Here is the highly anticipated second half of our World Cup interview with Dietmar Hamann (former Liverpool and Germany midfielder), Scott Minto (Sky Sports Spanish football pundit), Mark Langdon (Racing Post football editor). In this section we discuss Spain, Neymar and the African nations’ chances of World Cup glory.
In case you missed it, here’s Part 1 of our interview: http://tbrfootball.com/exclusive-world-cup-qa-didi-hamann-scott-minto-mark-langdon-part-1/
Out of Messi, Ronaldo, and Neymar, who is under most pressure from their country to really perform and which, if any of them, are going to meet the expectation?
Mark Langdon: I think Neymar is under the most pressure. It’s a Brazilian World Cup, home soil, he has to be under the most pressure. Even though he’s the least talented out of the 3, I think Brazil have to win this tournament. If they don’t win this tournament, it’s a complete failure for them. It’s seen as an obsession and a given that they’ve got to win it. So even though he’s not as good as either of the other two, I think he’d under the most pressure, and I think that’s unfair on someone who’s only had one season in Europe. I just think it’s the way it is when your Brazil’s main player.
Scott Minto: I would actually group Neymar with Messi. I think Ronaldo a lot less because the Portugal side is not as strong and not seen to be possibly winning it. For all the reasons you said about Neymar there Mark, but I also think Messi really wants to be seen as the best player ever. This is perfect for him; he’s at the right age – I think he turns 26 during the World Cup. He’s going to be 30 at the next one, it’s going to be in Russia which will be fine, but this one’s in South America. It’s not home, it’s not Argentina but he’ll have that kind of pressure as well. So I’d actually put Messi up there with Neymar, and Ronaldo not having the same pressure. Hopefully he’ll get fit and perform, but nowhere near as much pressure as the other two.
Didi Hamann: Yeah, I totally agree with Scott. I think it’s on a par between Neymar and Messi, and also Ronaldo took them there single-handedly, so anything for them is a bonus. They’ve got a tough group as well. But yeah, Messi and Neymar, I don’t think there’s much in it.
With Diego Costa choosing to play for Spain instead of Brazil, do you think they’ve missed a trick there?
DH: I think he has, he must be insane! They’ve not got a centre forward, the other guy doesn’t pick a centre forward, I think it’s insane. He came to Spain when he was a young kid didn’t he; 7 or 8 years old?
SM: I don’t know if he was that young, but he did play for Brazil twice in friendlies. I know what you’re saying; that he’s a Brazilian in a Brazil World Cup, and why play for a side that’s quite happy never to play strikers. I remember talking to Ian Wright about this, and he said “Spain are boring, Spain are boring!”. This was on air. You can see that of course, strikers want to play, they want the team built around them, and that’s not what Spain do. However, I think Scolari missed a trick. Don’t forget, they’ve been in friendlies for 2 years because they’re the hosts, so they’ve not been able to clamp him down to be a Brazilian. But they had the chance in the Confederations Cup and he didn’t pick him. I think that Costa came out just last week and said that “Del Bosque called him up, Scolari didn’t”. He’s happy in Spain, he’s happy playing with and against the type of players that he’ll be playing with on a national level. 18 months ago, I thought there was no way he’d get anywhere near the Spanish squad, but he’s improved so much that he deserves to be there. So I personally think that Brazil have missed a trick because with him up there; if he was fit, I think they’d have a better chance than they have at the moment.
What do you think of Torres being called up? Is that a mistake as he always seems to perform at tournaments, so do you think it’s a sensible decision?
DH: The way I see it, he left Llorente and Negredo out, but they may not play with a centre forward for most games in the tournament. You may only need him for one game, and he’s had maybe 5, 6 or 7 games this year where you’ve thought “Wow, he’s back!”. I think the problem with him is that I still think he has some kind of physical problem. Don’t forget that he was poor for the last 18 months at Liverpool before he came to Chelsea. He can always turn it on for one game and in a tournament, you may only need Villa for one or two games and Torres for one. If he turns it on in the quarters or the semis, it may be all that is required. The problem is that he disappears for 3 or 4 weeks, but I think in a one-off game, he can still do it.
SM: I think you’ve got to look at Del Bosque’s mentality as well. Even with Casillas not playing for the last 2 seasons, he’s picked him as the number one goal-keeper. Even if Victor Valdes was fit, Casillas would still be the number one goal-keeper for Spain. A lot of players that perhaps, have not necessarily merited their place in the Spanish squad and the Spanish team, he’s loyal to. I think Torres is one of those, he knows what he gets, and obviously he must be quite good around the camp as well. I know that Pepe Reina is the number three goalkeeper, but however many good goalkeepers they’ve got, he’ll always be in the squad because he’s good for team spirit. So I think there’s an element of that, but in a one-off game, Torres can be as good as anyone.
ML: There’s no point having Llorente or Negredo because Spain just don’t go wide and cross balls in, so there’s no point having that option.
DH: And you’ve got Costa now who provides that option.
ML: I don’t think it was that much of a surprise that he was included, no matter how badly he played for Chelsea. Del Bosque’s loyal, maybe too loyal because Xavi and Iniesta are going to start the World Cup, while you could probably say that Koke should be in ahead of both of them, given the way he’s played. He’d rather trust people that have won him World Cups and won him European Championships, which I think is fair enough really.
SM: I’ve heard he’s actually said off the record that he’d be quite happy if Xavi and Xabi Alonso couldn’t make it for some reason.
ML: It’s hard to drop World Cup winners!
Do you think David de Gea will get his chance with Spain after this tournament with Casillas only playing the cup games for Madrid?
SM: No, I think Casillas will still be there. He’s a Real Madrid legend, he’s a Spanish legend. Casillias has to do something though, he’s hardly played for 18 months. He had the fight with Mourinho and now Mourinho’s gone, and yet Ancelotti went with Diego Lopez. As a top class keeper, you can’t keep on doing that. I’d be really surprised if the two of them are there for much longer.
Do you think he’ll move to the Premier League?
SM: It’s kind of the only place for him to go, isn’t it, after leaving La Liga? You can look at maybe the Bundesliga with Bayern Munich, but that’s about it really.
ML: I think Man City. I’m not sure if Wenger would spend that much on a goal-keeper really. I think City would be the logical one. I think Pellegrini knows him as well. He wasn’t convinced by Joe Hart last season and he dropped him for a little while. I think City would take that option if he was available.
DH: I spoke to Luis Garcia last week, and he’s got a reputation in Spain as everything he touches turns into gold. He makes a mistake in the Champions League final, they get a goal in the last minute and still go on to win. He never loses! They never lose a game through his mistake, and sometimes you’ve got these players who; when you’ve got them in the team, you win. Obviously he’s a fantastic goal-keeper, and I think this that he’s got that reputation. He only played about 10 games this season and he won the Champions League, do you know how hard that is?
How highly do you rate Sergio Ramos?
DH: Yeah, I’ve always liked him. If a defender scores a goal then it’s a bonus, so you can’t rate him on goals scored. He plays full-back, he plays centre-back, I never had a problem. I like him, while Pepe’s a bit of a loose cannon. Spain haven’t conceded a goal for 6 years over 3 tournaments, and you don’t do that with defenders who can’t defend.
Who do you think is going to be the best African team in this tournament and also, when do you think we’ll see the first African side win a World Cup?
DH: Well, I think the teams are not as strong as they were. If you look at Senegal in 2002, they beat France in the first game of the tournament didn’t they? Ivory Coast was a bit unlucky in the last one with Portugal and Brazil. I don’t see any threat of the African teams, I would probably bet that none of them reach the last 16. I think it will get worse before it gets better. When are we going to see an African team win it?…Tough. You don’t know what’s happening in these countries. I spoke to Sven when he was in Ivory Coast, it’s organised chaos at times. The structure of the football, do they bring youth through? They leave the education of their youth players to the European teams. It’s not as structured yet; half the time they don’t even know about certain players when they get to 17 or 18, so I think the structure of the football is a problem.
SM: We expected them to kick on after 1990 didn’t we, with what happened with Cameroon, and I agree with Didi, it’s gone backwards. I’m just looking at our predictions for who we wrote down as to who would qualify for the last 16 and we haven’t got an African team in here. So I think it does show that they’re a long way off winning a World Cup.
ML: I think Ghana are unlucky that they’ve got such a hard draw because they’re probably the ones that have got some good players. You’ve got Gyan up front, and also in midfield you’ve got Kevin Prince Boateng; who I think has had a really good year for Schalke, Asamoah who plays for Juventus. So they’ve got the basis of what you’d want in a team, but their draw is so difficult against Germany and Portugal. If they were in with Argentina and Bosnia, I would have fancied them to have gone through. Maybe they would still be the best option but it will be very tough.
Special thanks to Jack Linley for transcribing the entire interview – an arduous task, to say the least.