Wednesday, 30 September 2009

There is no such thing as unbeatable

Sports - Football - Premier League

Chelsea have been portrayed as the invincibles by many throughout the start of the season, but surprise, surprise, they faltered against Wigan last weekend.

Andy Gray's season top-four predictions said not much has changed for the London team since last season, apart from the manager, and picked the side as his title-favourites. He was only one of many to do and say so.
Carlo Ancelotti is a top manager, he has proven that so far so good. But, so were and did Claudio Ranieri, Jose Mourinho, Avram Grant and Luis Felipe Scolari. They started all hailed and praised and good but ended up fired and forgotten.

Gray also pointed out Liverpool's strong display and title challenge last season, but doubted their competence without Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard - like many have done and still do. Did they all miss last season?! Liverpool won-drew-lost as many matches with the duo as they have done without them. Dirk Kuyt scored a dozen, only a couple behind Gerrard and Torres, followed by Yossi Benayoun with eight.

With 22 goals so far this season in only seven games - a club record for over a century, I heard - I don't think the Reds are out of question or in a crises as assumed and checked off by many so-called experts because they had suffered defeats early on in the season (and both defeats were WITH Gerrard and Torres by the way).

Xabi Alonso is a miss, I am not denying it and am a big fan of him, but Liverpool have enough players to fill his shoes. Of course Gerrard, Torres and Alonso were and are the main players and contributors for Liverpool, but the world has not and will not stop revolving without them. Liverpool can and have progressed and won without them as well.

As for Manchester United and Arsenal, both teams have just as much shown their strengths and weaknesses already this season. They have enjoyed quality wins and suffered sorry defeats since they lost their main players - Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid; Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure to Manchester City, in case someone needs reminding. Again, many experts considered both will have a hard job getting used to life without their main players. But both teams can and have moved on.

They have done it before - losing their main strikers and players - the likes of Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry, Eric Cantona, David Beckham and Ruud van Nistelrooy et al jump to mind - listening to all the doubters telling them they won't be the same and cannot do without them. But they proved them wrong with new players. Teams consist of eleven players, not just one or two. The main players rely on their providers and team's backup just as much as vice versa.

Regarding Manchester City, I do not know how they can expect people, fans and teams to take them seriously. Ok, they have started this season strong and have an over-the-top-strong team line-up, but to be considered a world team, it does not go by how much you spend but by the team as a whole and the players clicking and winning.

I am thinking of the likes of Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness and Ian Rush; Robbie Fowler, Michael Owen and Steven Gerrard; David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs; I could go on and on. Homegrown greats! Those who breath and live for the club and last for a lifetime. Not those that just follow the line of where the biggest paycheck will greet them!

I said the same about Chelsea when the Roman Abramovich took over and went through countless players and managers - you can buy successful players, but success will not follow immerdiately and definitely and only to a certain extent. It will not be of long last if you do not show patience and give the team time to develope and build, step by step.

Legends are born and bred through time, years, decades, centuries, dedication and patience - like Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal have proved with 49 titles between them. You just cannot buy that within an instant. Ask Alex Ferguson! Looking back at how he started at United, he would have been sacked and replaced for sure nowadays, where managers are lucky to see a full season if they have not reached all expectations within the first weeks or months.

Hence, I don't think City will set a serious challenge at the end of this season nor will Chelsea cruise the league. Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool will make sure of that and have shown quality and determination to do so, even without their main players. And with over 30 games still to go, I think Aston Villa, Tottenham and Everton are not allowed to be forgotten either when it comes to the top-four challenge.

I see an open challenge for the title - unlike most of the panel experts estimate and find on various shows and channels and in various newspaper and website articles. Most of them like to place a stamp on teams from the outset without realising that the season has 38 games not just five or six. As summarised and analysed, all teams have already shown their strengths and and weaknesses, depending on the form of the day, with not much between them.

So far this season, all sides have opened with much more determination than in previous seasons, every team pressing for the win. There have been much less draws so far than last season at the same stage, which is going to be the most decisive factor in the title and top-four race, as Liverpool know best reflecting on last season and many seasons before.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Premier League Tops and Flops

Sports - Football - Premier League - Picks of the Weekend

The Premier League served plenty of action and entertainment over the weekend, as always:

37 goals, of which 5 were penalties and 2 were own goals; 32 bookings, 2 sendings off - plenty of surprises, questions and realisations:

Top game: I had to pick the biggest surprise: Chelsea succumbing to Wigan. The Blues defence was uncharacteristically all over the place, giving Wigan's Hugo Rodallega time and space to create chance after chance and conceding a penalty against him to top it all. Sensational win for the Latics, their first victory against a top four side at the 35th time of asking.


Top teams: Liverpool and Tottenham rode the show with 11 goals between them, the fans definitely got their money's worth. It just looked too easy for them. They have to be careful though, they won't take their next opposition so lightly - Chelsea and Bolton respectively, both away, even if they are not at their best at the moment, they should not be underestimated.

Top players: Fernando Torres 3-4 Robbie Keane - both tormented the opposition's defence. Torres hit the target despite having three defenders and the goalkeeper around him. He knows his target and just cannot get strayed away from it, unstoppable. Yossi Benayoun was a brilliant provider for him, too. Keane was certainly back to his best. Burnley's defensive rues cost them dearly, Keane using and abusing them, top-notch.

Top goal: If he meant it or not, Steven Gerrard's curl-shot from the left outside the box into the right corner of the net was sensational and topped the dominant victory for Liverpool. Man United's opener against Stoke just showed how crucial Ryan Giggs still is for his side, even after 21 of his 35 years at the club.


Top saves: Arsenal's Vito Mannone made one great save after another, keeping his side in the match and hold on to the win in the end. How and why Fulham did not get anything out of the match, has the Italian youngster at the core. Fulham played really good with double the attempts on target against Arsenal. Stoke in stark contrast, never had a chance against United.

Top manager: Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti did not moan or complain about the penalty and sending off and did not try to excuse his team's sorry display and defeat with it. He lauded Wigan's strong performance instead and conceded his side's weaknesses. Rare honesty and great manager, although I am happy I was not in the dressing room after the match!

Flop teams: Wolves showed some comical defending against Sunderland, conceding five goals against a side that were everything else but stunning and top-quality. Two of them were penalties, one an own-goal; a team's, goalkeeper's, defender's and manager's nightmare! Chelsea were the same, all over the place, too, unrecognizable!


Flop player: Nani disappointed for United, not being able to time and place his crosses to provide and press the attack forward. Having been branded "the next Cristiano Ronaldo" when he joined the club in 2007, the Portuguese has only scored 12 goals in his 80 appearances, leaving a lot of doubts whether he is worth the £17 million the club was estimated to have spent on the winger. Great change by Alex Ferguson once again, with Giggs scoring seconds after coming onto the pitch.

Flop goal: The equaliser for Chelsea that snook through Chris Kirkland's legs is every goalkeeper's nightmare. Same for Keane's fourth and Tottenham's fifth that crept through Brian Jensen's legs - you just want to forget those as a keeper... Petr Cech would like to forget his day at work today, too, being sent off and conceding a penalty after letting his leg dangle foolishly and catch Rodallega, who created most of the pressure for Wigan, fowled and denied a goalscoring opportunity, no question about it. The Blues won't be looking forward to their next visitors that's for sure... Liverpool.

My predictions - Actual Results
Birmingham 1:1 Bolton - 1:2
Blackburn 1:2 Aston Villa - 2:1
Fulham 0:1 Arsenal - 0:1
Liverpool 3:1 Hull - 6:1
Portsmouth 0:4 Everton - 0:1
Stoke 0:3 Man Utd - 0:2
Tottenham 2:1 Burnley - 5:0
Wigan 1:3 Chelsea - 3:1
Sunderland 0:2 Wolves - 5:2
Man City 2:2 West Ham - 3:1

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Battling Leeds toppled by Ngog strike

Sports - Football - Carling Cup Third Round

Leeds United 0-1 Liverpool

Young French striker David Ngog spared Liverpool's blushes at Elland Road with a fine left-foot finish to Javier Mascherano's low mis-kick off a corner, the only goal of the match, in the 66th minute.


It could have been so different: Leeds started brightly, showing clear intentions they would not give their guests an easy ride. The League One side pressed forward against their Premier League opposition, who gave away posession too easy and clumsy at times.

Leeds' midfielder Michael Doyle put a free header wide and seconds later their striker Jermaine Beckford was cruely ruled as offside after Lubomir Michalik guided the ball over the line for Leeds, past Liverpool goalkeeper Diego Cavalieri, who looked to have gotten the last touch before he let the ball through.

The Reds scraped through the opening 15 minutes, lucky not to be 2-0 behind. The game continued evenly poised after that, Ryan Babel and Albert Riera missing fine chances. The prior ended his breaking run with a disappointing wide shot, the latter's point-blank header was sharply saved by an aware Shane Higgs.


Beckford came close again in the second half, drawing saves and blocks from Cavalieri, Jamie Carragher and Sotirios Kyrgiakos. A clever hook-shot over his shoulder cleared just over the crossbar. It was just not meant to be for Leeds.

Just moments after Mascherano was lucky to get away with lashing out at a Leeds player, his low mishit volley on the edge of the box found Ngog who swivelled the ball around and fired it past Higgs.

Leeds pressed on, but to no avail. Fabio Aurelio nearly piled more misery onto the Yorkshire side late on, his low-left lightning-free kick deflecting just over the crossbar.


Liverpool will be happy with their youngster's display, Jay Spearing impressing in all areas and connecting well with Ngog. Riera and Babel pressed on wide but gave away the ball away too often.

Leeds will feel unlucky and hard-done-to after they dominated play but saw nothing from it. Nothing went their way and instead they were punished for it with a defeat, to the Scouser's relief as they progress to the last 16.

Leeds United Higgs; Crowe, Kisnorbo, Michalik, Doyle (Showunmi 88); Howson, Johnson, Hughes (Kilkenny 78), Beckford; Becchio (Grella 81), Snodgrass. Subs not used Ankergren, Naylor, Prutton, Robinson. Bookings Crowe 43.

Liverpool Cavalieri; Dossena, Kyrgiakos, Carragher, Degen (Johnson 71); Riera, Spearing, Mascherano, Aurelio, Babel (Skrtel 90); Ngog (Gerrard 78). Subs not used Reina, Plessis, Torres, Voronin. Bookings Kyrgiakos 41.

1st half stats: Leeds Utd - Liverpool
Attempts: 3-5
On target: 0-2
Offsides: 1-0
Corners: 3-4
Free kicks: 5-3

2nd half stats: Leeds Utd - Liverpool
Attempts: 9-6
On target: 2-2
Offsides: 0-3
Corners: 0-2
Free kicks: 2-7

Referee: Alan Wiley

Monday, 21 September 2009

England avoid series whitewash

Sports - Cricket - NatWest Series - 7th ODI

England were spared the blushes of a first one-day series whitewash beating Australia by four wickets at the Riverside. After winning the toss for the tenth time this summer, skipper Andrew Strauss put the Aussies out to bat.


It was reversed roles as Australia lost wickets on a regular basis, unable to establish a partnership and a respectable total in the process, Graeme Swann starring for England with his first one-day five-wicket haul. Opening duo Strauss (46) and Joe Denly (53) replied supremely for England with a 106-run partnership, something England had been urging for all summer.

A middle-order collapse followed, but the win was never in doubt as the total was easily within reach, Paul Collingwood and Tim Bresnan finishing off the job and the great escape for England. Australia head to South Africa as confident 6-1 victors, whilst England follow them having regained at least some hope, that they can win one-dayers after all.

Run of Play: Advantage to...

Australia:

32 for 2 after 10 overs: England - Australia were uncharacteristically shaky and two wickets down with less than 20 runs on the board. Shane Watson fell for a duck against Graeme Swann, caught at first slip just the fourth ball of the day, and Tim Paine followed him caught behind for just 4 against beautiful line and length by Graham Onions on his one-day debut.



73 for 2 after 20 overs: Australia - Captain Ricky Ponting (44*) and Michael Clarke (21*) steadied the ship for the Aussies with some exquisit timing and confident boundary shots. Good bat and field made entertaining cricket.

113 for 5 after 30 overs: England - And the Aussies are crumbling. Clarke (38) set off slow and was run out by a good throw by Eoin Morgan. Ponting (53) and Cameron White (1) fell soon after, the prior's miscue caught by Collingwood and the latter bowled, both against an in-form Swann.

149 for 6 after 40 overs: England - Little runs and another wicket: James Hopes bowled and caught by Swann, leaving Michael Hussey (32*) and Mitchell Johnson (6*) to restore Australia and take them to a respectable and defendable total.




176 all out after 45.5 overs: England - Johnson was the first to go, caught by James Anderson off Swann. He was followed by Brett Lee, bowled for a duck by Swann, who completed his first five-wicket haul. Nathan Hauritz was caught and bowled by Owais Shah and Hussey was the last man out for 49, completing a dire batting display by Australia, a rarity this summer, normally the home side's feature and problem.

England:

47 for 0 after 10 overs: England - Andrew Strauss and Joe Denly are helpes to a good start by some indifferent bowling with too many no-balls and wides of Brett Lee and Ben Hilfenhaus. Very negligent cricket by Australia, especially regarding the low total they have to defend.

104 for 0 after 20 overs: England - And the home side are cruising on with some beautiful, proper cricket shots, Strauss on 46 and Denly on 41.


140 for 4 after 30 overs: Australia - And another collapse by England: Strauss (47) gave his wicket away once again trying a reverse sweep against Nathan Hauritz and ending up caught by Hilfenhaus. As a captain, he should be more responsible than that and leave the flashes to the star men. Denly (53) completed his half century which had done England a world of good until he got run out, another confusion involving Ravi Bopara, who passed 1000 one-day runs, but fell lbw shortly afterwards. Very annoying by England.

177 for 6 after 40 overs: England - Paul Collingwood and Tim Bresnan complete the job for England - well, courtesy of another no-ball that is. Eoin Morgan fell for 32 caught behind off Lee, Matt Prior following him into the stands after a terrible mistake gave Ponting an easy catch, another lame dismissal. With 80 balls left and only 15 runs needed, Collingwood and Bresnan just needed to bat it out, which the middle-order once again failed to do, giving away wickets unnecessarily and stupidly. But England will at least have gained some confidence back after this win, eventhough they lost the series 6-1, and will have to build on it when they head off to South Africa for the ICC Champion's Trophy.

Premier League Tops and Flops

Sports - Football - Premier League - Picks of the Weekend

Top game: Without a doubt, the Manchester derby grabbed most of the attention and headlines. End to end stuff, seven goals, not all quality and glory but enough action and reactions to create a flood of laud and curses. The referee shared the main part of the spotlight at the end, questioned about his maths and the minutes he added on. Alex Ferguson's, the press' and United fans' delight, more disgust and distraught for Mark Hughes and the City fans; great entertainment for the neutrals.


Top team: Chelsea rode the show against Tottenham. Expecting a feisty and competitive match, many fans will have been disappointed. After a evenly matched beginning, the Blues broke loose and never looked back, coming through with flying colours. With 19 attempts against a dire 6, 10 to 2 on target, Tottenham never looked a threat. Wolves were brilliant, gave their 100 per cent againt Fulham and fully deserved the win with 12 attempts against 4.

Top player: All bandaged up after a clash of heads, Birmingham's Christian Benitez continued very lively and created chance after chance. Hull City's goalkeeper Boaz Myhill had plenty to do and made wonderful saves to frustrate Benitez and Birmingham. West Ham's Zavon Hines was just as much of a bug for Liverpool, creating pressure and getting decisions his way, of no avail in the end though, his side losing out to the Reds in contrast to Birmingham, who netted all three points.


Top goal: Burnley's David Nugent showed great confidence. The turn-finish to his shot, past two-three defenders, gave the goalkeeper no chance, consolidated the win for his side and his position in the side. Thomas Vermaelen's left-footer for Arsenal was sweet aswell, curled past Wigan's Chris Kirkland after a exchanging play with Emmanuel Eboue. Dave Kitson's diagonal diamond-finish from the left into the right corner was an excellent finish for Stoke, too.

Flop game: I think the Manchester derby had as much good points as bad and cringe-worthy. It is only thanks to defensive errors City got back into the match on all three occasions, the first goal gifted to them by Ben Foster, the second given away by Patrice Evra and the third by Rio Ferdinand. Meanwhile United had chance after chance, could have made it 5, 6, 7 or 8 if it would not have been for great stops and saves by Shay Given, Ryan Giggs and Dimitar Berbatov with most of the chances. For City then to be in such uproar about the time added on and the points lost due to the last-breath goals, seems very odd, as they would have been very lucky to get away with a point. For Hughes not to recognise that and moan on about the referee instead, ist sad.


Flop team: Tottenham were very disappointing to me as I thought they would make more of a competition and fight of the derby. Blackburn were just as weak, especially in set-pieces, leaving Everton with the easy job of just tap-ins. Both games ended 3-0 against them, something they will have to look into.

Flop player: Stoke's Ricardo Fuller got booked for diving but then won a soft free kick which was saved well by Bolton's Jussi Jaaskelainen. He was very annoying to watch, I felt he let out the drama queen a couple of times too often.

Flop goal: As mentioned above, all three Man City goals were lucky, capitalising off United mistakes and give-aways. It shows too though, that the top teams have their leaks and weaknesses. But then again, City obviously showed more of that, as it could have been a much more condemning result against them, if it were not for their goalkeeper.

My Predictions - Actual Results:
Arsenal 4:1 Wigan - 4:0
Aston Villa 2:0 Portsmouth - 2:0
Bolton 1:1 Stoke - 1:1
Burnley 1:0 Sunderland - 3:1
Hull City 1:1 Birmingham - 0:1
West Ham 1:3 Liverpool - 2:3
Chelsea 3:2 Tottenham - 3:0
Everton 1:2 Blackburn - 3:0
Man Utd 2:2 Man City - 4:3
Wolves 0:2 Fulham - 2:1

Friday, 18 September 2009

Paine's first century makes it six for Australia

Sports - Cricket - NatWest Series - 6th ODI

Tim Paine starred with his first one-day century and 163-run partnership with Michael Hussey (65) after his side won the toss for the first time in this series and chose to put England out to field. Cameron White (35) and James Hopes (38) contributed late on with the highest powerplay-score of the series of 53 runs from 26 deliveries.

England were set a target of 297 runs to win their first match of the series, but made a dire show of things in reply. Their skipper fell just the second ball into their innings, which replays showed was an error by the umpire, but gave a sense of foreboding to what was to come. England's continuing horror show could make Australia the first side in world-cricket with a 7-0 series whitewash.

Run of Play: Advantage to...

Australia:

41 for 2 after 10 overs: England - The home side started well after being put out to field for the first time. The crowd are urging them on, desperate to see them do well. Thanks to James Anderson, England look much better after a shaky start, after he bowled Shane Watson for 4 and had captain Ricky Ponting caught by Ryan Sidebottom for 6.



92 for 2 after 20 overs: Australia - Another good and growing partnership is developing between Tim Paine (47*) and Michael Hussey (10*) with 52 runs from 66 deliveries scored already. They are showing not even a hint of a worry against Dimitri Mascarenhas and Graeme Swann.

149 for 2 after 30 overs: Australia - Australia look strong as ever thanks to the solid century-partnership, Paine showing sweet timing and serving great shots with Hussey supporting him well.

206 for 3 after 40 overs: Australia - The worries continued for England with Australia scoring the quickest 50 so far, Paine breaking through to his first quality and well-deserved one-day century and his partnership with Hussey cracking the 150-mark, who reached his 22nd one-day half-century in the process. England got the breakthrough they were craving for in the 20th over with Hussey's (65) top-edge caught on the off-side by Joe Denly, but will they be able to turn the game around on that?


298 for 8 after 50 overs: Australia - England finally got Paine out, caught behind for 111 from 148, leaving new batsmen Cameron White and Callum Ferguson on the crease. It slowed the Aussies down for a bit, seeing too many dot-balls. After they took the last powerplay, Ferguson did not get far, out for 6 the next delivery after dragging the ball back onto his stumps off Anderson. But in the end, the powerplay proved costly for England with James Hopes and White smashing 53 off 26. The Aussies lost a couple of wickets late on with White (35) and Hopes (38)caught and Brett Lee (1) run out inbetween, but the competitive performance and good effort overall set a high target of 297 for England to win the match.

England:

42 for 1 after 10 overs: England - Denly and Ravi Bopara made a good recovery for England after they saw their captain Andrew Strauss (0) unfairly dismissed as caught behind only the second delivery of the day although it looked like the ball went off his shoulder. It is now crucial how long they last and if they can build a solid partnership on their good start.


79 for 4 after 20 overs: Australia - England are once again capitulating: After Denly (25) was caught by Lee, an alert Ponting got Matt Prior (6) and Bopara (24) run out. The prior was a magnificent and accurate fielding move by the Aussie skipper, the latter just a moment of panic and then hesitance which cost England dearly and made them look like clowns.

126 for 7 after 30 overs: Australia - England are nearing the end, just when you thought they were recovering. Owais Shah and Eoin Morgan got England past the 100-mark with a productive 40 off 50 partnership. But then the cookie started crumbling: Morgan and Shah (both 23) fell in a similar manner, soft dismissals playing the ball straight mid-on. Mascarenhas was bowled by Hopes for only 11 after the ball went off his thigh-pad onto the stumps. He walked off looking puzzled to how it happened, the question everyone around the ground has on their mind.



182 for 9 after 40 overs: Australia - And it is certainly over now: Nathan Bracken came back into the attack with the changed ball and bowled Swann out for 12. Sidebottom played nicely, hitting a boundary and causing aggression, sloppy play and overthrows by Lee, frustrating for Ponting to watch, even at this stage. But that joy did not last long, Peter Siddle was too quick and straight and bowled Sidebottom out soon after. Sad powerplay to watch...

185 all out after 41 overs: Australia - Lee failed again to run out Tim Bresnan, missed to pick up the ball and looking comical at it. But he got his laugh back, bowling Bresnan (31) out the last ball of the over. Australia's win never looked in any doubt today, the margin of 111 runs makes the scorecard the bleakest so far for England. Instead of learning and making progress from their defeats so far, they made backward steps and suffered the worst beating so far. Five players got starts of at least 20 runs, but fell soon after that, unable to make a solid innings of it. It is a real worry that has become over-evident in every match in this series - which may still get worse and become the worst ever.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Ponting century sinks England to make it 5-0

Sports - Cricket - NatWest Series - 5th ODI

Ricky Ponting led his side to a fifth straight victory at Trent Bridge. With his 26th one-day century and a 133-run partnership he shared with Michael Clarke (52), he kept Australia on course for a 7-0 whitewash.


England's captain Andrew Strauss won the toss for the ninth time out of ten this summer and selected to bat first. Every batsmen contributed, with half of them scoring over 30, but once again, the home side were missing a centurian or lasting partnership.

Australia were set a respectable, competitive target of 300 to win, but quickly extinguished any hopes England had to defend it, with superb batting displays and a solid partnership that carried them for nearly half the innings and total.

Run of Play: Advantage to...

England:

47 for 0 after 10 overs: England - Andrew Strauss and Joe Denly provided a solid start, great drives and boundary shots, good cricket all round, but England usually do that but have been unable to build something on it.

98 for 2 after 20 overs: England - AGAIN, a good start but worrying wickets and no long-lasting partnerships. Strauss tried a silly reverse sweep after he hit the previous ball for four and was caught out lbw to Nathan Hauritz - although it did look like the ball tickled his bat. Ravi Bopara served a comfortable catch to Hauritz off Shane Watson, a soft dismissal for just 18 off 21.

149 for 3 after 30 overs: England - Matt Prior and Owais Shah created a nice momentum with the second 50 partnership of the day, fifth this series, but can they press on?

208 for 5 after 40 overs: England - Prior was stumped, a beautiful move by wicket keeper Tim Paine and Shah's fine edge off Mitchell Johnson was caught behind. Any hopes of a big partnership were thereby once again demolished by some foolish and sloppy play. It is once again up to the lower half to create a competitive total.

299 all out after 50 overs: England - Australia capitulated the last couple of overs with overthrows, misses, just clumsiness, giving England extra runs and plenty of boundaries, Eoin Morgan smashing an entertaining half century. Wonderful late entertainment with a bit of everthing, fire, drama, runs, wickets, class and hiccups. At least England got a defendable total out of it, see if they can make the Aussies fight for it for a change.

Australia:

50 for 1 after 10 overs: Australia - Another strong start from the Aussies, Paine the only wicket to fall, caught by Adil Rashid off Tim Bresnan for 16. Stuart Broad and Ryan Sidebottom started off well, but Bresnan made the difference.

107 for 2 after 20 overs: Australia - And captain Ricky Ponting is smashing on, big hits and strokes, fours and sixes. Watson spooned the ball and was caught by Dimitri Mascharenhas at mid-on, out for 36, but Michael Clarke settled in nicely and silenced the crowd.

168 for 2 after 30 overs: Australia - Ponting and Clarke are in the rhythm and charging on, keeping the crowd silent and accumulating runs. A beautiful century partnership, something England have been missing, and Ponting's 27th ODI half century.


230 for 4 after 40 overs: Australia - The Aussie skipper is on a roll blasting to his 26th ODI century. Clarke fell after reaching his half century, caught at deep mid-wicket by Shah, a simple catch to end an exemplary century-partnership of 133 runs.

302 for 6 after 48.2 overs: Australia - England regained a little bit of hope and confidence after the Aussies gave away a couple of wickets, but could not and did not realistically expect to win, especially after the poor fielding, throws-in and missed catches they had shown against a high and shining Australian batting display. Mitchell Johnson and Cameron White saw Australia through, with a smack-boom-bang six off the last ball which summarized the whole night and series.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Premier League Tops and Flops

Sports - Football - Premier League - Picks of the Weekend

Another action-packed weekend saw no game without a goal, 35 goals in total, no draws, six home wins and four away - unpredictable and breathtaking:


Top game: Man City's home win against Arsenal left hardly any time or room to blink or breath. The result is harsh on the Gunners, the had plenty of chances, misfortunes and decisions that did not go their way, they probably feel, they should have gotten more out of it. Man City were hungry and intimidating, intense and gripping to watch.

Top team: Liverpool had it the easiest, Man City and United were the most ruthless, productive and worth-every-penny, whilst Chelsea looked the cheekiest and luckiest, leaving both their goals deep into injury time of both halves against Stoke.

Top player: Emmanuel Adebayor drew most of the attention onto him, without a doubt. He was on fire, which can quickly spread and escalate matters, especially facing his former side, making the tension over-exasperating between them. Wayne Rooney starred for United, omnipresent and with a great individual effort goal.


Top goal: Tottenham could not have wished for a better start against United when Jermain Defoe's right-foot overhead kick gave them the lead in the first minute. Rooney's individual effort, nutmegging Spurs goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini, finished off a great United break from their own half, the Scouser only having eyes for the back of the net. Great to see, especially after his side went down to ten men.

Top manager: Roy Hodgson's half time talk and changes were decisive in Fulham's turnaround of the game against Everton. Alex Ferguson's changes also kept United ahead eventhough they were down to ten men. He took Dimitar Berbatov off for Michael Carrick, keeping his side tight and compact, leaving no gaps for Tottenham to capitalise on. Genius - as usual.


Flop game: Wigan's win against West Ham needed a goal to wake the game, teams and crowd up, but the referee did not even give that when he blew the half time whistle and left Carlton Cole frustrated and with a sarcastic smile having netted the ball a split-second later. Cruel.

Flop team: Portsmouth have lost five out of five now after giving away the game to Bolton with a fragile defence and some embarrassing misses.

Flop player: Adebayor could not have acted more idiotic or shambolic, when he kicked his former team mate Robin van Persie in the face and then, to make things worse, running to the Arsenal end of the ground after he scored, causing all sorts of havoc. Consciously or not, both actions were unprofessional and should be punished. The referee Mark Clattenburg dealt with the latter situation professionally and brilliantly, further actions still pending.


Flop goal: Hull City defender Craig Fagan's clumsy handball cried for a penalty and conceded a goal. Kamil Zayatte gave away two more to Sunderland to thrash them, one own goal and letting off Darrent Bent unchallenged as if he had no care in the world. It proves that nightmares can come true.

Flop referee: As mentioned above, the half time whistle went at the same moment Carlton Cole scored for West Ham - how cruel can you be?! Especially when you regard how much the game needed a goal to brighten things up...

My Predictions - Actual Results
Blackburn 1:1 Wolves - 3:1
Liverpool 2:0 Burnley - 4:0
Man City 1:3 Arsenal - 4:2
Portsmouth 0:1 Bolton - 2:3
Stoke 1:2 Chelsea - 1:2
Sunderland 1:1 Hull City - 4:1
Tottenham 2:2 Man Utd - 1:3
Wigan 0:2 West Ham - 1:0
Birmingham 1:2 Aston Villa - 0:1
Fulham 0:2 Everton - 2:1

England slump to series defeat against Australia

Sports - Cricket - NatWest Series - 4th ODI

Australia outbowled and -played England at Lord's, reaching the below-par target of 221 runs with seven wickets and over six overs to spare, to win the fourth consecutive one-day match and take the series 4-0.

Andrew Strauss won the toss for the fourth time in a row and put his side out to bat first for the third time. They made a confident start, the skipper once again impressing with a solid half century, the only one in the England batting lineup of the day.

The home side could not recover after losing their talisman captain and lost their last five wickets for only 20 runs in 21 balls, Brett Lee achieving a world-class five-wicket haul. Australia replied confidently and comfortably with half centuries by Tim Paine, his maiden, and Michael Clarke, unbeaten on 62, leading the Aussies to a series win and England into disarray.

Run of Play: Advantage to...

England:59 for 1 after 10 overs: England - Joe Denley opened with Andrew Strauss, replacing a rested Paul Collingwood. They looked in good touch together before the debutant was comfortably caught at first slip for 11, neatly taken by Shane Watson in the fifth over.

100 for 2 after 20 overs: England - After another shaky start, Ravi Bopara showed much less tentativeness with some lovely boundary shots. But he disappointed again in the end, sweeping to an off spinner, ending up out lbw. Strauss led by example as always with another half century.

138 for 3 after 30 overs: Australia - With Strauss out on 63, after his top edge was caught by Nathan Bracken in the 25th over, England's batsmen Matt Prior and Owais Shah were kept clamped down by Australia's bowlers, going 11 overs without any boundaries.

176 for 5 after 40 overs: Australia - Quality shots had become a rarity, England had nothing to get excited about but two beauty wickets: Prior was bowled by a perfect swinging yorker first ball back for Brett Lee and Eoin Morgan was stumped, a breathtaking move by wicketkeeper Tim Paine.

220 all out after 46.3 overs: Australia - Lee blew away the middle order after some promising whacks, pounces and shots of Shah and Luke Wright. Wright and Stuart Broad fell victim to Lee's missile-yorkers, Shah was caught mid-wicket off a Watson full toss. Adil Rashid was Lee's fifth and final victim and Mitchell Johnson finished the home side off bowling Ryan Sidebottom. To quote and agree with Pranav Soneji: England were "folded like an amateur poker player".

Australia:

51 for 1 after 10 overs: Australia - It all looked too easy for the Aussies openers, hitting, smashing, wallopping and bashing one boundary after another. Watson eventually got trapped in front lbw by Tim Bresnan, but the threat did not last long.

110 for 2 after 20 overs: Australia - Paine and Ricky Ponting continued the knock-about, England unable to capitalise off the first wicket. Paine eventually fell, a needless sweep caught behind after his least convincing shot brought up his half century three balls earlier.

159 for 2 after 30 overs: Australia - More comfortable runs, no threat whatsoever for Australia.



198 for 3 after 40 overs: Australia - Out of nowhere, Ponting went for a big shot but drilled the drive straight to Bopara at short cover, causing great cheers around the ground. At least some joy for the crowd.

221 for 3 after 43.4 overs: Australia - The cheers did not last long for the English crowd, the Aussies winning with comfortable and solid runs. Michael Clarke's nice fluent innings was rewarded, an intelligent half century of him and obvious win for Australia, worries for England.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Five-star England outclass Croatia

Sports - Football - World Cup Qualifier

England 5-1 Croatia

England erased bitter Euro 2008 memories by outclassing a poor Croatian side, beating them comprehensively 5-1 at Wembley to qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, for the first time ever with two games to spare.


From kick-off, Croatia were not able to cope with all the pressure England put them under, especially at the back. The guests gave away a penalty just six minutes into the match when vice-captain Josip Simunic brought down Aaron Lennon in the box with a clumsy tackle. Frank Lampard converted the spot-kick confidently and comfortably as always.

A slow and afray-looking Croatian side struggled with all the England players in the box for most of the first half. Gareth Barry, Emile Heskey, Wayne Rooney and Lennon all had their share of misses and saved chances. Steven Gerrard's long-range header from the far post in the 18th minute was the only other conversion of the first half, to make it 2-0 to the home side at half time, but it could have been six or more.

The second half did not see much change. Lampard and Gerrard both netted within the first 20 minutes: The prior converted a Glen Johnson headed cross from the right outiside the box into the centre of the goal, the latter heading in a rumbled Rooney cross cleverly over the goalkeeper.

With just under 20 minutes left, the Croats saw their first real chance and were rewarded for all their sweat and torment. Eduardo put in the second rebound, leaving Robert Green unhappy after his hard work and saves and Fabio Capello cursing his side for the first time and despite their strong performance and dominance they had enjoyed so far.


But that was the only breather Croatia got. Rooney topped the show off with his ninth goal for England in the qualifiers, making him the top scorer. He was slightly embarrassed by the manner he achieved that record:

He was handed the chance by the Croatian goalkeeper Vedran Runje who slipped the ball off his left foot through to Rooney, served on a silver plate, right in front of the goal. He left celebrating with an embarrassed smile. It summed up the night-to-forget for the Croats and brought a smile even onto Capello's face.

Man of the match: Aaron Lennon

England Green; Johnson, Upson, Terry, Cole; Lennon (80 Beckham), Barry, Lampard, Gerrard (81 Milner); Rooney, Heskey (60 Defoe). Subs not used Foster, Brown, Bridge, Crouch. Bookings 85 Terry.

Croatia Runje; Srna, Krizanac, Simunic, Pranjic; Mandzukic, Vukojevic, Pokrivac (HT Rakitic), Kranjcar, Eduardo (73 Klasnic); Olic (HT Petric). Subs not used Subasic, Drpic, Calo, Leka. Bookings 44 Simunic.

Sky Sports Stats:

England - Croatia
Goals: 5-1
Attempts: 12-9
On target: 9-5
Blocked shots: 0-2
Offsides: 8-3
Corners: 2-3
Free kicks: 9-16
Bookings: 1-1

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

White's first century beats sorry England

Sports - Cricket - NatWest Series - 3rd ODI

Australia beat England comfortably by six wickets at the Rose Bowl to go 3-0 up in the series. Cameron White starred with his first one-day-international century and Michael Clarke (53) joined in to build an exemplary partnership of 143 runs. It was a crucial but simple factor England could not muster: A standing partnership with strength and stamina to hold the team.


Captain Andrew Strauss was the only light in England's poor batting display with 63 off 72 after he won the toss for the third time in a row and chose to put the Aussies out to field. Wickets fell too regulary and softly, tamely and clumsy, leaving the last powerplay and main task with the tailenders to put on a respectable, competitive and defendable total. Australia's batsmen in contrast, completed their job with quality, class and dominance to cruise to another win and leave England in a muddle.

Run of Play: Advantage to...

England:

50 for 2 after 10 overs: England - Ravi Bopara and Matt Prior both got caught out in consecutive overs, for 10 and 0 respectively, leaving it up to captain Andrew Strauss to keep the runs flowing and looking for someone to back him up and establish a partnership with.

87 for 3 after 20 overs: Australia - Paul Collingwood survived longer than his team mates to help his skipper after Owais Shah fell lbw to Mitchell Johnson for just eight runs, leaving England weak and struggling at 62 for 3. Runs were made hard to come by, England looking desperate.

127 for 4 after 30 overs: Australia - Finally Australia got who they wanted, Strauss caught at mid-wicket by Nathan Hauritz trying to get things going for England, but ended up out for 63. The run rate remained low, England are urged for an established partnership.

172 for 6 after 40 overs: Australia - England threw away a couple of wickets, Collingwood's tame chip was caught at mid-on by Nathan Bracken, out for 28, and Luke Wright slashed one right to the sub fielder Adam Voges in the covers, out for 9. England are crumbling.


228 for 9 after 50 overs: England - And it is the lower order that saves England from total embarrassment. The last wicket stand was the best of the day, 40 runs between Tim Bresnan and Ryan Sidebottom. See if the bowlers can do what the batsmen have failed to - get the Aussies worried!

Australia:

29 for 1 after 10 overs: England - Australia started slowly and lost Shane Watson early on, trapped plumb lbw by James Anderson for 7. Tim Paine got a better start, but England will be the happier wiht their start, keeping the batsmen at bay - for now.

79 for 2 after 20 overs: Australia - Cameron White and Michael Clarke are hammering in the runs and boundaries. If England continue letting these two loose, this partnership will flourish and hurt the home side.


115 for 2 after 30 overs: Australia - White and Clarke continued their blast as feared, Australia are thriving, something England have been unable to do. White gets rewarded with only his second one-day half-century.

163 for 2 after 40 overs: Australia - Too many easy runs for the Aussies, not discrediting the 100-run partnership; White on 70, Clarke on 41 and both on a roll.

230 for 4 after 48.3 overs: Australia - England got couple of consolation wickets, Clarke bowled by Graeme Swann (52) and White caught by Sidebottom at extra cover off Wright after completing a wonderful and fully-deserved century. It left Callum Ferguson and Michael Hussey to finish England off, but it is out of question, the decisive difference between the two sides have been the big batting partnerships that built the main part of the team's consistency and threat.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Australia capitalise on England's mediocre batting

Sports - Cricket - NatWest Series - 2nd ODI

England lost the second one-dayer at Lord's to go 2-0 down in the seven-match series against Australia. They started strong at 74-0 from 14 overs as they chased 250 runs to win. They let mistakes cost them dearly, lost four wickets for just 23 runs and finally crumbled to 210 all out.


The Aussies were put out to bat by England who served a decent performance on field and with the ball, keeping the opposition restrained, but eventually threw any advantage away with a weak batting display.

Run of Play: Advantage to...

Australia:

43 for 0 after 10 overs: Australia - The guests looked comfortable and unthreatened eventhough the run rate was low for the first powerplay. England's seem attack was not strong enough and James Anderson looked like he was struggling.


75 for 3 after 20 overs: England - The medium pacers got the breakthrough and turned the game around for England, showing better bowling and fielding all round. Tim Bresnan got the first wicket having Shane Watson caught by Luke Wright at short extra-cover for 34. Wright got the other two, Tim Paine and Michael Clarke both caught for 26 and 4 respectively.

127 for 3 after 30 overs: Australia - Australia's strong batting partnership between Callum Ferguson and Cameron White turns the game back to their advantage with some powerful boundaries. Australia finally got it going and look much more straight forward.


169 for 5 after 40 overs: England - Ravi Bopara served his reputation as the partnership breaker having White caught behind for 42 off 66. Michael Hussey fell shortly afterwards, bowled by Graeme Swann for just 8. A crucial breakthrough for England and they have to continue putting the pressure on the Aussies if they want to stay in the match with a chance.

249 for 8 after 50 overs: Australia - Some amazing boundaries marked Mitchell Johnson's best score for Australia. His contribution was crucial after Australia lost James Hopes lbw by Swann for 11, Ferguson bowled by Anderson for 55 off 58, and Brett Lee for a duck. It is not the highest total, but higher than estimated looking back at the low run rate at the start and the wickets Australia lost in the process of the last powerplay.

England:

42 for 0 after 10 overs: England - Andrew Strauss started strong and confident for England. Ravi Bopara showed a shakey start with no runs off the first nine balls, but got a fine grip in the latter overs. Brett Lee started best for the Aussies, only conceding a few singles off his first overs.

97 for 4 after 20 overs: Australia - What a collapse by England! Shane Watson gets Bopara out lbw for 27 off 44 and Matt Prior caught behind only the fifth ball he faced. Owais Shah got off to a sparkling start but saw his skipper bowled and caught by Nathan Hauritz for 47 off 53 and then stupidly ignored Paul Collingwood's call to get himself run out. Stupid stupid stupid.


147 for 5 after 30 overs: England - Finally England get runs on the board with Collingwood passing his 4,000 one-day-runs-mark and Luke Wright showing strength with the bottom hand. Eoin Morgan was the only one who fell lbw to Johnson's fast and straight line. Hopefully England can build something out of this...

184 for 7 after 40 overs: Australia - Collingwood is still in on 41, joined by Swann on 8 after Wright was caught behind off Lee for 20 off 19 and Bresnan beaten by Johnson's pace and caught out for 5 off 13. England need 66 off 10 overs but need to keep their wickets in tact for that, which I cannot see happening if the trend of the day does not change.


210 all out after 46.1 overs: Australia - As feared, England fell well short of the target, losing Swann, bowled by Nathan Bracken for 14 off 22, when it just looked they were getting on top of things. Ryan Sidebottom fell for a duck and Brett Lee finished things off bowling Collingwood with a yorker. A comfortable win for the Aussies against a shattered and battered England side.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

ITV v Sky: How different a match can be

Sports - Football - International Friendly - News Coverage

England's 2-1 win against Slovenia at Wembley yesterday:


The ITV highlights showed chance after chance for the home side, indicating persistance and dominance from England. The host and guest of the highlights show were full of praise and optimism, too.

Sky Sports News framed the summary of the match showing England's weaknesses, pointing out how lucky they were to win the penalty and "scrape through" to a win.

The online reports and summaries of the match turned out more similar, neutral and optimistic:

Sky Sports:
"Three Lions warm up with win"
"Lampard and Defoe secure friendly victory for Capello's men"
"England defeated Slovenia 2-1 in a friendly at Wembley to boost their preparations for crucial World Cup qualifying."

BBC:
"England 2-1 Slovenia"
"England warmed up for the crucial World Cup qualifier against Croatia on Wednesday with victory over Slovenia at Wembley."

ITV:
"England achieved a 2-1 victory against Slovenia at Wembley with the opener from a [controversial Lampard penalty]."

It proves, you have to see the match for yourself to be able to make your own picture of it, to get your own impression of the teams, players and their display. Take the reports and comments with a pinch of salt, according to and depending on the source.

I felt, and agree with Sky Sports News, England were lucky to win the penalty as Wayne Rooney was more the offender himself than the victim. But England hit the woodwork on a couple of occasions, had many chances, dominated the possession and opposition and it would have been unfair and undeserved and would not have reflected the match if Slovenia would have gotten anything out of it.

They showed defensive weaknesses, which led to the late goal and panic. No question, there is room for improvement. But that is what friendlies are there for, to prepare and improve the side for competitive matches.

Jermain Defoe's impressive, impossible looking goal, he squeezed and deflected between two defenders from a blind-looking, difficult angle, summed it up: England had the edge - hopefully Fabio Capello saw the same and can keep the edge and players for the crucial World Cup qualifier against Croatia next Wednesday.