Archive for the 'Sports' Category

05
Sep
09

A deserved victory for Bhutia and co.

Three of my most favorite football teams are Manchester United, Atletico Madrid (Spain isn’t just about Barca and Real) and the Indian National Football team. Yes, you heard it right, the very team led by a certain Baichung Bhutia and coached by an Englishman named Bob Houghton. Ask any football fan in India and 8 out of 10 will tell you who top-scored in last season’s Premier League but ask them who the current I-League champions are and they would be clueless. That is football in India for you, where most of us  consider ‘Indian football’ as a non-existant entity.

For all those who saw the nerve-wrecking final of the Nehru Cup between India and Syria, I’m sure it must have been of a one of a kind experience. It was easily by far, one of the best games of football I’ve ever witnessed. No goals in regular time and with less than 10 minutes for penalties substitute Renedy Singh converted a free kick to send the crows to ruptures. He may not be a David Beckham but on that particular day he did much more than Beckham could ever do in his career – help win a trophy for his national side. But then, just when everybody thought the game is over for the Syrians, Ali Diab brilliantly headed the ball past the Indian ‘keeper with hardly any time left for the final whistle.

India wins Nehru Cup

Ask Roberto Baggio or David Beckham. They wouldn’t think twice telling you that a penalty shootout is the most dreaded affair for any football player. No matter how big a superstar you are, when it comes to shooting the ball from 12 yards with just one person separating glory from you, it is not about skill or talent, rather its about the nerves. Unfortunately for the West Asians, nerves deserted them, along with luck. And then there was super-man Subrata Pal. The three saves he made were nothing short of being called spectacular. The moment Pal leaped to his left to stop Belal Abduldaim, I swear the song Chak De India was playing in my head. The Syrian Coach Fajer Ibrahim commented after the match that Syria could have romped home 4-0 had they scored and the Indians did not deserved the victory. Someone should remind him life, and football are not about possiblities, rather reality. The bottom-line is that Syria lost and India won. But what an irony that in both 2007 and 2009 India won the cup after losing to Syria in the league stages but defeating them when it mattered the most in the final. Lightning does strike twice after all.

India does have a lot of talent. Guys like Chhetri, Pal and NP Pradeep certainly deserve a shot in the European leagues, at least in the smaller ones like in Belgium. It is a pity that Chettri couldn’t make the cut for a work permit with QPR. Else he would have been the second Indian after Bhutia to play in England. What India lacks the most is enough match practice. In the last couple of years apart from two Nehru Cups and the AFC Challenge Cup, the team has hardly played a game. India needs to play more friendlies against better oppositions from Asia and if possible outside. I can’t wait to see India play  the likes of Japan and South Korea in the 2011 AFC Asian Cup.

11
Aug
09

Football fever is back

So what if Manchester United lost the Community shield game to Chelski? We are still the Premiership champs and have also won the Champions League three times, something the Blues haven’t managed even once. Of course, there was Evra and his penalty kick. Makes me feel I coud guide the ball past Cech with a broken knee. But then there was also blind Mr. Chris Foy. It would be easy to argue about his decisions but it would be wise to say it was an evenly contested game that could have gone either way. Only a fool would play down United’s chances in the Premiership after this loss; the Shield after all only decides who gets to own up the initial bragging rights.

The Red Devils will definitely go into the league as favorites even without Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez. Sir Alex may not have shelled out £50 million on transfers, but Michael Owen, Gabriel Obertan and Antonio Valencia will be eager to prove themselves. The signing of Owen on a free transfer is probably the best move this season so far in the Premiership. He has so far hit top form in the pre-season games. An early introduction of Owen could have swinged United’s fortunes against Chelski. Ecuadorian Valencia is by no means Ronaldo, but his last season at Wigan was nothing short of exceptional. Then there is also the yet to be tested Zoran Tosic. He played a few games for the senior team last year but was largely involved in reserve fixtures.

I really can’t wait for the Premier League to start. I have already started making my presence felt in Fantasy Premier League games on various sites. Like any other Red Devils faithful, I too am praying for another successive title not just in England but also Europe.

05
Jul
09

Wimbledon final – The greatest game of tennis ever played

Roger ‘Fedex’ Federer (SUI) beat Andy ‘A-Rod’ Roddick (USA)  5-7, 7-6, 7-6, 3-6, 16-14

4 hours and 15 minutes of insanity. This is tennis at its best. If you thought Roger Federer vs Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon 2008 was astonishing, then what would you say about the battle that just got over? Who would have ever thought in their wildest dreams that an American who last won a Grand Slam way back in 2003 would be the one to challenge the might of Fedex? Anybody who saw the match would say Andy Roddick was chosen by God himself. But then Federer had the last laugh, probably at God himself. Such was the greatness of the match. This is what a friend on FB had to say about it, “Federer, you are a legend. But Andy, you won thousands of hearts today. What a performer!”. Absolutely true.

Greatness PersonifiedRussell ‘Gladiator’ Crowe was among the numerous celebrities present at the event. But even he would agree Gladiator is a term that no longer applies to him, rather to a man from the Alps who fought his heart out. Sir Alex Ferguson also present there, might have sold off  Ronaldo and signed Owen. But even the combined greatness of the two could never match that of Roger Federer. I’m sure he would have wished more than once during the match, that either Federer or Roddick was not a tennis player but a footballer. But the person in the stands who mattered more than anyone else was the Legend himself, Pete Sampras. It was his record that Federer was chasing. Something that he did achieve after a marathon 5-7, 7-6, 7-6, 3-6, 16-14 match. Yes, you read it right, 16-14 in the final set. When was the last time you were witness to something like this.A fitting end

Before this match, I was also among many who questioned the ability of Federer. Of course, it is easy to say it was Nadal’s absence and not Federer’s brilliance that has made him a 15 time Grand Slam champion. It may be true. And it does look at the moment that Nadal might the only person capable of bettering Federer. But till then at least, it would be safe to say,Roger Federer – The greatest man to have ever held a tennis raquet. I’m sure that is something even the likes of  Bjorn Borg, Rod Laver and John McEnroe would agree. Hell, even Sampras.

What happened today at Centre court was not just a great match, it was history being made. I don’t think you will ever get to see anything this thrilling in any sport, let alone tennis. Federer won the Championship; Roddick won the hearts.

Greatness was not Federer. Greatness was not Roddick. Greatness was the match itself.

03
Jul
09

Michael Owen arrives at Old Trafford

Michael Owen playing alongside Neville, Rooney and Scholes not just for England but also for Manchester United. Is it possible? 24 hours ago the answer may have been no. But it is now onfirmed that the injury friendly striker has penned a deal with the Reds that will keep him at Old Trafford till 2011. He will become only the 4th player in history to have played for both United and their sworn enemies Liverpool. Honestly, being a Red Devils fan I really don’t know whether to take this new move positively or not. Sir Alex has sure made a huge gamble by signing him.

The latest Red Devil in town Owen sure has had a roller-coaster career. A boyhood Everton fan, he went against his father’s wishes to join Everton’s mersyside rivals Liverpool. During his time at Anfield, he was regarded as one of the world’s most feared strikers, having netted a staggering 118 goals in 216 appearances for the club. But in 2005 he made the biggest blunder of his career by moving to an already star- studded Real Madrid. Mostly benched and under-performing, he was sold off to Newcastle United later. His time there was injury ridden and he rarely showd glimpses of his much talked about prowess. The Magpies however were relegated this past season and Owen has found himself without a club to play for. Hull City were first to publicly acknowledge their interest in the player. There had also been offers from Tottenham, Portsmouth and Stoke City.

Michael Owen will be keen to fill be keen to fill in the void left by the departures of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez.  Sir Alex Ferguson will be hoping that Owen would  don a similar role like that of Henrik Larsson two years back. The former Swedish captain had joined United on a 6 month long loan deal after stunning spells at clubs like Feyenord, Celtic, Barcelona etc. Despite being in the swansong of his career, Larsson was able to help United to a League Championship while providing useful guidance to youngsters like Rooney and Ronaldo. One should also not forget when a 35 year old Edwin van der Sar was signed by Fergie there were quiet a few eyebrows raised. Since then, van der Sar has proved to among the best goalkeepers in Europe. Fergie had even called him the best keeper at Old Trafford since Peter Schmeichel. United legends such as Eric Cantona and Laurent Blanc were similar signings too.

As you can see, Owen can definitely be at comfort with the club’s history with ‘finished’ players. However he will have to see that his fitness doesn’t turn out to be a roadblock. The best thing to expect  from the striker though, will be a goal against his former club and United’s arch-rivals Liverpool. Now, that would be mouthwatering.

19
Jun
09

Now God’s own IPL team?

sreesanth

Possible Captain? ... NOT 😛

When the likes of SRK, Preity Zinta and Shilpa Shetty are minting money with their IPL teams, can our very own Southern superstars be left out? According to media reports Mohanlal is all set to enter the the bandwagon as well. Accompanying him will be best friend and ace director Priyadarshan. Lalettan and Priyan have apparently expressed interest in entering a Kerala based franchisee for the 2010 edition of the Indian Premier League.

However from the looks of it, it is easier said than done. First of all Kerala doesn’t have a proper stadium. Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium at Kaloor, Kochi which has so far hosted international matches in the state doesn’t even have a roof to escape the scorching sun. The floodlights are hardly in any working condition. With all the corruption in the Kerala Cricket Association, even if a Tripura or Nagaland is ready to host an IPL match, our administrators in Dheivathinte Swantham Naadu will be still fighting among themselves for a seat next to the cheerleaders. And when cities like Ahmedabad and Kanpur which have better stadia are around, it is unlikely that money hungry BCCI will even consider Kerala.

Apart from Sreesanth, the only Kerala Ranji player in the IPL is Raiphi Gomez of the Rajasthan Royals. Even the Chennai Super Kings of which Kerala is a catchment state, doesn’t have a single mallu in the team. If Kerala’s Ranji recors are anything to go by, even the lowly Knightriders won’t have any problems dispatching them. Priyadarshan has said that he hopes to develop talented cricketers from the state. Hope he doesn’t mean players like Sreesanth. One Appam is more than enough to give us malayalis a ‘good’ name.

12
Jun
09

Euros and Pounds don’t mean Success

Second time Real Madrid President Florentino Perez has pulled of a major coup with the signing of Kaka and with Cristiano Ronaldo left to say just a ‘yes’. The two transfers together costing Madrid a whopping £136 milion at a time when the club’s own debts tune upto £900 trillion. Media reports suggest Perez is preparing for the second coming of Los Galacticos. Rumors linking the club to top footballers such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Franck Ribery, David Villa etc are already doing the rounds. Three words for the club – What the fuck?

Hasn’t Florentino Perez and Real Madrid proved us already that money alone can bring silverware? Perez became Madrid’s President in 2000 after promising to bring Portuguese winger Luis Figo to the club from arch-rivals Barcelona. This was a promise that he promptly delievered and that too at a then world record fee. Figo was followed by the arrival of an array of world-class players such as Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, David Beckham, Michael Owen and Robinho among others. Los Galacticos, as they were known, found some initial success, but only flopped in the long term. You might as well say Ronaldo’s career doomed after the move. He is yet to recover his magic form that made him the magician even after 2 years of leaving the club. The same could be said for Michael Owen too. Beckham’s arrival was solely kept in mind his off-field attractions than on-field performances. The club’s revenue skyrocketed with his shirt-sales but the former England captain’s  own career hit rockbottom.

Los GalaticosThe Real Madrid side of Perez looked almost like a World XI with the best talent from all over. But that also came to be the bane of the club. Most of the Madrid players had already reached the prime of their careers and it was only a matter of time before age and lack of form tested them. This combined with the egos of the World’s best created a lot of problems for coach Vicente del Bosque. While Beckham and Owen rarely started for the team, others like Ronaldo were usually playing out of position. Perez was only on keen on signing attacking players and gave no importance to the defense.  Claude Makalele who at the time was one of Europe’s best defensive midfielders was only paid a fraction of what was a Galatico’s salary. When Perez refused to hike his fee he promptly departed. Perez then signed a host of good if not not great defensive players including the likes of Walter Samuel, Thomas Gravesen and Cicinho. But these players failed to live upto expectations.

The final nail in the coffin was Perez’s decison to do away with the services of coach del Bosque despite him leading the club to 2 Champions League and 2 La Liga titles. Del Bosque’s departure also hastened the leaving of regulars like Fernando Hierro and Fenando Morientes. Both these players had backed Makalele for a pay-rise along with the coach. Carlos Quieroz who succeeded del Bosque too was forced to play the star players and the team continued in its stride downhill. Even Luis Figo who was the first ever Galatico left for Inter Milan after being denied a regular place. The problem with the team was that despite individual performances they failed as a cohesive unit, especially without the charismatic del Bosque.

The Galatico affair was heavily criticized. Steve McManaman, another former Madrid regular who suffered due to the arrival of Los Galacticos called it ‘The Disneyfication of Real Madrid‘. McManaman had lost his place to fellow Brit David Beckham was alleged to have been bought only for his off-field value. Somebody had even said Beckham was signed only for his looks while Ronaldinho who was bought by rivals Barcelona, did not interest Madrid since he was ‘ugly’. The signings of Michael Owen and Jonathan Woodgate did not escape any criticism either. It coulld be said Los Galacticos ‘officially’ came to an end when star-studded Real Madrid crashed out of the 2005-06 Champions League to an inexperienced Arsenal, a team in stark contrast to Madrid was made up of talented and young homegrown talent. Florentino Perez resigned from his post as President shortly after this.

Florentino Perez has been elected President for a second time after a disastrous last season. I agree, the less said about the club’s last season, the better. But then Barcelona were supermanesque and even a team which had Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka and Torres together couldn’t have stopped them. But surely the two seasons before that, Real Madrid was nothing short of being called stupendous. If arrogant Mr. Perez fails in his Los Galacticos venture for a second time as well, which looks most likely, then stupendous wouldn’t be the word to call, rather stupid. One can only hope that the bright careers of Ronaldo, Kaka and many others don’t meet their waterloo at the Bernabeu.

Update – Ronaldo and Kaka will be joined by Raul Albiol, Karim Benzema and Franck Ribery in this mass (career) suicide spree. Probably even more coming up.

10
Jun
09

BCCI vs ICL but on the cricket field for a change

India takes on giant-killers Ireland in today’s T20 World Cup fixture. Shouldn’t the BCCI be boycotting the game? Perplexed? When India takes the field for tonight’s game it will probably be the first time an India team is involved in a Match that also features players who’ve been involved in the Indian Cricket League (ICL). Ireland mainstays Niall O’Brien and Boyd Rankin turned up for the Delhi Jets and the Kolkata Tigers in the inaugural season respectively.

Keeper O’Brien was in fact the man of the match in Ireland’s victory over Bangladesh in their earlier match. He was also the MOM when he scored a gritty 72 to lead the Irish to a famous victory over India’s arch-rivals Pakistan in the 2007 World Cup. Rankin meanwhile took career best figures of 3/32 in the match and also  topped the bowling charts for Men in Green for the tournament. The two are in fact the only ex ICL players to have turned up for their national sides in official tournaments so far.

The BCCI looks like is unaware of the ICL presence in the Ireland team. They may have relaxed rules for ex ICL talent and is in the process of welcoming them back to the ‘official’ fold and so is unlikely to create any problems in tonight’s game even if they are aware of the situation. But it should be noted that Rankin and O’Brien returned to national colors as far as back in March 2008, more than an year before the Indian Board’s pardoning of the ‘rebels’. If Ireland goes on to upset the Indians tonight, the ICL bosses will have a reason to smile. After all it will be the only time that they probably will taste any sort of success against the BCCI.