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Bish's Briefs - 2010 promises a footballing odyssey

Published: 05 Jan 2010 - 11:38:58

So the decade that gave us Special Ones, flying headbutts and proof that the Italians love a backhander has gone.

A decade that gave us unbelievable comebacks in Champions League finals, Russian oligarchs, player power, spiraling ticket prices and an irreversible shift in the importance of club over country that has seen the Champions League become a more significant competition than the World Cup. The decade when money talked.

So what can we expect from this decade and in particular from 2010?

One thing the noughties never gave us was a World Cup to remember - 2002 was littered with shocks catalysed by player fatigue and humidity, 2006 was entertaining without being wholly memorable.

The conditions in South Africa this summer should lend itself to a higher pace of football than seen in the previous two tournaments, the African winter more conducive to breakneck football than the heat of a German summer, or the landscape of Japan and South Korea, although altitude will still play a part in June and July.

The tournament has two sides clearly better than the other 30 in Brazil and Spain but favourites do not always win World Cups - they failed to in the last two - so that will give hope to an efficient, if technically challenged England, and to the usual suspects in Italy, Argentina and Germany, who either have that old knack of producing when it matters or that wildcard unpredictability (plus the world's best player) in their team.

Africa, the host continent for the very first time in the competition's history also possess two sides that can challenge, and on their day, match the best, although as in 2006, the draw has been unkind.

Ivory Coast may have to defeat Brazil and Spain just to make it to the quarter-finals whilst Ghana may have to contest with Fabio Capello's England in the second round should they make it past a difficult group which contains Germany and Serbia.

A kinder draw may have seen an African nation reach the last four for the first time - and still they might - backed by what will undoubtedly be a fervent continent.

The Champions League heads into the New Year as open as it has been in recent years.

Reigning Champions Barcelona still look the team to beat but their closest rivals domestically may turn out to be their biggest rivals in Europe also. From the neutral point of view a final between Spain's eternal enemies at the Bernabeu would surely be the game of preference, but the lack of an English team in the final of a competition they have dominated in the latter stages in the last three seasons, would also be surprising.

Chelsea look the most likely both in the Champions League and the Premier League to take the honours from England with Manchester Utd's squad clearly weaker than last season due to the loss of Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez and the continual problems with both Nemanja Vidic, and Rio Ferdinand, whose World Cup dream is diminishing by the day.

Could this finally be the year that the team Arsenal Wenger has been 'building' since 2004 finally comes together culminating in major honour?

A shrewd addition or two in this months transfer window and it could be possible. They sit on the shoulders currently, lurking with intent, in a season when they have had to make do without Robin van Persie and Cesc Fabregas for long periods whilst the Premier League has yet to see the best from Andrei Arshavin.

The developments at the City of Manchester Stadium will provide many a headline in the forthcoming decade and they are setting themselves up nicely to put themselves amongst the game's finest.

They hardly covered themselves in glory in the way they dealt with Mark Hughes's dismissal but they already have considerable talent on board, a more thought out structure to their progression than they are being given credit for, and, of course, what is so important in football in this era, money to burn.

Even the Europa League has a new lease of life heading into the new decade. The rebranded competition is as strong as it has been in a seriously long time going into the last 32 - perhaps - we should say it quietly - as a result of Michel Platini's intervention in preventing the third and fourth placed clubs in the major leagues having such a swift progression into the Champions League proper.

The likes of Liverpool, Juventus, Villarreal, Roma and Benfica - all clubs who have reached the last eight of the Champions League in recent seasons - plus the likes of Ajax, Sporting Lisbon, Marseille and reigning champions Shakthar should ensure that Europe's second club competition may not be in the shadows of the Champions League as much as in years gone by.

Domestically in Europe, the battle for the two main leagues is as fierce as ever whilst in Italy, Inter continue to lead the way, as Juventus and AC Milan re-galvanise their efforts in the wake of the scandal of the last decade - 'Calciopoli'.

In Holland, Steve McClaren continues to repair and establish his coaching reputation with FC Twente in a tight fought league where they are trading blows with Ajax, Feyernoord, PSV and AZ.

Braga are making waves in Portugal, Bordeaux are becoming the side to beat in France, under the guidance of Laurent Blanc, and the Bundesliga remains as hard to predict as the EuroMillions numbers.

If you love football then you should love what is on offer in 2010. And for those looking forward to the summer, the African Cup of Nations kicks into gear this weekend, giving us an inkling into what we can expect, when the world watches South Africa in six months time. 2010 has the makings of something quite special.

READ BISH'S BRIEFS EXCLUSIVELY AT FOOTBALL.CO.UK EVERY TUESDAY

DSG


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FOOTBALL.CO.UK BLOGGER:andy bishop
Having worked in radio, newspapers, magazines, internet and television I hope to now bring my passion for the game to your computer screens with analysis, comment and tongue-in-cheek humour on all things global in the world of football - from Barcelona to Boca and from Blatter to Berlusconi...enjoy!

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