Monthly Archives: February 2011

RIGHT DOWN TO EARTH!

They say that wise insights and realizations can come to you in the strangest places and the strangest of times. Like it did to me when I was watching a repeat broadcast of Tottenham Hotspurs 3-1 loss to Blackpool at Bloomfield Road in the dead of the night.

Now, I make no claim to being a sage but you begin to notice a pattern if it is repeated often times enough.

And the pattern is this. A club gets to play in the heady heights of European competition, especially the Champions League and after punching above their weight and possibly defeating opponents they were not meant to, become punch drunk and find it too much of a hassle to get their legs going for their next local fixture.

Kind of a mouthful but still I think it’s a valid theory.

Of course credit must to Ian Holloway (the Blackpool coach) and his players for a fantastic victory but also Spurs players must still be feeling the effect of their exertions, physical and mental, of their victory in San Siro.

And it appears to be something in the waters of North London because their neighbour has also felt the effects of their European hangover as shown by their draw with lowly Leyton Orient in their FA Cup fifth round match.

It surely must be difficult for anyone that has just gorged up on caviar at the European buffet to be very happy to be feted at the local fish and chips shop.

The thing for these clubs is to remember that these local competitions as banal and unexciting as they may be actually provide the springboard for participation in the continental competitions. As long as they bear in mind that playing in Europe would be impossible without playing well at home, that is, in local competitions, they would do just fine.

In other news, another English team was being brought back to earth in a competition on a foreign land. This time it was the English cricket team, cricket royalty as it were, narrowly and I mean narrowly beating the cricket team from the Netherlands which are lowly not only in elevation but also in cricketing terms in their first group match in the ongoing cricket World Cup.

This being the same team that roundly trounced the Australian team in the last Test series some months ago. It surely must have been painful for the English when they hit their head as they landed roughly back on earth after being the first English team in decades to win a Test series down in Australia.

But since in the case of the English cricket team, their participation in future World Cups is not dependent on their performance at the World Cups but rather on their Test status, they should do just fine. It’s not like they are going to win the World Cup anytime soon.

That’s all folks. Till later

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NOBODY SAID IT WAS EASY!

Now I know I should have written this post yesterday, immediately following the Arsenal versus Barcelona match but I know that if I had typed anything whilst still basking in the euphoria of the match it would have virtually intelligible even for chimpanzees.

Which is why I have decided to wait till today, when emotions would have calmed down to do a proper analysis of the match.

And yes I know that there were other Champions League matches that took place during this week, but none of them matters in wake of the clash in North London, not even the 1-0 defeat of AC Milan in San Siro by Tottenham Hotspurs. Not even that!

So the match was everything it was expected to be and then some more. Barcelona dominated possession early on, pinging passes in between themselves with uncanny accuracy while Arsenal was reduced to attacks on the counter and almost crafted a goal when van Persie was sent through on goal but Victor Valdes was impressive in saving his shot.

And when the first goal came in the 26th minute, it was rightfully deserved for Barcelona as they had had at least one clear chance to score with Lionel Messi lifting the ball over Wojciech Szczesny but just wide of the right hand post.

And it was a classical Barcelona goal with Messi dribbling a few defenders and taking a few more for the ride then giving a slide rule pass to David Villa who was put onside by Gael Clichy. The Spanish international then duly obliged by slipping the ball under the onrushing Arsenal goalkeeper for the first goal.

But then the Barca boys seemed reluctant to add to their lead, seemingly content to just exchange innumerable passes with each other. And the Arsenal boys just sat back defending deep with the prodigious Jack Wilshere exceptionally impressive in the middle of the pack.

And the second half took on a different tone with Arsenal, apparently emboldened by the words of their manager, audacious to have sustained attacks far into the opponents’ half and Barcelona probably for the first time in the match on the back foot.

But it was really on the hour mark that the game turned on its head. That about when the Pep Guardiola, probably on account of his tactical naiveté, made the curious decision to substitute the goal scorer for the defensively-minded midfielder Seydou Keita thereby making diminutive Messi the centre forward.

Meanwhile, at about the same time, Arsene Wenger decided to bring on Nicklas Bendtner and Andrei Arshavin for Theo Walcott and Alex Song who was lucky to still be on the pitch which really set the cats among the pigeons.

Anyone watching the game could just fell that something was about to give. And give it did in the 78th minute.

Arsenal was making yet another foray into the Barcelona half, when the ball got to Gael Clichy’s right leg, which he normally uses only for standing, and then some kind of light must have come up in the French defender’s head because he decided not to switch the ball to his trusted left foot but instead to lob the ball towards the general direction of Robin van Persie.

And the inside of the Dutch striker’s head must have filled with light from a thousand sources because he decided not to play the ball across the box where Bendtner was bearing down on Maxwell but instead to strike the ball hard and low towards the space between the near post and Valdes’ leg which the Spanish goalkeeper left unguarded like a house with no valuables while he did his best impression of a celebrity who was surprised outside a seedy brothel by paparazzi.

Arsenal then took the lead in the 83rd minute when Johan Djourou lost the ball just outside the his own box but the outstanding Laurent Koscienly won it back and gave it to Bendtner. The Danish striker then cut inside and gave the ball to Wilshere who then passed it one time to the Arsenal captain. Cesc Fabregas then turned and controlled in one movement and played a perfect pass through the Barcelona defence towards Samir Nasri.

Nasri received the ball deep in the Barcelona half, looked up and saw that van Persie was tightly marked by the duet of Pique and Abidal, and then he must have noticed Arshavin striding across the path of Dani Alves who appeared to be investigating the cause of the deep green pigmentation of the Emirates playing surface as he trudged back reluctantly.

The pass from Nasri came through to the Russian and he curled the ball round the defenders in the box and into the net giving Arsenal a 2-1 lead which they take with them to the Nou Camp for the second leg in three weeks.

Now one thing I have noticed about this Barcelona team which stood out for me when I was watching the match and should stand the British team in good stead is that, as with most things in life, their greatest strength, which is their tiki-taka passing game comes around to be their greatest weakness.

Their passing game is designed to make their opponents make mistakes and leave gaps and then get tired as they chase the ball as it moves between the blur of Barcelona players. But this also has the inverse effect of also tiring the Barcelona players as the match enters the latter stages which is easily noticeable because they are usually a few goals up by that time (especially in the SPL; the Spanish/Scottish league).

Which could make the second leg an interesting prospect especially if Arsenal can keep the Catalan side from scoring more that a single goal early on.

In other news, the Cricket World kicked off yesterday with the opening ceremony in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The tournament which involves all Test playing nations and other countries that came through the qualifiers is being hosted by the trio of India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh and would last for a whooping six weeks. The competition would be played with the 50 overs format and should make for a cracking completion particularly with one of the perennial favourites, India being one of the co-hosts.

That’s all for now folks. Till later.

IT’S HERE ALREADY!

There is now no escaping it. What has been foretold for centuries before by our wise forerunners will come to happen this very night. And even if there is no full moon this night in London, this is still going to be a spectacle to behold.

This will be a night talked about for decades to come. A night our generations unborn will relive continually for decades more. A night by which our children will ask many years from now ‘Where were you when Arsenal played Barcelona at the Emirates in 2011?’

Now that I built up sufficiently, with no hyperbole I must say, to the cracker of a game coming up in a few hours in North London, let’s get on with the game preview.

As Arsenal take on Barcelona in the first knockout stage, it is inevitable that comparisons will be made of last year’s quarterfinal clash which the Catalans won 6-3 on aggregate. A match also that the Londoners were outplayed and outthought over both legs.

But taking the comparisons into this year’s clash would be a mistake. Firstly, because although both teams would be wearing the same strip they wore that night, there have been significant personnel changes to both teams; well at least to Arsenal.

Starting from the back, Arsenal have a young and some say inexperienced but his manager says fearless, Polish goalkeeper instead of the error-prone Spanish one they had last year. Also they have a brand new central defensive pairing that appears to be jelling instead of the makeshift and unfamiliar one that they used that night.

For the Catalans on the other hand, the only major change has been the replacement of Zlatan Ibrahimovic (the scorer of the both Barca goals in the first leg) with David Villa. The shaky Victor Valdes is still in goal and they can’t call on Carlos Puyol to impede any Arsenal player from a making a goal bound shot.

Another reason why I think that this match would be a different kettle of fish, to use a British idiom, is that a team particularly one as good as Arsenal learns as much, if not more, from its defeats than it’s victories. And after seeing the way they were played off the park last year, I’m pretty they have a few lessons or two.

Also, recently we have been provided with models of how to and how not to play Barcelona. The mauling of Real Madrid was an apt example of how not to go about it when the Catalans are in town. Surrendering possession easily, playing a high line and not counteracting their pressing game are the opening lines of a death warrant.

But as Inter last year and Sporting Gijon last week showed, doing the exact opposite is the way to dull the attacking brilliance of this team. And of course finding a way to score on the counter would come in handy.

So that is it. The template for an Arsenal victory is set. And the match promises to e an exciting one for fans of both teams and for neutrals alike. Let’s hope it lives up to all our expectations.

Till later.

NEED YOU NOW!

Because I’m still hung-over from staying up or late or is it till early this morning to watch the Grammy Award ceremony, this is looking like it’s going to be a shorter post. So let’s dive right into it.

One would think the Premier league season was over with all the relentless coverage and non-stop replays of Wayne Rooney’s winning goal in the Manchester derby this past weekend. Maybe at this very moment on one of the Manchester roads leading up to Old Trafford is a Premier league official driving in a black Rolls Royce with the Premier league trophy resting in the backseat.

Of course, it was an amazing goal. Maybe the best goal Rooney has ever scored or will ever score. Maybe even better than the goal 17 year old Wayne announced himself to the world with against Arsenal some years ago, if not harder to score.

And it’s not like it’s the first overhead bicycle kick ever scored in football. The deflection of Nani’s cross off Zabaleta’s back changed the trajectory of the ball and made lose pace and spin upwards thereby an overhead kick the only way Rooney could have scored from that position.

And how well did he take it. And as the Manchester striker admitted during the post match interview, the move was one of those things that players try out in training and nine times out of ten; the ball doesn’t go into the net. But the one time that it does, it ends up being a glorious goal!

But surely no league, no matter how one sided, is decided by just one goal or even one victory.

The win over Manchester City was without doubt an important one for Sir Alex and his team. And to have the winning goal scored by in such spectacular fashion by his out of form striker would come as a much needed boost to their title chances.

But let’s not forget that this is still the same team that lost to relegation threatened Wolves a week ago and with a fixture list that includes two matches against Chelsea, a trip to the Emirates stadium and matches against Liverpool and other relegation candidates (not that Liverpool is one!), the league is far from won even if a Premier league official is seen wandering around the Old Trafford grounds.

In other news, FC Barcelona dropped their first points in many matches against Sporting Gijon. Many theories exist to explain why this happened; their players still suffering from a virus picked up during the interlull, the team having one eye on their upcoming clash with Arsenal in the Champions League or Sporting Gijon playing well enough to get a point at home.

Meanwhile Emmanuel Adebayor did his best to not score against Espanyol on Sunday despite having a host of chances laid on a buffet table for him. Madrid still won despite him courtesy of a Marcelo goal even though goalkeeper Iker Casillas was sent off in the second minute.

Well that’s all I can take right now. Should try and preview the Arsenal-Barcelona in a couple of days. And the Cricket World comes in about a week. Expect me to provide updates here, whether you like it (cricket, that is!) or not.

Till later.

INTERLULL OVER!

So the interlull is over! And if you don’t know what an interlull is let me school you a bit!

An interlull represents a break in the hustle and bustle of the league calendar of all countries as an excuse to get in some meaningless friendlies and provide an opportunity for more club payers to have their legs broken in two places. Or you could just call it an international break.

So while other countries were engaging their contemporaries or as we like to call them ‘mates’ in these meaningless matches, Nigeria decided to play one against a country ranked about 120 places below her in the FIFA ranking. Whether this says something about the ineptitude or lack of planning of the Glass House occupants or is a measure of the battered self confidence of the Super Eagles that they have to play a country so low that they surely couldn’t lose to, I guess we will never know.

Which is because the Super Eagles won courtesy of a Taye Taiwo penalty and an Ehiosun (I think that’s his name!) goal late in the first half.

So it was a very different Super Eagles side that played against the Sierra Leoneans. But while it was a new Eagles team, it was the same Taye Taiwo that we have always known. You know, the same Taye Taiwo that we come to love and loathe since 2005. The same player who forgets how to clear the ball properly when he is under the smallest amount of pressure. And always knows how to lose concentration when he is just about to control the ball with an attacker in attendance.

And it was the same old Super Eagles captain Joe (to use the name he is called by in England) Yobo. Letting the ball bounce in front of him and making last ditch tackles when a tackle few seconds before would have saved him the trouble.

But enough with the negatives. The match was marked by impressive displays by Inter’s Joel Obi and former Kano Pillars boy Ahmed Musa. These two players may represent the future of Nigerian football not just because they might be staples in the team but also because hopefully, it might signal a return to the wing play that Nigerian teams used to be known for.

With Ahmed Musa zipping down the right and the very left footed Joel Obi dribbling past on the left, who knows, we might even see a return of the 4-4-2 formation.

Not that I think formation might be the missing ingredient in our football but something struck me while I was watching the match. Coach Siasia started the team out in a 4-3-3 formation with Osaze playing behind the lone striker in central midfield.

My grouse with that is Osaze plays as a lone striker for his team in England and we all know that a player will play far more matches for his club than his country. So shouldn’t he be played in a role he has gotten used to and is flourishing as attested to by his nine league goals so far?

It might be strange to see him in that role in the green and white but definitely not more stranger than seeing Jack Wilshere play the midfield holding role which he somehow plays for Arsenal in his subdued full debut for the English in their 2-1 win over Denmark in Copenhagen.

In other friendlies, Lionel Messi was seen sporting what looked like a ginger beard as he scored a penalty in his country’s 2-1 win over Portugal. A match Carlos Tevez wasn’t even invited for because of his attitude after refusing to play a previous friendly against Brazil in Qatar and then playing for his club a few days later.

And the French revolution under Laurent Blanc continued with a 1-0 win over Brazil in Paris while the Spanish team appears to still be suffering from post World Cup winning blues after labouring to a 1-0 over lowly Colombia at the Bernabeu. While European giants Germany and Italy played out aan entertaining 1-1 draw at the Westfalenstadion in Dortmund.

So that will be all. Now I’m gonna take a meaningless nap.

THE SKY IS NOT FALLING!

There is always the tendency to assume the worst when bad things happen. To jump to the conclusion that it’s pouring cats and dogs when it’s only drizzling outside. To run around in circles whilst holding our heads in our hands like that Stuart Little character and scream at the top of our voices that the world is coming to an end.

And nowhere is this more evident than in sports. One bad result, one loss, one bad run and panic sets in. The fans start baying for the manager’s blood, the owners overreact and the manager gets the sack. And after some bad results the pattern gets repeated.

The owners sometimes go the route of buying the newest toy on the top shelf, the latest disaffected superstar for a king’s ransom. But of course, that comes with the expectation of instant results and if that doesn’t come their way, then it’s Stuart Little time all over again.

Even if a team undergoes a spectacular collapse such as the one the Arsenal team suffered against Newcastle this past weekend, conceding four goals after being four goals to the good after half an hour, pushing the panic button might not be the best course of action.

And from reading the comments from Arsenal fans online immediately following the match, one would think that the match signaled the implosion of the Arsenal universe rather than what eventually turned out later that weekend to be a point gained in the race to win the Premier League title.

But what if your not so expensively assembled team loses its first match to a relegation candidate in a season where your team has redefined the art of winning ugly and when needed. Do you go ahead a purchase a brand new extra large gavel with which to pound your panic button into smithereens until all that is left is shards and shards of panic button material?

And what to do when your latest expensively bought new toy cum superstar striker makes less than whimper in his debut against his former team even, a match your team goes on to lose and blow out any flickering hopes of retaining the league title.

Do you grab your head with both hands and begin to run around town, along streets, down alleys and across expressways all the while and confirming the doubts anyone could have had as to your sanity and proclaiming to the whole world that you think the sky is going to break up into pieces and begin to drop in little pieces.

I believe the point I’m trying to make is that the reason we think sport is so amazing is that it’s just one very large continuum of time. There will always be one more match to play, one more season to get your hopes up for, and one more league to win. There will always be a new manager, new owners that will not give the new manager enough time and investment and still fire him when he doesn’t deliver to their unwarranted expectations.

And it doesn’t even matter if you have played the biggest game of your season and probably your career and lost. Even if you are one of the Pittsburg Steelers who lost 25-31 to the Green Bay Packers in the biggest game in all of American football; the Super Bowl. Especially when you are massive favourites to win having won the Vince Lombardi trophy two years ago and with the most dependable quarterback in the world; Ben Roethlisberger on your team roster.

Therefore I guess the lesson to take from all this is that no matter the upheavals and changes that happen in sport, there is something that has and will remain constant. The fans will always be there come rain or shine or frozen pitch. The fans will always be there at the stands or on their couches supporting their team.

And the lesson goes especially to the fans. Whenever it seems like it’s the end of the road or the world for your team, always remember that there will always be another match, another season, another league. Because that’s sport for you!

I KNOW WHAT I SAID !

I know I said that the January transfer window was interminably boring but it seems someone decided to prove me wrong and spice things up! Left, right and centre, players were bought and sold on deadline day.

It was almost as if the footballing world just went crazy and started to believe in the Mayan prophecy that the world would end in 2012 and that signing all the marquee players on earth will give them a head start before the start of what would be the last season before the planet becomes a large fiery ball of sulphur. Or something like that.

So Roman Abrahimovich got tired of doing his impersonation of Silas Marner and decided to put his money where he says his mouth is still is. He brought out his large Russian polar bear skin wallet with the monogrammed initials and spent 50 million pounds on former Liverpool star Fernando Torres and splashed out on Brazil’s David Luiz from Benfica.

The owners of Liverpool meanwhile have decided to inject an Andy Carroll sized boost to Kenny Daglish’s team, with the deal completely financed and motivated by the Torres sale.

I get that Liverpool need to replace the goals lost by Torres moving to London and that at 21 years; Carroll might well be the future of England’s strike force. What I don’t get is how Carroll is now the 7th most expensive player in history! Come on!

And with his already lengthy rap sheet, Carroll should be right at home with the likes of Steven Gerard and Jamie Carragher

But Liverpool also bought another striker; the insanely talented Luiz Suarez from Ajax Amsterdam. 111 goals in 146 or so appearances really is a crazy record. I really do not care that he carries the baggage of that infamous handball accident from the World Cup because if I was the coach of a team I would always want a player that is willing to put his life or limb on the line for his team.

The trend I notice here is that these mega deals have been done by clubs, who are witnessing a downturn in fortunes, be it long term and short term. And they expect that these new signings would be the spark needed to turn things around for their clubs.

For the sake of their respective managers and fans, I hope it does!