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Quote of the day! June 15, 2006

Posted by Abhishek in Abhishek, Football WC, Sport.
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Trinidad and Tobago are both magnificent!

(And I don't mean just football. BTW the quote is attributed to who else but him

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The Fabulous Destiny of Mr. Tim.K.Hill June 14, 2006

Posted by Abhishek in Abhishek, Football WC.
4 comments

Tim Cahill, the aussie wonderkid, Oceania player of the year, and one of the stars of Everton's 4th place finish in the season before last of the EPL. If he was a talented, has-potential player at Everton, he certainly has caught the eye of the world's football public now. Remember, everyone who followed the EPL, knew Rooney was good, but it was only after the EURO 04 championships that his sheer talent was appreciated by the world. Something similar might happen to Mr. Cahill here.

Cahill, finds himself amidst an Aussie team, which is peeping it's head out of it's mother marsupial pouch, as flashlights glare at them and the world celebrates. Then have a line-up with a few stars, Viduka, Aloisi and Harry Kewell coming first to mind. Then there is the list of i-work-hard-like-a-donkey players, well established in various lesser known clubs around leagues in europe. Then there is some real naivete, something which i feel is extremely dangerous if a new team wants to come back with its head held up high. Ivory Coast may be considered relative rookies, but they certainly are not wide-eyed boys staring at toffees on the counter. Contrast that with Togo, which clearly looked a bit over-awed by the occasion. Trinidad and Tobago one may argue were in a similar situation, but Sweden in a sense trying too hard, brought about their own downfall.

However, in Guus Hiddink, the Socceroos may have what is needed to get through to the group stages. He is the major difference between the Aussies and other newbies. I think a lot of teams (Iran, Ivory Coast) could have got results had they had someone like Hiddink. A true master. He brought out the right changes, has made out a strong defence and really makes the Aussies look better than they are. Still, they had to ride their luck, notably when they won the qualifier on penalties againt Uruguay at Sydney.

The Aussies certainly wont go as far as the Koreans, but I for one will not be surprised if they make it out of group H. And atleast I feel, they gave us the best match of the first round of matches. That is provided Croatia / Brazil turns out to be something really special.

PS : The above statement stands after the Croatia/Brazil match. 

Bouncing Czechs June 13, 2006

Posted by Aniket in Aniket, Football WC.
3 comments

Before the world cup began, the whole world was busy putting together a list of teams who might be able to win the trophy. The likes of Brazil, Argentina, Italy, France & England were on all such lists. But after today's match against the USA, another team deserves to be added to this list – the Czech Republic.
    They proved in today's 3-0 thrashing of the yanks that they are a force to reckon with. Such was their dominance of the game that the yanks never looked like scoring whereas the Czechs seemed like scoring from every attack they made. They made accurate passes, great interceptions & ran the yanks ragged. And remember, this is the same US team that had reached thge quarters in 2002, beating Portugal on their way. But today, the Czechs made them look like a bunch of bumbling amateurs.
    Though this shouldn't come as much of a surprise to most football fans. The Czechs were by far the best team on display at Euro 2004 and with their attacking football were favourites to win after teams like France, England & Italy had been knocked out. It took a very obdurate Greek defence to finally deny the Czechs a victory in the semis. The team seems to have moved on since then and under the guidance of Karol Bruckner seemed to have improved during the last two years. The team thrives on their sharp passes & quick counterattacks which often leave even the very best defences stunned. The team also has a fine balance of youth & experience with experienced players like Jan Koller, Karol Poborsky & Pavel Nedved playing alongside youngsters like Petr Cech & Milan Baros, most of whom were an integral part of the Under-19 European Championship winning side in 2001.  And in Tomas Rosicky, who has signed a contract with Arsenal, they have found a player who can well be amongst the stars of the world cup. He scored two goals against the yanks and that might well have been three had his long range effort, an old speciality of his, gone into the goal rather than strike the crossbar. He is surely the player to watch out for.
    But the Czechs do have their worries. Milan Baros is not fully fit as yet and Jan Koller limped off with a hamstring problem during today's match which might mean that his world cup is over. This would severely damage the team's attack & put more responsiblity on the midfield duo of Nedved & Rosicky. Also, the defence seemed pretty good against the yanks but whether it can face the onslaught of teams like Brazil remains to be seen.
    Despite all that, after today's match, the Czechs have made the whole world stand up & take notice of their talented side. Theirs was by far the best performance by any team in the World Cup till date. This teams looks like it can at least reach the semis. And after that , who knows?

First Impression June 12, 2006

Posted by samratsengupta in Football WC, Samrat, Uncategorized.
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The event has started with a bang, and has captured the interest of the world as expected. All the results so far have been to my satisfaction. The most heartening one was Ecuador beating Poland, this result was the most unpredictable, it was expected that the Poles being the neighbourhood team, having players with experience and familiarity of the conditions by playing in the Bundesliga , would beat Ecuador and bring them "down to earth"( as Ecuador mostly plays and wins matches only in their high-altitude capital Quito), but Ecuador pleasantly surprised everyone by giving a superior display. The Poles are going to come out all guns firing and Germany should beware in the next match.

T&T also came up with a gutsy and pugnacious display against the much vaunted Swedes, who would be ruing the result. Good to see Netherlands, England, Portugal and Argentina being victorious. The World Cup needs these pedigree teams to qualify, though the wins were not convincing. It is good in a sense because it shows they have not peaked and will prevent complacency.  Ivory Coast impressed me a lot, in the first half-hour against Argentina, the Africans were pressing hard, winning most of the 50-50 balls, making attractive moves; Argentina did not know what hit them. If Ivory Coast had scored a goal in that period, the script could have been different.

The new ball has made life tough for the keepers, as it is wicked in the air, but goals have dried up after the first match, hope to see more. Also looking forward to seeing the Czech Republic and Brazil in action.

Crouching Robos ? June 6, 2006

Posted by Abhishek in Abhishek, Football WC.
4 comments

Ok, this is what happens when you follow the English team too closely. You laugh at their stupid jokes and can't help but mock how Football Fever takes over completey, the nation. And when it dishes up something really funny, you just love the day you started following the boys in white and blue.

Case in point : RoboCrouch. Ok, for those who came in late – Peter Crouch the meadering, mild giant, the Jan Koller of sorts for the English team, suddenly discovers along with a whole nation that he can use his feet too! That means a 'rich' vein of form before the WC, and from out of nowhere springs , this pose.

Robocop ?

Where Mr. Crouch is doing the most ridiculous version of the robo-MJ-style dance that you ever see. Dance experts (spring up from nowhere) have called the whole thing various adjectives ranging from 'horrendous' to 'horrible' to 'inconcievably not-dance'. But I for one will be really looking forward to him scoring, just for that robotic extension of long limbs dance. It really has me in splits each time!

And more fun follows, Eriksson has promised he will do his own version, but first, the boys have to get him that golden, coup de monde.

Stars Of 1986 World Cup June 6, 2006

Posted by samratsengupta in Football WC, Samrat.
3 comments

Following according to me were some of the stand out players of the 86 world cup apart from Diego (he has GOD embedded in his name) Maradona.

Enzo Scifo: This quiet unassuming Belgian, was the mainstay of the midfield, he remained so for the next three World Cups also. Was the only player with top of the class ball-skills in the team, he played an integral part in Belgium's best ever show.

Enzo Francescoli: Another Enzo, he had a graceful and languid style, with good ball control. He became quite popular during the 86 World Cup, had a Brazilian streak about him. He is infact one of Zidane 's favorite player. Zizou has even named one of his sons after him.

Michael Laudrup: The greatest ever Danish player. Was elegance and poise personified.Stamped his mark in the tournament when he scored a superb goal, by weaving his way through a rugged Uruguayan defence. Though he reached his crowning glory in 1992, when Denmark lifted the European Cup.

Socrates: The unlucky captain of two spectacular Brazilian teams, in 1982 and 1986. A practicing doctor, a chain smoker and heavy drinker. His bearded demeanour and revolutionary looks along with towering height made him a world wide icon like Che Guevara. His game was effortless, as he coordinated with the mercurial Zico and Falcao leaving opposing defences ragged.

Karl-Heinz Rumminegge (I used to love pronouncing his name): The best German player of the WC, he used to marshal the midfield, adept at tackling and in initiating attacks. Lothar Matthaus as a midfielder was a worthy successor to him. Incidentally Matthaus in the 86 final was primarily entrusted with man-marking Maradona.  

Careca: Had a profitable time scoring 5 goals. Put finishing touches to the sublime moves of Zico, Socrates et al. Later he became the first superstar of Japanese soccer. Played for 4 years in the fledgling J-league

Gary Lineker: A striker in the classic mould, he was also the quintessential poacher. Had the knack of being in the right place at the right time. Deservedly won the Golden Boot of 86. Marco Van Basten and Klinsmann (coincidentally current coaches of Netherlands and Germany), both reminded me of Lineker in their playing days.

Roland Garros 2006 thus far June 6, 2006

Posted by ramanand in Ramanand, Tennis.
5 comments

So far, the French Open this year has been your average engrossing Grand Slam right from the injury-affected draw, the slogfests that seem to take as long as making a claymation film, the orange of the courts and the blue-black of the skies. But it remains with a hint of the magic to come, which we will also return to in a while in this post. Before that, a look at the support cast.

The Women's draw this time was affected by injuries to some of the former No. 1s, but it is a sign of the current depth in the women's game that despite that and the knocking out of the current top player and the holder of the first Grand Slam of the year, we still have 4 former #1s in Hingis, Clijsters, Henin-Hardenne and Venus Williams to slug it out with the remaining Russians (who continue to flood the draw) and some new faces. Hingis has been patchy but on a high after winning Rome while Henin-Hardenne has had the least trouble on the pathway to her title defence.

The best match that I have seen in this year's Open was the Russian cat-fight between Maria Sharapova and Dinara Safina. Safina, who has had an excellent run leading into Paris, matched the beauty-ova in her relentless efforts of dishing out muscular winners, which meant a match pockmarked with errors and studded with winners from improbable angles. Nerves ultimately had the say in trading of sets, but the spectacular comeback from Safina in this battle that clearly had a semi-visible edge to it made it the match of the tournament so far.

The men's draw soon saw the 5-setters that in another day and city would be considered noteworthy, but in Paris are merely par for the course. What keeps the additional interest alive is that Nadal and Federer are as on date still heading for that salivating clash. For a long while now, the only matter of intrigue in Federer's career has been that missing bullet point of a French title in the resumé. And for not making it a foregone conclusion, we have to thank the other modern-day record setter. Rafael Nadal's astonishing run of clay-court wins has included a couple of run-ins from Federer which were very tight affairs. So it will be no surprise to anybody that if the 11th of June does not see Raf and Fed warming up, there will be a bunch of very disappointed tennis-watchers.

Both champions have had fairly easy runs to the quarters, though Nadal has had to demonstrate more of his weapons than Federer. The Swiss fortuitously faced two lucky losers in his 1st two matches, of which, the fact that the second was a left-hander sent the commentators into raptures and treat this as a chance for Federer to work out his southpaw strategy. Though the broadcasters have been careful not to jump the gun, the undertones give it all away, for it's been a while since a tantalising matchup of this quality presented itself. Unfortunately, Nadal's overwhelming claycourt game makes it difficult for him to translate his successes to other surfaces at the moment, so the scary question is: if Federer wins, what will we do for the next couple of years?

As a closing note, what are the odds on a Swiss double this year? Difficult, but not improbable. 

Germany ’06 : My Predictions June 6, 2006

Posted by Aniket in Aniket, Football WC.
4 comments

Once again Football Fever is going to infect the world. Over the next one month, the entire world will be keeping a close watch on the events that unfold in Germany. For the time has come for what is possibly the greatest sporting extravaganza known to mankind, barring the Olympics (though some may challenge this). It's time once again for the best players of the beautiful game to come together & fight for a single aim – the FIFA World Cup Trophy.
            This is the third World Cup that I would be watching & only the second which I would be following closely. I was a 10-year old cricket obsessed kid during France '98 & the football World Cup meant nothing much to me. I only saw the finals & immediately took a liking to the game. Zidane became my new hero & Croatia my favourite team. But a lot has changed since then.
            By the next World Cup in 2002, I was a complete football nut. I looked forward to the event with great anticipation & had the privilege of being able to watch almost all the matches live, since the matches were broadcasted after school hours & before the prime-time soaps. By then Spain had become my favourite team, a choice that holds good even today. Hence I was extremely disappointed when they lost in the quarters to Korea. But the World Cup was a greatly enjoyable experience for me.
            Four years on, I look ahead to Germany '06 with the same anticipation. And I'm sure that the World Cup will live up to it's reputation of being the greatest spectacle on earth. Here are my predictions for Germany '06:

Group A:
Germany, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Poland
     Pretty straightforward, I expect the Germans to go through with the Poles & Costa Rica fighting for second. But Ecuador might well spring a surprise.

Group B:
England, Paraguay, Sweden, Trinidad & Tobago
     England & Sweden are favourites to qualify. Paraguay can do it only if they manage to beat one of those two. As for T&T, well, look forward to the Trinidad test against India – that's your only hope for any sporting success.

Group C:
Argentina, Ivory Coast, Serbia & Montenegro, The Netherlands
     The group of death. Normally you'd expect the Argentines & the Dutch to qualify. But both of them have very young squads & at the World Cup, experience counts for a lot.  Thrown in the resurgent Serbs, who went unbeaten through qualifying, & the Ivory Coast which is possibly the best african team in the tournament, & you have a very complicated situation. But I see the Dutch & Argentina making it out of this one.

Group D:
Mexico, Iran, Angola, Portugal
     Seems easy on paper – Mexico & Portugal should go through. But Iran are capable of producing a shock & so too are Angola.

Group E:
USA, Czech Republic, Italy, Ghana
     Possibly the toughest group after Group C. The Azzuris should go through but even that is no certainty. The other spot can be easily taken by any of the other three but my favourites are the Czechs. In fact I expect them to top the group, with the Azzuris coming second. The match between these two, on the last day, will be vital.

Group F:
Australia, Japan, Brazil, Croatia
     Brazil are most likely to go through but the race for the other spot is wide open  . Japan has had a good run-up to the World Cup with some good performances in the friendlies. Croatia have many quality players & with Guus Hiddink in charge, it is likely that the Aussies might create an upset or two. In fact, I fancy them to take the second spot.

Group G:
France, Korea, Togo, Switzerland
     I expect the French to get through this group without much discomfort. The Swiss failed to impress at Euro 2004 & hence I expect the Koreans to beat them to the second spot. As for Togo, it's the same as for all African teams – you never know.

Group H:
Spain, Ukraine, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia
     Another easy group with the Spaniards progressing to the next round. Ukraine would have been favourites for second place but without Shevchenko, they are not the same team. Tunisia have a chanced of qualifying while for Saudi Arabia, qualification for the knockout phase is as likely as a flood in Riyadh.

Knockout phases:
      It gets tricky from here on, as one small mistake is all it takes for a giant to be knocked out. According to the draw, the quarters will throw up interesting match-ups like France-Italy, Brazil-Spain, England-Argentina & Netherlands-Sweden (yes, I expect the Swedes to beat the Germans). My prediction is that England, Netherlands, France & Brazil will make it to the semis & that Brazil will go on to win a sixth World Cup.

Upcoming Stars:
     I had expected Wayne Rooney to emerge as the biggest star of Germany '06, but given his current condition, that seems very unlikely. Amongst the others, I expect Arjen Robben, Petr Cech, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Joe Cole, Rubens Baraja & Mateja Kezman to dazzle at the World Cup. And no, I don't expect Theo Walcott to even get a game.
     I guess the stage is set for a great tournament. Let's keep our fingers crossed & hope for the best.       

World Cup 1986 June 5, 2006

Posted by samratsengupta in Football WC, Samrat.
6 comments

I plan to post an account of all the five football World Cups that I have seen, starting from 1986. Would be essentially giving an overview from my personal perspective, not an event summary as such.  

So in this first edition I look into the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. 

I was a nine year old boy, used to play fooball regularly in the evenings with friends, the event was in the midst of my summer vacation in Calcutta. I was staying with my relatives then in a joint family, most of them were football fans,  and there were constant football discussions in the household. Some stayed up late in the nights to watch the games. I was also excited by this possibility, and used to go to sleep early and requested my "dadas"(elder cousins) and "meshos"(mother's sisters husbands) to wake me up during the matches.

The matches invariably were in the dead of the night. But Doordarshan was faithful in its broadcast albeit with its occasional "Rukawat ke liye khed hain" ("sorry for the interruption"), we were also able to get transmission from Bangladesh Television.

Alessandro Altobelli scored the first goal of this world cup, making it an unique record as he had scored the last goal of the previous WC also .
Two really surprising results were; one a drubbing of Uruguay by debutants Denmark 6-1
incidentally the Danes had the best group stage record as they also beat Germany and Scotland in their matches. Then the Danes got a taste of their own medicine as they got a thrashing of 5-1 vs Spain in 2nd round. With Butrageuno scoring four goals.

Another interesting highlight for me was the Brazilian Josimar scoring from near the halfline with a piledriver, the sheer speed and power beat the GK, it was not the sort of cheeky shot that with which Ronaldinho conned Seaman in the last WC. Josimar's shot had fascinated me as I thought it was impossible to score from that range, and when we used to play in the evenings, I used to try and use all the strength that my 9 year old legs could muster, to aim at the opposing goal from the middle of the pitch.

2nd round:

The highlight was Belgium vs USSR with Belgium winning 4-3, it was a rollercoaster of a match, lead kept changing alternately, finally Belguim triumphed in the extra time, I remember the players were exhausted and literally dropping off in the searing heat of Mexico, but the passion was there to be seen. The Russian Belanov scoring a hatrick in the losing cause.
West Germany labored win over Morocco 1-0 was one of the most boring matches ever.

Quarters 

The QFs had two memorable matches Brazil vs France, and England vs Argentina. Bra- Fra, was the best match of this WC, two highly talented and entertaining teams. The Brazilians stamped their superiority in this match, it was a joy watching the ballet like moves of Socrates, Zico and Careca. But the French GK Joel Bats was amazing, made spectacular saves, France also had some good counterattacks courtesy the inimitable Platini and Jean Tigana. Brazil's loss in the tie-breaker was a catastrophe for Calcuttans, suddenly I could sense that the zest for the WC reduced in the household and the neighbourhood.  

Eng vs Arg, was a fast paced match, one could feel the intensity in the proceedings, it was a rough match also (years later I came to know about the Falklands tension). Diego's  world famous goals, though for opposite reasons, would ensure immortality for this game. 

As usual the most drab match involved Germany and Mexico, won in the tie-breaker by Germans. I don’t know why I support the Germans, because their style is not that eyecatching, call it efficient and well-oiled at best, but maybe because of their perseverance, and “can do” attitude, they always believe in themselves. Another reason for which I liked the Germans, was that in 86 one of their club teams called Bochum had come for the Super Soccer series, I watched one of their games with my father in the Nehru stadium in Delhi, and I was hooked to football and Germany. After that I proclaimed myself as a German fan.

In the semis a flat and emotionally drained performance by France resulted in them getting clinically beaten by Germans. While Maradona single handedly demolished the Belgians, and scored a spectacular goal similar to his goal of the century, leaving half-a dozen befuddled Belgians in his wake.

I awaited the Final match  keenly, I was supporting Germany ardently. Rest of family were all behind Argentina. This match I saw in Delhi, as summer vacations had ended by then. I still remember the setting, I was so excited that I was standing behind the sofa for the entire duration, jumping up and down, with my parents and sister sitting in front. When Germany pulled back to 2-2 in the second half, I was ecstatic. The last goal which was set up by a beautiful through ball by Maradona, left me distraught.  

Overall perspective about the 1986 WC was that it was an average sort of WC, normal distribution curve of some good and bad matches and most average. Quality was affected by the high altitude and also the heat due to the day matches( to make it prime time in Europe), crowd support was at a peak. Teams mostly favoured the defensive approach and it reaped benefits; the ill effects of which could be seen more prominently in the next edition i.e. Italia 90.