Monday, December 27, 2010

Arsenal shed their burden against faltering Chelsea

It may well be something of an overstatement at this stage of the season, with not even half of the campaign elapsed, but last night’s Premier League meeting between Arsenal and Chelsea was the archetypal “must-win” game for both sides —  – or, at the very least, “must-not-lose.”
Both teams entered the game with big question marks against the credibility of their respective title challenges. Chelsea were on a wretched run of form, having won just one of their last seven fixtures to drop from first place to fourth. Arsenal, similarly, were tasked with throwing aside the burden of their poor recent results against fellow title contenders and prove they are not big-stage bottlers.
In that context, it was perhaps no surprise to see a cautious, safety-first approach from both teams in the early exchanges. Neither goalkeeper was tested, raising fears that a nervous, drab nil-nil lay in wait — but we needn’t have worried; this was just the calm before an exhilarating storm.
As the first half wore on, Arsenal found their passing rhythm and grew in confidence. The always-important Cesc Fabregas, previously a peripheral figure, had space to exert control on the midfield manoeuvrings with his deft passing skills; Samir Nasri and the erratic yet dangerous Theo Walcott repeatedly ran with pace and purpose at their full backs; Robin Van Persie looked capable of darting into the space behind the Chelsea defence.
Chelsea were on the ropes, relying on a series of increasingly desperate defensive clearances and waiting for relief in the form of the half time whistle. Going forward, they had nothing to offer; Didier Drogba was isolated, Saloman Kalou and Florent Malouda anonymous, Frank Lampard dominated.
The reigning champions simply couldn’t sustain any meaningful possession, and their rare sorties on the counter-attack were swiftly extinguished by a startling lack of precision and purpose.
After half an hour, Arsenal were starting to purr. Chances had been few before Arsene Wenger’s team finally came close in the 41st minute, when another spell of pressure resulted in Nasri receiving possession in space, 20 yards from goal, and lifting a delicate chip towards the top left corner; Petr Cech, tested for the first time, was equal to the task, leaping acrobatically to tip the ball away for a corner that was safely dealt with.
At that point, Carlo Ancelotti on the Chelsea bench must have breathed a big sigh of relief, hoping that Cech’s save was enough to keep his side on level terms going into the interval.
But there was sufficient time for Arsenal to maintain the pressure and finally grab the goal they deserved as Alex Song strode into the penalty area and thrashed a low shot past the helpless Cech.
Half-time and 1-0 behind, something had to change for Chelsea, and Ancelotti was quick to act by replacing John Obi Mikel with the more attack-minded Brazilian Ramires for the start of the second half.
It changed nothing; Arsenal were still emphatically in the ascendancy, and needed just five minutes to double their advantage. Hesitant Chelsea defending created the opportunity as a loose attempted clearance from Michael Essien released Walcott clean through on goal, and the winger showed maturity and awareness to eschew his shooting opportunity in favour of squaring the ball to the unmarked Fabregas for a simple prod into the empty net.
Remarkably, two minutes later it was 3-0 as the Gunners pounced upon another defensive error — Malouda this time the culpable party for dwelling in possession inside his own half — and Fabregas returned the favour by releasing Walcott, whose crisply struck and perfectly placed low finish zipped past Cech into the bottom left hand corner.
3-0, 52 minutes played, and Arsenal weren’t just beating Chelsea: they were destroying them, annihilating them, embarrassing them. By producing a fast-paced and ruthless demonstration of high-class football, the Gunners were glaringly exposing their opponents’ fragile confidence and lack of direction. It was a rout.
But Arsenal rarely make things easy for themselves, and they contrived to hand Chelsea a lifeline when slack marking from a Drogba free kick allowed Branislav Ivanovic to head past Lukasz Fabianski, reducing the deficit to 3-1.
Chelsea took some encouragement from the goal and briefly rallied, but they still lacked any cutting edge — with Drogba once again worryingly ineffective — and Arsenal always looked capable of scoring again.
With 20 minutes remaining Nasri wasted a glorious chance to restore his team’s three-goal advantage, shooting weakly at Cech after being put through by substitute Gael Kakuta’s limp back-header. But it mattered little; Chelsea never seriously threatened to mount a comeback, and Arsenal held onto the 3-1 victory with ease.
So where does this leave both teams? For Arsenal, the proverbial monkey is well and truly off their back. They now know they can beat the big names, and this victory could end up meaning far more to them than the simple accumulation of three points.
Only time will tell, but this may prove to be a defining moment in the maturation of Wenger’s young team – if they can ally their cultured passing approach with this kind of controlled aggression on a regular basis, their trophy drought will surely soon end.
As for Chelsea, the woes continue. They deserved their heavy defeat.  It was a bad result, but an even worse performance. They didn’t look like scoring goals and always looked like conceding them; something has gone badly wrong at the Bridge (maybe just the unavoidable ageing of their key players), and Ancelotti faces an extremely anxious few weeks.

Monday, December 13, 2010

United do enough as Blues return to form

     Two games in the upper reaches of the Premier League this weekend produced fixtures that were similar only in their frenzied tempo and the fact they both contained penalty misses by star strikers.
     Tottenham and Chelsea’s 1-1 draw on Sunday afternoon was an enjoyably open and entertaining encounter; Manchester United’s victory over Arsenal last night, by contrast, was a rather dour affair.
     Despite playing their way to the top of the league, Arsenal seemed to enter the game at Old Trafford having taken notice of the widespread criticism they’ve received for being physically lightweight, transforming themselves from a group of subtle and thoughtful artistes into a bunch of cloggers — even Andrey Arshavin, the modern-day total footballer, was flying into brutal challenges.
     Unfortunately, the robust approach adopted by the Gunners meant that the first half was almost devoid of incident until Park Ji Sung’s wonderfully improvised headed goal shortly before the interval.
     It was the archetypal “game that needed a goal”, and the second half was better, much better, as a result of  Park’s opener. Now trailing, Arsenal could no longer play for the nil-nil draw, as had appeared to be the limit of their ambitions during the opening period.
     With renewed levels of purpose and intent, Arsenal’s pass masters Arshavin, Samir Nasri and Tomas Rosicky started to produce their usual fast, clever interplay towards the edge of United’s penalty area, with Marouane Chamakh looking increasingly capable of unsettling Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic.
     But United were offering a threat on the counter-attack, and a passage of play shortly before the hour mark neatly encapsulated the strengths and weaknesses of the game’s most eye-catching individual, Nani.
     Receiving the ball on the right wing after a fast break by Anderson, Nani appeared to have wasted the promising position by allowing himself to be dispossessed far too easily by Gael Clichy.
     But the Portuguese winger rectified his error by immediately winning the ball back and striding towards goal, only to launch his shot hopelessly over the bar. Brilliant and awful within the space of five seconds — that’s Nani.
     A few minutes later Arsene Wenger unleashed his big guns from the bench as fit-again Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie entered the fray. But they had little impact as the game reverted to the scrappy, attritional mode that had been prevalent in the first half.
     Then came the moment that should have sealed the points in United’s favour. Nani was again at the fore, tussling with Clichy near the byline and sending over a firm low cross that cannoned against the arm of the Arsenal defender from point-blank range.
     There was absolutely no intent from Clichy — it would have been almost impossible for him to get out of the way — but the linesman swiftly threw up his flag to signal a penalty.
      The decision was harsh on Arsenal, but justice was served when Wayne Rooney blazed the spot kick high over the crossbar. Rooney had been a peripheral figure and perhaps there was some frustration behind his decision to smash the ball as hard as he possibly could, but it was difficult to feel too much sympathy because the penalty shouldn’t have been awarded in the first place.
        So Arsenal were still in the game, but they never looked like taking advantage of their reprieve. United were organised and resolute in defence, bottling up any space around the centre of the field and resultantly restricting the Gunners to speculative long-range efforts. Fabregas, lacking match fitness, was unusually wasteful in possession, while van Persie was forced to drop into harmless deep-lying positions in a fruitless attempt to exert any kind of influence on the action.
        The final minutes drifted away with Arsenal’s only opportunity being squandered by Theo Walcott’s woefully mis-hit volley, and United held onto the victory with relative ease.
        United did just about enough without producing anything like their best form, and Arsenal should regret their first-half approach — adding a much-needed physical dimension to their play is one thing, forgetting the qualities that make them such a free-scoring team is another.
        The previous day, Chelsea will have been both relieved and frustrated that they failed to take all three points despite a dominant performance at White Hart Lane — relieved because they trailed for nearly an hour after Roman Pavlyuchenko’s 15th-minute opener, but frustrated because they were by far the better team and were only denied victory by Didier Drogba’s injury time penalty miss.
       But the Blues can take plenty of encouragement from what was their best performance for a long time. Having looked lethargic and one-paced in the last few games, Sunday’s showing was far more like the Chelsea we’re used to. And with Manchester United and Arsenal coming up next, their promised renaissance couldn’t have come at a better time.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Pointless hosting Asian Games

        A deafening silence greeted the challenge thrown by Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek that it was up to the public to decide whether Malaysia should bid to host the 2023 Asian Games.
        If the minister was hoping for roar of approval to do it ,he must have been disappointed-but there is a suspicion that he too did not want to be responsible for such a decision.
        He knew that it would be an unpopular one especially since it is estimated to cost a bomb to host such a multi-sport event.
        The Government has already twice rejected attempts by the Olympic Council of Malaysia to host the Asian Games,once to host this years Asiad and more recently to host 2018 one.
        In both cases, the Government felt that it was too expensive to do so.
        Shabery revealed that for the 2018 Asian Games, the cost of organising is estimated to be more than RM 1.6bil. 
        Hosting the 2022 edition may, in his own words,"cost three or four times more."
        Guangzhou is reported to have spent more than RM 7bil to host the Games while India forked out some RM 18bil to host the New Delhi Commonwealth Games last month.
         Incheon City in South Korea will be hosting the 2014 edition while Hong Kong,the United Arab Emirates, Vietnam and India are bidding for the 2018 Games, which will be decided in 2012.
         It's no-brainier - Malaysia cannot afford it and the money saved could better spent on proper sports development like getting our athletes to be of Asiad or even Commonwealth Games standard.
         We are still reeling from the after-effects of hosting the 1998 Commonwealth Games . Many bills are still unpaid and there several suits pending in the courts over the hosting of the event.
          Just over a decade later, most of the 1998 venues are no longer a symbol of national pride. The National Stadium's pitch is reported to be among the worst football venues in the country and the turf had to be re-laid several times.
         Many of the facilities like toilets at all the venues are aged and need to be replaced. If we have problems maintaining 12 -year-old facilities why should we spend billions to build new ones just to host 5,000 over athletes,officials and newsmen for a couple of weeks ?
         Another reason not to host it is the standard of the sports as well as the type of sports that are now included in the Games. In Guangzhou, 476 events were on offer in 42 sports, making it the largest event in the history of the games.
         Hosting the Asian Games is definitely a job Malaysia does not need

Thursday, October 7, 2010

One-dimensional Arsenal fall to Drogba again

  Here we go again: Chelsea against Arsenal at Stamford Bridge.
       The home team: pace, power and purpose. An unwavering commitment to playing at a high tempo with controlled aggression, seeking to impose their will on the game and force their opponents into submission.
      The away team: touch, control and precision. An abundance of short, quick passes along the ground, attempting to open up the opposing defence with clever movement and a sharp use of angles.
      And, as ever, the muscular approach of Chelsea overcame the tippy-tappy philosophy of Arsenal. So many times the same story has been told, yet still the ending remains the same.
      Will Arsene Wenger ever learn that his high-minded, purist approach simply will not prevail often enough when it comes up against equally talented but more forceful opposition?
Harsh on the Gunners? No; just look at the stats.
      Since Arsenal won their last trophy (the FA Cup in 2005), they have come up against Chelsea on no less than 14 occasions... and won just twice. Surely if nothing else will convince Monsieur Wenger of the errors in his ways, that simple fact is enough.
      Two wins in 14 games do not suggest that the teams are like-for-like title rivals; rather, it speaks of a mismatch between two clubs who have found themselves consistently at different levels of achievement for more than half a decade. (Even more conclusively, only two of those 14 games have been drawn, with Chelsea winning the remaining 10 fixtures).
      Didier Drogba neatly epitomises the contrast in approach — and success — between Chelsea and Arsenal. The Ivorian has now scored in each of the last three games between the sides, and recorded an extremely impressive personal tally of 13 goals in 13 meetings with the Gunners.
      In Drogba we can find everything that’s most effective about Chelsea, and everything that Arsenal are missing. He carries immense presence, using his powerful frame to give Chelsea’s attacking play an intimidating physical potency; if nothing else is working for them, the Blues can simply lump it forward to the big man and let him fight it out with the opposition defenders — and quite often, he’ll come out on top.
      It’s not pretty to watch, it’s not particularly scientific, and it’s not something that Arsene Wenger would consider to be the “right” way to win a football match. But it works, and the penetration and thrust provided by Drogba has been a major factor — possibly, even, the most significant single factor — behind Chelsea’s consistent collection of trophies in the last five years.
      At this point, I should state that labelling Drogba as a one-dimensional old-fashioned battering ram would be an extremely unfair denigration of the striker. As he demonstrated with his subtle finish for the opening goal in yesterday’s game, Drogba is a hugely talented footballer with the ability to produce subtlety as well as strength. But the key point is that he can do both, and therefore adds a cutting edge to Chelsea’s attacking play that Arsenal simply don’t possess.
     In all his time (14 years now) as Arsenal manager, I am struggling to recall one striker of Drogba’s type that Wenger has signed. Thierry Henry, Nicolas Anelka, Christopher Wreh, Kanu, Davor Suker, Sylvain Wiltord, Francis Jeffers, Jose Reyes, Emmanuel Adebayor, Robin Van Persie, Nicklas Bendtner, Eduardo, Carlos Vela, Maroune Chamakh... they have all been primarily touch players, much more comfortable with the ball played along the ground than in the air.
     There are without doubt some exceptionally fine players within that batch of strikers, but aren’t many of them a little similar? Where’s the physical presence, the power, the aerial threat, the penetration?
     Possibly the only “target man” type striker signed by Wenger in the last 14 years is Julio Baptista, but the Brazilian was only given very limited opportunities during his brief loan spell from Real Madrid a few years ago.
     Other than that, it’s been flair all the way and, whilst Arsenal are very pleasant to watch, professional football is about results, not style. So where are the trophies? With Drogba, at Stamford Bridge.
     The pattern of play during the second half yesterday was symptomatic of Arsenal’s limitations. They enjoyed plenty of possession and, at times, looked capable of stretching Chelsea’s defence with their clever, quick passing approach.
     But Chelsea’s defenders were organised enough and disciplined enough — and good enough — to stand their ground, not get drawn out of position and challenge Arsenal to play their way around them.
     Chelsea knew they would face very little physical pressure inside the penalty area, so they were prepared to shepherd Arsenal into wide positions and encourage them to deliver crosses into the box, where John Terry and Alex were more than a physical match for anything that Arsenal could offer.
      And despite all their possession, the Gunners failed to create many meaningful chances, with their pretty-pretty passing movements breaking down in a mass of bodies on the edge of the penalty area.
      If Arsenal had their own version of Drogba to aim crosses towards, life would have been far less comfortable for the Blues’ defence, and inviting the visitors to deliver crosses from deep would not have been an option. But that is not Wenger’s way... perhaps it should be.   

Liverpool fans try to banish bad American memories

           Memories of unfulfilled promises and bitter rows have made it hard for Liverpool fans to whole-heartedly embrace the idea of more American owners coming to restore the club to former glories.
          Three and a half years ago, when beaming US sports tycoons Tom Hicks and George Gillett posed for photos with a red Liverpool scarf on the Anfield turf and promised a new stadium and players, the club seemed to have a bright future.
          That initial optimism soon vanished, along with the pledge to start work on a new 60,000-seater stadium within 60 days of their takeover, and fans turned against the duo before they put the debt-laden club up for sale this year.
          Rumours of interested parties circulated before the club’s chairman Martin Broughton announced on Wednesday that the board had accepted a 300 million-pound bid from New England Sports Venues (NESV), owners of baseball’s Boston Red Sox.
An NESV statement spoke of dedication and success.
          “Our objective is to stabilise the Club and ultimately return Liverpool FC to its rightful place in English and European football, successfully competing for and winning trophies,” it said.
         “NESV wants to help bring back the culture of winning to Liverpool FC.”
           There has been no word yet from NESV’s American owner John W. Henry but as long as he does not make the mistake of calling Liverpool a “franchise” — as Gillett did in his first news conference — he will have got off to a better start.
Winning mentality
           Internet fan forums were flooded with reaction ranging from “out of the frying pan and into the fire” to “please let this be the end of the nightmare” but with the overriding feeling one of relief that the club could soon have new owners mixed with a heavy dose of caution.
           Chairman Broughton tried to reassure fans by speaking of the new owners’ “winning mentality”, as demonstrated by their transformation of the Red Sox into a title-winning outfit.
He said money would be available to buy players in the next transfer window and that the club would soon have the 60,000-seater stadium, although it was not clear whether this would be a new ground or a redevelopment of Anfield.
           Fans keen to make clear their expectations, wrote messages on Henry’s Facebook page like “please bring back our glory”, “do for us what you did for the Red Sox and you will be a legend in Liverpool” and “look after the club and you’ll be loved”.
         Supporters have seen their club go from Champions League finalists in the year Hicks and Gillett took over to sitting in the relegation zone now after their worst start to a season for more than half a century.
          Although Spain forward Fernando Torres was signed with them at the helm, less money has been available as they spent funds on servicing the club’s debt of more than 200 million pounds.
          There were also public relations blunders, such as when the owners admitted the club had made an approach for German Juergen Klinsmann with a view to replacing Rafa Benitez as manager and Tom Hicks junior’s foul-mouthed tirade in an email to a fan which forced him to resign from the board.
Gillett and Hicks have also barely been on speaking terms for the past couple of years and they have been at loggerheads with the board.
          Those who know the prospective new owners think there will be no repeat of these problems.
“The fans of Liverpool should be excited,” Dave Checketts, owner of MLS team Real Salt Lake, said at the Leaders in Football conference in London.
          “From a business perspective they’ve done a superb job (with the Redsox), from a PR perspective — superb — and they got success on the field. I think they’ll repeat the model at Liverpool and I think they’ll be outstanding.”

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Rising City expose Chelsea’s frailties

Before Saturday’s meeting between the two teams at Eastlands, Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini claimed that he fully expects Chelsea to retain the English Premier League championship.
“Chelsea are the best team in the Premier League at the moment,” he said. “They are probably going to win the title easily. They are a strong team, who have been playing together for many years. They have a fantastic manager and they have worked to reach this situation.”
Was this an example of Fergie-style mind games, designed to lull the opposition into a false sense of security on the eve of a big game? Probably not; Mancini and his Chelsea counterpart Carlo Ancelotti are good friends, having played together in Italy throughout much of the 1980s, and their relationship is too strong to sink into petty psychological trickery.
Instead, the not-very-hidden message within Mancini’s statement was directed internally, to his own employers — namely City chairman Sheikh Mansour. “...playing together for many years...worked to reach this situation.” These are the key words in Mancini’s comments, with the unspoken message coming through loud and clear: At Manchester City we have a new team, and I must be given time to develop that team.
His motives aside, I don’t agree with Mancini’s assessment of Chelsea’s overwhelming strength, especially the part about them winning the title “easily.” This title race will be far closer than that.
Saturday’s game demonstrated that the Blues have a worrying lack of depth, especially in the goalscoring department. It might seem crazy to suggest that a team which mustered 21 goals in its first five games might struggle to score enough goals, but that was with their full strength team and against weak opposition such as Wigan, West Brom, Blackpool.
With Frank Lampard and Salomon Kalou injured, Chelsea had worryingly little in reserve at Eastlands on Saturday — the fact that Ancelotti was forced to use unproven youngster Daniel Sturridge and 17-year-old debutant Joshua McEachran as substitutes says everything about the strength in depth at his disposal.
I’ll agree with Mancini that Chelsea have the most powerful team in the Premier League, and if they were able to field their strongest eleven throughout the season they would probably be comfortable title winners. But whether they have the best squad is altogether another matter, and Ancelotti must be fearful about the potential ramifications if Didier Drogba or Frank Lampard suffer any significant injuries over the course of the next few months.
As for City, this was an extremely encouraging afternoon. Despite his thinly-disguised pleas to be given time, he’ll be well aware that he is now approaching a year in charge of City, during which time his team has often looked largely unconvincing. The remainder of the campaign surely has to result in significant progress if he’s to remain in position.
From talking to my contacts at City, my understanding is that the club’s inordinately wealthy owner, Sheikh Mansour, does indeed have a long-term vision and isn’t demanding that Mancini must deliver the Premier League trophy immediately. Such patience from a man in his lofty position is rare but, considering the colossal investment he’s made, the minimum requirement must be a very clear demonstration that Mancini is capable of taking the team in the right direction.
Although City haven’t always looked good in the early stages of the new season, Saturday’s victory did exactly that. Winning games of this nature is precisely what City must do to convince themselves — and just as importantly the wider footballing world — that they should be taken seriously as title contenders. Taking into account the shortcomings of their rivals, I don’t think they can be entirely discounted from this season’s race.
The club’s latest tranche of big-money signings (including Mario Balotelli, James Milner, David Silva and Yaya Toure) are still settling into their new environment, so September is far too soon to draw any firm conclusions. But Saturday’s victory suggested that City are genuinely closing the gap between themselves and the elite.
The consolation for Chelsea was that neither of their principle title rivals, Arsenal and Manchester United, could take advantage of their slip-up.
Arsenal’s shock home defeat to West Brom was notable for the fact that Cesc Fabregas was missing for the Gunners — the importance of the Spanish pass master was demonstrated by Arsene Wenger’s steely resolve to prevent him from joining Barcelona during the summer, and they simply can’t afford to be without him on many more occasions. As Lampard and Drogba are essential to Chelsea’s success, Fabregas is to Arsenal’s.
Manchester United’s failure to beat Bolton Wanderers was less surprising. The Red Devils are now without victory in any of their three away games so far this season, conceding seven goals in the process, and are looking uncharacteristically vulnerable on the road. United currently just don’t carry the same fearsome aura that many of their recent teams have imposed upon opponents.
So it’s been an interesting weekend that has in many ways provided more questions than answers. Are Manchester City actually ready to mount a serious title challenge? Do Chelsea have more frailties than they had previously shown? Can Arsenal overcome the inconsistencies of the occasional off-days that have plagued their recent seasons? And when will Manchester United finally win away from home? Only time will reveal the answers.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Spain’s victory is a victory for football

Spain’s dramatic 1-0 victory over the Netherlands in Sunday’s World Cup Final was the right result. Spain deserve to be world champions for the very first time, and their triumph was also a victory for football.
The Netherlands took an extremely rough and destructive approach to the game. Several very poor challenges were made, with midfield enforcers Nigel De Jong and Mark Van Bommel, in particular, highly fortunate not to join Johnny Heitinga in receiving a red card.
Bert Van Marwijk’s side were almost exclusively interested in defending, and they did so in an unpleasantly physical manner. Their rare attacking incisions sought to exploit Arjen Robben’s pace on the counter-attack, but over the 120 minutes they did nowhere near enough to merit victory.
Spain, by contrast, tried to get the ball down and play — just as they always do. Despite being forced to withstand a barrage of thunderous Dutch challenges, they refused to deviate from their careful, measured strategy based on maintaining possession and attempting to pass their way through the massed ranks of Dutch defence.
The winning goal, coming just four minutes from time, was worthy of deciding such a grand occasion. Cesc Fabregas slid a wonderfully perceptive pass into Andres Iniesta, whose perfect first touch cushioned the ball and created a shooting opportunity. His second touch demonstrated impeccable technique, as he closely watched the slowly dropping ball before connecting cleanly with a powerful volley that gave no chance to Dutch goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg.
Iker Casillas grabs the ball to stop a Dutch attack. - Reuters pic

It was a difficult skill, perfectly executed, and Iniesta was a fitting matchwinner. Aside from an irritating eagerness to dive under minimal contact, he is a joy to watch — his first touch, vision, passing and dribbling ability are perhaps only matched by his midfield colleagues Xavi and Fabregas, and he was probably the best player on the pitch last night.
There were frenzied Dutch objections to the winning goal, with referee Howard Webb confronted by furious complaints that Eljero Elia had been fouled in the passage of play immediately prior to the goal. They may have had a valid point — Sergio Ramos did seem to block the run of the Netherlands winger — but it’s difficult to have too much sympathy for a team that played in such an aggressive and negative manner.
The Netherlands also failed to dignify themselves with their reaction at the final whistle — rather than graciously accepting defeat they again surrounded the beleaguered Webb, inevitably led by objectionable midfielder Van Bommel, who could easily have been sent off for an outrageous foul on Iniesta in the first half.
With their general approach to the game and their ungracious reaction to the loss, it was not a good night for the Netherlands — yet they could have quite easily won it. Robben had possibly the best chance of the game when he was released through the middle by Wesley Sneijder’s precise throughball, but Iker Casillas did well to stand his ground and divert his former Real Madrid team-mate’s shot wide with his feet.
With less than half an hour remaining, if Robben had been able to convert that opportunity it could have proved decisive. I’m glad he didn’t, because a Netherlands victory would have left a nasty taste in the mouth. They got to the final, but they didn’t win many admirers amongst neutrals.
Not only were Spain the best team on the night, they were also the best team throughout the tournament. A surprise 1-0 loss to Switzerland in their opening game could have led to unnecessary panic, but instead they kept their composure, retained their belief in what they were doing, and started to remind the watching world why they had been regarded as pre-tournament favourites to lift the trophy.
The Spannish have it, the World Cup. - Reuters pic
It didn’t come easily and Spain were rarely at their most fluent best, but after that defeat to Switzerland they always had enough quality to overcome any opponent. The Barcelona pair of Xavi and Iniesta were crucial to their success — always wanting possession, always looking for a measured pass, always trying to create and play constructively.
Spain’s belief in their ability and their tactics lasted right to the end. When confronted with the looming possibility of a penalty shoot-out, it would have been easy for Spain to lose their shape, throw men forward in desperation, and stop doing what they are good at. But they persisted, continued to pass, move, pass, move...and finally — thankfully – they were rewarded.
It might not have been the greatest World Cup Final in history but at least it was settled in style; the best player from the best team scored the winning goal. And we can’t ask for much more than that.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Iniesta puts Spain on top of world

Spain's midfielder Andrés Iniesta celebrates after scoring
Champions of Europe and now champions of the world, Spain captured football's Holy Grail for the first time with a 1-0 victory over the Netherlands thanks to Andres Iniesta’s 116th-minute strike at Soccer City.
       The solitary goal came with penalties looming as substitutes Fernando Torres and Cesc Fabregas combined to play in Iniesta and the little Barcelona midfielder drove emphatically across Maarten Stekelenburg and into the far corner. With this victory – their fourth successive single-goal win in South Africa – Spain became the eighth name on the FIFA World Cup™ Trophy and also the first European team to have triumphed on a different continent. For the Netherlands, who lost defender John Heitinga to a red card in extra time, there is only the heartache of another tale of what might have been after completing a hat-trick of Final losses.
      This was a match preceded by much talk of two like-minded footballing cultures, of the influence of Dutchmen like Johan Cruyff and Rinus Michels on Barcelona, of 'tiki taka' and Total Football. In many ways, as the first 116 minutes showed, it was also a case of the irresistible force versus the immovable object. The Dutch had won 14 straight games to get to the Final, in qualifying and the tournament proper, and Spain 15 out of 16, their only slip the defeat by Switzerland in their first game here in South Africa.
      It was the Spanish found their stride first, living up to their pre-game billing as favourites. Vicente del Bosque's side, playing in navy blue, dominated possession and fashioned the early chances. With the Dutch penned inside their half, Maarten Stekelenburg had to make a save after five minutes, diving low to stop a Sergio Ramos header from Xavi's free-kick in from the right. Gerard Pique looked poised to follow up only to be denied by a combination of Joris Mathijsen and Dirk Kuyt.
     Ramos came again in the tenth minute, beating Kuyt on the right and driving in a low centre that Heitinga deflected behind. From the corner came another scare for the Netherlands. Xavi played the ball back to Xabi Alonso whose ball went beyond the far post to David Villa but the in-form No7 sliced his volley into the side-netting.
      After those near things, however, both defences got on top with none of the flair players on either side able to take a grip on proceedings. Instead the yellow-card count began to rise with Nigel de Jong becoming the fifth player in Howard Webb’s notebook by the time we reached the half-hour mark, the Netherlands midfielder, newly returned from suspension along with Gregory van der Wiel, having clattered into the chest of Xabi Alonso.
     With the orange sections of the 84,490 Soccer City crowd finding their voice, their favourites almost gave them something to sing about from a corner in the 37th minute. Robben rolled the ball to Mark van Bommel on the edge of the box and although he failed to make a clean connection he unwittingly diverted the ball on to the unmarked Mathijsen but the defender missed his kick. As half-time approached, Iker Casillas had barely had a save to make but entering stoppage time, Spain’s custodian had to be alert to deny Robben at his near post as a spell of Dutch pressure ended with the winger spearing in a low shot from the corner of the box.
     Puyol, Spain's semi-final matchwinner, showed his aerial threat once more minutes after the restart when he rose above Heitinga and headed to the far post but Joan Capdevila failed to make contact. The game was gradually opening up and Dutch spurned a golden opportunity in the 62nd minute when Wesley Sneijder sent Robben running clear. Casillas came to Spain’s rescue, deflecting the shot behind with his right foot when falling the wrong way.
      Spain coach Del Bosque had already sent on Jesus Navas for Pedro on the hour and the winger helped pick a hole in the Dutch defence in the 70th minute. Xavi sent him flying down the right and into the box and when Heitinga failed to deal with Navas’s low cross, the ball fell to Villa who looked odds-on to score only to see his effort deflected behind. Ramos was equally profligate after 78 minutes when he headed over a Xavi centre when unmarked, after Villa had forced another corner.
      Spain were looking the more likely winners and it took Sneijder of all people to foil Iniesta with a smart tackle after his jinking run into the box. Yet Robben’s pace is a persistent threat and the Oranje No11 almost embarrassed Puyol in the 82nd minute, speeding clear of the Spain defender when second-favourite to reach a through-ball. Resisting Pique’s attempt to tackle too, he was foiled only by Casillas, the captain saving at Robben’s feet as the Dutchman sought to round him.
     Extra time began with opportunities for Spain. Xavi failed to connect when well positioned and when the ball ran to Villa, his shot went wide off an orange shirt. Substitute Cesc Fabregas then broke clear on to Iniesta’s through-ball but was foiled by Stekelenburg. Mathijsen headed wide from a corner but like waves, Spanish attacks kept rolling on to the Netherlands back line and Navas was close with a shot deflected into the side-netting.
   Fernando Torres replaced Villa midway through the extra period and Spain gained a man advantage four minutes late with Heitinga’s dismissal for pulling back Iniesta on the edge of the box, the offence earning him a second yellow. Iniesta would not be denied, however, as his late strike put  Spain in the history books and shattered the men in Oranje.

Colbie Caillat - Fallin' For You (Official Video)

Netherlands-Spain FIFA WORLD CUP preview

               NED      vs     ESP
The 2010 FIFA World Cup™ Final promises to be quite an occasion, with the Netherlands pitting their wits against reigning European champions Spain. Both sides have produced some good football during their campaigns and have been rewarded with the chance to add their nation's names to the select list of former winners: Uruguay, Italy, Germany, Brazil, England, Argentina and France.
       The match
Netherlands-Spain, Final, Soccer City, Sunday 11 July, 20.30 (local time)
As a glance at the head-to-head record between the two nations shows, tipping a winner is no easy task. Both sides have won four of their nine meetings, with the other game ending in a draw. TheOranje have been here before, reaching the Finals at Germany 1974, with Johan Cruyff, and Argentina 1978, without him, and losing to the hosts on both occasions. For Spain, however, this is new territory, although their confidence at rising to the occasion will be high after ending a 44-year trophy drought at UEFA EURO 2008.
    The Netherlands' record at South Africa 2010 could hardly be more impressive: six wins in six games with 12 goals scored and five conceded. For their part Vicente del Bosque's men have strung together five wins in a row after kicking off with a surprise defeat. But while the Spaniards have found goals hard to come by, scoring just seven in total, they have been far more miserly in defence, letting in just two so far. The winners will also end an old hoodoo, with no European side having ever won the biggest prize in world football outside the old continent.
Players to watch
Wesley Sneijder v David Villa
The leading goalscorers at South Africa 2010, alongside Diego Forlan, Miroslav Klose and Thomas Muller, this in-form pair are in the frame for both the adidas Golden Boot and the adidas Golden Ball. Their goals have been vital to their sides' respective runs to the Final. Can one of them end the tournament with a winner's medal and two coveted individual awards? All will soon be revealed.
The stat
8 -
 Sunday's game will be the eighth all-European Final. In 19 FIFA World Cup tournaments, Europe has been represented in 16 Finals, a record that includes an unbroken run of 14 going back to Switzerland 1954. Only two showpiece games have been all-South American, with the remaining nine pitching together sides from the competition's two dominant continents.
Netherlands 1:2 Spain

Germany pip Uruguay to third place

 Sami Khedira of Germany celebrates scoring his team's third goal
Germany took bronze for the fourth time at the FIFA World Cup™ after beating Uruguay 3-2 in an entertaining play-off for third place. Sami Khedira got the winning goal with eight minutes remaining as Joachim Low's side repeated their success in this same match four years ago.
       There was no shortage of goals as the rain came teeming down in Port Elizabeth with both sides eager to conclude impressive campaigns on a winning note. Thomas Muller and Edinson Cavani traded first half efforts before Diego Forlan and Marcell Jansen did likewise within ten minutes of the restart. Yet it was Germany who came out on top and, in the process, South Africa 2010's leading scorers reached the 16-goal mark, surpassing their total at Italy 1990, albeit falling one short of their tally in 1970, when they also pipped Uruguay to the bronze medal.
      For two of the scorers, Muller and Forlan, their strikes took them to five for the tournament, level with David Villa and Wesley Sneijder at the top of the adidas Golden Boot standings. Forlan will rue the injury-time free-kick against the crossbar that denied him a sixth goal, while Miroslav Klose's absence with a back injury left him rooted on five too.
      Both teams featured changed lineups after their semi-final losses. Germany coach Joachim Low went for a wholly new forward line from that which began against Spain with starting roles for the trio of Muller, Cacau and Jansen. Further back Dennis Aogo came in for Philipp Lahm and goalkeeper Hans-Jorg Butt for Manuel Neuer. As for Uruguay, they welcomed back captain Diego Lugano from injury together with Jorge Fucile and Luis Suarez, both suspended for last Tuesday's defeat by the Netherlands.
      Muller made his mark early with his fifth goal in South Africa. The 20-year-old had already had one effort ruled out for offside when he fired Low’s side ahead in the 19th minute. Bastian Schweinsteiger sent in a shot from 30 yards that goalkeeper Diego Muslera, seemingly deceived by the swerve and dip, parried straight to Muller who had an easy task to score. A German breakthrough was hardly a surprise given by that stage they had also seen Arne Friedrich head a Mesut Ozil corner against the crossbar yet Oscar Tabarez's side soon responded.
      Uruguay threatened in the 25th minute when Per Mertesacker got a block on Forlan's far-post header. Four minutes later, though, they had their equaliser from a swift counter. Diego Perez dispossessed Schweinsteiger just inside the Celeste half with a powerful challenge and fed Suarez who played in Cavani down the inside left-channel. The Palermo striker took one touch before prodding a low finish into the bottom corner. Suarez should then have put Uruguay ahead three minutes before the break when Forlan picked out his diagonal run but bearing down on Butt's goal from the right, he arrowed his shot wide of the far post.
     Futher changes went begging moments after the restart when Butt saved at Cavani's feet and then got a hand to Suarez’s shot on the follow-up. Butt was left helpless when Forlan made it 2-1 after 51 minutes, however. The Atletico Madrid striker connected acrobatically with Egidio Arevalo's cross on the edge of the box, sending the ball into the rain-sodden turf and back up past Butt. Yet the lead lasted only five minutes before Muslera missed Jerome Boateng's deep cross and Jansen headed home.
     The game was now wide open as both teams chased a third goal. Butt kept out a flying strike from Suarez and came out to save at the feet of Forlan. At the other end Muslera beat away a shot from Germany substitute Stefan Kiessling, who missed two other inviting chances. The winning goal, when it came, followed an Ozil corner. The ball bounced off Friedrich and then Lugano before rising fortuitously to Khedira who headed home.

Friday, July 9, 2010

3rd place play-off : Uruguay vs Germany..........Who will it be ?

      For evidence of just how much the play-off for third place at the FIFA World Cup™ means, you only have to go back to the summer of 2006 and recall the determination with which host nation Germany rounded off their campaign with a 3-1 victory over Portugal in Stuttgart. It was the same for 1990 hosts Italy, who bounced back from the huge disappointment of semi-final defeat to Argentina with a spirit-lifting 2-1 success over England.
     And the showdown for the final place on the podium often proves most rewarding for dark horses that have lit up a tournament, such as Sweden at USA 1994, Croatia at France 1998 and Turkey at Korea/Japan 2002. What's more, with the pressure off and coaches’ tactical leashes loosened, these games can result in end-to-end football, chances aplenty and goals galore.
 The match
Uruguay-Germany, play-off for third place, Nelson Mandela Bay/Port Elizabeth, Saturday 10 July, 20:30 (local time)
     This is the second time Germany and Uruguay have met to contest third place at a FIFA World Cup, with the pair doing battle at the same stage of Mexico 1970. At the finals 40 years ago, Die Nationalmannschaft had lost a semi-final thriller 4-3 to Italy, while La Celeste had been downed 3-1 by eventual winners Brazil, with the Germans snatching third spot thanks to a solitary 26th-minute strike from Wolfgang Overath.
     The two teams also met in the quarter-finals at England 1966 in a match Germany won 4-0, and again at Mexico 1986, when the pair’s group meeting ended 1-1. In conclusive proof of their historical upper hand, of a total of nine international matches between the duo to date, Germany have won six and suffered only one defeat, which came at the 1928 edition of the Olympic Football Tournament.
    Not that Oscar Tabarez’s charges will let the record books concern them, having exceeded all expectations with the country’s best FIFA World Cup performance since lifting the Trophy for the second time at Brazil 1950. As they seek a victory which would crown their impressive showing on South African soil, striker Luis Suarez returns after missing the semi-final defeat against Netherlands through suspension while captain Diego Lugano should be fit to play after missing said game with a knee injury. Leading scorer Diego Forlan, meanwhile, has been declared fit to play despite a knock against the Dutch and, with four goals so far, is only one strike behind adidas Golden Boot pace-setters Wesley Sneijder and David Villa.
      Speaking of in-form forwards, the spotlight will also no doubt fall on Miroslav Klose, now just one goal behind the all-time FIFA World Cup record of 15, set by Brazil’s Ronaldo. However, his appearance in what will be Germany’s 99th match at the competition is in doubt after suffering he suffered a back injury against Spain on Wednesday, while midfielders Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira's participation is also in doubt. German coach Joachim Low is therefore expected to give a run-out to squad players such as Serdar Tasci, Dennis Aogo and Stefan Kiessling.
Players to watch
Miroslav Klose vs Diego Forlan
This duo of vastly experienced strikers have four goals apiece so far and will be determined to further their respective Golden Boot hopes by finding the net again at the Port Elizabeth Stadium. The lethal pair both picked up knocks in their sides’ semi-final defeats, however, and may struggle to fire on all cylinders come Saturday evening.
The stats
The signs suggest that the match for third place is unlikely to go to extra time, given that Germany’s last ten games - including friendlies - have all had a winner after 90 minutes.Uruguay had never beaten the Germans before while the Germans had already recorded 6 wins against their South American opponents.
The Verdict
I think their lost against Spain will not have anything to do against their match-up today but I believe them to beat Uruguay by 3:1.So Germany for 3rd place.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Netherlands vs Spain....Who will it be ??

                        NED                 VS                  ESP
         This could be the best finals in FIFA WORLD CUP history,a finals that people hoped for,a finals between two teams that never won the World Cup before.
Carles Puyol of Spain (C) celebrates with teammates after scoring the opening goal during the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Semi Final match between Germany and Spain
       Spain reached their first FIFA World Cup finals in 3 decades after a Carlos Puyol header earned them a worth full 1:0 win over favorites Germany. Spain also beat the likes of Portugal and Paraguay on the way.Let's take a look at Spain's journey to the finals.At the first match which was against Switzerland,a team that failed to beat the Spaniards in nearly 48 years,but history was rewritten,Switzerland pulled off the biggest shock so far at this FIFA World Cup™ as Gelson Fernandes's strike against the run of play earned them a 1-0 win against European champions and joint-tournament favourites Spain. Vicente del Bosque's team predictably dominated possession but were hit on the break seven minutes into the second half as the Swiss recorded a first win over Spain.The second match against Honduras was a must win match for them,and they did just that to get their  FIFA World Cup™ campaign back on track with a win against Honduras that was far more comprehensive than the 2-0 scoreline indicated. The Central Americans were the unlucky victims as the European champions returned to the kind of form which placed them among the pre-tournament favorites.The third match against Chile was also a must win match for them,cause the loser of this match will face Brazil.Spain beat ten-man Chile 2-1 to finish top of Group H and book a Round of 16 meeting with Portugal, while their opponents' courageous display was rewarded with a date with Brazil.And then it was a last 16 match-up against Portugal,who are just fresh from a 7:0 rout of North Korea and holding 5 time Champions Brazil to a goalless draw. Well,that didn't stop Spain from beating Portugal 1:0 and reach the quarter-finals of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. In the Quarter Finals they faced harder opponents Paraguay,who managed to edge out Asian giants Japan in a penalty shootout.  Spain set up a potentially thrilling semi-final meeting with Germany but the European champions had to do it the hard way, requiring a lone second-half strike from David Villa to claim a 1-0 win over a resilient Paraguay at Johannesburg’s Ellis Park. And finally Paul the Octopus predicted a Spanish win against it's native nation Germany.Well,that creature was worth the money,cause a 73rd minute Carlos Puyol header ended Germany's hopes and created history for the Amigos.
           Eljero Elia of the Netherlands (C) celebrates with team mates
Next is about the journey of the Netherlands who reached their third FIFA World Cup finals.Nobody expected the Dutch to be so impressive but they really put critics at bay with their world-class performances.First-up its against Denmark.No comments..on this.. the Dutch came out comfortable winners against the Danes as a Daniel Agger own goal and Dirk Kuyt’s late winner earned the Netherlands a deserved 2-0 win over Denmark at Johannesburg’s Soccer City as the Dutch took an early lead in Group E and stretched their long unbeaten run.The second match was a bit tricky cause they face Japan who are fresh from a 1:0 victory over Cameroon.Well the only goal of the game coming from Wesley Sneijder shortly after the break. Despite not having things their own way at the Moses Mabhida Stadium, the Dutch – still without injured winger Arjen Robben – will nevertheless be thrilled with their six points from two games and a spot at the top of Group E.The third game was a game that could seal Cameroon's early departure but for the Dutch its a game that they need to win to stretch their unbeaten run as their already in the last-16.Well, Arjen Robben came off the bench to help the Netherlands secure a 2-1 victory over Cameroon that seals top spot in Group E and sets up a last-16 date with Slovakia. Robin van Persie and Klaas Jan Huntelaar were on target either side of a Samuel Eto'o penalty at Cape Town's Green Point Stadium as Bert van Marwijk’s Oranje preserved their unblemished record at South Africa 2010.And its was  the start of the last-16 against Slovakia for the Netherlands.Slovakia is fresh from a 3:2 victory over defending 4 time Champions Italy that handed them an early exit.They are also determine to send the Dutch packing but the Dutch were just too strong.Slovakia's fairy-tale run came to an end at Durban's Moses Mabhida Stadium on Monday, with Arjen Robben returning to the starting line-up and helping fire the organised Oranje into the quarter-finals with the first goal in a 2-1 win.And then it was like nightmare for the Netherlands as they faced 5 time Champions Brazil in the Quarter finals.The Oranje were already looking at the exit door when Robinho fired the South Americans ahead in the first half,but the Dutch had a surprise for the samba kings in the second half.Well the Dutch came from behind to break Brazilian hearts and take a huge step towards a third FIFA World Cup™ final appearance. Trailing at half-time to Robinho's early goal in Port Elizabeth, Bert van Marwijk's men drew level with Brazil's Felipe Melo's own goal before Wesley Sneijder scored his second of the game with 22 minutes remaining.And then it was another South American giant,this time it was Uruguay,with the deadly Diego Forlan,but they also can't do a thing against the cruising Dutch.The Netherlands will face Spain in the Final of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ after beating Uruguay 3:2.
     Now the Finals,Netherlands vs Spain.Even if your favorite team is not here as expected by you,you must not miss this Finals cause a new team will be named Champions for the first time in FIFA World Cup history.Spain reached their first finals in 3 decades while the Netherlands were two time's runner-ups. The stakes are high for this fixture.Pundits have said that the team that scores first have the likely hood of winning the World Cup.Netherlands have score most of their goals in the first half while Spain is famous for their last minute knockout blows that can be sealed with a goal in the dying seconds.Head to heads put Netherlands with 4 wins against Spain,while the amigos only won 3 times against the Dutch.One draw was played.No doubt that the Dutch faced harder opponents during their campaign like Japan,Cameroon,Brazil,Uruguay while Spain only faced Chile,Portugal,Paraguay and Germany that almost turn the table around.Tactics wise of course  its Spain, their tempo of passing is direct but not as fast as the Dutch.Spain has a strong mid-field and a world-class goal keeper.The Netherlands are good down the flanks with Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben,they also have a forward named Van Persie who can be deadly when he gets the ball.Spain has Torres and David Villa and some attacking midfielders like Xavi and Xabi Alonso.The engine of Spain's midfield is of course Inesta.
      So the conclusion is simple both teams are good and worth to win the 2010 FIFA World Cup.But Spain has the slight edge over the Dutch.So my prediction is a 2:1 win for the Spainish. Adios Amigos!!!!! Watch the final!!! Don't forget!!!!