international tournament. Wilshere is the future of English football and will certainly go, barring any more injuries. Carrick has quietly been one of Man Utd’s better players over the last few years, while Ross Barkley and Jordan Henderson are highly rated by their Merseyside clubs. Tom Cleverley has been a regular in England squads, but there is no way he should be in the World Cup squad.

My Choices: Steven Gerrard, Michael Carrick, Jack Wilshere, Frank Lampard

Wingers

Candidates: Ashley Young, Raheem Sterling, Wilfiried Zaha, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott, Adam Lallana, Aaron Lennon, Andros Townsend, Adam Johnson

One of England’s strongest positions currently, which wingers to take will probably be Hodgson’s biggest problem. Townsend has impressed massively in recent games, and is a regular for a Spurs team with no lack of talented wingers. Ashley Young is out of favour at Man Utd and universally loathed. Sterling, Zaha and Chamberlain are young and exciting, with Chamberlain having the best chance of going, although he has struggled with injury this season. Theo Walcott has also been injured, and in opinion is better as a striker, but he is always an England favourite. Lennon and Lallana have been underused by England but are possibly the best of the lot.

My Choices: Andros Townsend, Aaron Lennon, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Adam Lallana

Strikers

Candidates: Wayne Rooney, Rickie Lambert, Daniel Sturridge, Jermain Defoe, Theo Walcott, Danny Welbeck, Jay Rodriguez

Rooney is the first name on the team sheet for England, he has been in great form in qualifying. Sturridge and Lambert have been in excellent club form recently. Defoe and Welbeck are England regulars, but Defoe needs to start more for Spurs and Welbeck needs to improve his scoring record. Walcott had a great goal scoring season last season, while Jay Rodriguez recently made his debut and is an outside bet

My Choices: Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge, Theo Walcott, Rickie Lambert

My First 11:

Hart

Richards – Cahill – Lescott – Baines

Gerrard – Wilshere

Lennon – Rooney – Townsend

Sturridge


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Game of Thrones: The 10 Best Endings (Spoilers)

10. Season 2 Episode 6 – WHERE ARE MAH DRAGONS???

Dany at this point has no army, no ships, and no money. The dragons are the only thing going for her at this point – oh, they’re gone. And most of your people are dead. Oops.

9. Season 3 Episode 4 – Astapor Destroyed

Dany seemed to have gone mad, giving away one of her dragons, but no, she had a very risky plan to keep all three dragons, gain an army of the world’s best soldiers, and destroy the city of the slavers.

8. Season 1 Episode 1 – Bran’s Fall

This is the very first episode of the show, and we have a 10 year old boy being thrown from a window?! A very early sign that nothing is too extreme in this show.

7. Season 1 Episode 10 – Dragons!

Much of the first season, we didn’t know if dragons really existed or not. So when they are first revealed, it’s a very exciting moment and an excellent end to the first season.

6. Season 3 Episode 3 – Jaime Maimed

Jaime doesn’t just lose his hand, he loses the one thing that made him special – his fighting ability. This incident undoubtedly changes him forever, arguably for the good, as this is what sets him on his path to redemption.

5. Season 2 Episode 7 – Theon Executes Bran and Rickon

Theon has betrayed his best friend Robb, killed the man who trained him and kicked the Starks out of Winterfell. Surely there’s nothing worse he could possibly do?… Luckily, it wasn’t really Bran and Rickon, but a couple of orphan boys, but even so, this is Theon’s lowest point.

4. Season 2 Episode 10 – White Walkers

Just as Season 1 ended with the reveal of the dragons, Season 2 ends with the first sign of the army of the undead, lead by the terrifying white walkers.

3. Season 2 Episode 9 – Tywinning

Whether you like the Lannisters or not, no one can deny Tywin is the biggest badass in the show. Casually strolling in after saving the city.

2. Season 1 Episode 9 – Ned’s Death

The moment that sparked the war of the five kings, and the moment we realised that no one in this show is safe, as the main character and most famous actor is shockingly executed.

1. Season 3 Episode 9 – The Red Wedding

Obviously.