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Archive for August 2007

England getting it right

I have been following the Natwest One day international series between England and India and I think the fourth match played at Old Trafford has been the most interesting so far.

India were restricted to just 212 runs but at one it looked like that was going to be enough especially when England were 114-7 but Ravi Bopara and Stuart Broad managed to get the runs to get past India's total.

After a disappointing World Cup, it looks like England are on the way up in the one-day game. I think the return of Freddy Flintoff from injury has helped the team with confidence although he hasn't been exceptional so far.

With three more matches to go, India will need all of them in order to win the series but England needs only one more win to secure the series.

India will tour Australia in the summer and so far its very hard to tell how strong they are but I think it will be a better summer of cricket than last year.

Phoenix looking good

I have decided to have a quick review of the weekend football action from the A-League and the English Premier League. Once in a while this season I will be touching on La Liga as well if I get the time to watch the matches on ESPN.

It was the first round of the A-League and therefore you would expect that teams will still be gelling together but there was some cracking matches especially at the Suncorp and Westpac Stadiums. Incidentally both matches ended 2-2.

It was good to see such a big crowd of more than 14,000 people come to watch the Wellington Phoenix. Phoenix played so well in the last twenty minutes they deserved to win the match. They are going to be a very difficult to beat and they have players with very good ball skills plus there was so much variation in their play that left Victory hoping for the final whistle in the dying minutes of the match.

I was impressed with Adelaide at Suncorp in another scintillating draw. Adelaide could have won this match had they not decided to sit back after scoring first hence allowing Queensland to come back into the game.

I thought Juninho had a good debut in the match against the Mariners even though Sydney lost. I thought the Mariners rode their luck in the end but with Juninho getting fitter, Sydney FC should get better.

In the premiership, the new Viewer's Choice FoxSports feature that allows viewers to follow up to five live matches at the same time is very good because you get to choose which match you want to watch. So I followed the Chelsea/Portsmouth match and the Arsenal/Manchester City matches and with a peek view of the others especially when there was a goal.

I thought City showed how good they are and should have drawn the match at least. Chelsea had problems with Pompey and were very fortunate to get all three points in the match. Harry Redknapp has built a very strong team this season and should expect to be at least in the UEFA Cup next season.

Its good to see Liverpool go the Stadium of Light and keep a clean sheet and get three points. This is what they have to do if they are to challenge for the title because its no use just concentrating on the big games and then failing when playing the 'lesser' sides.

After some disappointing initial matches, Spurs played very well against Manchester United and should have won the match had they taken their chances. They had the better chances in the match but all the time failed to convert. I think Paul Robinson should have saved Nani's shot had he stayed on his line and I think Spurs must think of getting a better goalkeeper or somebody who can put pressure on Robinson.

On TipsChallenge I managed to get three points in the A-League for the Roar/Adelaide 2 all draw but in the premiership I fared worse managing only to pick up two points out of a possible 30 and I have to improve in the next few rounds if I am to filter to the top.

Ferrari shines as Hamilton is punctured

Ferrari's Felipe Massa won the Turkish grand prix after starting from pole to win the race in successive years having also won in Instabul last year.

It was a one-two for Ferrari with Kimi Raikkonen finishing a close second and that should please Ferrari in their quest to win all the remaining races in order to overhaul's McLaren's lead.

Kimi had a very good start for he started third on the grid and by the first corner he was second after overtaking McLaren's Lewis Hamilton and he maintained that position for the remainder of the race.

Hamilton this time finished behind team-mate Fernando Alonso and I think thats something that should have pleased Alonso so much. The puncture on his right-front tyre with 15 laps to go spoiled his race and from there on I think it was going to be good enough to finish the race and get some points and he did finish in respectable fifth place.

Alonso took the third podium place taking advantage of his team-mate's demise and has now closed the gap between him and Hamilton to just five points. He should now be hoping to finish in front of Hamilton in the next five races to overtake him and retain his crown.

Fourth place went to BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld with his team-mate Robert Kubica only managing eighth. I think this was a disappointing race for Kubica who has had an excellent season so far and has been a top six finisher for most of the races.

Renault scored three constructor's points through Heikki Kovalainen who finished sixth behind Hamilton but ahead of William's Nico Rosberg. I think Williams are having a decent season and their partnership with Toyota seems to be working well.

It wasn't a good outing for Mark Webber as he was the first of only two drivers to retire as he left the race after just nine laps after suffering a differential problem.

The next race will be at Monza and I think Ferrari will be hoping to have another one-two finish in front of their supporters.

Flue outbreak and the Cup

There was concern over the weekend that the Melbourne Cup could be delayed until December due to the equine flu outbreak but according to the Racing Victoria chairman Graeme Duff the race will go ahead.

Duff says the Spring Racing Carnival could go ahead without the interstate horses but I feel if it means waiting a month and then have all the horses from the other states then that would be good.

But I think the problem is breaking with a long-established tradition of having the Cup on the first Tuesday of November. To have it any other time may not appeal to some people but I just hope that this outbreak is contained in time and we can have the Melbourne Cup in November.

Say the Cup is delayed, I wonder whether that will mean that Melbourne Cup holiday will also be postponed. Possibly.

Early days but City are top

Manchester City top the English premiership table after an excellent start to the season but the same cannot be said of their neighbours Manchester United who are still winless but have a chance to remedy this against Spurs over the weekend.

Man Utd are doing everything right but in the final third they are failing to convert their chances and hence the one goal scored so far. I think they really need a central striker as cover for Louis Saha who can help convert chances they create especially when Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo are not in the team.

On the other hand its very hard to tell about Spurs. I thought they played reasonably well against Sunderland without causing any damage and then lost but they had a very poor display against Everton and then turned on the style against Derby.

I think this is the kind of inconsistency that had Spurs allegedly looking at Sevilla's coach Juande Ramos. They should be at their best at Old Trafford because Sir Alex will be going for his first victory of the season.

Elsewhere Jens Lehmann blunders in the first two matches seem to overshadow Arsenal's good performances. Its only two matches so far for the Gunners and therefore too early to judge their performance but at least they have four points which is maybe fair because I think Fulham deserved a draw in their first match.

Liverpool should have beaten Chelsea at Anfield to get a head start against their rivals but a draw suited Chelsea especially with so many players injured at the moment. I think the next time the two teams will meet at Stamford Bridge will see a Blues victory.

On the other end of the table there seems to trouble galore for Bolton. The Trotters are the only team who are still pointless in the premiership and with the way they are playing, its hard to see where they will get their points from.

Things could get worse at Reebok Stadium if they lose El-Hadji Diouf or Nicolas Anelka or both. You cannot afford to lose your best players and still achieve good results especially if you don't replace them with equally good players.

The good news though for all clubs is that the transfer window is still open. I am wondering whether Man Utd will replace Gabriel Heinze who is set to join Real Madrid after he was denied the chance to join Liverpool. With Arjen Robben also set to join Real, I am also wondering whether Chelsea will now go ahead and get Seville's Daniel Alves.

Meanwhile, tipping on TipsChallenge is still tight at this stage of the season but lets see how things will look after another two rounds.

Federer wins 50th title

Roger Federer avenged last week's defeat to Novak Djokovic at the Montreal Masters when he beat James Blake to win the Cincinnati Masters tournament and claim his 50th ATP singles career title.

That was also Federer's 14th Masters Series title and at 26 and at the rate at which he is getting the titles, the number is set to continue to grow.

Federer had a relatively easy final this time around as Blake's game fell apart in the first set. Federer actually dropped just one game in the first set before winning the second set 6-4.

The tougher match for Federer was actually in the semi-finals against Lleyton Hewitt when he needed a third set tie-break to win the tie. Having beaten Hewitt easily a week before in Montreal, Hewitt played some good tennis in Cincinnati to nearly steal a march to the final.

With Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic not going beyond the second round, Federer knew that he had a very good chance of winning his 50th singles title and he did just that.

By going to two consecutive finals Federer has given himself extra practise matches before the 2007 US Open which starts next week at Flushing Meadows.

2007/8 A-League Preview

The 2007/8 Hyundai A-League season kicks off this weekend with Sydney FC taking on the Central Coast Mariners at the Sydney Football Stadium.

There have been a few changes during the off-season and the major ones being the appointment of Branko Culina and Aurelio Vidmar as coaches of Sydney FC and Adelaide United respectively.

From a player perspective, maybe we can look at the departure of David Carney and Fred from Sydney and Melbourne respectively as possibly the major player departures but there has also been an influx of new players which should make the first few rounds very unpredictable.

With the A-League, basically the first aim is to finish in the top four places to go into the finals series and also winning the minor premiership is also very important as it gets a team in the Asian Champions League.

Its very hard at this stage to even try to predict which teams will finish in the top four positions in such a balanced league like the A-League. I think the team that has changed everything is the new Wellington Phoenix which replaced the New Zealand Knights. While the New Zealand Knights teams were sort of easy beats until the very last few matches, their replacement looks like a far much stronger side which should be capable of finishing in the top four places.

Melbourne and Newcastle lost their most influential players in Nicky Carle and Fred. while Newcastle have tried to cover that gap with some south American players notably Argentinian Jorge Drovandi, Melbourne have brought in Carlos Hernandez.

The off-season has also seen 12 Brazilians signed by the A-League teams and the most famous of them all must be Juninho signed by Sydney FC and then there is also Mario Jardel signed by Newcastle.

Queensland Roar have brought in some experience in Craig Moore and Danny Tiatto. That should form a better team than last season with a good chance of getting a finals spot and coach Frank Farina has a full season to play with this time around.

Perth Glory narrowly lost in the pre-season cup final and if they continue their pre-season form then they should make it hard for teams to come away with three points from Western Australia.

Adelaide who won the pre-season cup benefited from their participation in the Asian Champions League and with a new coach at the helm should be just as strong as they have always been. I think this is only team I definitely think will finish in the top four places.

Lawrie McKinna at Central Coast has added Sasho Petrovski and Greg Owens among others to his ranks. These are two players with A-League experience and he has also welcomed back Dean Heffernan from FC Nürnberg. Interestingly, CCM has not signed any South Americans preferring to sign local players instead and I am keen to see how they will do.

To make the season more interesting for me and to keep engaged with the A-League I am going to participate in the A-League tipping competition at TipsChallenge.

Djokovic stuns Federer

Novak Djokovic beat world number one Roger Federer in three sets to clinch the Montreal Masters over the weekend.

This was a great win for Djokovic for I didn't think that he would be able to beat Federer. Federer was never stretched at this tournament until the final and I thought that it was going to be another victory for him.

But Djokovic proved that beating world number two Rafael Nadal in the semis and number three in the quarters was no fluke when he beat Federer in an exciting which could easily have gone either way.

This makes men's tennis more interesting with a third player on the scene. For some time now Andy Roddick has not been challenging the duo of Federer and Nadal and finals have easily become Federer/Nadal contests but the emergence of Djokovic will change all that.

The problem is that its very hard to stay at the top and he has to perform well in every match because the opponents will pay more attention to him now. Performing consistently is the reason why Federer is the top player at the moment and anybody who would like to take his mantle has to do likewise.

But I think Djokovic all round game has improved so much over the past few months and the fact that he was able to hold his nerve in the deciding tie-break in testament to this. So Federer knows that going into the US Open that there is now a new challenger.

One year to go for Beijing

On Wednesday night I watched live pictures on television from Beijing marking one year before the Beijing Olympics are set to begin.

I can't remember seeing something similar being done for the Athens or the Sydney Olympics a year before the start of the games or maybe if that happened I could have missed it because I was living in a different time zone. But all the same it shows the confidence that the Chinese have in hosting successful games.

From what I have read it seems like the Chinese have done a very good job with their preparations for the Olympics in making sure that venues are ready on time but one wonders what they are going to do about issues like pollution.

I also don't understand what happens if some events are delayed or postponed as Jacques Rogge says because of too much pollution. I think its better to say that those long endurance races will actually be cancelled as opposed to just postponement or delaying.

This also brings to question why the smog problem was not looked at when the games were awarded to Beijing unless possibly it wasn't an issue at the time. I hope that these are some of the issues that will need to be looked at in future when it comes to choosing venues for international sport.

Packed to the limit

Early this week I had to board my train from Thornbury, the 7.59am service and there was hardly any space left on the train and some who couldn't withstand the packed conditions just let the train go.

For the next few stations people could only board the train if somebody was dropping off and that was the case when some students got off at Northcote and two or three people jumped on. This service is express from Clifton Hill but it could easily be express from Bell or Preston because there is hardly any space left after these two stations.

I am not surprised to read reports about overcrowding on Melbourne trains because over the last few weeks I have seen trains packed to absolute limit. I don't know why there has been such a surge in numbers but I think the time intervals need to revised to let the trains come every ten minutes or so on the Epping line instead of the current fifteen minutes.

Without reducing the time intervals between trains, the overcrowding will continue unabated but it means that more and more people further down the line will find no space on the train as they come full with no more space for more passengers.

2007/8 English Premier League Preview

The English Premier League kicks off this weekend in what promises to be a very interesting season at the top as Manchester United defend their title and Chelsea and the rest of the premiership try to wrestle it from them.

I could say the rest of the premiership but in reality the premiership title looks set to be a two horse race between Manchester United and Chelsea. Liverpool have brought in some new faces and in particular Fernando Torres from Atletico Madrid but I think they will lack the consistency required to chase for the title especially if they want to do reasonably well in cup competitions which has become their specialty.

Manchester United have made their intentions of retaining the title clear by bringing in Nani, Anderson, Owen Hargreaves and Carlos Tevez but after strengthening their midfield and strike-force only they must be happy with their defence where no new faces have been added.

Jose Mourinho's team has been strengthened in defence where midfielders like Michael Essien were used last season with the arrival Tal Ben Haim, Alex and also Glen Johnson has come back from loan. The rest of the team should be alright and Claudio Pizarro will provide competition for Andrey Shevchenko and Didier Drogba. If pre-season is anything to go by then Florent Malouda playing on the wing looks set to have the biggest impact of them all.

With the top two more or less decided, I think Liverpool will easily get third position without much competition because they have a stronger team than Arsenal who would have otherwise competed with them for that position. The Gunners lost their captain Thierry Henry and have brought in Eduardo da Silva but I think they needed more than just replacing their captain in the first place. I think they needed to add some more experienced players in their team to complement the exciting young talent in the team.

The Gunners will get competition from Tottenham Hotspurs mostly although I think West Ham, Portsmouth, Newcastle and Manchester City could be the teams to look out for. These four teams have brought in a number of new faces and are definitely stronger teams than what they were last season.

Since the takeover at Eastlands by Thaksin Shinawatra and the subsequent appointment of Sven Goran Eriksson as manager, Man City has seen a number of players arriving with the key players being Brazilians Elano and Geovanni. If Sven can get the team to gel quickly together I don't see why they cannot challenge for the European places.

I cannot also ignore Newcastle who have now added Mark Viduka and Alan Smith to their striking ranks. Now their strike force will also include Michael Owen, Obafemi Martins, Albert Luque and Shola Ameobi and with such a strike force they should be high up the league.

Everton and Blackburn will make the battle for the European places even more exciting. I have my doubts about Everton who haven't really strengthened their squad so far but I think they are going to get many points from Goodison Park and then get points here and there in their away matches.

I see Bolton, Aston Villa, Reading as the teams who are going to be safe from relegation but nothing much after that. Bolton have a new manager in Sammy Lee and this will be his first full season whilst Villa and Reading had good squads last season and they more or less maintained them even though Reading lost Steve Sidwell to Chelsea.

When I start talking about relegation, I start by looking at the promoted sides and of three promoted sides Derby County look the weakest and they haven't really gone and strengthened their team and I think they may find the going hard. Birmingham and Sunderland have brought in a number of new faces and I think Steve Bruce's team will finish above the Black Cats whether inside or outside the relegation zone.

I think they will be joined in the relegation fight by Wigan, Middlesborough and Fulham. These three hovered at the bottom last season and in the case of Wigan just survived relegation and Fulham have Liverpool to thank for as they fielded a weakened team as they prepared for the UEFA Champions League final.

I hope that its going to be another exciting season with lots of surprises.

Hamilton back to winning ways

Lewis Hamilton went back to the podium and to the top of it to be precise following his win in Hungary but its what happened during qualifying on Saturday that will have a lot of people talking for some time.

Hamilton's team-mate, Fernando Alonso was moved back five grid positions after the race stewards judged that he had acted improperly in delaying Hamilton and denying him a chance to respond after Alonso had got pole position with a flying lap on Saturday.

That situation was not good for McLaren and I am now beginning to wonder whether both Alonso and Hamilton will still be at McLaren next season. Hamilton later apologised to his team for not obeying team orders. Hamilton's win extended his lead over Alonso at the top from two points to seven points.

Ferrari had a mixed day with Kimi Raikkonen finishing a close second but another qualifying drama meant that Felipe Massa had to start from 14th place on the grid. Ferrari failed to refuel his car in Saturday's second qualifying session, leaving him starting from 14th place and he only improved one place to finish 13th.

What made it even more disappointing was the fact that McLaren were not going to score constructors points following the Hamilton/Alonso fracas and therefore this was a good opportunity for Ferrari to close the gap but with only Raikkonen scoring points that chance went begging.

BMW Sauber's consistency this season paid off with Nick Heidfeld finishing third ahead of Alonso who finished fourth. Heidfeld's team-mate Robert Kubica finished fifth. I still think BMW missed that little bit extra to really challenge McLaren and Ferrari.

Toyota's Ralf Schumacher must be relieved when he finished sixth to score points after a long while in front of William's Nico Rosberg and Renault's Heikki Kovalainen who took the last points position.

After finishing on the podium in the last race in Germany Mark Webber just missed out on the points position finishing ninth after another good race.

There is three weeks before the next race in Turkey and I can't wait to see the next qualifying session and the race itself where Alonso will be trying to close the gap between him and his team-mate and also Ferrari will have to to try and rescue the season with just six races to go.