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Archive for April 2008

Battle to avoid relegation

While there is a tie at the top in the English Premiership, I think it’s the battle to avoid relegation that has become the most interesting after this weekend’s matches.

After Derby’s relegation it looked like Fulham were going to follow soon after but in the last few weeks Fulham has managed to secure rare away wins which have brought them six points and with that some hope for survival.

The last two matches for Fulham are against Birmingham and Portsmouth and I think they should win their home match against Birmingham and a loss in that match will certainly mean relegation.

I think the Fulham/Birmingham match is the most important in the relegation because the certainly be relegated if they lose. A draw will not of much help either but will survival for one more week.

Birmingham’s big loss against their arch-rivals Aston Villa cost them a lot in terms of goal difference but they bounced back and got a point against Liverpool.

They played Liverpool at a good time when their focus was on the Champions League semi-final second leg against Chelsea. A win against Fulham will go a long way securing their survival. Their last match of the season will be against Blackburn Rovers.

Of all the clubs threatened with relegation, Reading has the worst goal difference of -28 and they have a lot of work to do in their next match. Reading next face Tottenham at home and then finish off the season against Derby County.

I think if Reading can get a point against Spurs and then three points against Derby then they could save themselves from relegation.

Bolton are currently out of the relegation places and I think they hope they stay there. They are going to play Sunderland at home but then they play title chasing Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and that’s a difficult match.

I think anything other maximum points against Sunderland will see Reebok Stadium get Championship football next season and the fact that the Black Cats are no longer under relegation may help them get the points.

Middlesbrough need two points to be certainly safe and they next face Portsmouth and then finish off the season at home against Manchester City.

I think Boro should be able to survive but if they lose both matches and depending on other results they could find themselves in trouble.

Wigan and Sunderland have a mathematical chance of going down but I think they are safe and look forward to another year in the premiership next season.

So after a weekend of dramatic matches it looks like we are set for another exciting round but I hope that both the title and the final two relegation places will be decided on the last day of the season.

Nadal maintains Monte Carlo grip

Rafael Nadal won the Monte Carlo Masters Title for the fourth time in a row after beating world number Roger Federer in straight sets to maintain his grip on this tournament.

In those four wins, Nadal has beaten Federer three times in the final but I think that this time it was a lot harder because Nadal had to come from behind in both sets to win.

In the second set Nadal came from 0-4 down to win 7-5 and I think that shows how brilliant he is on clay and especially given that the other person on the other side of the court was the world number one.

But I also think that a player of Federer’s ability should have been able to win that set once he was 4-0 up but in fact he only managed to win one game after that.

I think what Monte Carlo has shown is that Federer is getting better and better from his slow start this year and I think he will be harder to beat from now on but also Nadal continues to show why he is the king of clay at this moment in time.

Raikkonen extends lead in Barcelona

Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen extended his lead at the top of the F1 championship to nine points when he won the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona from start to finish.

After winning a dramatic pole on Saturday, Raikkonen made the most of his pole position to finish on top as his team-mate Felipe Massa finished second to make another Ferrari one two in consecutive races.

Lewis Hamilton took the last podium place to make it to the podium after missing on the last two races. I thought it was very tight between second and fourth position as BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica closed in on Hamilton whilst while Hamilton was closing in on Massa.

Mark Webber had his best finish of the season so far as he got fifth place. Webber qualified seventh on the grid on Saturday but retirement for former champion Renault's Fernando Alonso and a penalty for BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld made sure he got fifth place.

Webber got seventh place in Bahrain and its good to see another improvement this time and I hope a podium place is around the corner.

Honda's Jenson Button finished sixth to score the first points for his team this year and behind him was Kazuki Nakajima who got another two points for Williams. So far I thinks its looking good for Williams although Nico Rosberg could not finish the race.

The Williams team has so far managed to score points in every race which is not bad and I think the move to Toyota engines is beginning to pay off.

In the last points position was Toyota's Jarno Trulli and just behind him was Heidfeld who suffered a or making a stop for fuel and tyres when the pit lane was closed during the safety car period.

The next race will be in two weeks time in Turkey and I am sure there will be a lot of drivers hoping for better luck after nine failed to finish in Barcelona.

Federer lands first 2008 title

Roger Federer beat Nikolay Davydenko when he retired hurt in the second set to win his first title for the year.

This was also Federer's first time to reach a final after the previous four attempts and I think that’s a good boost for him going into the clay court season leading on to the French Open next month.

I wonder whether the world number one would have won this tournament had Davydenko not retired because the first set was so tight it ended up in a tie-break.

In the second set the second seed had just broken Federer’s serve but I think it was also too early in that set to come up with a conclusion.

The real test for the world number will be when he plays in Monte Carlo when he is bound to meet quality players even in early rounds.

Indian Premier League starts

The long awaited Indian Premier League will start tonight Melbourne time and I am keen to see how this Twenty20 cricket competition will go.

There has been so much coverage in the media over how much players are going to earn through their participation but I think its good to see players from different countries playing in different teams more or less like what happens in football.

In Australia Channel Ten has got the rights to the IPL coverage but a quick look at the TV guide shows me that the matches will be shown very late at night or in the early hours of the morning. It will be very hard for me to watch these matches especially during the weekdays.

There are number of Australian players playing the league with Ricky Ponting and David Hussey playing for Kolkata Knight Riders and also John Buchanan is the coach there.

Andrew Symonds and Adam Gilchrist will play for Deccan Chargers and I think that makes that team very strong already because these two players can hit runs very quickly and this is what is needed in Twenty20.

Another team of interest could be Jaipur based Rajasthan Royals where the two Shanes Warne and Watson will be playing.

It would be good if this league could be accommodated within the ICC calendar so that it doesn't disturb tours by national teams.

Already India cancelled its tour of Zimbabwe where they were scheduled to play some one-day internationals in June and this has been re-scheduled for some later time.

Chelsea's slip helps Man U

Chelsea's draw this morning against Wigan has almost handed the title to Manchester United because the draw means that Chelsea now trail the Old Trafford outfit by five points with only four games to go.

Even if Chelsea were to beat Sir Alex Ferguson's side at Stamford Bridge there will still be a two point gap (assuming both teams win their next match) and that will require Man U to lose some three points because being equal on points will not benefit Chelsea at all because Man U has a healthy goal difference of 54 compared to Chelsea's 35.

Apart from the Chelsea match Man U are still to play two away matches to Blackburn and Wigan and then one home match against West Ham.

Interestingly, the Manchester side lost that match last season on the last day of the season. That may give Chelsea fans some hope.

Chelsea still has to play Bolton at home and then Everton and Newcastle away and they will have to win all those fixtures plus the home match against Manchester United to be able to wrestle the title from Old Trafford.

Against Wigan Chelsea had so many good chances to score which they failed to convert and when three points looked so likely Wigan pounced.

This last minute draw is similar to the other ones earlier in the season against Aston Villa and Everton where in both matches Avram Grant's side looked like it was about to get maximum points.

One of the reasons why Man U has got such a huge goal difference is that the team has been scoring so many goals in each match thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo's scintillating form throughout the season and at home the team has been devastating in most matches and I cant remember a match where they tried to defend a 1-0 win.

On the other end of the table wins by both Fulham and Bolton last weekend has made the relegation fight even more interesting.

Now Birmingham and Reading are in greater danger with Wigan and Sunderland maybe needing just two more wins to be certainly secure.

I am sure its going to be an interesting end to the 2007/8 premiership season.

Zimbabwe election results drama continues

In the end there was nothing much that came from the Sadc emergency meeting and I don't think that surprised many as this is the same Sadc that has watched the Zimbabwe situation deteriorate over the last few years whilst claiming that there was no crisis in Zimbabwe.

I expected Sadc to at least demand that the results be announced immediately but for some reason Sadc thinks there is still need for a delay to announce results for just over two million people who voted in the Zimbabwe elections.

Sadc even failed to recognize the intimidation of opposition supporters by Zanu PF supporters that is being reported from around the country and that alone will not make the runoff free and fair should it take place.

If Sadc thinks there is going to be a runoff then they should send their observers now to monitor the situation and then should one be needed for real then they can stay until the runoff result is announced.

I think the Sadc observers should not have left the country altogether in the first place until all the election results were announced and continue staying there until any runoff was completed and the accompanying results announced.

Also say there is a runoff what guarantee is there that the results will be announced quickly? There should be a time limit of at least two or three days before the election results are announced especially when all the counting is done at the polling stations.

I think this was a chance lost for Sadc to recover some lost ground on the Zimbabwe situation but at least it looks like there are some leaders in there like Zambia's Levy Mwanawase who are concerned whilst others like South Africa's Thabo Mbeki think everything is fine even when pictures of burnt houses are appearing in all news media.

Sadc needs to show real leadership

Zambia's President Levy Mwanawasa has a called an emergency meeting to discuss the Zimbabwe election crisis and I hope that this time the Sadc meeting will come with some meaningful results.

Although Sadc managed to get changes made to the Electoral Act in Zimbabwe through Thabo Mbeki's mediation process, I still think that for a long time Sadc has stood and watched as events in Zimbabwe deteriorated.

I wonder why the situation is allowed to deteriorate to such an extent before somebody acts.

Sadc should serve the interests of the people but right now it appears to only serve the interests of the leaders.

This time the situation has got worse with the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) not releasing the presidential election results nearly two weeks after the election and for no apparent reason and I am keen to see what Sadc will do.

If Sadc withdraws their support for Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe that will be a good step but I doubt that Sadc will do that.

Sadc should demand that the results be released and immediately and I think anything short of that will be a failure.

Its interesting to see that the Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete is also the current Chairperson of the African Union which has been very silent on this issue and maybe its not surprising why because he seems to have so much respect for Mugabe.

The issue of the release of the election results has been dragging for a long time now and I wonder under what conditions the results will be finally be released.

This is a very bizarre situation which I hope will never be repeated anywhere as it creates unnecessary tension among the electorate and moreso when the results are not surprising to anyone.

Its good to see that the Zimbabweans have been very patient so far and I hope they continue to be because at one point the results will be released and if a run-off is called for chances of Morgan Tsvangirai winning will have increased so much.

Liverpool to meet Chelsea again

Liverpool will meet Chelsea whilst Manchester United will clash with Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League semi-finals.

I was hoping that the Liverpool/Chelsea tie would not take place again this season after some boring matches in the last four seasons but Arsenal and Fenerbahce were not able to progress to the semis after their losses in the second leg.

Once again it showed that Arsenal lack the strength and depth to last the whole season but at the same time I also think that they could easily have won at Anfield had Emmanuel Adebayor converted what looked like an easy chance with the score tied at 2 all.

In the last three times Liverpool played Chelsea in this competition they were victors but the difference this time is that the second leg is at Stamford Bridge and that could turn the tie in Chelsea's favour especially if they can avoid a defeat at Anfield or lose by no more than one goal.

Rafa Benitez, the Liverpool coach has proved once again that he specialises in the European knockout competition but with Everton just three points behind Liverpool may need to concentrate on the league as well this season in the last few matches unless they are certain of winning the trophy in Moscow or else they will lose their place in next season's competition.

I think Manchester United will overcome Barcelona in the other tie because the Catalan giants are far from convincing this season.

The first leg will be played at Nou Camp and so United have the advantage of playing the second leg at home.

If Lionel Messi comes back in time for those two matches then things could change but as it is right now Barca are finding it hard to score goals in the La Liga even at home.

So there is going to be one English team in the final and its up to Barcelona to make sure that the final in Moscow is not an all English affair.

AC Milan stopped that from happening last season and went on to lift the trophy and lets wait and see if Barca can do the same this time.

Baggies miss out on Wembley

I was disappointed to see West Bromwich Albion miss out on the FA Cup final at Wembley when they lost to Porthsmouth in the semi-finals at the weekend.

With due respect to both Cardiff and Barnsley I still think that had we drawn one of them we would have had a better chance of reaching the final but such is the FA Cup sometimes that you lose matches that everybody thinks you will win and it has happened a lot already in this year's cup run.

So now Cardiff are going to meet Pompey and I think its going to be a good match to watch with both teams knowing that this kind of chance doesn't come that often.

Its also good to see that both teams are not one of the so-called big four teams and this gives the smaller teams a chance to get some silverware.

As a Baggies fan I am hoping the team does not come back to Wembley again for a play-off final but will get automatic promotion instead.

Now that the cup run is out of the way I hope the team will be more focussed on the league and with teams at the top of the Championship not doing that well this weekend the chance of automatic promotion looks quite good.

I was happy this morning to see Stoke lose to Crystal Palace and that means they stay two points ahead but we have two games in hand.

Massa back on track in Bahrain

Ferrari's Felipe Massa finished a F1 grand prix race for the first time this year and finished it in style as he won the Bahrain F1 grand prix.

Massa had failed to complete both the Melbourne and Malaysian grand prix races but he dominated in Bahrain from start to finish to easily win ten points and will now go into the European races under less pressure I think.

Joining him on the podium was team mate Kimi Raikkonen who had started fourth on the grid and who now leads the drivers championship taking over from Lewis Hamilton who could only finish 13th after a bad start that was soon followed by a crash with Fernando Alonso.

Robert Kubica won pole on Saturday but easily lost first position to Massa who was second on the grid but he maintained third position to make sure that BMW Sauber have so far had a driver on the podium in all three races.

His BMW team mate Nick Heidfeld finished fourth and this looks like a year where they can at least challenge the dominance of McLaren and Ferrari.

Talking of McLaren Heikki Kovalainen finished fifth just in front of Toyota's Jarno Trulli who seem to be doing a good job for Toyota this year.

I think Mark Webber did well to get seventh place especially after starting eleventh on the grid. I think if he can get his qualifying better then he can finish nearer the podium places.

The last points place went to Williams' Nico Rosberg to make sure the Williams team has so far scored points in every race.

Its interesting to see that Alonso could only finish tenth after the crash with Hamilton but it was not a good day for his team with Nelson Piquet being among the three drivers who failed to finish the race.

The next race will now be in Europe in Barcelona in three weeks time and so teams have time to re-group.

Interesting times for Zanu PF

Its an interesting and rather unusual time for Zanu PF after the parliamentary results were announced and the Zimbabwe ruling party Zanu PF found itself without the majority of seats in parliament for the first time.

In the past Zanu PF has enjoyed the majority of seats and also previously they used to have the 30 seats which the President Robert Mugabe could always use to make up for any shortfall and so with say 50 seats out of 120 Zanu PF could easily end up with 80 after using the 30 seats but not anymore.

In the new parliament all the 210 MPs need to be elected with the only appointees found in the Senate.

Things have now also changed with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) having made in-roads in the so-called Zanu PF strongholds in the rural areas.

The current economic problems have meant that some people who once lived in the cities but lost their jobs as the economy shrunk have now moved to the rural areas and carried on supporting the MDC and influencing others to do so as well.

Also the economic problems are affecting the whole country including the rural areas and people know that its Zanu PF as the ruling party that has dragged them into those problems.

Therefore there is nowhere for Zanu PF to hide and indeed these are interesting times for a party that was used to landslides.

Had the opposition gone into these elections united Zanu PF could have had less than the 97 seats that they currently have as I counted at least 13 constituencies where the combined MDC vote was more than the Zanu PF vote.

Now the problem is that the wait for the presidential elections continues and if Morgan Tsvangirai does not get more than half the votes then there should be a run off.

In the event of a run off Tsvangirai should easily win because a lot of the people who did not vote on March 29 are likely going to come and vote especially when they know its their vote that could end Mugabe's rule.

Also the other supporters of Simba Makoni and Arthur Mutambara are more likely to vote Tsvangirai than Mugabe.

Meanwhile the economic meltdown continues with the new $25 and $50 million dollar notes introduced today and if this continues who knows there could be a $200 million dollar note soon.

Roddick sends Federer packing in Miami

Andy Roddick had a rare victory over Roger Federer when he beat the world number one in three sets in the Sony Ericsson Open semi-finals in Miami.

I think this was a tight match which could have gone either way but Roddick seemed to have been more hungry as he won the first set through a tie break.

Federer upped his game in the second set and managed to get an early break and secured the set to set up a showdown in the third.

I thought at that point that Federer would wrap up the third set especially when he got a break point and Roddick looked a bit shaky but Roddick quickly regained his touch and it was he who managed to get a break and send Federer packing.

Roddick will now meet Nikolay Davydenko who easily beat Janko Tipsarevic in an earlier match.

In the other semi, Rafael Nadal will meet Tomas Berdych. Nadal had to beat James Blake for the first time to reach the semis in a three setter in which he lost the first set.

On the women's side the match that I looked forward to was the quarter-final match between Serena Williams and Justine Henin but Williams easily beat Henin in a one-sided match.

Now Williams will meet Jelena Jankovic in the final and I think she must be hoping that it wont be a marathon like the semi against Svetlana Kuznetsova.

So another tournament and Federer has failed to reach the final again and I am now beginning to wonder whether the first final he will reach will be Wimbledon.

Daylight savings knocks clock

Normally daylight savings in Melbourne ends on the last Sunday of March but from this year daylight savings will end on the first Sunday of April and so some clocks turned back one hour on Sunday.

One of the clocks to do so was the iconic Nylex clock but interestingly it appears it couldn't be turned back forward and so has been switched off until Monday next week.

I think it was thought to be better to switch it off instead of trying to fix for less than six days and I read that a satellite link could not be overridden.

I actually like the idea of extending daylight savings into April and this year has been even better with school holidays and that extra one hour has been handy.

Later this year daylight savings in Melbourne will start on the 5th of October which is some three weeks earlier compared to last year when daylight savings kicked on the 28th of October.