From Behind the Stumps

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Inzamam and the captaincy issue

Pakistan cricket has once again been thrown into turmoil with the most recent proceedings; an early exit from the world cup; murder of their coach; resignation of their captain; resignation of their board head honcho. All this started from the Oval fiasco where once again we made complete fools of ourselves all thanks to the higher authorities. Recently, the travails of this travesty known as Pakistan Cricket have been focused on the former captain Inzamam-ul-Haq, who has come under extreme fire for the poor showing, and why not, he is the captain if he enjoys the successes then he should be ready to shoulder the blame, and in this department he has been very honourable as he has willingly shouldered the blame for Pakistan's poor showing at the mega cricketing fixture. Quite unlike of his predecessers. Back to his resignation though which is the real reason for this post (forgive my ramblings), and my attention was brought to it when I was viewing a poll conducted by GEO Sports TV. Nearly 90% of the Pakistani's felt that Inzamam should come back to the one day team and the rest felt he shouldn't make a come back.

That's a staggering amount and I am sure there has been some rigging as is the wont of this part of the world, but even misappropriations aside, I think that Inzamam should stay out and stick by his initial decision. He will be remembered as the first Pakistani to actually stand down at his peak and not be thrown out unceremoniously. But not only that I think that it is time to face the problem now and not later of filling up his boots with someone worthy and him leaving a spot open in the one day team is a good way to begin with. Have the new kid prove himself there and then take him to the test team if he can handle himself. I think that would be better for the team in the long run rather than to have him stay and when the time comes the team gets thrown into disarray once again. His recent form, like Tendulkar's, has been very poor in the shorter game and this was a good time to call it quits. If he comes back then he would be really lacking in self-respect, I am sure he is confident in his ability as are the millions who think he can do the job if he comes back, but he is not the same. Pakistani's have a way of clinging onto the past and not letting go and they feel secure in that knowledge but would not dare step outside their comfort zone and so too the people think that if they have Inzamam stay then their chances of success will increase and they are not willing to risk losing a few for having a new kid come in and fit in with the longer plan.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Tribute to a coach

Yesterday the cricketing world was shocked as the death of Bob Woolmer, then coach of Pakistan, passed away. Initial reports say it was a heart attack and an autopsy is underway. The cricketing world will no doubt miss Bob's innovative and unique approach to coaching players especially the way he handled and nursed young players into full grown men. Enough words will not do justice to a man with a such a legacy and we all hope you rest in peace Bob.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Today's predictions

Brazil 2 -- Ghana 1
France 0 -- Spain 2

Monday, June 26, 2006

I'm back

Hello all, I am sorry for the brief hiatus but I was away for the weekend having a good time with great friends. I will be resuming my commentary duties from tomorrow onwards. Thank you for your patience and support and please do post comments as I would love to have everybody give their thoughts on the games.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Today's Predictions

Ghana 2 -- USA 0
Italy 1 -- Czech Republic 0
Brazil 4 -- Japan 1
Croatia 1 -- Australia 1

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Day 13: Côte d'Ivoire vs. Serbia & Montenegro

Côte d'Ivoire 3 -- Serbia & Montenegro 2

#19 NIKOLA ZIGIC (Serbia & Montenegro) 10'
#22 SASA ILIC (Serbia & Montenegro) 20'
#15 ARUNA DINDANE (Côte d'Ivoire) 37'(pen), 67'
(Côte d'Ivoire) 86'(pen)

Redemption at last for Côte d'Ivoire as they managed to grab a well-deserved victory over the Serbs in their final game of their 2006 World Cup campaign. Ivory Coast came back from behind in dramatic fashion to win the hearts of many and their first points of the World Cup. Nikola Zigic started off the Serbs in style with an early goal and ten minutes later the Serbs were ahead again with a strike through Sasa Ilic when he exploited a defensive error and slotted home what would be the sealant but the complexion changed as Ivory Coast was awarded a penalty for a blatant handball. Aruna Dindane stepped up to cut the lead down in the first half. The second half was even more promising as the Elephants stepped up the attack and raised the ante, and they were handsomely rewarded when a cross from Keita founs Dindane again who had no problem heading it out of reach of the Serbian keeper. The Ivorians were awarded a second penalty four minutes before the end of regulation time as Kalou's strike was blocked by another hand! Kalou comfortably shouldered the responsibility to take the penalty and duly converted to complete the night for the Ivorians.

Drogba, who has been the architect for the success of the Elephants, would have definitely wanted to play this game but had to watch the game from the sidelines and the world also missed out on a great player's performance. I only hope Ivory Coast will return as will Angola who gave terrific performances and lit everyone's hearts with spirited performances.

Day 13: Netherlands vs. Argentina

Netherlands 0 -- Argentina 0

The much waited for clash did not live upto its expectations as the two heavyweights of "The Group of Death" looked dead and lacked creativity. Argentina still dominated the counter-attack but could not penetrate the Dutch defence which looked solid and ready for the knockout phases. Neither team really threatened the other's goal and both looked very indifferent towards the result of this game since both teams had already progressed to the other round. Argentina now play Mexico and Holland play Portugal.

Day 13: Iran vs. Angola

Iran 1 -- Angola 1

#16 FLAVIO (Angola) 60'

Angola's hopes and dreams of a second round berth were dashed as they were held to a goal apiece draw with Iran. Angola went ahead from a Flavio header off a Ze Kalanga cross. Iran came back 15 minutes later through Sohrab Bakhtiarizadeh's header. Angola had done well to go ahead and then hold onto the lead but a lapse in defence, and they were made to pay very harshly in this case with a possible route to the second round. Even if Angola won, they would have had a hard time overcoming the goal difference advantage that was Mexico's. All in all Angola gave a spirited performance as they held Mexcio to a draw and then nearly won their last game. Iran as they have always come to the World Cup and disappointed despite showing some attractive football.

Day 13: Portugal vs. Mexico

Portugal 2 -- Mexico 1

#18 MANICHE (Portugal) 6'
#11 SIMAO SABROSA (Portugal) 24' (pen)
#17 JOSE FONSECA (Mexico) 29'

In another deadbeat game to decide the winner of a group, Portugal outclassed Mexico as they beat them by a goal's margin. Simao Sabrosa found a charging Maniche in the box to poke it in the top side of the goal to give the Portugese the lead. Rafael Marquez handled the ball off a corner when there was no need to do so, and Portugal were duly awarded the spot kick. Sabrosa turned from provider to scorer as he stepped up to take the kick and converted very comfortable. Not to be outdone Mexico came back in the 29th minute off a corner which found a leaping Jose Fonseca who slotted home the goal with no problem into the far side of the netting. That would do it for an exciting half as the two sides exhanged salvoes on the field, and Mexico came close to levelling the score off a penalty but sadly Omar Bravo's kick sailed way past the goal line. Mexico then attacked the Portugese goal with ferocity but despite that they were unable to convert it into any real scoring opportunity. It would not really matter who won this game or not, because the two teams advancing from Group E would be Holland or Argentina and both are pretty darn strong.

Today's Predictions

Portugal 2 -- Mexico 1
Iran 0 -- Angola 1
Holland 2 -- Argentina 1
Ivory Coast 2 -- Serbia & Montenegro 0

Day 12: Poland vs. Costa Rica; Paraguay vs. Trinidad & Tobago

In the day's other games, that were pretty much useless Poland garnered their first points and goals of the tournament as they beat Costa Rica, after they conceded a lead to them. T&T were trying to make World Cup history as they were eyeing a place in the next round but those hopes came clattering down as Sancho scored an own goal to give Paraguay the lead and Cuevas sealed the fate. All in all the Caribbean islanders have done themselves proud.

Day 12: Sweden vs. England

Sweden 2 -- England 2

#11 JOE COLE (England) 34'
#20 MARCUS ALLBACK (Sweden) 51'
#4 STEVEN GERRARD (England) 85'
#11 HENRIK LARSSON (Sweden) 90'

England, having never beat Sweden since 1968, were looking to to exorcise their demons, but yet again they will have to be content on waiting till they next meet. In a game that excited and intrigued, where fortunes ebbed and flowed, neither of the two teams can be dismayed at their performance, although Sweden must be concerned facing Germany rather than Ecuador. In a half that was largely dominated by the English, Joe Cole put the Queen's Men ahead with a royal touch on the ball as he sent a teasing trajectory of a volley over the diving Andreas Isaksson, who managed to flick it with his fingers but to no use. The Viking Squad, as opposed to the Firing Squad, came out with guns blazing in the second half as they wrested the intiative and pressed home the advantage and their efforts paid off very quickly and handsomely when Marcus Allback headed in a corner kick. One all! With England pretty much out of the game in this half it seemed the game was headed towards a deadlock but lo and behold, Gerrard headed in his second of the tournament to give the Barmy Army the lead. From the Champion's League final, one can easily look towards Henrik Larsson to provide the impetus for the final blow and this he did once again as he slotted home the final goal of the game for an exciting finish.

Both the Swedes and English looked good but once again Sweden never took hold of the game in the first half which could be costly against a team like Germany. England again seemed to run out of ideas and steam towards the end and looked very pedestrian so they ought to be happy with their match up against Ecuador.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Day 12: Germany vs. Ecuador

Germany 3 -- Ecuador 0

#11 MIROSLAV KLOSE (Germany) 4', 44'
#20 LUKAS PODOLSKI (Germany) 57'

What a way to finish atop the group, another spledid performance by the efficient Germans as they recorded another shut-out. Germany has played some exciting football since Klinsmann took over and his faith was finally repaid with a convincing victory over Ecuador. So now Die Mannschaft play the runners-up from Group B and Ecuador play the winners of that group, who still have to be determined, with three teams vying for a second round berth. Germany once again took an early lead through Klose who has matured a lot since the 2002 World Cup, and he added another one just before the half. Podolski had been having some trouble finding the back of the net but finally found it today through a brilliant cross from Bernd Schneider who picked out his man and fed him very delicately for an elegant finish.

Ballack seemed to be having a quiet game but he did set up brilliant plays especially the second goal where he snuck one past the Ecuadorian backline, that was sheer brilliance. Germany would take a lot of confidence from this game and go into the knockout phase feeling relatively at ease. Ecuador on the other hand need to get their game back, allowing three goals today must be cause for concern even if the team fielded is not the full strength one. They need to be prepared of every game as nothing will be easy in the knockout stages.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Tomorrow's Prediction

Ecuador 1 -- Germany 3
Poland 1 -- Costa Rica 0
Paraguay 0 -- Trinidad & Tobago 0
Sweden 2 -- England 1

Day 11: Tunisia vs. Spain

Tunisia 1 -- Spain 3

#12 JAOHAR MNARI (Tunisia) 8'
#7 RAUL (Spain) 71'
#9 FERNANDO TORRES (Spain) 76', 91' (pen)

This was an absolute classic, as the Tunisians bravely held onto a lead only to see it washed away by a single strike. So venomous was that strike, that the Tunisians did not realise what they had let unleash as their lead was hacked away and devoured by a lead twice theirs as lightning strikes from Spain sent the brave Tunisians packing. This was always going to be a rough game and victory for the Spaniards was not going to be an easy task, this they found out thanks to Mnari as he slotted home the first goal of the match. From there on it was pure grit and determination from the Tunisians as they held onto a slim lead for the better part of the whole game. This is quite clearly seen by the number of shots taken with Spain taking a total of 24 and Tunisia had just 4 to their credit. The Spanish Armada tried time and again to break through the Tunisian walls but to no avail, fatigue soon settled in as Raul drew first blood for Spain from a close range rebound. All hell broke loose next as Tunisia relinquished a lead, and then a tie to finally a resounding defeat. All the hard work washed away in the evening's rain in the matter of a few minutes.

Day 11: Saudi Arabia vs. Ukraine

Ukraine 4 -- Saudi Arabia 0

#6 ANDRIY RUSOL (Ukraine) 4'
#11 SERHIY REBROV (Ukraine) 36'

Smarting from an early round drubbing at the hands of Spain, Ukraine announced their arrival with an equally impressive drubbing of Saudi Arabia. The Saudis were completely outclassed in every facet of the game as the Ukranians lost no time in making a mark early on through Andriy Rusol who had a bit of luck as the ball bounced off his flying thigh and surreptitiously crept from under the legs of the Saudi keeper. The Saudis had the best chance of the day from a set piece as it was scarmbled over the bar. From thence on it was all Ukraine as they doubled their lead in the 36th minute from a superb sniper of a shot from 30 yards out that crashed into the net as Zaid Mabrouk lost his footing and was found lead-footed. Ukraine added two more from Schevchenko and Kalinichenko to bring their goal difference back to zero.

The Saudis have lost all hope to advance to the next round but a win over Spain and if Ukraine loses their next group game would bring this Group to a tight finish.

Day 11: Togo vs. Switzerland

Togo 0 -- Switzerland 2

#9 ALEXANDER FREI (Switzerland) 16'
#16 TRANQUILLO BARNETTA (Switzerland) 88'

Switzerland rocketed to the top of Group G with a convincing victory over Togo as goals from Alexander Frei and Tranquillo Barnetta sealed the victory and assured a position as leaders of the pack. France are still in the hunt for a position in the last 16 if they manage to beat Togo and either one of South Korea or Switzerland lose their final game. I did not get a chance to witness this game as the Saudi Arabia game, but from the highlights one could tell that both teams were equally matched and Togo had a handful of chances but squandered them very easily.

Today's Fortune

Togo 1 -- Switzerland 0
Saudi Arabia 2 -- Ukraine 1
Spain 5 -- Tunisia 0

Day 10: France vs. South Korea

France 1 -- South Korea 1

#12 THIERRY HENRY (France) 9'
#7 JI SUNG PARK (South Korea) 81'

France once again failed to impress as they held out to a drab draw but finally did manage to score a goal through an early strike by Henry. France have now been winless in the last five World Cup games. To France's credit they should have been awarded a goal when the ball seemed to have crossed the line but were denied that but still they need to pick up their game. Korea's goal was not all that elegant either as a whipped in cross barely whisked Park's leg tipping the ball over Barthez.

Day 10: Brazil vs. Australia

Brazil 2 -- Australia 0

#7 ADRIANO (Brazil) 49'
#21 FRED (Brazil) 90'

Another sub-par performance from Brazil and Ronaldo who again was substituted off in the second half. Brazil still seem to be getting warmed up but I would not worry as they bring their A-game in the knockout stages. All they have to do is just make it alive from the round robin stage which they successfully did after this win. Adriano was set up beautifully by Ronaldo who had three men on him as his pass found an unmarked Adriano whos job had become so much easier. Fred added a second moments before the final whistle when a Robinho shot cracked off the upright and a tap was the order of the day, duly supplied by Fred.

Brazil have yet to come into their own and show their magic, I feel that Ronaldo should still be kept in the line up but there are others to fill his boots, so abundant is the talent in just this 23-man roster! Ronaldinho has to be utilised more as well and a more free role for him would do the trick since that is how he brings out his best.

Day 10: Japan Vs. Croatia

Japan 0 -- Croatia 0

Japan and Croatia both played out to a goalless draw as both teams registered a point and kept theit hopes alive for a second round berth. The Croations must be biting themselves after having a penalty saved and the Japanese also missed a few chances on goal. Not that great a game but now the race is wide open in Group F.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Today's Fortune

Croatia 2 -- Japan 1
Brazil 4 -- Australia 0
France 0 -- South Korea 0

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Day 9: Italy vs. USA

Italy 1 -- USA 1


This was a slugfest, the roughest and by far the most horrendous game played at this World Cup so far. With a card-happy referee this game saw three red cards and and two other yellows which made it the bloodiest game as well. The US came out fighting and announced that they will not go down without giving a fight, and the physcicality of their play clearly showed their intentions. The Italians not to be outdone, were equal to the challenge and received a few bookings themselves. Italy went ahead through Gilardino off a Pirlo free-kick, who made no mistake diving low and guiding the ball into the far post. The Italians scored another goal this albeit, in their own goal. Reyna played the ball into the Italian penalty area off a free-kick and Zaccardo miscued his clearance into his own net. The Americans were level and sensed a surviving chance. A minute later, frustrated by being level De Rossi elbowed Brian McBride in the face and received the first red card from card-happy Jorge Larrionda. Three minutes from the break, Pablo Mastroeni, was the second person to receive a red card and made to walk the walk of shame, for a challenge on Andrea Pirlo. Just after the break, Eddie Pope received a second yellow for a foul on Gilardino.

This game was hard and well fought by the US contingent and a well deserved draw, despite being a man down for most of the game, but this does not take away the fact that this was a horrid and ungamely match as both teams went all out and after each others' throat. This was indeed a war.

Day 9: Czech Republic vs. Ghana

Ghana 2 -- Czech Republic 0

#3 ASAMOAH GYAN (Ghana) 2'
#11 SULLEY MUNTARI (Ghana) 82'

What a game! This was the upset that was missing from the World Cup so far. This is where David slew Goliath. Ghana started off by recording the fastest goal of this tournament as Gyan was picked out by Stephen Appiah, which was then shot low and hard to give the Black Stars the lead in just the second minute. From then on, the Czech Republic seemed to be shook up as they tried to push the equaliser. Ghana were playing at a frantic pace that was hard for the Czechs to keep up with as they went after every ball, loose or on possession, there was no letting up for the Czechs as the Ghanians choked the Czech dreams for an attack. The second half saw a rare bizarre moment as Ghana were awarded a penalty and Gyan netted it in but it was disallowed as the referee was showing a red card to Ujfalusi and then showed Gyan a yellow for prematurely taking the kick, the subsequent kick hit the post and the Czechs were spared some blushed. That was not to last too long though as Ghana's consistent efforts were rewarded by another goal as Gyan fed Muntari who blasted past the keeper.

An amazing game this was since Ghana was really putting in all the effort. Frustration and anger showed on the Czech's face but they could not channel that energy constructively and now Group E has really opened up as no team is assured a place in the second round. This has made this an extremely interesting group since a win for Ghana meant that the hopes and chances of the US also remain afloat.

Day 9: Portugal vs. Iran

Portugal 2 -- Iran 0

#20 DECO (Portugal) 63'
#17 CRISTIANO RONALDO (Portugal) 80' (pen)

Portugal assured a spot in the round of sixteen by comprehensively defeating Iran by two goals to earn a total of six points, however they were made to work very hard for those points as a spirited Iran side kept them in check for the first half. Portugal tried very hard to take the lead but a combination of bad luck and some good defending, prevented the Portugese from taking the lead. The Portugese tried even harder in the second half but were still kept queit, however all that changed from a long range strike from Deco. A late penalty sealed the fate for Iran as Figo was brought down and Ronaldo stepped up to hit home the winner.

As expected the Portugese took three valuable points but again looked very unimpressive as they scrambled countless opportunities and did not hit their mark. The Iranians must be disappointed for being knocked out so soon and that too without a good performance.

Today's fortune

Portugal 4 -- Iran 0
Czech Republic 1 -- Ghana 0
Italy 3 -- USA 0

Friday, June 16, 2006

Day 8: Angola vs. Mexico

Angola 0 -- Mexico 0

Another shocking and upsetting draw for the heavyweights! This fixture was the second such result between two teams that looked to be totally mismatched on paper but then again writing on a paper does not win a game, players with a vibrant soul and an aching desire to win do just that. Today's game will not earn Angola three points but I am sure they must be more than satisfied with their performance as they kept their hopes alive for the next round. Despite losing a man in the 75th minute Angola's shaky defence held onto a draw through a combination of sparkles of good defence, bad offence and plain ol' good luck. The hero for this game was without a doubt Joao Ricardo the man with the gloves for Angola. He came up with some crucial saves and at times made one wonder what he was upto really. A great job by Angola for frustrating their much fancied opponents and keeping them at bay and now they have kept the group open, a win against Iran and a victory for Portugal over Mexico could just see them to the next round. Great work Angola terrific performance. This tournament has been highlighted by such spirited performances and really adds value to this years fixture.

Day 8: Netherlands vs. Ivory Coast

Netherlands 2 -- Ivory Coast 1

#17 ROBIN VAN PERSIE (Netherlands) 23'
#9 RUUD VAN NISTELROOIJ (Netherlands) 27'
#14 BAKARY KONE (Ivory Coast) 38'

Heartbreaks do not come bigger than this as the Ivory Coast's hopes and dreams to advance to the knockout stages came down clattering. It is clear to me which team should have won based on their performance as Ivory Coast outshone their opponents on the field. The Oranje controlled the better part of the first half and midway through, Van Persie was fouled near the edge of the box and he happily obliged by netting in the first goal of the game. Four minutes later Van Nistelrooij who had come under scrutiny for a lacklustre performance in his previous game shot the ball past a diving Tizie. Moments later Côte d'Ivoire seemed they would cut the lead down from a 25 yard strike by Didier Zokora only to have it stopped by the woodwork. Côte d'Ivoire's hard work paid off when they found the net in the 38th minute from a splendid goal from Bakary Kone which saw its way into the top corner of the net. And so this is how the story would end for Côte d'Ivoire in terms of the final scoreline, but the second half had much more of Côte d'Ivoire in store.

The Ivorians dominated the second half so much that one would be tempted to think that they were in the lead but alas that was not the case as they were fighting teeth and skin to peg back one to draw the game and see where it went from there. Ivory Coast may have been the best debutante with the unluckiest draw and the biggest heart and spirit as they showed great tenacity and grit in both their games. Fighting a two goal deficit is not easy and many teams wilt under the pressure aka Serbia & Montenegro. The World Cup really needs more teams like that, teams with a will to take the fight to the opposition regardless of how outclassed they are on paper. That to me will preserve the beauty of the game and promote goodwill as tough performances will always be acknowledged by even the harshest of critics. I really feel for Côte d'Ivoire and wish they would have stayed as they are a promising team with an abundance of talent and heart. I wish you the best of luck and au revoire Elephants and I hope to see you in South Africa.

Day 8: Argentina vs. Serbia & Montenegro

Argentina 6 -- Serbia & Montenegro 0

#18 MAXI RODRIGUEZ (Argentina) 6', 41'
#5 ESTEBAN CAMBIASSO (Argentina) 31'
#9 HERNAN CRESPO (Argentina) 78'
#11 CARLOS TEVEZ (Argentina) 84'
#19 LIONEL MESSI (Argentina) 88'

Boy was I off in my prediction for this game and by a HUGE margin! The much touted defence of the Serbs completely fell apart as Argentina send a sonic-boom of a warning to the remaining contenders and the Dutch side, who happen to be in their group. With Maradona overseeing this game as well, Argentina were definitely the blessed side as this time they did not hold back and kept attacking until they suffocated the opposition. Maxi Rodriguez started the party with the first goal off a Saviola pass. Cambiasso was involved in a beauty of a goal with Hernan Crespo as he tipped one to Crespo who then heel flicked one back to Cambiasso who sent in the second goal of the day. Rodriguez added a third before the break to all but seal the game, from another Saviola pass.

The Serbs looked more composed in the second half as they didn't allow any further goals they had a few chances but failed to capitalise and then lost a man in the 65th minute. Things were getting from bad to worse and the much anticipated Lionel Messi masterminded the fourth goal as he crossed from the left within the box and Crespo did the rest though it did seem to me to be an own goal. Substitute Carlos Tevez made it five-nothing well before the final whistle as he weaved his way past a pair of defenders and booted the ball into the far low corner. Tevez was involved in the last goal as he fed Messi to his right who made no mistake in converting his first chance of the competition.

Argentina dominated this match throughout and just when it seemed as if they would sit out this one and play knock-around until they pulled another rabbit out of the hat to finish of the game with a barrage of last minute shots.

Fortune of the day

Argentina 1 -- Serbia & Montenegro 0
Holland 2 -- Ivory Coast 1
Mexico 2 -- Angola 1

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Day 7: Sweden vs. Paraguay

Sweden 1 -- Paraguay 0

#9 FREDDIE LJUNBERG (Sweden) 89'

Oh the accursed last minute goal that has plagued so many teams ! The late strike. The final blow. Nothing is more heartbreaking to know that your efforts are all washed away by one tidal wave of a strike. Sometimes the blow isn't that monumental; at times a trickle is enough to land the killer blow, back-breaking straw on the camel. Yet again, this was the case today as Sweden took the game away from Paraguay in keenly contested and even battle. Having lost their previous game, Paraguay was looking to snatch three points from this encounter at all costs no matter what, whilst their Scandinavian foes were still licking their wounds when lowly Trinidad & Tobage shocked them to a draw and needed to bounce back in splendid fashion. The Swedes were making it a habit to be bogged down by lesser attacks but as the story goes, the quick attack of Sweden against the feared defence of Paraguay, this was going to be a classic and so it was.

Johan Elmander whipped in a cross to Marcus Allback who duly headed the ball to set up Ljunberg for the game winner which was sent as far away from the diving Aldo Bobadilla. Bobadilla has been in spectacular form throughout this tournament and again proved it to the world in this game, all but for that intangible strike. Paraguay never looked threatening in this game or in their previous encounter either and really have no one to blame but their offence and midfield that did not provide enough chances. The defence and of course Bobadilla were terrific but they needed help from up front to tighten the nooze around the opposition's neck if they wanted a realistic chance of advancing.

Day 7: Trinidad & Tobago vs. England

Trinidad & Tobago 0 -- England 2

#21 PETER CROUCH (England) 83'
#4 STEVEN GERRARD (England) 91+'

A charactersitic trait of this World Cup is that teams that were thought to be cake-walks were not, wlays giving heartwarming performances and taking the fight to the other side. Ecuador, Ivory Coast, Angola, Ghana, Australia, and Togo to name a few, but the one team that has made a great impression with its legions of noisy fans and upbeat attitude is the Trinidad & Tobago team. They gave Sweden a run for their money in the first round of round-robin games and held the strong Swedes to a draw while being one man down. Today's performance against England was very similar to their opener against Sweden. The English were made to work very hard for their three points today as the Carribbean nation held them at bay for a good 83 minutes when a David Beckham cross found the lanky Peter Crouch who headed in the opener. A minute into stoppage time Steven Gerrard unleashed an unstoppable strike that sealed the deal for England and saw them through into the next round.

T&T should not be too disappointed in their performance as they showed great heart and spirit in holding off two great teams and they had to hold on for just a wee bit longer to ensure another point but more importantly another upset draw. Alas, the last minute goal, that has been the curse of so many teams in this World Cup, Poland, Saudi Arabia just to name a few have been at the receiving end of the curse. England ought to be really concerned over their performance as they have shown little sparks but no real collective form. Is it that the English are going to peak as opposed to have past their peak? We never will know until the game against Sweden.

Day 7: Ecuador vs. Costa Rica

Ecuador 3 -- Costa Rica 0

# 21 CARLOS TENORIO (Ecuador) 8'
#11 AGUSTIN DELGADO (Ecuador) 54'
#10 IVAN KAVIEDES (Ecuador) 92+'

Ecuador alongwith Germany became the first teams to reach the second round as they routed their Central American counterparts with three brilliant goals. Ecuador always looked to be in control of the game as their midfield dominated the play and pressed forward to create chances and those efforts paid off early in the first half when Carlos Tenorio, goalscorer from the game against Poland, once again opened the scoring from a Luis Valencia cross into the six-yard box. Costa Rica let their intentions be known as they brought in a third striker into the game, it was do or die and they were not going to go down without a fight, bravo El Ticos! Ecuador however on this day were clearly the in-form side as they allowed no respite to the Costa Rica and in the 54th minute Agustin Delgado, another scorer from the Poland game, doubled the lead with a close range strike that went past the keeper at the near post. The game was painfully snatched away from Costa Rica who never gave up when in the dying minutes Edison Mendez crossed one into the box who found a flying Ivan Kaviendes' foot as the ball was volleyed past Jose Porras.

It was not a tournament to be for Costa Rica who never looked very convincing in their opener and Ecuador who upset Poland looked every bit as promising. Ecuador next plays Germany for the first time in the history of both the teams to decide who remains atop the group.

Today's Fortune

Ecuador 1 -- Costa Rica 0
England 1 -- Trinidad & Tobago
Sweden 1 -- Paraguay 0

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Day 6: Germany vs. Poland

Germany 1 -- Poland 0

#10 OLIVER NEUVILLE (Germany) 91+

Rewind to June 15th, 2002, Germany playing Paraguay in the Round of Sixteen, two minutes from the death and Oli Neuville strikes home the winner to the take game away from Paraguay as Schneider launched a precise cross from the right wing. The South Americans felt robbed and rightly so they held the upperhand up until the last moment. Fastforward now to exactly four years and one day less from that fateful day and Germany playing Poland and are being held to a nothing - nothing draw until Oli Neuville comes on as a sub and nets one in a very similar way as he had took the game away from Paraguay. David Odonkor's cross from the right wing found a sliding Neuville who guided the ball into the back of the net to rob once again .

This game was a high charged affair as bad blood, old rivalries and bitter memories lingered and Poland came out giving it their all. Although they barely got chances, save a few here and there, but their real hero was Artur Boruc, who kept their Bavarian brothers at bay with some breathtaking saves. The Germans have none to blame for not scoring more other than themselves as they had clear opportunites that went begging to be netted, but alas twas not the Germans' day, though they might have come up on top, Poland gave a good performance but have nothing to show for it on the points table. The Germans must take heart in many performances today, despite the fact that returning skipper Michaelt Ballack had a very pedestrian game, but performances from David Odonkor, Oli Neuville, and most notably Philipp Lahm must give them some hope and belief in their bench. I think the Germans are getting warmed up and hope to see them peak in the 2nd round, till then see you soon!

Day 6: Saudi Arabia vs. Tunisia

Saudi Arabia 2 -- Tunisia 2

#5 ZIED JAZIRI (Tunisia) 23'
#20 YASSER AL KAHTANI (Saudi Arabia) 57'
#9 SAMI AL JABER (Saudi Arabia) 84'
#15 RADHI JAIDI (Tunisia) 92+'

The 'Arabian Derby', kicked off in style at Munich where Saudi Arabia squared off with fellow Arabs Tunisia. Saudi Arabia were still smarting from their last two dismal showings at the World Cup and needed a victory to erase the horrific memories but that would be difficult for the young and inexperienced Saudi contingent as compared to their more experienced adversaries. The Saudi team has most of their players playing in the domestic league whilst the North African nation has a handful of players showcasing their talents in leagues across Europe. Nevertheless, Tunisia started the first half with confidence as they pushed the Saudi defence back and tried to create chances but could not get past the Saudi line. That soon changed when Tukar in an attempt to clear the ball laid it softly in front of striker Jaziri who had no problems sending the ball into the net. The Tunisians didn't allow the Saudis to settle into any kind of rhythm as they ended the half with a goal to nothing lead.

The Saudis came out in the second half looking much better and a more compact defence ensured that no more chances would be allowed and the Saudis tied with a close range strike from Al-Kahtani as he was offered a sliding cross from Mohammed Noor in the 57' minute. Minutes before the end of the game Saudi strike legend, Sami Al-Jaber, came onto the field in an attempt to break the deadlock and he was successful with his very first chance of the day. Malek Al Hawsawi fed Al-Jaber who drilled one past the keper in just the 84th minute. Surely the goal would help Saudi Arabia retain the lead. Then you think wrong as Jaidi netted one in when he was provided with a brilliant cross as Tunisia drew level.

Good game for Tunisia totally outplayed and outpaced the Saudis but to their credit Saudi Arabia played with great heart

Day 6: Ukraine vs. Spain

Spain 4 -- Ukraine 0

DAVID VILLA 17', 48' (pen)

This was Ukraine's first outing in the premier sporting events of the world and it was an absulte nightmare for them as they got thoroughly thrashed by the Spaniards despite many stars like Raul, Iniesta, and Fabregas among a few, that were not starting for Spain. From the outset Ukraine looked very tentative and unsure and the playing that brought them here to the World Cup Finals. Their defence looked horrible, the midfield was absolutely horrendous and the strike-force was non-existent as Spain capitalised on these weaknesses to thrash my darkhorses for this tournament. Alsono Xabi opened the proceedings from a low corner for which he had to bend down and head it into the near post as the ball ricocheted off Oleksandr Shovkovskyi 's hand and into the goal. That opened the floodgates as Spain dominated the play with impressive runs and surgical passing and troubled the Ukraine defence incessantly. Four minutes later Spain were given a gift of a free-kick near the box and David Villa did well to strike the ball hard as it took a deflection off Andriy Rusol . Two deflections , and the luck for the Ukranians had run out already in the early first half.

More bad luck ensued as Vladyslav Vaschchuk was sent off for what I feel was a bad call by the ref but then that it is how the game goes. Villa stepped up to convert from the spot and give the Spaniards an unassailable lead and took the game out of the hand of Ukraine. Nine minutes from time Fernando Torres added a fourth to add further humiliation to a side that looked to take the tournament by surprise with their striking prowess.

I was much disappointed in the performance put out by Ukraine as Spain did not let them settle from the word go.

Today's fortune

Ukraine 2 - Spain 0
Saudi Arabia 2 - Tunisia 1
Germany 3 - Poland 1

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Day 5: South Korea vs. Togo; Switzerland vs. France, Brazil vs. Croatia

South Korea 2 --Togo 1

CHUN SOO LEE (Korea) 54'
JUNG HWAN AHN (Korea) 72'

South Korea chalked up their first victory as they downed African side Togo, two goals to one earning them a top spot for their group by virtue of the day's other match between France and Switzerland. Both teams were tentative in the opening minutes of the game as Korea tried to press forward but soon Korea paid the price when a high ball was deftly controlled by Kader who took a good look at the goal and fired one home to give the the African nation the lead and shock the world. Soon after the half Togo were reduced to ten men when their skipper Abalo collected his second booking of the day to be sent off. This set up the Red Devils for a dangerous free-kick just outside the box and Chun Soo Lee stepped up to convert the set-piece from a brilliant strike that set the record straight between the two teams. Jung Hwan Ahn, hero of the 2002 World Cup for the Red Devils was brought in to take the game home and the move paid off when in the 72nd minute Ahn was allowed the space and time to take a good look at the goal and send the ball exactly where he wanted to giving Korea the lead and sealing some points.

Considering that this was Togo's first appearance and their pre-match problems they really put up a good performance to hold the Koreans for as long as possible but the Sparrowhawks really needed to hold their composure after the sending off. They needed to take a page out of the book of Trinidad & Tobago when avery John collected his second yellow to be sent off but the T&T held its ground and didn't allow the much fancied Swedes. Full points to the Korean side as they notched up a victory but they at times played very defensively, their greatest strength is their pace on and off the ball and need to utilise that more in the upcoming matches.

Switzerland 0 -- France 0

Another drab performance by another over-rated team as France were shockingly held to a draw by Switzerland. To their credit I must say that France were denied a penalty for a clear handball and one of the Swiss should have been sent off for deliberatley trying to punch the ball into the French goal, but that still should not be enough for them to put on such a performance. Neither team looked too impressive as they were content to play it out in the midfield but France looked very lethargic and unrushed. The Swiss on the other hand looked to be more active but did not have the quality to convert their chances, hence the reliance on punching the ball. Switzerland were content on letting Les Bleus make the errors and then capitalise but like I said they had a hard time converting. Bad match, bad play by the teams and a bad result from a much looked-forward game.

Brazil 1 -- Croatia 0

KAKA (Brazil) 44'

This was the match the world was waiting for as the defending champions took to the field to defend their title. I must digress at this point and vent out at FIFA for making two changes that have really made no sense to me with regards to the defending champions. One, defending champions have to go through the qualification phase, I feel that defending champions should have the right to automatic qualification. Imagine a World Cup where the defending champions do not qualify. Secondly, the opening match should be that of the defending champion since I believe it signifies a continuation of the champs. Going back to the game, this match was always going to be a good fight between Croatia, who made it to 3rd place in the 98 Cup, and the Seleção. The Brazilian squad looked like a who's who of footballing legends and upcoming stars as they squared off with a determined Croatian squad and they showed their spirit in this game as they opened up many chances but failed to convert them. Both teams had plenty of chances in the first half as they tried desperately but unable to score, as the game looked to be going back and forth but just before the half-time whistle Kaka unleashed a furious shot from outside the box as it sailed away into the corner to net the champions their first goal.

Croatia gave a good fight to the Brazilians who seemed to me a tad bit rusty but that should disappear as the tournament progresses. The Balkan team should take heart in their performance as I feel they were a bit unlucky to have not converted some of their chances.

Today's Prediction

Togo 0 - South Korea 1
Frace 2 - Switzerland 1
Brazil 2 - Croatia 1

Monday, June 12, 2006

Day 4; Japan vs. Australia, USA vs. Czech Republic, Italy vs. Ghana

Australia 3 – Japan 1

Shunsuke Nakamura 26’
Tim Cahill 84’, 89’
John Aloisi 92+’

The Socceroos stunned the world as they upset Japan to chalk three points in Group F. The Japanese were content on defending from the start as they relied heavily on the counter-attack. Aussie captain, Mark Viduka tested Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi early in the first half as his consecutive double strike was denied. Midway through the first half Naohiro Takahara tried to let one loose as he miscued his kick and saw the ball go wide. Moments later Nakamura chipped one in from the right flank that sailed over incoming Aussie keeper Mark Schwarzer and into the net. Hiddink’s men were infuriated as Schwarzer was clearly impeded by Atsushi Yanagisawa, the goal should not have been allowed. The Japanese held onto their lead as they allowed the Aussies very few chances for the remainder of the half.

Soon after the break Hiddink sent in Cahill to change the tempo of the game and also the score but the Japanese defence looked a tight unit as they denied Australia with clear chances at the goal. Australia had a chance to level the score in the 69th minute from a free-kick at the edge of the box directly in front of the goal as Viduka stepped up to take it only to have his shot denied by a solid block. The clock was running just when Cahill tapped in the equalizer in the 84th minute off a loose ball from a corner. Cahill found himself in the thick of things again when in the 89th minute he struck the winner from just outside the box. A couple of minutes into stoppage time John Aloisi took the game away from the Samurais when he moved past two defenders and netted in the sealer.

It seems as if whichever team Guus Hiddink takes under his wing shows immediate improvement but it is too soon to say as the Aussies will be facing heavy favourites Brazil.

USA 0 – Czech Republic 3

Jan Koller 5’
Tomas Rosicky 36’, 76’

The Czechs brought down the arrogant US team in their opening encounter as they opened their campaign with a bang. For the last few days the US squad wanted to make a statement to the world and failed miserably on the world’s greatest stage. The Czechs went ahead in the fifth minute when Zdenek Grygera’s cross from the right wing found the 6’8” Jan Koller, who had no problem bursting a header past the diving Kasey Keller. The US had the best chance in the 28th minute as a long-range drive from Claudio Reyna struck low on the upright. Tomas Rosicky showed the US how a long-range shot is taken when in the 36’ minute he sent the ball screaming into the US net. The Czechs lost leading man Jan Koller just before the break to a hamstring injury as he was substituted.

The Czechs opened the second half with more salvoes as they threatened and sent a warning to the quickly deflating US side. Rosicky attempted another long-range shot but this time it found the woodwork and not the goal but he did not have to wait long when in the 76th minute Rosicky went on a run and flicked the ball past the American keeper to make it 3-0.

The Americans did not walk the walk for their first game despite all the press conferences, it’s about time they concentrated on their game and not telling people to show them respect. As the Czechs showed, respect is earned on the field and not off it.

Italy 2 – Ghana 0

Andrea Pirlo 40’
Vincenzo Iaquinta 83’

Italy boosted their confidence as they got their World Cup campaign off to a flyer with a comprehensive victory over Ghana. Italy put the pressure on Ghana as they attacked the Ghana goal incessantly early on and set the pace. The Italians demonstrated surgical passing and a higher sensory perception as they set each other up for attack. Luca Toni let one rip as the ball bounced down off the crossbar and was safely guided to the keeper by John Mensah. Italy took the lead five minutes before the half by way of a belter from Andrea Pirlo when he launched the strike just outside the box.

Ghana came out in the second half composed and ready to equalize when they had a few chances but all that changed through a single error as Samuel Kuffour played the ball back to keeper Richard Kingston only to have it intercepted by the oncoming Vincenzo Iaquinta who then guided the ball into the open net.

Predictions for the day

Japan 1 - Australia 0
Czech Republic 2 - USA 1
Ghana 0 Italy 3

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Day 3; Netherlands vs. Serbia & Montenegro, Iran vs. Mexico, Angola vs. Portugal

The Netherlands vs. Serbia and Montenegro

Arjen Robben 18’

This was always going to be a classic game in the making, the flair and speed of the Dutch against a highly rated Serbian Defense and the Serbs were made to pay for their only mistake of the game when in the 18th minute Mark van Bommel played a long ball to Robin van Persie who clinically fed Arjen Robben with the ball to net in. This was an exciting affair to witness as both teams could have taken home the victory and the score was always going to be marginal. Serbia got in the action when they had a shot on goal in the 10th minute from a set-piece that was coolly collected by Edwin van der Sar. Moments after the only goal of the match Robben had another attempt at goal from from a distance only to be parried away by the diving Jevric. Serbia pressed hard at times but to no avail and the Dutch were not any luckier.

The second half saw the Serbs press harder but yet again they were found wanting on all occasions. The Dutch are now comfortably placed second in the group behind Argentina and have games against Ivory Coast and Argentina to vie for the top

Iran vs. Mexico

Omar Bravo 28’, 76’
Yahya Golmohammadi 36’
Zinha 79’

Iran came out with all guns blazing as they maintained the pace for the most part of the first half with Mexico, although their efforts seemed erratic at times. Mexico made the best of a quick counterattack to open up the Iranian defense. The Mexicans went ahead in the 18th minute courtesy of a tap by Omar Bravo, as the ball fell his way from a Guillermo Franco header. Iran were up to the task as they quickly found the back of the net in the 38th minute through Yahya Golmohammadi as Oswaldo Sanchez attempted to punch the ball into the clear and lo and behold it fell softly in front of Yahya who amongst a crowd of Mexicans booted the ball to equalize. The first half was largely played in the midfield of both teams and Mexico was finding it hard to penetrate the sentinels of Iran as a swarm of Iranians would cluster at their backline to protect their goal. Mexico found it best to launch an offensive on the counterattack exposing the Iranian midfield and defense but alas Mexico rarely capitalized on such moments as they found it hard courtesy of some erratic passing.

Mexico found their groove in the second half as they started marshalling the field a bit more than what they had done in the first half. Looking a renewed and rejuvenated unit the Mexicans went ahead again courtesy of Omar in the 76th minute as a Zinha pass split the Iranian defense. That was the blow that did it for Iran as three minutes later Zinha was again in the thick of the action as he snuck one past the keeper from a Mario Mendez cross. Iran looked poised to take control of the game at the end of the break but a loss in concentration and a quick double strike deflated their hopes. Both teams lost key players in Borgetti and Mahdavikia so there is no reason that Iran could not have held onto their nerves, but alas this is where the inexperience shows, but nevertheless a good showing by Iran.

Portugal vs. Angola

Pauleta 4’

On paper this match up seemed to be grossly one-sided given the previous history of these two teams going head-to-head and all such thoughts were assured when Pauleta netted home the opener of the game in the fourth minute of play. Veteran midfielder, Luis Figo, outpaced the Angolan defense and lured in the keeper only to send a pass to Pauleta in front of the open goal. Angola clearly looked to be in disarray during the early moments of the first half as Portugal attacked their goal time and again only to be denied by a variety of poor shots, good defending and goaltending. Cristiano Ronaldo had a few attempts at the goal and could not find the net as he hit the crossbar on an occasion and Joao Ricardo denied his shot just before the break.

The highly fancied Portugese once again failed to live up to expectations as they recorded a sub-par performance. One is left wondering if Portugal have what it takes to succeed at the big stage but credit must be given to the spirited Angolan squad who after an early bout with the butterflies kept their composure for the remainder of the game. The Angolans were no match for the quickness of the Portuguese as they were found wanting on the counter.

All three games played today were exciting to witness and the World Cup is just getting warmed up!

Today's Predictions

Holland 3 - Serbia & Montenegro 0
Mexico 1 - Iran 0
Portugal 2 - Angola 0

Despite many touting Serbia & Montenegro's defence, I still believe it is no match for the Dutch machine. Iran lack the experience and depth to hold on against the Mexicans for too long and Portugal should be able to ease past Angola who barely made it through the qualifiers.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Day 2: England vs. Paraguay; Sweden vs. Trinidad & Tobago; Argentina vs. Ivory Coast

England vs. Paraguay

Carlos Gamarra (OG) 3'

This was an absolute drab of a match as neither team looked too impressive and was full of drama as early on in the third minute England were awarded a free-kick. Beckham's set-piece did found the head of Carlos Gamarra, the Paraguayan skipper, who intended to clear the ball to safety only to have netted the ball into his own goal and away from the diving Justo Villar. More drama ensued, as five minutes later, in an attempt to kick the ball away from Michael Owen, Villar injured himself and that announced the entry of substitute Aldo Bobadilla. The remainder of this half the English tried to create openings as Lampard, and Gerrard got in the action but none of their shots finding the prized opening. Cristian Riveros had a go only to be foiled by the English keeper. Just before the halftime break, Nelson Valdez had what was perhaps the best chance for the South Americans only to see his shot miss its mark.

The second half got underway at an unusually slow pace as both teams seemed content on keeping the ball, which is surprising since the Paraguayans did not sense the urgency of being a goal down. The second half was nevertheless largely dominated by Paraguay but their efforts did not seem hard enough. A very unfortunate game as neither team looked to eager to showcase their potential and send some warning signals.

Sweden vs. Trinidad & Tobago

This was a terrific game, after watching the England-Paraguay encounter, this game was like a gust of fresh air. T&T played to the hilt as they gave it their all, as the ten man island nation held the heavily favoured Swedes to a shock draw. The result is as good a victory for the nation whose fans were concerned not about how many games they would win but how many goals they would let in! Dwight Yorke was named man of the match in for this game but to me the hero of the day was last-minute choice goalkeeper, Shaka Hislop, who denied the Swedes goals in numerous occasions and from point blank range! The Swedes took control of the game early on in the first half, exploiting debutant nerves. Henrik Larsson and Zlatan Ibrahimovic threatened the T&T goal only to see their shots either stopped or sail to safety. T&T’s first chance came in the 33rd minute of the first half as Carlos Edwards let one loose which Rami Shasban saved.

A minute into the second half saw Avery John booked a second time to confirm his dismissal for this game and the next. One would have now expected total annihilation of the small footballing nation, but woe betide to whoever imagined such an outcome, as the Soca Warriors stood their ground tall and proud to deny Sweden a victory from any of their countless chances. At the helm of this victory is my pick of the game, Shaka Hislop. So instrumental was he in this game, that had he not played T&T might have suffered a big defeat. Kudos to the back four of T&T as they held off the likes of Larsson, Ibrahimovic, and co. This was for me easily the best game of the cup so far since it showed what true heart is.

Argentina vs. Ivory Coast

Hernan Crespo 24’
Javier Saviola 38’
Didier Drogba 82’

The first game of the famed “Group of Death” lived up to be a tough challenge for both teams involved as Argentina were looking to wipe memories of a dismal World Cup showing in the 2002 fixture and the Ivorians were looking to make their mark. Just fifteen minutes into the first half as Roberto Ayala’s header hit the inside of the post and the Argentineans were looking to claim the goal as they thought it cleared the line. Closer observance of the replays showed otherwise and a good decision was awarded by the linesman. Nine minutes after that Argentina felt vindicated as Riquelme’s set-piece found the head of Drogba and it fell softly and unguarded in the six-yard box waiting to be pounced on by Hernan Crespo who struck home. Drogba set up Kader Keita for a diving header as the attempt was easily stopped by the Argentine keeper. In the 38th minute Saviola was fed by Riquelme as they beat the offside trap doubling Argentina’s lead.

Argentina came out in the second half clearly looking to preserve their lead by knocking the ball around and keeping it in possession. The crowd was not impressed by the antics as they let them know. Riquelme came close to adding a third in the 55th minute from a free-kick as his shot whistled past the post. The last twenty minutes of the game turned the way of the Ivorian’s as they pressed harder and harder and won possession but their efforts weren’t rewarded until the 82nd minute when the cut down the lead by one goal and that is the way how the game ended much to the dismay of the African team.

Today's Prediction

England 2 - Paraguay 1
Sweden 3 - Trinidad & Tobago 0
Argentina 3 - Ivory Coast 1

England obviously have the greater depth in attack and midfield as compared to Paraguay but I still believe the South Americans have enough left in them from the previous World Cups to peg one back.

No brainer between Sweden and Trinidad & Tobago, Sweden are known for a pacy and quick attack supported by an able midfield but one would not expect T&T to score so easily.

Sorin, Saviola, Riquleme, Crespo are more than enough to ensure Argentina a victory over Ivory Coast, although my gut tells me that the African nation is going to pull a bunny out of the hat. So this is how it stands, my logic tells me to side with Argentina but my gut sides with Ivory Coast. Let's see how the day unravels then.

Haste does not make waste

The opening game was highly electric and full of energy and goals came aplenty and in quick time as well but did you know that the fastest goal was scored by Turkey's Hakan Suker at the 2002 finals for the 3rd place playoff against South Korea. He managed to score the goal in 11 seconds as Turkey beat South Korea to claim the 3rd place.

The previous fastest was by Vaclav Masek of Czechoslovakia (not the Czech Republic) in 15 seconds. This is today's tidbit.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Day 1: Germany vs. Costa Rica; Ecuador vs. Poland

What a start to the World Cup! Absolutely stunning and amazing! Six goals in 90 minutes and a total of eight goals on the opening day. The opening game had a record six goals scored in total as the home team comfortably notched a victory in Munich, elsewhere in Gelsenkirchen Ecuador posted comfortable win over the hapless Poles.

Germany vs. Costa Rica

Philipp Lahm 6'
Paulo Wanchope 12', 73'
Miroslav Klose 17', 61'
Torsten Frings 87'

The German's kick-started their campaign for a fourth title with a bang, and oh what a bang it was; more like a sonic boom. The new look Germany sent off alarms in the early minutes of the first half as a long range attempt by Torsten Frings went excruciatingly close over the bar. Moments later the Germans broke the deadlock through a stunning shot by Philipp Lahm as he sent a blistering kick from the to pedge of the box into the top far post, as the helpless Jose Porras' dive went in vain. Nothing could be done about a shot like that. The home crowd bouyed to their feet by the early breakthrough was sent into a deafening silence as Paulo Wanchope weaved his way through the German back line as he received a crisp pass from Ronald Gomez. The south americans had picked up a weakness in their formidable opponents and sent the warning that they were not to be taken lightly. No sooner had the crowd fell silent, did birthday boy Miroslav Klose put the Germans ahead before the half. Bernd Schneider found Bastian Schweinsteiger who surreptitiously fed Klose the ball only needing to tap the ball in to take the lead. Just before the midway whistle Lukas Podoloski had a chance to further the lead through a freekick from an ominous position only to see the ball sail inches over the post. 2-1 was the scoreline before the half.

The Costa Ricans came out with a vengeance to cut the lead when Danny Foncesca, who was earlier cautioned, headed a cross only to see the ball comforably pass the far post. Lahm was again in the midst as he crossed from the left flank to Klose who headed the ball only for his attempt to be spoiled by keeper Porras, no sooner had he saved the ball that Klose pounced on the rebound and comfortably netted the ball to celebrate his 28th birthday in grandiose style. Wanchope found his second of the match as he once again foiled the offside trap, but this time it seemed as if he was in an offisde position, and it was now 3-2 to Germany. The game looked to be heading to a comfortable victory for the home side until the 87th minute when Torsten Frings assured his side the win with a scorcher of a kick from 30 yards as his shot burnt blasted through and away from the diving Porras.

The final scoreline of 4-2 seemed to be vindication for Juergen Klinsmann's unorthodox and controversial tactics as his team posted an exciting but more importantly a crucial victory. Germany would definitely need to work on their defence somewhat more to prevent the scathing criticism from most of the German press and critics. The good thing for the Germans is the coming of age of their attack headed by Schweinsteiger, Klose and Podoloski who threatened the Costa Rican defence time and time again. The host nation can take heart in the performance of Frings who turned out to be a key component in this match-up, but they still need to work more on their defence. After today's performance, Costa Rica seem poised to advance to the next round with the German's, they played very well keeping the German's on their toes on occasion finding them leaded-foot as well, as they saw veteran Wanchope strike pair.

Ecuador vs. Poland

Carlos Tenorio 24'
Agustin Delgado 80'

The second game did not produce as many goals as the first one but it did produce a welcome performance by Ecuador in the battle of the minnows of Group A. Poland were heavy favourites in this fixture but Ecuador quickly showed that they ought to be taken seriously as they produced the first upset of the 18th edition of the FIFA World Cup. Early on neither team pressed the advantage as both looked tentative and unsure but that soon changedin the 24th minute as Carlos Tenorio headed a ball that began from the sidelines off a De La Cruz throw-in which was flicked by Delgado to Tenorio who then clinically finished the play to take the lead. After that goal Ecuador, showed tight defense as they shut out the much fancied Poles for the remainder of the half and did not let them through except on a single occassion and right after the break the Poles got an apparent goal only to be disallowed by the linesman. It all ended in the 80th minute when substitute Ivan Kaviedes, fed the ball to Delgado who beheld an open goal and softly guided the ball into the zone to take the lead in the 80th minute. In the dying minutes the Poles came excruciatingly close to equalising as they hit the woodwork twice.

The Poles had it all wrong from the start fielding the lone striker against a tough defense, was a sure recipe for failure. Ebi Smolarek was promoted to the frontlines after the half to give Maciej Zurawski some support but to no avail. In the end the Ecuador defence displayed total discipline and concentration under pressure but both these teams will be put to the test in their next games. Let's wait and see.

A fascinating tidbit

You will see a lot of Brazilians with names beginning with the letter "R" but an interesting fact is that the "R" is usually pronounced with an "H" sound! So one would pronounce Ronaldo as "Ho-naldo". Another interesting fact about the letter "R" in brazilian culture is that it is a revered letter and is felt to be blessed. So according to them I have a blessed name. ;) Anyways this is Hay-han Malick signing off for now.

Prediction for today

Germany 2 - Costa Rica 0
Poland 0 - Ecuador 1

Despite missing Ballack I still belive that the Mannschaft should not have any problems coasting by Costa Rica. Questions have been raised about Germany's back line especially after the friendly with Japan not too long ago. If history has shown anything it is that the German's when their backs to the wall, perform the best, one only has to remember the 1954 squad that were grossly underrated against the might of the Hungarians, only to come out vanquishing and of course the 2002 team which again had huge questions being raised over their heads.

The last outing of both Ecuador and Poland were not very impressive, as both crashed out in the first round and finishing with a win each and being placed at the bottom of their group tables. Ecuador did impress more I feel as they defeated a strong Croatia, who amazingly had beaten the giants Italy, in lieu of this fact I have placed my faith in Ecuador.

Let the game begin !

Finally! Every four years the world beholds a sporting spectacle of gargantuan proportions and this time Germany plays host to some of the biggest names in the sport. Germany hosting Costa Rica in Munich, kick off the proceedings in grand style. With over a 1.5 billion people expected to watch the opening game, football is easily the most popular sport on the globe. Brazil are the favourites to win this tournament again, fielding what is perhaps the strongest Brazil contingent yet, and not to mention the most talented. With names like, Ronaldo, Cafu, Roberto Carlos, and of course the sublime Ronaldinho, who in all his glory will parade his skills on the big stage. This is his moment to shine of course.
I will be trying to regularly post on my blog here with predictions, post-match summaries and critiques (if I am able to view all the games), and other faascinating tidbits (thanks Irshad for the last phrase). At this moment all I have to say is "Uns Gehen Lassen Mannshcaft!" (I tried my best to find a decent German translation of "Let's go Mannschaft"; Mannschaft being the nickname of the German squad.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Sports in the Subcontinent

Here is a brief article I did for a friend on sports in the subcontinent.

In a region run full of corrupt politicians and dwindling hopes, the subcontinent people, look more and more towards athletes as their demigods and source of inspiration. Take any country in the subcontinent and you will see problems abound, Tamil Tigers, military coups, terrorism, natural disasters etc. yet despite all this, the people find calm, a sort of solace in watching their teams play. Sport has always headlined the national papers and politics seem to get involved every now and then. Ask a purist, and he will tell you that there is no place of politics in sports, but sadly that is not how that corner of the world functions. The juggernauts of the region, Pakistan and India have always enjoyed a rich rivalry in anything they do and no place is that more apparent than in the sports arena. Recently, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have also tried to make their mark.

It’s easy to understand why sport is so important in the day to day life of people over there. People do not see their nations as being able to rise to international stardom on the diplomatic front, mainly due to corrupt and dishonest politics and the playing field is the greatest equalizer for such smitten people. For over here, can they see their compatriots, rise to the top and represent them. That pride means a lot. More than one’s own honor so to say. The region is abounding of suicides when the favored team loses. Such is the passion; the intensity of the following.

This is clearly illustrated when Sri Lanka won the 1996 Cricket World Cup and united a nation amidst the civil turmoil. Legend has it that on that day the Tamil Tigers ceased attacks in support of their team. Such is the fervor. India was the first to have won the prestigious cricket award in 1983 and Pakistan took home the laurels in 1992. All three nations were considered underdogs going into the decider.

Although, cricket is the dominant game being played there; scars and remnants of the imperialist British rule of the early 20th century, it is heartening to notice that other sports are gaining popularity, slowly but steadily. Squash at one point in Pakistan’s history was a major sport and the Pakistani duo of Jansher Khan and Jahangir Khan ruled the squash world during most of the 80’s and early 90’s.

Hockey is another popular sport albeit only amongst the giants of the region. Pakistan having dominated the international scene by winning four of the ten World Hockey Cups including the first ever Cup. India on the other hand have, clearly dominated the Olympic scene by winning eight gold medals. Recently, India launched its Premier Hockey League to increase awareness of the sport and its commercial appeal.

This article I feel can never do the region’s history of sports, one could produce volume after volume and still come up short for the subcontinent is rich and abundant of athletes who act as beacons of light for the masses and inspiration.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

CL Update

Barcelona 2 - Arsenal 1
Campbell 17'
Eto'o 76'
Belletti 81'

This is what the final scorecard read at the Stade de France, where Barcelona finally exorcised their Champion's League demons. This was always going to be a fully charged affair with much excitement and drama to be expected, and as it should be in any high-profile encounter of this calibre. Early on in the first half the Catalonion club showed clear signs of open gaps as Thierry Henry, struck one at the goal from point-blank range, only for his shot to be stopped by the gladiator, Victor Valdes. Arsenal had the right idea as they attacked Barcelona from the get go and created a couple of chances but all this suddenly changed as Jens Lehmann pulled down a charging Eto'o just outside the safety box. Norwegian referee, Terje hauge, showed no hesitation in sending off the remorseful Lehmann. This was going to be a heavy price to pay it seemed, but this opinion was quickly put to rest as Campbell connected with a pinpoint accurate cross off an Henry set-piece that sent the ball screaming into the farpost. Just before the interval Eto'o came excruciatingly close to equalising as he faced off with Almunia from close range, but Almunia had other ideas and deflected the shot with his outstretched fingers apreading the magic. So far Arsenal one, and Barcelona nil and that is how the first half ended.

Despite having the man advantage, Barcelona were unable to show for their dominance, it was quite clear now, that Arsenal was more than willing to just sit back and defend. Barcelona was content on taking their time to score but this could have proved to be a risky ploy and their parience paid off when the Swedish international, Henrik Larsson, came off the bench and fed Eto'o with an amazing pass. This time Eto'o faced off once again with Almunia and having learnt from his previous attempt, Eto'o nailed this one home at the nearpost where Almunia left a gaping void! The heavens opened up for Barcelona as they showered blessings on the Spanish champs. Barcelona clearly revitalised after the equaliser showed to the world once again why they were deserving champs as for the next 5 minutes Barcelona barely allowed Arsenal a touch and again this time it was Larsson set up Belletti who sneaked one in beneath the legs of the troubled Almunia. The scoreline ended at 2-1 with a magnificent showcase of football although Barcelona clearly lacked the flair tonight that they are usually known for.

Ronaldinho failed to impress and deliver the goods tonight as so much was expected of him, it is a pity that the world did not get to see this genius at work. This was Arsenal's night, but it did not belong to them, as they played with all their heart and might but it just was not meant to be. Despite being a man down Arsenal showed the qualities that brought them here so far. Perhaps a more attacking frontline for the Londoners would do them good in the future. Having Henry bear all the burden of scoring seems a little unfair, afterall there is only so much one can do. Barcelona stamping their authority a second time on this competition were ecstatic as their internationl stars look forward to the upcoming World Cup in Germany.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

CL Update

'Tis the morn of the Champion's League final. The world waits with abated breath in anitcipation of the next European superpower to take the mantle until the next season. This year Spanish giants and league champions, Barcelona, take on English babes, Arsenal who have qualified for next season's C League by a hair's margin; after an unfortunate bout that left Tottenham licking their wounds. Despite that the great leveller is today; the final. It does not matter who won their league or who qualified for next season, all that matters on this day is which team puts out better football. Arsenal go in with the underdog tag, but that does not mean they can't walk away as victors from this final. Both teams have faced tough competition on their way here and have shown why they are deserved victors.

Although I do not wish to take sides as both these teams have had a hand in ending Milan's and Tottenham's seasons on a rather dismal note, but my money is on Barcelona. Why you may ask. Well for one, I hate Arsenal, always have and so will not support them. I support no team from the Spanish league so my choice is easier here in picking sides. That being said, I do believe though that Barcelona are the far superior side. Barcelona boasts some high quality and experienced players of the calibre of Ronaldinho, Deco, Xavi, Puyol and Eto'o as opposed to the relatively inexperienced Gunners side. The zeal and zest of youth can however prevail over experience, we must not forget that. Arsenal do boast players like Thierry Henry, Pires, Ljunberg, and Campbell to name a few so, Arsenal are not that short on experience.

Whatever the odds, like I mentioned, whoever puts on a better show will go home the newly crowned champs of Europe.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Dizzy concentration

So everybody has heard and the world of cricket has been rocked once again. Jason "Dizzy" Gillespie did the unfathomable, he was the first nightwatchman to score a double ton and he lasted a supersized 400 deliveries! It is something to last that long. Concentrating on every delivery, and I am sure he had moments when his concentration lapsed but that should not take the gloss away from his feat, neither should the fact that they were playing Bangladesh, the current shipping-boys of world cricket. Most batsmen have a hard time concentrating and Gillespie showed us the way to do it. Not only that he also showed the world that anybody can do it. It is all a matter of applying oneself and it can safely be stated that Gillespie's innings were the epitome of concentration. Kudos to the man who made a comeback albeit with the bat and not the ball.

C League update

What a week this has been for football lovers as they witnessed some interesting and contrasting match-ups. The usually defensive Milan faced off first against a flambouyant side that had the likes of Ronaldinho, too bad Deco wasn't there to add to the falir. This game has to be one of Milan's more lacklustre performance this season as they conceded a goal to trail by a goal at the end of the first leg. Giuly was beautifully fed an immaculate cross from Ronaldinho which was then duly fired into the back of the net from an acute angle. The set-piece was one of the kind that arouses and titillates the senses that ends up in orgasmic ecstasy; it was that fine. Ronaldinho facing off two defenders took his time to chip the ball ahead of Giuly who then half-volleyed the ball past the oncoming Dida. Quite the goal indeed. Milan did come close on a few occasions but their effort fell well short of the mark, frustrating the home crowd. Milan need not despair and after playing at this level for so long they would know something about comebacks as they displayed in their last encounter against Lyon.

The other match-up was also interesting as two attacking but different styles of play collided. The English game of pace and technique as put forth by Arsenal and the exotic mix of Spanish and South American flair on exhibit by Villareal. Arsenal made the only breakthough of the game when Toure broke the deadlock with a close range strike; a strike that will go down in history as the last goal to be scored at Arsenal's Highbury stadium. Villareal played well to fend off the incessant threat posed by Arsenal and came off quite satisfied by the result. They must rememeber though that they still face an uphill task.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Bangladesh vs. Australia 1st Test, Day 4

Well, Bangladesh have seem to relinquished their advantage and a chance for a major upset. As I had said they needed to bat out for the most part of the 4th day if they wanted to a realistic chance of winning, which they did not do. Australia require another 95 runs with six wickets in hand and in all likelihood they will overcome this deficit.

However, we need not despair, since this match has brought out many positive aspects especialyl for the fledgling team. The way this test match has gone it will give them a tremendous boost of confidence for future series and encounters. Who knows they might still pull off an upset in this series if not this match. Let us hope that the Bangladesh team can pull a rabbit out of the hat this time.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Bangladesh vs. Australia 1st Test

Wow! What a test match this has been. The Aussies never in their right mind would have imagined such an episode unfolding before their very own eyes. Conceeding 400+ runs in the first innings and then falling short by a massive margin of 158 runs the Aussies seemed out of the match early in the third day; but that was before the Australian bowlers pegged back and started being more aggressive. At the close of the third day Bangladesh were reeling at 124 for the loss of five wickets. Although, I believe that Australia will pull back and either win this match or draw it out, the young Bangladeshi team has a lot of work ahead of them. Firstly, they need to regroup and try to play out most of the 4th day and ensure as many runs as possible and next have a bowl at the Australians, who have found the coniditions very demanding.

All analyses apart, this has been a very good match for the young team. They have shown that they can hold onto their own, albeit maybe for a short time, but still have what it takes to develop on this and carry this energy forward. To the rest of the world this shows that the Australians can be put in compromising positions, all they need is a little self-belief.

I do sincerely hope that the Bangladeshis, win this match although that may seem unlikely given their precarious positioning, and the fact that if they are bowled out on the 4th day then the Australians have plenty of time to cover up. Like I said the Bangladesh team need to regroup and try to play out most of the 4th day if they want to put the Aussies on the defensive.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

C League

So it has been decided. The final four of the UEFA Champion's League have been filled by four of the best European teams of this year. Milan take on Barcelona and Arsenal take on Villarreal. Milan had a particulary interesting game on tuesday when they faced off with Lyon. Having played out a goalless draw in the first away leg of their campaign, Milan were on shaky ground, since they needed to win to advance for sure. Milan, started off by pressing for the advantage early on in the first half and their labour finally paid off with a goal from veteran striker Filippo Inzaghi in the 25th minute from an absolute stunning and graceful play. Acting skipper, Shevchenko fed the ball to an unmarked Seedorf on the left wing who whipped in a pinpoint cross to Inzaghi, where the ball found Inzaghi's head and eventually ended up on he farpost. Milan were on top and in a comfortable position.

Six minutes later, the milanese crowd was stunned into silence with a Diara header that found its way into an open Milan net. The Rossoneri tried to foul up Juninho's set-piece by setting an offside-trap only for the move to backfire. The cross found Fred of Lyon who was inadvertently blocked by his own player, during this time Dida tried to punch the ball away only to have himself finding the air and being knocked down to the ground immediately. With the ball still in the sky, Diara jumped and completed what should not have been a goal. Lyon, galvanised from this goal and with the advantage pressed harder to seal the deal. Moments from the first half, Juninho's crossed once again to Fred only for the latter's attempt to graze the woodwork. The First half finished at a scoreline of 1-1.

Milan made quite clear that they are going all out in the second half, by keeping three men in the back. In a game that epitomised the adage, "The best defence is a strong offence," Lyon counterattacked several times and coming close on several occasions. It seemed as if Milan would be knocked out this year. Shevchenko, who had a pedestrian game until a few minutes before the final whistle, let one loose but unlucky as he was, his shot came off the farpost and then rebounded to the nearpost and seemed to pop out of harm's way but alas it Inzaghi was at the right time at the right place and knocked another one in to make it 2-1. Not being satisfied with the current situation Milan decided to hammer in the final nail of Lyon's coffin as this time the Czar, Sheva found the net at the farpost end to seal the deal with a final scoreline of 3-1. Milan will now face a Barcelona side that plays, Ronaldinho.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Let's head out for the toss

Heads it is.
We opt to field first.

This is a possible snippet from what happens on a beautiful morning of a day of cricket. You can still feel the sweet dew stuck to your face and the sun is just making its way through the myriad of clouds, ready to burst and shine on the glorious green patch of land enclosed in a circle of seemingly gargantuan proportions. Seen from atop high in the sky, small specks can be seen frantically yet calmly taking position ready to do battle. Willow against the cherry. On a calm and quiet day one can almost hear the rustling of the bowler charging in only to be possibly concluded by a violent bang, as leather knocks into wood.


Alternatively, one can hear the "oohs" and "aahs" to be ensued. A glare from the bowler. A smirk is offered back. The bowler marches his way back to his mark, thinking of what his reply would be like.

A bouncer? Lemme get that son-of-a-bitch.
I'll york the bastard!

At the end of the day bowler and batsman shake hands and meet at dinner to share a few odd stories.

Welcome to the world of cricket. To many this scene would be very familiar yet to some it won't be so. I welcome you warmheartedly to my blog which would deal with cricket largely but from time to time I would also post about other sports. Aaah I know the question that you are asking. If he intends to cover other sports as well then why the cricketing title? Elementary, my dear reader. The title is just a metaphor for trying to capture the scene of various sports from a point where one can see all the action in this case it is the wicket-keepers vantage point, trying to tie in all the hustle and bustle with all the emotions of not just the players but the audience as well. So welcome to my world of sports !