Monday, April 26, 2010

EPL title should already be Chelsea’s

Chelsea’s mightily impressive 7-0 demolition of Stoke City on Sunday afternoon re-established the London club’s supremacy at the top of the English Premier League table, and they are now just two more wins away from clinching their first EPL title since 2006.
The Blues have plenty of reason to feel optimistic — they were magnificent against Stoke, taking the game to their beleaguered opponents from the opening whistle with an adventurous formation that found room for three strikers — Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka and Salomon Kalou — as well as attacking midfielders Frank Lampard and Florent Malouda.
Stoke, normally a stubborn defensive unit, simply had no answer; it’s a somewhat mischievous point, but a measure of Chelsea’s dominance was that even Kalou managed a hat-trick — the Ivorian had only scored one previous league goal all season.
It was extremely impressive stuff, but in truth the Blues should already have the championship sown up. If they fail to see off the challenge of Manchester United in the next fortnight, it will have been a major opportunity missed — and an opportunity which may not present itself quite so easily next time around.

From the very beginning of the season, Chelsea have looked like they should be the country’s dominant team. With a galaxy of stars including Drogba, Anelka, Frank Lampard, Deco, Florent Malouda, Joe Cole, Michael Essien and Michael Ballack amongst others, Blues manager Carlo Ancelotti has been graced with a variety of attacking options to inspire jealousy even in Sir Alex Ferguson.
Ancelotti aside, there were no high-profile arrivals at Stamford Bridge during the course of last summer, but there were also no high-profile departures, and that provided the incoming Italian coach with an enviable degree of continuity around which to base his plans.
In stark contrast, the transfers of Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid and Carlos Tevez to Manchester City left current title holders United markedly weaker. Michael Owen and Antonio Valencia were never going to replace the productivity offered by the departing Ronaldo and Tevez, and United’s chief hope would be that Dimitar Berbatov would up his game to fill some of the void — that clearly hasn’t happened.

Of the other challengers, Liverpool never looked remotely capable of continuing their promising form of last season, Arsenal were denied the services of their most important striker, Robin Van Persie, for virtually the entire campaign, and newly-monied Manchester City are still in a development phase.
So if there was ever a season when winning the EPL could have been a relatively straightforward task for a team of Chelsea’s calibre, this was it. The title has been there for Chelsea’s taking, and the fact that they boast a 100 per cent record from their meetings with Arsenal, United and Liverpool suggests they are more than good enough to have waltzed their way to a comfortable triumph.
Instead, they’re left sweating it out until the last two weekends of the season due to the periodic and inexplicable intervention of strangely below par team performances, most recently in evidence when they produced an insipid display in last weekend’s 2-1 defeat at Tottenham. That was Chelsea’s sixth league defeat of the season — more than any title-winning team since Manchester United nearly a decade ago.
Perhaps Chelsea’s occasional dips can be explained by the advancing age of their squad; with Drogba, Anelka, Lampard, Deco and Ballack all pushing the wrong side of 30, maybe they’ve been let down by an occasional lack of combined energy on the days that their usual high standards have deserted them — when they’re playing badly, younger squads can mask their deficiencies with a severe bout of hard running, but Chelsea’s collective age prohibits that.
Whether that’s true or not, the age of Chelsea’s squad is a big concern for the future, and one of the major reasons why it’s so important for them to take their present opportunity.
Deco has already announced his intention to retire at the end of the season, Ballack may well head the same way, and Drogba’s punishing physical style of play can’t continue forever — the next fortnight could represent the final stand for this current Chelsea squad.
But who will replace the ageing stars? In recent years Chelsea’s transfer policy has simply been to spend as much money as necessary, but that approach seems to have softened in the last 18 months as a result of owner Roman Abramovich’s vulnerability to the global financial crash.
In that context, the future might lie with the likes of youngsters Daniel Sturridge and Gael Kakuta instead of a new tranche of imported Galacticos.
And while Chelsea are possibly approaching a downward curve, it’s reasonable to expect Manchester United to become even stronger next season, with Sir Alex widely expected to make a major splash in the summer transfer market for a striker or two (perhaps sacrificing Berbatov as a bargaining tool).
Furthermore, Manchester City — who have twice beaten Chelsea this season — will almost certainly continue to spend heavily during the summer, and rumours are continuing to grow that former Blues boss Jose Mourinho will be lured to Eastlands in place of Roberto Mancini, while Arsenal’s prodigiously talented young squad should be capable of making a more sustained assault on the title next season (especially if Arsene Wenger swallows his pride and adds a couple of feisty ball-winners).
So with Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenal all showing the potential to get better, Chelsea need to capitalise on their opportunity to win the title now — if they don’t, they might not get another chance like it for a long time.

Back To the drawing board.

For the past eight days, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has led a campaign that showcased everything rotten about Umno and BN.

The vilification and assassination on the personal lifestyle of Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, candidate of PKR and Pakatan Rakyat was absolutely disgusting but it brought mixed results based on the Malays' voting pattern.
The people of Hulu Selangor did not respond to BN's campaign by giving Zaid a decisive thumping, but instead word has it that they were displeased with the gutter politics on show.
Even though Zaid was not elected as the new representative of Hulu Selangor, it has shown to the nation that Umno has adopted this brand of politics.
Playing the typical opposition's game, Umno moved in to kill off Zaid by accusing him of not being Islamic enough, referring to his liberal character.
Then there was the crossing over of a few of Pakatan's representatives in the hope of destabilising the alliance that has been touted as the government-in-waiting.
The ill intent and misguided efforts were a desperate attempt by Najib to hold on to power and to reverse the potential end of BN's 53-year rule.
The wisdom of the people of all races — Malays, Chinese, Indians, Orang Asal and the rest of the population — should not be underestimated though.
They crave for a government that is able to provide a visionary leadership to propel the country to greater heights economically, politically and socially.
The Malays have expressed their displeasure with Umno's extremism as indicated by a vote swing for Pakatan in some Malay areas of Batang Kali.
The majority of the Chinese in Kuala Kubu Bharu township and the many urban Indians including the Orang Asal showed their abhorrence of Umno's utter contempt of their rights as Malaysians.
It is fortunate that the self-imposed referendum on Najib's leadership did not backfire as it would have been very embarassing for Najib if BN had lost.
BN clearly outplayed Pakatan by dishing out monies and projects for the constituents of Hulu Selangor.
To the Anwar Ibrahim-led Pakatan Rakyat, the goal is to relieve BN's stranglehold on the lives of ordinary Malaysians — in the urban cities, kampungs, estates and the remote areas.
Pakatan needs to deal with the results of the Hulu Selangor by-election with great humility; that the trust of the people needs to be safeguarded and upheld with ultimate transparency, accountability and responsibly.
The people of Hulu Selangor have also shown some affinity to Pakatan and this should not be destroyed with internal squabbling and politicking among Pakatan component members.
The almost non-existent PKR machinery especially in Hulu Bernam and the Felda areas of Hulu Selangor show a lack of engagement with the Malay voters.
This is also similar in the national context, whereby the message of Pakatan does not get across to the Malay population and this has to be addressed by Pakatan as a whole, not just by PAS or to a lesser extent PKR.
The calls for change will not be realised if the Malays do not buy into this message and major effort needs to be given due consideration by Pakatan including DAP in order to break the myth that the Chinese-led party will trample on the rights of the Malays.
There has to be a clear, simple and direct message for the rural Malays that a Pakatan government will protect their rights, their livelihoods, the Malay Sultans, the Malay language and Islam as the religion of the Federation.
If these issues are given due attention, maybe then we will see a second political tsunami in the country come the next general election.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Title race takes another twist

         After Arsenal's last 10 minutes 3:2 defeat at the DW Stadium(Wigan's home)the title race was a clear two horse race between Chelsea and Manchester United.
Just when we thought Chelsea’s gradual progression towards the Premier League title was becoming a formality, along comes another twist to this strange season to leave the race wide open again.

As we entered the weekend’s fixture list the Blues were firmly installed as odds-on favourites to lift the EPL trophy for the first time since 2006, but their 2-1 defeat at Tottenham, coming just a few hours after Manchester United had scored an injury time winner against Manchester City for the third time this season, has thrown everything into doubt once again.

With three games remaining, United are now just one point behind the leaders. With Wayne Rooney seemingly back to fitness, Sir Alex Ferguson’s team will fancy their chances to pick up maximum points from their remaining games, and that would force Chelsea to do the same to hold off the Red Devils.

Although two of Chelsea’s remaining fixtures – home encounters with Stoke City and Wigan Athletic – should be relatively straightforward, they do face one significant challenge with a trip to Liverpool on Sunday 2nd May. That fixture will provide one of those exceptionally rare moments in football: Manchester United fans hoping that Liverpool win. Although it will go against their nature to cheer on long-time hate figures such as Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres, if Liverpool can take points from Chelsea in a fortnight, the door will be left wide open for United.

So Chelsea, if they are to lift the trophy, are doing it the hard way, and it has certainly not been an easy campaign for the west London club. Under the guidance of new manager Carlo Ancelotti — their fifth man at the helm in a little over three years — the Blues have been forced to confront a number of serious hurdles, which have been nothing if not wide-ranging in their nature.

Amongst the obstacles put in their way, Chelsea have endured seeing the sordid personal life of their captain and inspirational leader John Terry exposed to the world; midfield dynamo Michael Essien has missed more than four months of action through injury; goalscoring hero Didier Drogba departed for a month in the middle of the season to compete in the African Cup of Nations, and marauding full-back Ashley Cole was out of action for two months with a broken ankle at the same time that fellow defenders Ricardo Carvalho and Jose Bosingwa were also sidelined through injury.

The peak of their woes came between the middle of February and the middle of March, at a time when Terry’s personal revelations were still fresh, Cole and Essien were out injured, and Drogba temporarily lost his ability to find the back of the net. During that fraught period, Chelsea were dumped out of the Champions’ League by their former manager Jose Mourinho, thrashed 4-2 at home by Manchester City and surrendered an early lead to drop more points at Blackburn.

In the face of all that adversity, then, the Blues deserve great credit for putting themselves into a position to win the double, as they are still well placed to do. It would have been easy for them to have crumbled, especially during that period in March when their season was seriously on the line, and the fact that they recovered so well says a lot for the resilient mentality of their players and the phlegmatic managerial skills of Ancelotti. They could not have a better leader to keep them calm, focussed and unflustered as they approach these nervous final few weeks.

And what about Tottenham?! Spurs have long been an infuriatingly unpredictable team to follow, and that trait has certainly been in evidence this season. Just seven days ago they were being lambasted for their poor performance in their FA Cup semi-final defeat to Portsmouth, with supporters resigning themselves to another season of frustration. But now they’ve beaten both Arsenal and Chelsea in the space of four days, reclaiming the all-important fourth position from Manchester City in the process.

Tottenham could still have a significant say in the title race: next weekend they travel to Old Trafford to provide what should be Manchester United’s most testing remaining fixture. Which Tottenham side will turn up — the free-flowing, fast-paced exuberant entertainers who dismantled Chelsea and Arsenal, or the misfiring, over-casual show-boaters who lost to Portsmouth? With Spurs you can never be sure, but it certainly keeps the title race — and the challenge for the fourth Champions’ League spot — very interesting.

So, which way will the title race turn next? Well, in the last couple of weeks I’ve confidently predicted that Spurs would cruise past Portsmouth into the FA Cup semi-final (they didn’t), that Hull would hammer Burnley at home (they lost) and that Manchester City would take points off their cross-city rivals to end United’s title bid (they didn’t).

The only prediction I’ve got right (so far) in the last few weeks is that Arsenal’s challenge would fall away, so we can probably expect both Chelsea and United to continue to drop points and allow Arsene Wenger’s men to somehow recover from their shocking capitulation at Wigan to storm their way to a triumphant title.

The Hulu Selangor BigTop Show

For folks paying attention to Hulu Selangor all this week, the campaign period is both a genuinely engaging pastime and a guilty pleasure.

We’ll consume all the news reports, blogposts and tweets in the hope of latching on to some genuine morsels that deserve to be weighed and considered — we’d like to think — by the P94 electorate before they cast their ballots on Sunday.

It’s all a rather bourgeois exercise by those among us who continue to wish for more issues-based campaigning from the candidates and their respective parties. We should know better, of course. Time and again it’s proven we’re stuck in the same rut.

In the end, we make do with the same old guilty pleasures: mud slinging, character assassinations, holier-than-thou morality plays and the associated gutter embellishments that colour our politics.

So, Mr Zaid Ibrahim used to enjoy a pint or two — which of course in Malaysian politics makes him the devil incarnate. So, Mr Kamalanathan says he sees nothing wrong with Perkasa’s agenda — which of course in Malaysian politics makes him nothing more than a stooge (technically worse than the devil, actually).

Perhaps the most damning of all for the electorate, is that the campaigning is almost never about which candidate, by the numbers, has the potential to serve their constituents better.

Often, it’s more about the big personalities from the two front-running factions along with promises of development and aid to be brought into the area (things that any elected government *should* be doing anyway, even if it were a coalition). Thankfully, since it’s Selangor the “developed state”, we’re spared the talk of tarred roads and basic utility.

Like a wrestling or gladiatorial bout these big party personalities will descend in formation (small frys first, building up to the main act) and make a bigtop show of it all, along with an entourage of prop supporters making up the numbers. Throw in the bearded lady and it’ll be a complete funfair, really.

For a whole week, the folks of Hulu Selangor are going to be made to feel like a million bucks (“take what they offer but vote with your conscience” remind the cynical among us).

Both BN and PR seem to happy to keep this status quo. It makes for relatively easier campaign strategising, it must be said — the same cookie-cutter approach works for any and all constituencies.

Pepper the campaign period with a few well-timed party-quitting stunts (even by relative unknowns), photo opportunities with some makciks and laughing it up with some salt-of-the-earth locals, and all’s good.

If by analogy the by-election campaign were a marketing contest, both PR and BN typically engage no higher than the Multi-Level Marketing (MLM), or direct marketing level. Like all MLMs, it’s never about the products (read: issues), it’s all about the purchase of influence and ensuring the downline votes are secured.

Among the candidates, there’ll be nothing to argue or debate in front of the electorate themselves. All the ceramahs are one-way occasions where gifted orators hold court without having to be second guessed or asked to justify any of their claims.

Then there are those “creative” banners, flyers (paragliders even) and poorly photoshopped images which come in too ample a supply to not have been a part of the planned party campaign machinery as opposed to something that could be passed off as the product of overzealous (yet strangely well-funded) “supporters.”

And oh boy, the stuff they spout at the ceramahs. Suffice it to say it’s far from PG-rated and not what you’d take your kids to. Indeed, I have no doubt that many of us would walk away from individuals who engage in this sort of mudslinging in real-life situations. Yet, when it comes to politics, all is game and acceptable. Outside, some of these selfsame politicians would even feign false modesty at the everyday harsh language we all partake in rather matter-of-factly.

Come to think of it, with tongue not-so firmly in cheek; perhaps the more discerning Hulu Selangor folks are better off with one of the independents — Mr V.S. Chandran or Mr Johan Mohd Diah — who have been ceremoniously ejected from their previous parties. At least they’ll be free of baggage and can properly serve the people.

Observers shouldn’t kid ourselves — we’ll forget about Hulu Selangor soon enough, followed by any other by-election that comes up between now and the next GE. I’m guilty as charged, too.

But those real issues of national importance that we continue to allow ourselves to be de-focused from thanks to both the PR and BN by-election campaign machinery; they are the ones that are going to be our collective undoing.

Let’s all keep our eyes on the ball for the sake of our Hulu Selangor neighbours.

Can we change ?

Imagine you are in a game show. The game show host asks you as a contestant to pick one of three doors to win the prize which is a new Mercedes Benz. Behind two of the three doors are goats which you do not want to win: only one door has the Mercedes. The game show hosts knows where the goats and the Mercedes are.

You pick door A. The game show hosts opens door C and shows you a goat behind it. The host then asks you if you want to change your choice to door B. You reason that your chances of getting the Mercedes was one in three before and since he has opened the door C to show you a goat, your chances are now 1 in 2 to win the Mercedes. The host maybe trying to trick you to change so you decide you will stick with door A since the probability of winning the Mercedes is the same with either door A or B.
In my experience in posing the above question to friends (which incidentally is called “The Monty Hall Paradox”), the vast majority would stick with their initial pick and would not change.
It occurred to me that having made a choice, we human beings are reluctant to change our initial guess. In fact we will try to stick to our initial choice if we surmise that the probability of success is the same either way. It seems to be hardwired into our psyche.
It is the same with supporters of football clubs: the supporters will support their club of choice regardless. It is as though loyalty is prized over all else in respect of supporters of football clubs.
I even have friends in London who will bring their young children to support Arsenal and try to ensure that their offspring will be Arsenal supporters for life as they have been. It is as though if you are from North London, it is practically frowned upon to support any other football club.
Personally, I don’t subscribe to this type of blind loyalty in sports. After all if I am a spectator, it is for the players to entertain me and not for me to commit to them. However I suppose I would miss out on all the camaraderie that goes with blind loyalty to a team.
There are similar elements at play in Malaysian politics too. The established political parties will espouse loyalty of their party members as a virtue second to none. If you are a member of a party, it is expected that you, at least, will vote for it.
It is not an unreasonable assumption under normal conditions but the last general election showed that in a number of areas, the votes obtained by a party were less than its registered members in that area. It was seen as a change in the political dynamics in Malaysia.
I believe the next general election will be determined very much by the young and new voters. It is not so much that die hard supporters of the various parties change allegiances as who the new voters will vote for as their party of choice. I don’t believe that the older voters will be a significant influence on the new voters. In fact I think most of the established parties are all trying to figure out what appeals to these new voters who are influenced by the internet age of the 21st century.
The new voters will find it increasingly difficult to swallow the various dictates of the established parties. The young will be more interested in what is politically trendy and cool, at the time that they vote, and will want to have more say in the direction the country is going. The parties that are more in tune with this new group will do well. Those who ignore them do so at their peril.
In respect of the original question of the game show, you should always change your initial choice because the probability is not the same.
If you chose door A and never changed your choice after being shown door C with a goat, your chances of winning the Mercedes is 1/3. Therefore if you changed to door B after initially picking A, having been shown C, your chance of winning is 2/3.
In the Monty Hall Paradox, we can verify that changing is beneficial because of probability. In real life, change is often much harder and takes much longer than we imagine.
The reality is that we humans tend to resist change because we would then have to admit that our initial choice was wrong.

Friday, April 16, 2010

A decisive weekend by all accounts.

                     Tottenham Hotspurs will host their bitter local rivals Chelsea in a London Derby while Manchester City will host their arch rivals Manchester United in a Manchester Derby.
The El Clasico, dubbed the biggest match in club football, dominated the headlines last weekend as Barcelona showed Real Madrid why spending hundreds of millions on a few superstars will get a team nowhere.
This week another rich club takes on its biggest rivals. It’s the Manchester derby and sparks are sure to fly, especially after the controversial outcome of the reverse encounter at Old Trafford earlier in the season, when Michael Owen ended the deadlock almost seven minutes into injury time . . . or, as it is otherwise called, “Fergie time”, that is, the number of minutes referees are obliged to add for no reason to placate the veteran manager.

Unlike the encounter in Spain, however, this is no title-decider. That took place a couple of weeks back when Chelsea beat Manchester United (MU) at Old Trafford. That match ended the Premiership title race in all probability.
Meanwhile, the champions-elect will be having their derby as well. There may be many out there who think the title has not been decided, mostly MU fans and Arsene Wenger, but this weekend’s results should have a big say.
Realistically, this weekend appears to be MU’s last chance to breathe fresh life into their flagging challenge and having to beat an in-form and high-scoring Manchester City at that. This match will also conclude about three hours before Carlo Ancelotti’s men take on Tottenham Hotspur.
By beating Arsenal in midweek, Spurs have already given an indication that their FA Cup exertions and disappointment last weekend did not have too dramatic an effect.
It was also a reverse after two consecutive losses for Spurs, with their 3-1 league loss at Sunderland pre-empting their FA Cup exit.
The inclusion of Ledley King in defence was crucial to their win over the Gunners. The question is will he be able to play two games in a week. Without their captain, Spurs will be exposed at the back.
On another note, it might be good for Fabio Capello to consider King for the World Cup in June. John Terry and Rio Ferdinand will be England’s first-choice pairing, so what England need is a player who, after a spell of inactivity, is capable of stepping into the breach at short notice and filling in. It’s precisely because King plays so infrequently for Spurs that he could be such an asset to England’s squad this summer.
Though to be honest, Spurs are not that great even with King, considering the number of times that their goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes had to make miraculous saves to thwart Arsenal on Wednesday.
I suppose many of us had doubts over the Lillywhite’s credentials to claim fourth spot because of their tough run at the tail-end of the season, taking in Arsenal, Chelsea, MU and, finally, their biggest challenger for the Champions League spot, Manchester City.
With Arsenal despatched, attention turns to Chelsea, whose record at the Lane has turned around in recent times. Since a 16-year winless run ended in 2006, Spurs have taken points from Chelsea in the last two seasons — a win last year following that epic 4-4 draw in 2008.
If Spurs are going to reach the Champions League, they will have to do it the hard way. And if the evidence of Wednesday night is anything to go by, they might well be okay — but their capacity for producing an excellent performance is only equalled by their ability to make a mess of things.
Going into the match, Chelsea do not have any pressure as they are pretty comfortable at the top. However, as Bolton showed in mid-week, the Blues can be given a run for the money. Just pack the midfield and do not give them space to move the ball freely and Chelsea will be limited.
It will also help if the opposition is able to ensure that the match officials are also given proper eye tests before a match starts. Seriously, are Chelsea the new MU, being given so many unfair breaks in matches? MU were once the richest club in the EPL and had things their way. Now, it seems Chelsea can afford to out-pay MU to the “charities” that the referees association supports.
Anyhow, Chelsea are odds-on almost everywhere to win tonight despite the fact they have not won at White Hart Lane in the league since the 2005/2006 season, when they were last crowned champions.
MU, on the other hand, are dealing with opponents who have multiple motivations. City have their own Champions League aspirations to think about, but even if they were languishing in mid-table with absolutely nothing to play for, they would take no greater pleasure than ensuring there was no fourth title in a row for MU. Similar to how Spurs felt after ending Arsenal’s title hopes this season.
Alex Ferguson has confirmed that Wayne Rooney could return to action tonight. England’s biggest hope since David Beckham has been struggling with the ankle problem he further aggravated in the second leg of the Champions League clash with Bayern Munich but has returned to training this week.
MU have endured a disappointing fortnight on two fronts but will hope to put that right at the Eastlands, not only to maintain the pressure on Chelsea at the top of the table but also to send a timely reminder of who is the bigger team in Manchester.
Roberto Mancini’s City have struck a rich vein of form coming to the end of the season, having found the net 14 times in their last three games against Birmingham, Burnley and Wigan.
If you needed reminding, this is the fourth Manchester derby of the season, following September’s 4-3 epic MU win and a thrilling two-leg encounter in the Carling Cup semi-final.
The man to watch for this tie will be once-MU fan favourite Carlos Tevez, who has excelled in the Blue half of Manchester. The Argentine international has enjoyed a prolific first season at his new club, scoring 28 goals in all competitions, including three against his former club in those two Carling Cup matches.
Anyone willing to gamble on him not finding the back of the net tonight? I didn’t think so.
A fit Rio Ferdinand would have trouble keeping Tevez at bay, what more one that is slightly crocked. So, if Ferdinand does play, he and Nemanja Vidic will surely have a torrid time at the back.
City have every reason to win this and it wouldn’t be wrong to say they have the self-belief to achieve it, let alone form. For the first time in decades, it would actually be an embarrassing shame if they do not send MU packing with nothing but battered pride.
And when they do, it will be practically game-set-match on both the title and fourth-place battlefronts.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

El Clasico – Who will reign in Spain? Real Madrid or Barcelona ?The two teams clash at the Santiago Bernabeu to decide the title victor's

As the Champions League quarterfinals came to an end on Wednesday night, a new joke emerged in Spain at the expense of Real Madrid’s president Florentino Perez. The joke was that he called up his director of football, Jorge Valdano, and asked him to start negotiations to buy Inter Milan’s Wesley Sneijder and Bayern Munich’s Arjen Robben, the respective scorers for the two CL semi-finalists.
The problem, of course, is that both players were dumped after being considered surplus to requirements at the Santiago Bernabeu just before the start of the season.
So, while Perez got his wish back in the summer of 2009 with the annual player movement in-and-out of Madrid, it was his counterpart from Barcelona who carried the hopes of Spain into the CL semi-finals this year.

That contrast will come to play tonight (Sunday, 4am) as the two giants of Spanish football meet at the Bernabeu in the latest edition of the biggest derby in the world, outside of England.
Even if for some strange reason, you forgot that it was the Lionel Messi-Cristiano Ronaldo duel, it will still be a highly entertaining game of Spanish football for all football aficionados.
It is rare that a player thumping in 25 goals in a season so far can still be considered yesterday’s news, but that is how one can describe Ronaldo compared with the abundant accolades showered on Messi in recent weeks.
That’s not to say that the Portuguese has not performed admirably in his first year in La Liga. It is just that the magic of Messi on the pitch adds to the mystery of the contrast in personalities of the two players, making it a case of the simple street kid versus the spoilt superstar.
Ironically, the two clubs’ rivalry originated from non-football related issues, or to be more precise, a political one. Madrid and Barcelona are the two largest cities in Spain, and they are often identified with “Spanishness” and Catalanism, respectively, whilst the clubs are the most successful and influential football clubs in the country.
The enmity between the historic rivals spiralled from the moment in 1953 when Argentine-born legend, Alfredo Di Stefano, controversially signed for Los Merengues after initially agreeing to join Barca. The Catalans claimed dictator General Franco tipped the balance Real’s way.
Di Stefano went on to help Madrid to the first five European Cups and eight Liga titles, forming the bedrock of the club’s grand status within world football.
The rivalry has also been heightened many times over by Real Madrid and Barcelona top players defecting to their arch-rival. Notable Barcelona players who have taken the “Puente Aereo” to Real Madrid include Bernd Schuster (1988), Michael Laudrup (1994) and Luís Figo (2000). Luis Enrique switched from Real Madrid to Barcelona in 1996 and went on to captain the Blaugrana.
The clubs are, quite simply, obsessed with each other. The media is happy to build it up – it sells millions of papers – and fans around the world are fascinated by one of the most ferocious derbies in football, despite the 630km that separate the rival cities!
When Barcelona swept all before them last season, Real responded by spending a fortune on the best players in the world. Barca countered the arrivals of Ronaldo, Kaka, Karim Benzema and Xabi Alonso by bringing in their own marquee signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic, even though it meant parting with €40 million (RM172 million) and Samuel Eto’o. They had to be seen to be doing something.
Barcelona come into this match in full confidence after dissecting Arsenal in the mid-week second leg quarterfinal Champions League tie. And they owe it all to one man.
It is getting increasingly difficult not to resort to hyperbole when describing the feats of Messi. However, fair judgement should be withheld until after the 2010 World Cup in South Africa this summer, when the 22-year-old will carry the hopes of Argentina.
If Messi can still perform then as he does for Barcelona, he truly will rank alongside Pele, Di Stefano, Johan Cruyff and Diego Maradona.
Still, he sits below his compatriot, Maradona. The footballing legend and current national team coach was not only the maestro in successful teams — Napoli, Barcelona and Argentina — but Maradona also was the team.
Of recent greats, Messi seems to be even under the shadow of Zinédine Zidane, in that Messi does not aspire to be the conductor of his side, but simply the dazzling virtuoso.
That said, Messi has been in stunning form this season and took his tally for the campaign to 39 goals in all competitions with all four in Tuesday’s 4-1 win over a much-weakened Arsenal line-up.
Ronaldo has added to the growing list of plaudits for Barcelona superstar Messi, but warned it would be a mistake for Real Madrid to concentrate only on the Argentinian playmaker in this weekend’s “El Clasico”.
Messi has scored 15 goals in his last 10 games, including three hat-tricks, and is only going to be one of the major figures tonight.
“He’s phenomenal, but Messi doesn’t play on his own. The coach and his team-mates deserve credit as well. Whoever knows about football knows what I’m saying,” Ronaldo added.
Last year, the Madrid side attempted to kick him off the ball with some shockingly blatant fouls, but Messi has proven himself capable of fending off such treatment. Give him space to run at defenders and his goal tally of 37 in 42 games this season will surely increase.
Barca makes the trip to Madrid this weekend with both clubs locked on 77 points. In a league that is decided on a head-to-head record rather than goal difference in the result of a tie, it is imperative for Real Madrid to pick up the three points and overturn the 1-0 deficit from last November’s clash at the Nou Camp.
Besides Messi, there is another Argentinian who has been bagging the goals in the Primera Liga. He is Gonzalo Higuain and the only thing keeping him from the spotlight is the star-studded line-up Real Madrid possess.
The 22-year-old took his tally of goals to 24 for the season during last weekend’s 2-0 win over Racing Santander, and he is now just two behind Messi at the top of the Spanish league scoring charts.
Real are also sweating on the fitness of maestro Kaka who looks to be in danger of missing out on the tie as he has been struggling to deal with a hernia injury the past month. His participation remains in severe doubt, with Rafael van der Vaart set to deputise once again should he fail to make it.
Benzema is still not 100 per cent fit, despite returning to training, and Christoph Metzelder still has nightmares about the 6-2 drubbing last season.
Barca, on the other hand, will be missing Eric Abidal after he aggravated his thigh injury against Arsenal. Gerard Pique and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are both struggling to be fit.
Pep Guardiola’s men have won their last three meetings against Real Madrid, netting an average of three goals per game, but Manuel Pellegrini’s side are on a run of 12 consecutive league wins, and have notched-up 15 wins in a row at home, so they won’t be pushovers. They have also netted 83 goals in total – eight more than Barca.
However, Madrid were in similarly good form going into last season’s corresponding fixture, which was also a vital game in the title race but ended up being one of the most painful in the club’s illustrious history.
Over the last five seasons Real Madrid have only emerged victors once, in December 2007. They even did the double on Barca that season.
Real Madrid have found this particular manifestation of Barça rather hard to take, especially given the 6-2 defeat of last season.
No doubt, some measure of revenge will go a long way towards wiping away the humiliation at the Bernabeu last season, or at the least, wrest back some dignity.
With Real having to go all out in this match to secure a win for reasons I have mentioned above, I can see Perez having the last laugh watching the match from his presidential box at the stadium tonight. A narrow win is on the cards for the home side.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

My new phone !!!!!! Out with the old.....In with the new.....A great end to my frustrations

The Nokia 5800 Xpress Music

 Thank's to my parents.....My frustration's with my old phone has come to an end.
It all started,when I droped my old phone on the ground.....around 6 times....but it survived all that horror and it was as normal as it was.
 One day,I was playing a game on the Handphone,and without warning,it shut-down and I took me a full day to re-on it.And this continued for a number of days,until I couldn't take it anymore.Even when emergencies occur the Hp can't be used.So I took it to the phone shop.
The guy said he need to change the housing of the phone,so my father agreed to send it for repair,after one week we collected the Hp,I was very happy,the phone was a good as new,but aftre two days,the horror came back to haunt me,again it shut-down by itself,and this time I couldn't  do anything to revive it back,like it went into coma stage.
Took it back to the phone shop,he said,it can't be repaired,you have to sell it.So I agreed to sell it,or trade it in.And then I was given the task to choose a phone....Haiz.....So many Nokia,Sony Ericisson,LG,Samsung,I-phone....Of course my dream phone was the I-phone,but it was too big...and the I-phone 3Gs was a hot topic among the robbers who steal this phones.So the shop keeper,recommended me this phone.......a Nokia 5800 Xpress Music......It has a touch screen...FM Radio....and of course no commends on the sound quality...haha..Xpress Music...sure its the best and it also had some great features that makes it different from other Xpress Music and other branded phones...and he offered me the best price....RM1050.....haha..i like the phone.....I basicly fell in love with it.....and i liked the price number 1050 so without wasting time,I sealed the deal.And after three days i got the phone.
It just took me 50 min's,to learn about the gaget.And this was my best phone ever.It really does make me rock.Well again thank's to my beloved Mum and Dad....For this wonderfull gaget.....^^

Magician Messi restores faith in football

At times, it would be easy to become disillusioned with modern football.
Confronted by the excessive wealth that has turned so many leading players into vulgar monstrosities who have little connection to the outside world, the petulant cheating that perniciously infiltrates so many games, the hyperbolic and hysterical media coverage, the cynical and corrupt commercialism that motivates the behaviour of so many administrators, there are plenty of reasons to fall out of love with the game.
But then you watch Lionel Messi play, and all is well with the world.
All the excesses, the selfishness, the posturing and the rampant commercialism...they all become irrelevant when the ball is at Messi’s feet; he makes you feel good about football again.
On Tuesday night in the Nou Camp, Messi was at his bewildering best. For 25 unforgettable minutes at the end of the first half, he played as well as any human being ever has. That might be a rather bold statement and maybe Pele, Puskas, Eusebio or Maradona in their prime might have rivalled it...but I doubt it.
As opposing goalkeeper Manuel Almunia ruefully noted in the immediate aftermath of his ordeal: “His skills are so great, he can do anything he wants, whenever he wants.” For once, it was no exaggeration.
Messi was unstoppable, scoring a 21-minute hat-trick — all three goals exquisitely memorable in their own right — to confirm Barcelona’s passage into the last four of the Champions’ League. The little Argentine master then largely dawdled through the second half as Pep Guardiola’s team took it easy but, just to make sure we hadn’t forgotten how good he is, he provided a final flourish to register his fourth goal of the evening (and, of course, it was another sensational solo effort).
Now Barcelona will face Inter Milan in the semi-final, and it will be intriguing to see how Jose Mourinho makes plans to deal with Messi’s threat; one thing for certain is that he will make plans.
For all his flair and flamboyance, Mourinho’s greatest strength is his tactical awareness as a coach. He prepares teams that are supremely well organised, disciplined, hard-working and difficult to beat, as CSKA Moscow found to their cost in Tuesday night’s other semi-final.
From the moment Wesley Sneijder’s low free-kick gave Inter an early lead, doubling their aggregate advantage to 2-0, you knew it was all over. There would be no miraculous comeback for CSKA — that just doesn’t happen against teams coached by Mourinho.
Inter are probably better than any team in world football at closing out a game, settling for what they’ve got and making sure the opposition aren’t given a route back.
But nullifying the threat of CSKA Moscow is one thing, stopping Barcelona over three hours is quite another; there can be no greater challenge for any coach than stifling Messi, and it will be fascinating to see how Mourinho attempts to do so.
After Messi’s astonishing exploits on Tuesday night, anything else had to be an anti-climax...but Wednesday’s fare wasn’t bad either.
Manchester United have always been at their best when they play with controlled fury: pace, power, determination and aggression. Unlike Barcelona, United are not a team that can patiently craft victories — Sir Alex Ferguson’s team are much better when they are going ‘at it’ full throttle, full speed.
Those qualities were conspicuous by their absence in the rather feeble capitulation to Chelsea at the weekend but, in the opening half-hour on Wednesday night, United were back to their very best as they swept into a three-goal lead to seemingly secure their passage at the expense of Bayern Munich.
But then, just as we were preparing for a comfortable second half of watching United stroll their way into the semis, the irrepressible Ivica Olic pulled one back for the visitors on the stroke of half time to set up a cliffhanging second period.
Olic’s goal completely changed the complexion of the tie. Whereas United had been belligerent and forceful at the start of the first half, in the second they were tentative and anxious. And after Rafael was rightly sent off for two unnecessary yellow cards, the Red Devils were forced to defend as they’ve rarely defended before.
Bayern were utterly dominant in possession, giving a masterclass in how to exploit the advantages of playing against ten men, but for a while it seemed that United’s dogged and determined defensive display might hold out. That was until Arjen Robben produced a piece of magic to fizz an unstoppable 20-yard volley into the left-hand corner, and United were beaten.
At the same time, Lyon were doing what United couldn’t and holding onto a slender one-goal aggregate advantage to dispose of their compatriots Bordeaux. Lyon — conquerors of Real Madrid in the last round — will now face Bayern, whose pace on the flanks in the form of Robben and Franck Ribery should allow them to prevail.
Football just doesn’t get much better than the games to which we’ve been treated in the Champions’ League this week — and the good news is that they were only the quarter-finals; let’s hope the semis and the final can maintain the sparkling standards we’ve witnessed thus far.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Video official would have ruled Drogba offside.

Chelsea’s potentially title-winning victory at Old Trafford on Saturday featured a goal from Didier Drogba that should have been disallowed for a clear offside; Arsenal’s win over Wolves contained a disputable red card for visiting captain Karl Henry, with the match-winning goal coming after Wolves were reduced to 10 men.
Yet again, contentious refereeing decisions have played a major part in determining the outcome of this weekend’s most important EPL fixtures.
Let’s be clear from the outset — I am not about to embark upon one of those tiresome “all referees are rubbish” rants that invariably get trotted out by frustrated managers in the aftermath of a narrow defeat.
Considering the increased pace of the game in the last 20 years and the fierce scrutiny offered by multi-camera television crews, match officials have an exceptionally difficult job and, on the whole, they do it extremely well. But why can’t we give them some more help to make their jobs a little less difficult?
Saturday’s happenings only strengthened my conviction that introducing technology to assist the officials’ decision-making process is an absolute must.
Trials so far have been limited to goal-line decisions, giving officials the opportunity to get another angle on whether the ball has crossed the line, and that would be a good start...but only a start — it would also be easy to introduce a “video official” with responsibility for contributing to decisions on offsides, handballs, penalties and other match-changing incidents.
Unfortunately there is much opposition amongst many traditionalists to the introduction of technology to assist referees, and FIFA recently announced they do not currently intend to pursue the possibility of developing of goal-line technology.
Opponents of technology, including FIFA chief Sepp Blatter, generally trot out the same old tired arguments for retaining the status quo, all of which I believe can be easily refuted:
* “Introducing technology would undermine the authority of officials.” Absolute rubbish. Making wrong decisions undermines the authority of officials, and players would hardly think less of a referee if he conferred briefly with a video official before making his decision.
Players want right decisions, they don’t care how they get them. Would Martin Hansson, the referee who allowed France’s “Hand of Henry” goal, really have felt undermined if he’d had a quick conversation with a colleague in a replay booth before disallowing the goal? Of course not; on the contrary, his authority would be strengthened because players would be more confident that his decisions were right.
* “Occasional human error is a part of the game that fans love to talk about; we should accept that refs aren’t machines.” That’s true, human error is a part of the game and referees aren’t immune from making mistakes — but that’s even more reason to accept that they would benefit from receiving help!
Match officials are there to make decisions that can significantly affect the outcome of games and championships; that is the entire purpose of their existence within the sport.
So wouldn’t it be desirable to allow them to make as many correct decisions as possible? If implemented properly, the use of technology could reduce the number of wrong decisions that are made — that could only be a good thing.
And in any case, no technology-enhanced system would be perfect, so there’d still be plenty of opportunity for lovers of controversy to debate officiating mistakes.
* “Constantly referring decisions to a video booth would disrupt the flow of the game.” Not necessarily. How long would it have taken for a video official to conclude that Drogba’s goal on Saturday was offside?
No more than ten seconds, during which time the Chelsea players had barely started their celebrations, so there would have been no disruption at all.
Of course, not every incident would be as clear cut and many would require two or three angles before an informed decision could be made, but it would be easy to introduce a time limit for video officials: if they can’t reach a conclusion within 30 seconds, for example, the judgment of the on-pitch referee would stand.
* “Technology would be too expensive to introduce at all levels of the game.” So what? Does it really matter that weekend teenage kickabouts wouldn’t have a video official available to review contentious decisions?
FIFA have expressed concern that the universality of football should prevail, with international superstars playing under exactly the same conditions as amateur hackers; that’s a noble enough sentiment, but it’s not as though the use of technology at the higher levels would mean changing the rule book; the laws of the game would be the same, the only difference being that top pros would have more chance of getting correct decisions from their referees...which surely is already the case.
If you really want equality, why not appoint the top refs to officiate in park matches and give international fixtures to adolescent trainees?
In my opinion (as you may have guessed by now), introducing technology to assist referees would be hugely beneficial if it was done properly. It comes down to this: do we want referees to make as many correct decisions as possible? Yes. Would video replays help referees make more correct decisions? Yes. Then let’s do it.
Sadly, the autocratic and stubborn Blatter seems to have made up his mind, so the introduction of technology is unlikely to happen anytime soon — which means our post-match analyses will continue to be permeated by dour discussions about decisions that should or shouldn’t have been made.
And (perhaps rather hypocritically as that’s exactly the kind of article I’ve just written) wouldn’t it be great if we could finally see the back of those interminable debates and focus on the football?