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Archive for June 2008

Spain crowned champions

Spain were this morning crowned European champions after beating Germany in the Euro 2008 final in Vienna through a Fernando Torres goal in the first half.

I think I should say Spain deserved to be champions after playing some brilliant football throughout the tournament. The Spanish team was a complete team from goalkeeper to the strikers and its not surprising to see that they only conceded three goals and more importantly none in the knockout stages.

Germany on the other hand did well to reach the final and their highlight was probably beating Portugal in the quarter-finals when many expected them to lose but their defence always looked suspect.

I thought Germany started the final well in the first ten minutes but then they fizzled out for the rest of the match although they had another good five minute spell in the second half.

After a few jitters I think Spain dominated the whole match and could easily have scored more than one goal.

Spain should now be looking to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa knowing that winning the World Cup is a strong possibility but a lot can happen in two years and so maybe its a little bit too early to say but I will be keen to see how they perform in the Confederation Cup next year.

I didn't do that well on TipsChallenge managing only 15 points and I think its because my favourite teams did not well.

Quick results and swearing in for Mugabe

Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe was declared the winner of the one man run-off and soon after sworn in as president of Zimbabwe.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission claim that nearly as many people as voted in the Zimbabwe March 29 election but this time the counting and announcing of results has been super quick.

This to me raises a lot of questions as to why there was such a delay in announcing the results of the March elections and yet this time its been very quick.

But that is nothing compared to the swearing in which was done less than 48 hours after the polls closed on election day.

The MPs of the March 29 are still to be sworn in more than three months after the election and so far there is no date has been set for their swearing in.

This shows the uneven ground in the Zimbabwe political landscape. It looks like it depends on who is winning.

Another interesting issue is that the poll observers have said the elections were neither free nor fair. What I would like to see is what the other African countries are going to do about that.

If they do nothing then it means elsewhere in Africa you can go and intimidate the opposition and do whatever you want and never care about the poll observers because their observations carry no weight.

That is very sad if that were to happen and so I expect the groups that send observers to do or at least say something otherwise there will no need for poll observers again in African elections.

So after his quick swearing in Robert Mugabe jetted to Egypt to be among fellow head of states at the AU summit and if there was a chance for the renamed OAU to get some sort of respect this would be it.

If they say nothing like nothing has happened in Zimbabwe then that organisation will lack credibility especially in the eyes of Zimbabweans who suffering seem set to continue unabated.

Champions knocked out of Wimbledon

This year's two grand Slam Champions at the Australian Open and the French have both been knocked out of Wimbledon.

Maria Sharapova winner of the Australian Open in January lost to Alla Kudryavtseva in the second round in straight sets.

The the winner of the French Open and current world number one Ana Ivanovic was knocked out by a player 132 places down the ranking Jie Zheng.

I think Ivanovic's defeat was not that surprising given that she just managed to win her second round match against Nathalie Dechy. In that match she saved two match points as she eventually won in three sets.

I think she was very fortunate to reach the third round and her exit leaves the door open possibly for Jelena Jankovic.

Meanwhile on the men side of the draw Roger Federer will meet Lleyton Hewitt in the fourth round. This could be the end of Hewitt's participation at this year's Wimbledon because is playing well and maybe only Rafael Nadal can stop him.

Hewitt is the only Australian left at the All England Club after Casey Dellacqua was knocked out by Nicole Vaidisova.

Zimbabwe's one man run-off

Zimbabwe went to the polls yesterday for the second time in three months in a presidential run-off where there was just one candidate with Morgan Tsvangirai having pulled out earlier in the week.

Citing increasing violence and intimidation directed at his supporters Tsvangirai decided to pull out of the election altogether which I think was a very wise move.

With the nature of the economy alone, Tsvangirai didn't need to campaign but when he tried to campaign it became increasingly clear that it was being made difficult for him and thus talk of a free and fair election went out through the window.

So the run-off became a one-man election but there are still some interesting things to consider.

I am keen to see how long it will take to announce the results of this election. It took nearly a month last time to announce the results when it was clear that Robert Mugabe had lost and with him supposedly winning this time lets see how long it will take to announce the result.

Another thing to look out for is how long it will take to swear him in as president. The elected MPs from the March 29 election have not yet being sworn in and yet I understand that they are supposed to be sworn in within one week of announcing the results.

I think the reason why the MPs have not been sworn in is because that would effectively make Zanu PF the opposition because MDC have a majority in parliament. I don't think Zanu PF is prepared to be called the opposition just yet and hence the delay.

And then there is the SADC element. These elections were below the Sadc standard whatever it is and therefore I am also keen to see how Sadc will react.

I think Sadc did well to say that the election should be delayed until there were conditions conducive for a free and fair election but now that the election has gone ahead I would like to see their reaction.

Sadc has proved to be a toothless bulldog in this Zimbabwe situation and they have let it go well out of hand and many will point out that South Africa president's softly approach is to blame but I think Sadc as a whole should shoulder the blame because they are the ones who appointed Mbeki in the first place.

I think its going to be some interesting few weeks for Zimbabwe but sadly the economic conditions have gone from bad to worse in the interim making life even more difficult for the ordinary Zimbabweans.

The ordinary Zimbabweans should be Sadc's concern but for now as usual their concern is for the leaders whilst ordinary people go without basic necessities that are taken for granted elsewhere in the region.

Germany face Spanish challenge

Spain will meet Germany in the final of Euro 2008 after easily beating Russia 3-0 in the semi-finals.

I think Spain are the favourites to win and lift the trophy on Sunday after maintaining an unbeaten run so far in the tournament.

If there is any blemish in their run so far then it would be their nil-all draw against Italy when they needed penalties to oust the world champions.

Germany on the other hand haven't looked very comfortable in defence although they have two clean sheets to their name obtained in the matches against Poland and Austria.

But those two teams are not in the class of Spain and therefore Germany have a lot of work to do.

On the other hand Spain's last conceded a goal in open play in their last group game against Greece and if they continue like that it means that they can only lose on penalties.

I think Germany's key player will once again be Michael Ballack and Jens Lehmann will need to have more confidence than what he had against Turkey.

With Spain they have class in every department but I think Cesc Fabregas could be their key if he starts. He had a brilliant game against the Russians when he came on as a substitute and this time he could prove pivotal.

For my tipping for the final on Tipschallenge I will go with the underdogs Germany and hope they can get a surprise win and me an extra point or so.

Abu Dhabi joins the race

The 2009 F1 calendar sees Abu Dhabi gets the final race of the season and that could be interesting if the championship has to be decided on the final day of racing.

It will mean racing for the title on a track nobody has raced before and that can bring a lot of unpredictable results which I think is good.

The first race will still be the Melbourne which is going to be a twilight race on the last weekend of March.

The following week the Malaysian Grand prix will take place before Bahrain a fortnight later.

With Abu Dhabi getting the last race, Brazil will get the second last race in the 19th race calendar.

I would have loved to see the US Grand prix reinstated but it looks like it will now have to wait for 2010.

Safin overcomes Djokovic

The Australian Open champion and world number three Novak Djokovic was bundled out of Wimbledon by Marat Safin om the second round.

This is so far the biggest upset of the tournament and the anticipated showdown between Djokovic and world number one Roger Federer will now no longer take place.

Tuesday saw world number four Nikolay Davydenko lose in straight sets to Benjamin Becker in the opening round. Davydenko would have met Rafael Nadal had he gone all the way to the semis.

Davydenko's exit in the first round followed that of David Nalbandian who also lost in straight sets to Frank Dancevic.

I was expecting Djokovic to at least reach the semis but now its all changed and this should make Federer's passage to the semis a lot easier.

Spain face Russia again

The second semi-final of Euro 2008 will see Spain face Russia again and I think this time they will face a totally different Russian side from the one they beat in Group C's opening group.

In that match Russia lost 4-1 despite playing some good football and it was their defence that looked very shacky and David Villa scored what could turn out to be the only hat-trick for the tournament.

Russia's coach Guus Hiddink has since fixed the defensive frailties and now Russia can exploit leaks in other team's defences.

After that win over Russia, Spain need last minute goals to beat both Sweden and Greece and failed to score against Italy and so it would appear that the momentum is with Russia.

I actually don't think Spain will repeat their win in the group stages and I think this match will be a lot closer and I think Russia could be in the final come Sunday. They are on a good run and also they have nothing to lose because not many expected them to go this far.

But since they are now in the semis I think all the pressure will be on Spain who now have a very good chance of getting some silverware and all they need is win the next two matches only if it was that easy.

I expect Germany to be in the final and I will make my prediction for the final after seeing the actual teams to reach that will reach stage.

Massa leads Ferrari triumph

Felipe Massa won the French Grand prix to get Ferrari back to winning ways with team-mate Kimi Raikkonen finishing second despite exhaust problems suffered during the race.

In the end it was a comfortable one-two for Ferrari but the winners could have been in reverse order had Raikkonen not experienced exhaust problems.

Massa now leads the driver's championship by two points ahead of Robert Kubica who could only finish fifth.

Toyota grabbed a surprising last podium place thorough Jarno Trulli and things are suddenly looking good for Toyota.

In the last race Toyota got fourth and sixth places and this time they did better with third place but I still think that an outright win is still far off because Trulli never really challenge the Ferraris.

With Lewis Hamilton starting 13th on the grid after a ten place penalty imposed after the accident in Montreal, Heikki Kovalainen was McLaren's best hope for points but he could only get fourth place.

After his maiden win in Montreal, Kubica could only get fifth this time ahead of Mark Webber whom I think is now beginning to look very inconsistent.

The last two points places went to Renault with Nelson Piquet edging out team-mate Fernando Alonso towards the end of the race.

I think this was a disappointing race for Alonso who started third on the grid and I expected him to finish higher than eighth.

Other things to note is that Rubens Barrichello's recent good form seems to have deserted him in France as he finished 14th and also this race had just one retirement in Barrichello's team-mate Jenson Button.

The next race will be at Silverstone and I am keen to see if Hamilton can deliver the goods before his home crowd.

The Dutch to face Russia

The Netherlands will face Russia in their Euro 2008 quarter-final match after Russia beat Sweden 2-0 in this morning's match.

Russia were so impressive they literally overran the Swedish team who could easily have lost by half a dozen goals had the Russians been more clinical in front of goal.

I think the Netherlands/Russia match will be a very exciting one with two attack minded teams facing each and I think Russia could edge past the Dutch. I am waiting to see what plan Guus Hiddink will have for that match.

I was disappointed with France who were knocked out of the tournament after scoring just one goal and one point from a goal less draw. But the Netherlands played so well they made it look like an easy group in the end.

For France, Raymond Domenech's constant changes from match to match seemed to suggest to me that he didn't have a settled side in his mind and I still don't understand why he brought in Bafetimbi Gomis in the match against the Dutch when he could have brought in Karim Benzema for example.

Italy will face Spain and that should be another interesting where I expect a penalty shoot-out to separate the two sides. Italy will be without Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso and I think they will just turn defensive and see how far they can keep Spain at bay.

I am hoping that Portugal will beat Germany and in the last match and I cannot see another comeback for Turkey and therefore Croatia should reach the semis.

Shifting in Wimbledon's seedings

This year's Wimbledon seedings were announced yesterday and as usual the seedings consider grass court results over the past two years.

This hugely benefited Marcos Baghdatis who jumped from his number 25 ranking to 10th seed and Richard Gasquet and James Blake swapped places to be seeded 8th and 9th when their current rankings are 9th and 8th respectively.

Baghdatis promotion meant that the likes of Stanislas Wawrinka and Andy Murray moved places above their ranking.

I find it interesting that in the women's side of the draw no such thing happened with seeding closely following ranking. The same should apply to men as well I think.

The current situation means that if you get a good ranking as a result of good performance on clay that will count for nothing for Wimbledon if your results on grass were not that good over the previous two seasons.

All the same I am looking forward to Wimbledon next week and lets hope there will a fortnight of good tennis.

Chelsea turn to Scolari

Chelsea has now appointed Luiz Felipe Scolari to replace Avram Grant and he will take his appointment at the end of the Euro 2008 tournament.

Its have been reported recently that Chelsea were keen on the AC Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti but the Milan club wouldn't let him go and so they have settled for Scolari who I think is not a bad choice.

There is no doubt Scolari has a big job ahead of him and he has to win the league at least to do better than Grant who only missed on the title by two points and on the last day of the season.

What Grant lacked was that he was not a big name manager even though he proved to be quite capable and in Scolari Chelsea now have a big name manager.

I guess one good thing about big name managers is that they help attract big name players and it will not be surprising to see another big name player added to the Stamford Bridge outfit ranks.

It remains to be seen whether Scolari will last more than a season or maybe he will be given more time to build up his own squad.

Manchester United can only be better next season and they will prove very hard to beat once again for the league title and I think they will continue to score many goals. If they retain all their players which looks very likely unless Cristiano Ronaldo goes to Real Madrid then they will certainly be a better and that will cause problems for Chelsea and also Arsenal and Liverpool.

Chelsea have taken a coach who has been an international manager for some time now but Scolari has been a club manager before. I don't think having not coached in England or Europe before at club level is such a big problem because as Portugal manager he would have been familiar with most European leagues.

I still think that for Chelsea to emulate the success of Manchester United at league level they need to keep their managers for longer because if you look around their biggest rivals, they have managers who have been around for more than four seasons at minimum.

So with the Chelsea job filled the other one left is the Blackburn Rovers one left vacant when Mark Hughes went to join Manchester City.

Under Hughes Rovers have been consistently towards the top of the ladder and the new manager will have to match that and not toy with relegation.

Interesting choice from SBS

SBS began their coverage of Euro 2008 with the opening ceremony followed by the match between Switzerland and the Czech Republic which I thought was very good.

But SBS have access to the show 8 games live with Setanta showing everything in Australia and what I have found interesting is that they are going to show live the match between Spain and Russia.

With just eight matches I actually don't see the importance of that match and also its an opening match and therefore both teams can afford to lose it and still qualify for the quarter finals provided they win their last two matches and other results go their way.

I know Russia are now coached by former Socceroos coach Guus Hiddink and maybe that was a factor but I still don't see the need for showing opening matches when there are only eight matches in total to be shown.

Another thing is that this match is a 2 am AEST kick off on a Wednesday morning which makes it harder to watch especially if you have to go to work the following morning. The 4.45 am matches are far much easier to cope with as that is the time that Champions League matches also start.

But its good to see that SBS will screen live the Group C match between between the Netherlands and France. For me thats an appetizing tie and it also kicks off at 445 am on a weekend.

That is going to be the third match and so not including the final there will be four matches left. It now means that for some of the quarter-finals match or even semi-finals we would have to resort to the the daily highlights. That looks to me like a poor diet of Euro 2008.

BMW dominates in Montreal

BMW Sauber completed a one two in the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal when Robert Kubica won the race with Nick Heidfeld coming second.

Normally when I write about a one two finish its either Ferrari or McLaren but this time it was BMW who scored their maiden win as did Kubica.

Last year the BMW drivers consistently finished fourth but this time they got the top two positions and this was made easier with both Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen failing to finish.

I think it was very unfortunate for Raikkonen to be bumped into the back like that by Hamilton resulting in him failing to score points in two consecutive races and in the process losing ground in the drivers' championship.

To complete the podium was David Coulthard who had his best result for some time and I think this was also the second time his Red Bull team have had a podium finish.

His team-mate Mark Webber did not fare that well this time finishing twelfth. I think it was simply a day to forget for him.

It was a good day though for Toyota who had Timo Glock finish fourth and Jarno Trulli sixth and in between was Ferrari's Felipe Massa. Toyota needs to score points consistently but I think they would be happy to see both drivers finish in points positions.

Rubens Barrichello finished seventh but he could easily have finished higher than that had he not made a mistake towards the end of the race. Its been a good two races for Barrichelo who also finished sixth in Monaco. Sebastian Vettel finished in the last points positions which means that McLaren failed to score any points in Montreal with Heikki Kovalainen only managed ninth.

Also the Williams failed to score points for the first time this season as Nico Rosberg finished behind Kovalainen and Kazuki Nakajima did not finish.

But I think the big talking point will always be about Hamilton crashing in the back of Raikkonen and now both drivers have Magny-Cours in a fortnight to make amends.

Easy win for Nadal

It was an easy win for Rafael Nadal in the French Open final when he beat Roger Federer in straight sets to win his fourth consecutive title at Roland Garros.

Nadal equalled Bjorn Borg's record of four consecutive French Open titles but with the way the way he demolished Federer it looks like he is set for a fifth one next year and also he is just 22.

The signs were ominous when Federer was broken in the first game of the final and the world number one looked out of sorts as he only managed to win just four games. In the final set he actually failed to failed to win a single game as Nadal completed an impressive fortnight of tennis.

Nadal did not drop a single set as he went to win his fourth title and I think the only person who gave some resistance was world number 3 Novak Djokovic in the semis.

Meanwhile in the women's final Ana Ivanovic overcame Dinara Safina in straight sets to win her first grand slam title and with that the world number one ranking.

Safina had two remarkable comebacks in the quarters and semi-finals but this time she lost in straight sets in what was her first grand slam final.

Now the grass court season starts en-route to Wimbledon and maybe Federer will come back to the winners circle at Wimbledon.

Cricket gets Champions League

Cricket will get its own form of Champions League when eight Twenty20 teams from four countries compete in a tournament later this year.

Unlike the football champions league, the cricket one is actually a tournament where all the matches are played over 10 days.

The eight teams are going to come from Australia, India, South Africa and England. The English teams will be decided next month but the other teams already in are Victoria, Western Australia, Titans, KwaZulu Natal Dolphins and Indian premier league teams Rajasthan Royals and Chennai Super.

I don't know whether in the future there will be teams from countries like Sri Lanka, Pakistan and New Zealand and also whether the number of teams will then be increased.

If the number of teams is increased that will have an impact on the already congested cricket calendar and also on the prize money.

It will be fair though I think to increase the number of participating leagues because you can't just have only four but then all the other things have to be reviewed.

I think this kind of tournament is now only possible because of the popularity of Twenty20 cricket and the good thing is that it gives something different.

I will be waiting to hear where the tournament will be held but for now I am just happy to see that the Bushrangers are in it.

Safina stages another comeback

Dinara Safina this morning staged another comeback from 5-2 down in the second set and trailing by a set to win her French Open quarter final match against Elena Dementieva.

She made a similar comeback in her fourth round match against world number one Maria Sharapova but I doubted she was going to achieve the same feat in two consecutive games.

In the third set she just wiped Dementieva aside winning 6-0 and she will now meet Svetlana Kuznetsova in the semi-finals.

I think if she can take her form for the later stages of the match to the start then she may be able to reach her first French Open final.

Meanwhile, on the men side of the draw Roger Federer will play Gael Monfils in the semi-finals. I was a bit surprised by Monfils progress and he now faces the biggest test in Federer who will be playing in his 16th consecutive grand slam semi.

The other semi will see the battle for number two as defending champion Rafael Nadal takes on Novak Djokovic. I think it will be a tight match but I expect Nadal to be in the final on Sunday.

Euro 2008 Preview

In a few days time the Euro 2008 tournament kicks off with co-hosts Switzerland taking on the Czech Republic in a Group A match.

I will try to do a quick preview of the groups and try to guess who I think will proceed to the quarter-finals stage in each group.

Starting with Group A which has Switzerland, Czech Republic, Portugal and Turkey, I think Portugal stands out as one of the strongest teams in that group. Portugal lost in the final of Euro 2004 when they were hosts and reached the semis of the 2006 World Cup and I can see them actually winning this group.

They also have one of the best players in the world at the moment in Cristiano Ronaldo and that is a big boost for them. Its a bit hard to see who will be runner up in that group but I think the Swiss team as co-hosts could sail through to the next stage.

In Group B, Germany looks like the stand out team even though they haven't had really done well in the last two Euro tournaments despite doing well in the World Cups around those tournaments.

Poland had a good run in qualifying and even though I think qualifying is qualifying and sometimes you may qualify well and not do well in the tournament proper I think Poland could edge out Croatia for a place in the quarter finals.

Croatia had injured Gunner Eduardo da Silva score most of their goals and I think they may find it hard going in this group. I will be very surprised if co-hosts Austria will come out of this group.

I think the most difficult group is C. This group has 2006 World Cup finalists Italy and France in it plus Romania and the Netherlands.

I think any of these four teams can easily reach the quarter-finals and I think it will some simple mistakes in the end to decide who reach the quarters.

But having said that I will go with France and Italy as the two teams to reach the quarter-finals. I think these two teams have all the experience needed at this level especially for matches that are likely to be won by an odd goal.

Group D sees the defending champions Greece joined by Sweden, Russia and Spain. I would like to think that Greece will be able to get the goals they need to reach the quarter-final stage and I think that Russia and Spain will be the other team to join them.

I more inclined with Spain here and I think Guus Hiddink's may be heading home after just three matches.

The European championships are very hard to predict because you have teams that are nearly of equal strength and it may take some moment of brilliance to win a match.

I also hope we will be able to witness some free flowing football from all the teams and not the cagey defending hoping that somebody makes a mistake and then pounce.

If you were to ask me who I think the overall winner will be I think it will be between Portugal, Italy and France.

I also hope to do well in my tipping for Euro 2008 on TipsChallenge

IPL ends first season

I should say that I didn't watch much of the inaugural Indian Premier League (IPL) season once I realised that the broadcast time was always going to be in the early hours of the morning Melbourne time.

However, I managed to follow the league through the match reports and it would appear like it was a great success.

It was good to see so many Australians do so well in the competition and Shane Warne's team, the Rajasthan Royals beat Chennai Super Kings in the final.

I don't think a lot of countries a lot of countries can run a similar league but India could do it because they have the numbers and also they got lots of sponsorships in order to attract the best players.

It was good to see a number of Australian players do well in the tournament especially with Shaun Marsh get the highest run scorer award with 616 runs for his team the Kings XI Punjab.

I hope that Channel Ten the IPL broadcaster here in Australia will be able to show a highlights package everyday at a time most people can watch but I doubt very much that will happen.

Talking in terms of quadrillions

Inflation in Zimbabwe has continued maybe at a faster pace than before and for big projects and parliamentary budgets now they talk in terms of quadrillion dollars.

These are the kind of words you dont hear often referred to money but because the Zimbabwe dollar has lost so much value even trillion dollars is not much to talk to about.

Now the notes have broken the 1 billion dollar mark and now there is a 5 billion dollar note and its not surprising to see that doubled in the next few days.

Surprisingly enough there is no talk of removing the zeros this time and now the trend seems to just up the highest denomination. I think the question on most people's mouth is how this can be sustained.

I think zeros were to be removed, instead of removing three like last time, six would be the ideal number if that were to happen. But then again this is all short term solutions and short term here means a week. What is needed is a long term solution and so far there seems to be nothing in the pipeline.

MacGill quits internationals

I should say I was surprised to read that Australian leg spinner Stuart MacGill had quit international cricket after now getting the spinners place because of Shane Warne's retirement.

For a long time McGill stayed on the fringes of the Australian team because when Australia had to choose one spinner that choice was always Warnie.

But now that he was in the team more or less as first choice I thought he would take the opportunity with both hands but he has decided to retire from internationals.

He says he is not happy with his performance so far but I think he should have given himself some more time to see if he could add to the 208 wickets he has taken so far.

I don't know how long he will continue playing for New South Wales but I also wonder whether Warne will come out of retirement and take his place. I would rather have him stay in retirement and give somebody else a chance.