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Archive for August 2006

When retirement is no retirement

I just can't quite get the situation between France and the Chelsea midfielder Claude Makelele. According to BBC Sport Claude Makelele apparently retired from international football after France's loss to Italy in the World Cup final. But the interesting thing is that France's coach Raymond Domenech has called him for international duty for the Euro 2008 qualifying matches this weekend.

I can understand that France would need Makelele especially as he is an expert in his position and there would be no ready replacement but surely if somebody says they have retired from international football then their wish should be granted. For France it looks like if you are still playing somewhere at club level then you can always be called to play for France if needed.

I actually think that nobody should retire from international football. The national team coach should just stop calling a player if he thinks there are other equally good players in their position. With so many matches now being played in European leagues you can understand why some players would rather concentrate on club football without the distraction of international football but won't be the case for Makelele at least for now.

Zimbabwe courts Al-Jazeera

I read with great interest the article from Mail and Guardian Online stating that Al-Jazeera International a subsidiary of Arabic television channel al-Jazeera, has opened a bureau in Harare. For some time now foreign media has not been tolerated in Zimbabwe and this has seen the exit of such broadcasters like the BBC which I believe is actually banned.

This is why its interesting to see that the Al-Jazeera International network has been welcome. This to me raises the question of whether they have agreed to some special conditions or not but we will see with their coverage in the coming weeks and months. Any international news network would understandably be interested in setting up offices in Zimbabwe given that the country is at the moment is newsworthy with so many 'unique' things happening like the currency issue right now. But its also not the best of places to report from as we saw with Andrew Meldrum and others and it would be interesting to see how Al-Jazeera International will fare where many others have failed.

All in all its good news that the news network has been allowed in the first place to set up offices but what I hope for is that Al-Jazeera International will be able to report news as they happen and as accurately as they can. This means that when people's shelter is destroyed and no replacement is made available, they will show the pictures and footage of those events, when people starve when the government claims there is abundant food they will report on that, this is not asking for sensationalism or something like that but just pure facts and figures.

Al-Jazeera will gain a lot of respect from Zimbabweans and friends of Zimbabwe alike when they go about their job in a professional manner and report on things the way they are and as they happen. So its good they have opened their offices and now we wait to see the news they will be filing.

2006/7 A-League Season Preview

The A-league kicks off this weekend for the second season. Last season being the first season was more like an adventure as most fans didn't know what to expect but the season was surprisingly successful. Its different this year and we know what to expect from some teams but the expectations are also higher than before.

I think Adelaide will go on and win the title this year. John Kosmina has built up a very good balanced side and with the big prize of playing in the Asian Champions League at stake for the top two teams Adelaide should charged up for it.

Last year Adelaide won the minor championship and then fizzled out in the finals but I expect them to go all the way this year. They have already made their intentions clear by winning the pre-season cup and I expect them to pick up from there and continue in the same vein for the rest of the season.

I think Sydney FC will still be good under the tutelage of Terry Butcher but I don't see them winning back to back titles. They have brought in midfielder Alex Brosque and apart from that they are nearly the same team they were last year.

I expect the last two berths in the top four to be filled in by Central Coast Mariners and Melbourne Victory. To me the Mariners played the most entertaining football and it was fitting that they finished as runners up.

My team Melbourne Victory has brought in three Brazilians Claudinho, Fred and Alessandro and also the added midfielder Adrian Caceres and we are expecting a lot more compared to last season's near the bottom of the ladder position, seventh to be precise. The problem last year was relying too much on Archie Thompson for goals with Danny Allsop not scoring that many but should change this year with competition for places upfront.

I don't see the New Zealand Knights being the whipping boys anymore this season. They have been impressive in pre-season cup and I expect them to notch more wins this coming term than the one they had last season. Its very hard for me separate Nick Theodorakopoulos' Newcastle and Queensland Roar but I think Perth Glory don't look very convincing to me despite the prized capture of Stan Lazaridis and the much respected coach Ron Smith.

Controversial end to Test series

England won the fourth and final test series match against Pakistan at the Oval but in controversial circumstances. I am sure we will hear more about the ball tempering allegations in this match but it wasn't the best way end a series that has been quite exciting.

England did not have a good first innings scoring a lowly 173 but Pakistan replied in their innings with a commanding 504 runs. So the England second innings were quite crucial and until the drama it looked like the match at that stage could go either way.

I was looking forward to an exciting fifth day in a match that I thought Pakistan had probably the upper hand. All Pakistan had to do to win was bowl England out and then chase whatever total there was to come up with face saving victory.

Now the next test England will play will be against Australia in Brisbane.

2006/7 English Premier League Preview

The English Premier League kicks off this weekend and once again everyone is hoping for the best for their team. This time last year I was quite excited about the new season after the previous season's Baggies 'great escape' and this year I will just be following the action closely because the Premiership is such an interesting league.

Whilst last year it was a question of whether Chelsea could defend their title or not this time its a question of whether they can win three titles in a row and how far they will be pushed should they do that. I think they can but the gap won't be that big anymore.

Chelsea have done well in bringing in Andriy Shevchenko because he will probably finish off most of the chances that the star studded team will create but the other teams have now wisened up to their play and hence it won't be as easy this time around. I think their biggest challengers are going to be Liverpool. Over the last two seasons Rafael Benitez has built up a very good side centred around Steven Gerrard and also Xabi Alonso and its now a question of time before they win the title.

Turning to Manchested United, I think they can finish in the top four. They won't be able to replace Ruud van Nistelrooy and have to rely on Louis Saha and Wayne Rooney for goals. Michael Carrick, well, he is a good player and was very good for Spurs last season but still I don't think he will make a big a difference for Man U, at least for this season.

I think we will now see Tottenham finish in the top four this season after missing out narrowly last season to Arsenal which will mean that Arsenal will be outside the top four according to my prediction. I still think that Arsenal are too reliant on just one player, Thiery Henry, and while the purchase of Tomas Rosicky was good I think they will find it difficult to fight for honours this year. Maybe Arsene Wenger will be prove me wrong.

Before looking at who I think will be relegated let me take a look at the teams I think could be the surprise packages. I think Portsmouth, Blackburn, West Ham and Newcastle could be the teams to take everybody by surprise. I would have said Aston Villa if I knew what's going to happen with the proposed purchase of Villa but if the Villa find new owners and Martin O'Neill is able to make a few purchases then they could finish in the top six but as it is now they are relegation candidates to me.

Its usual that the three promoted sides are relegation candidates but I think Reading should do well and survive the chop just like Wigan did last season but I am afraid I don't see Sheffield United and Watford surviving. The team to join them could be one of Wigan,Fulham, Middlesbrough and as I said before Villa. While Wigan did very well last season I can't see them repeat that same feat this season and for Boro before Steve McLaren left they were on a slide and inexperienced Gareth Southgate may not be able to stop that slide.

I think Man City, Everton, Charlton and Bolton should be able to stay clear of relegation. For me, I am just hoping to top my BBC Challenge Lawro local league and for the first round it looks difficult already!

Becks not missed as England rout Greece

England produced a scintillating first half display in new coach Steve McLaren's first match scoring four goals in the process and passing passes through the normally dependable Greek defence with easy.

Compared to the World Cup this was a far much better performance and the team played as a team which is very important for a team with so many stars like England. All in all it was a good start for McLaren and his team and the only problem will be to sustain such a performance going forward.

So much has been said about the omission of David Beckham from the squad against Greece but I think to qualify for the 2008 Euro championships England still need Becks. I think the reason why he was left out was more to do with giving John Terry time to settle in the captain's job without Beckham being around. Beckham has been an influential captain for England and his presence would always be felt.

I also don't think his performance at the World Cup had anything to do with it otherwise Frank Lampard wouldn't have been in the squad as well.

England will need everybody including Beckham because England's Euro 2008 qualifying group is not as easy some people may suggest. Russia under the guidance of Guus Hiddink are going to be very tough to beat and also Croatia has a very good qualifying record but the reality is that one of these three teams is going to miss out. Only the two teams in each group are going to qualify and so without the cushion of play-offs this time around all teams are going to treat every game like a final.

Although not trying to read too much into friendlies Croatia beat the world champions Italy 2 nil and this morning and that just shows they are a quality team.

Lifestyle changing fuel prices

The fuel price seems to have stabilised now at an unusually high average price of about $1.35 but at that price it looks like it has forced a bit of lifestyle changes as people now walk where they used to drive and plan their trips more carefully.

With our local shops around a kilometre away I am also finding it more worthwhile to just walk to the shops especially if all I need is just to go to the ATM or just pick one thing. Along the way you also meet a number of people and whether this is the effect of fuel price or just exercise is anybody's guess.

The fuel cycle changes sometime on Wednesday and as a result Wednesday mornings now features some uncharacteristic long queues and I see this because this is also the time I now buy my fuel unless I somehow manage to do it on Tuesday night.

On the other hand I read about some people now trading in their six and eight cylinder cars for four cylinder ones in a bid to cut the fuel bill and this must be some sort of change for people used to move around in big and more comfortable automobiles.

Its good to see that the Government early this week announced that it would offer a $1,000 subsidy on LPG new vehicles and a $2,000 subsidy on retrofitted vehicles as part of its new $1.6 billion energy program. The LPG rebates were originally due to be introduced in five year's time but the recent petrol price hikes have forced the government to fast-track the scheme.

Hard fought win for Socceroos

The Socceroos qualified for the 2007 Asian Cup with a 2 nil win over Kuwait and when you look at it now it looks so easy. In this decimated group after the withdrawal of Lebanon, six points are enough to qualify and an extra point would possibly win the group.

It was indeed a hard fought win for the Socceroos but for a while it looked like it was going to end up in a draw. Credit to Kuwait who defended so well and it was rare lapse in their defence that led to Socceroos' first goal but it was a good counter attack that led the second.

The Socceroos dominated the match for long periods which was good to see and Kuwait looked like they had a game plan to come and go away with a respectable draw. Their counter-attacks were quite good and had it not been for wayward finishing they could have been the first to score in the second half.

I just didn't appreciate the high numbers used by the Socceroos. Why for example give the goalie number 51? To me it gave an impression that the lower numbers were reserved for the World Cup stars and these guys had to settle for the numbers after say 23 and yet the team played so well and gave all they could against a well organised Kuwait team.

Championship now on Fox Sports

When my team the Baggies went down last year from the premiership I thought that I was just going to see them on short snippets on Sky News UK but that has all changed now with Fox Sports now covering the English Championship league. Fox Sports are going to show the Championship matches for the next three years.

Until Fox Sports 3 is launched on October 1, we will have one live match and three delayed matches every month plus the usual highlights on the Total Football show. With Fox Sports 3 offering more space it will then be at least 3 matches live every month according to the Fox Sports website plus a delayed one.

Meanwhile, I am happy with the deal that will take the West Brom goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak on loan to Manchester United because it means that should we get promoted at the end of the season he can always come back. However, getting defender Paul McShane and goalkeeper Luke Steele permanently from Man U is possibly the best part of the deal. With Danny Shittu having decided to go to Watford instead we have now got the extra defender we needed and hopefully Bryan Robson will now be able to bring in a striker before the transfer window closes at the end of the month.

Good Red Bull move for Webber

Its good to hear that Mark Webber managed to find a Formula 1 drive for next year at Red Bull. He has had an unforgettable season with Williams so far with retirements being the hallmark of his season and I think he has done well to have the six points he has accumulated so far for a driver who has only finished just four races.

Williams haven't been the team they were last season without the BMW engines but that's all set to change next year with them switching away from the Cosworth engines to Toyota ones. They should be able to bring the best out of the Toyota engines and hopefully become more competitive again.

But for Webber its more or less going back to the team he left when he went to join Williams. He was with Jaguar before but they were then bought by Red Bull.

England on the up

England beat Pakistan by 167 runs overnight and I think this was by far the best match of the series so far. It was a good all round England performance although I think Pakistan also had a good chance until they lost Mohammad Yousuf who was run out and then Younis Khan . Once again Monty Panesar continued with his fine form taking a total of six wickets in the match.

Suddenly this summer's Ashes series now has got another angle - a battle between first and second teams in the ICC rankings. After this series win England are now ranked number two on the ICC Test rankings.

With the way England has played in the last two matches and also without Flintoff it now looks like they are on the way up and should be a real number one and two battle. I will wait and see what happens in the last Test at the Oval before coming up with my final verdict.

Drama at the Hungaroring

What a dramatic day at the Hungarian Grand Prix! The drama started before the race with penalties for Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso and the eventual winner Jenson Button. But in the end it was good to see Button get his debut Formula 1 win after having promised so much for so long.

Halfway through the race I just tell what was going to happen next with the weather changing so quickly and I was interested to see what would happen between Alonso and Schumi and I think we are in for an interesting end to the season with the gap now narrowly reduced to ten points.

But Button did very well to come from 14th on the grid and get his debut win but him and his team Honda mastered the conditions very well in a race where only seven cars finished.

Its sad to see how BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica lost his seventh position on his debut race but Ferrari would have been happy to get those three constructors points when they should have possibly got just one.

Beginning life in the Championship

This season I will be closely following football in the Championship after my team West Bromwich Albion got relegated last season. The championship is not an easy league at all because the strength of the teams is more even and any team can beat any team on its day.

However, I think the Baggies have a very good chance of promotion. Bryan Robson has a very good promotion record and also we haven't been forced to sell players just because we have been relegated and that means we retain the core of the team and notable absentees will be Kevin Campbell and Kanu. But I think these two won't be missed that much although I feel the strike force is the area where we need players. I am hoping that John Hartson will bring will bang in some important goals.

The purchase of Danny Shittu from QPR would be good but I think we had a reasonably strong defence last season and retention of Curtis Davies has been good for the club. I also hope that goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak will not be sold to Manchester United.

I think our main rivals will be the Midlands duo of Birmingham and Wolves and then Sunderland, Leeds, Crystal Palace and possibly Southampton. But as I have said before the championship is full of surprises and who would have guessed that Watford would be promoted at the end of last season when the season begun.

Whilst Birmingham has lost some of its players they have also managed to bring in some good players in Cameron Jerome and Stephen Kelly. I think Wolves would have been stronger had Glenn Hoddle stayed but they should still be a formidable force whilst Leeds and Crystal Palace finished strongly last season.

So I am looking forward to first match at home at the Hawthorns against Hull as my team begins life in the championship.

Howard stays on

Its good to see that Prime Minister John Howard has decided to stay on on and fight the next election next year and its even better that the Treasurer Peter Costello has also decided to stay in his current portfolio. I am happy for Howard to stay on because I think he has done very well in the last four terms. Some of his family friendly policies have been quite good especially the baby bonus and the 30% child care tax rebate.

I think the next election is going to a bit tougher especially with the Industrial Relations laws not getting as much good press as they would have liked and also beginning to affect some workers in a negative way but it's up to the opposition Labor to make it an even more serious election issue.

What I would like to see though is that if John Howard gets re-elected at the next election then he should set out earlier on whether he would seek a sixth term or not just like Tony Blair did at the last British election when he stated that he wouldn't fight the next election. That way it puts an end to on-going speculation that once in a while distracts the government from maybe what I would think are more important issues.