On Sunday night we spent time together as a team, celebrated with the fans and each other. It is a great bunch of boys who all enjoyed playing together, particularly towards the end of the season when we were winning all the time. No doubt it will be difficult to keep a winning team together with some players looking to move on to better things, but it will be interesting to see how Stirling do in League 1, which looks wide open for the playoffs again next year.
The feeling of winning promotion was a very satisfying one after a long season and it is always nice to make the full season worthwhile. Sometimes throughout the year the supporters were on our back and the management teams, but we turned it round and by the time the playoffs started they were right behind us, and the number of fans that turned up to cheer us on to promotion was fantastic.
Got, Got, Got, NEED!
For someone who doesn't like football it must be difficult to understand what is so good about collecting stickers, but that feeling of finding a shiny in a pack is a memorable one as a kid. Years later you would recognise a players name purely by seeing him in your Panini album, and even to this day I still have some old stickers lying around at my parents.
As I cleared up the loft ready to move out 2 years ago I found a small pile that brought back so many memories. The aforementioned Darren Dods was there, obviously, so was former manager of mine Owen Coyle and Falkirk coach Stevie Crawford. Nowadays sadly stickers cost so much that it seems completely out of reach to start a book, never mind finish it, but luckily for me I found a solution.
For the upcoming World Cup, Panini have linked up with FIFA and created an online version of the sticker book, and it is absolutely free! Ok, so it isn't quite the same feeling, but it is still useful to look through squads and see the faces of the players that will be on your screens this Summer.
I understand that some may think that is a bit sad, but it takes you back to the days in the playground, and who doesn't want that. Looking through the virtual pages is not as thrilling, but as an adult, and as a free alternative to collecting hundreds of stickers and spending hundreds of pounds, I am quite happy to do it, and if I finish it, I know I'll be looking through it with a sense of accomplishment. A small morale victory over Panini who defeated me for years as a young boy.
If, like me, you are extremely sad, check it out here: Panini World Cup 2014
The Weatherston World Cup Preview - Group G
Group G (FIFA Rankings)
Group G looks like another fantastic group and a real tough one to predict. To win this group would be a real benefit with a likely second round game against a weaker opposition the bonus. With games in Manaus, Natal, Recife and Fortaleza, it will be really energy sapping with the temperatures in the North, so it will be important to rotate the squad in the groups to save energy for the knockout stages.
Germany - A lot of people are predicting a big tournament for the Germans and it is understandable why when you see their performances of the last 4 years. They qualified comfortably winning 9 and drawing 1 game in a group containing Austria, Sweden and Ireland so will be one of the big favourites despite this tough group. They have the best goalie in the world(Manuel Neuer) and a strong defense with Phillip Lahm, Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng and Marcel Schmelzer all likely to feature after strong seasons in the Bundesliga. It is midfield though that they have a huge number of players to choose from, which is ideal for slight rotation in the groups. Toni Kroos, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mario Götze, Mesut Özil, Julian Draxler, Lars Bender and Sami Khedira are all very good options in central midfield positions and then Marco Reus, Lukas Podolski and André Schürrle are all more attacking options and can provide width. It leaves manager Joachim Löw with plenty choices to make. If they have a weakness it might be a central striker with Miroslav Klose turning 36 before the tournament starts and the one time capped Kevin Volland (Hoffenheim) also included, but they are both good goalscorers, with Klose proven at major tournaments with 14 goals in World Cup history, hoping to break Ronaldo's record (15).
Key Man - Thomas Müller might not be the most glamorous name in the squad, but he has a knack of scoring very important goals, his movement is very good and he works extremely hard. He was the winner of Golden Boot at the 2010 World Cup with 5 goals, so he will be hoping for another big tournament.
Portugal - Portugal qualified this year by beating Sweden in the playoffs after they had lost out to Russia in the groups. Apart from two semi final appearances (1966 and 2006) they never seem to get far in the World Cup despite the quality they have possessed in their squad. This year is no different, but will they again fall short? Defensively they have the most horrible defender in football, Pepe, at the heart of their defense. He is annoying to watch but when he defends properly he is very effective. João Pereira (Valencia) is a very good attacking right back and Fábio Coentrão the same at left back. In midfield there is competition between Miguel Veloso (Dynamo Kiev), João Moutinho (Monaco) and Sporting Lisbon rising star, William Carvalho. Nani will likely be one of the wide players, and if he can find some form that has been missing from his last couple of seasons at Manchester United then he can be a threat.
Obviously they will be relying on Christiano Ronaldo to score goals but they also have the experience of Hugo Almeida (Beşiktaş) and Helder Postiga (Lazio) to try and aid the main man.
Key Man - Christiano Ronaldo is the obvious choice for Portugal's star player after the season he has had. 50 goals in 46 games this season so far from the Ballon D'or winner is frightening form that he will be hoping to take into the World Cup. Injury problems have crept in towards the end of the season so it will be interesting to see how fresh he is. If he plays well, Portugal have a chance.
Ghana - Despite a fantastic World Cup last time out, Ghana were left gutted with a quarter final defeat at the hands (quite literally) of Uruguay. This time they beat Egypt to qualify but go into the tournament on the back of a defeat to Libya in the African Nations Final. Defensively they don't have any recognisable names but in midfield they have some players capable of being game changers. Michael Essien isn't as fit as he used to be but is still a strong central midfielder alongside Sulley Muntari, his AC Milan teammate. Left sided player Kwadwo Asamoah is a regular for Italian champions Juventus, but sometimes plays more central for Ghana. Andre Ayew (Marseille) and his brother Jordan (Sochaux) add some pace in attack while former Sunderland man Asamoah Gyan is the goal threat. With the weakness at the back and in goals it will be hard to see Ghana getting passed Portugal and Germany, but in the warm conditions of Brazil the African team might just fancy their chances.
Key Man - Kevin-Prince Boateng is playing at Schalke these days and he can be a real match winner. His skill is his main asset, and although sometimes he can be a bit greedy, there is no doubting his quality and his ability to score fantastic goals. Ghana need him in form and firing on all cylinders.
USA - USA always seem to have a higher ranking than they deserve, and again it looks like the case. Ranked 14th, but severely lacking a squad that is able to compete at this level, it will be a big surprise if they get through the groups. Tim Howard and Brad Guzan will battle it out for the goalkeeping position which is historically their strongest position, and possibly still is. In defense there are a number of home based players, including Omar Gonzalez (L.A.Galaxy), Michael Parkhurst (Columbus Crew) and Clarence Goodson (San Jose) who will all be facing a huge step up in quality in Brazil. Geoff Cameron (Stoke) is a strong defender and former Germany under 21 international left back, Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim) will be out to impress against his country of birth. In midfield, former Rangers men, Maurice Edu and Alejandro Bedoya are both important members of the squad, although it is Michael Bradley (Toronto) who is required to be the driving force from central midfield. Upfront, former Fulham man Clint Dempsey is a clever footballer who makes good late runs into the box and has an eye for goal, something that Jozy Altidore (Sunderland) has been severely lacking this season. His 2 goals this season a dismal return in 38 games.
Key Man - Landon Donovan is 32 now but the L.A. Galaxy man has real quality on the ball. He has a fantastic delivery from set pieces and from open play, and his record for USA (57 goals, 156 caps) shows how much of a legend he is in the country. He will be relied on to make and score chances, but it is a big ask for him to drag USA through this tough group.
Teams to progress - Germany and Portugal
In this weeks edition of World Cuts, we again look back to USA 94, but this time to the man that set the tournament alight, but ultimately ended it in failure. Roberto Baggio, otherwise know as 'The Divine Ponytail', always sported hair short on the sides and top but long down the bag. However, for the the '94 World Cup he decided the best thing to do was to braid the ponytail, and the result is one of the most recognisable haircuts in World Cup history. Unfortunately for Baggio it was his missed penalty in the shootout that lost Italy the final against Brazil, presumably nothing to do with the ponytail.