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Archive for March 2007

More expected from Sadc

Its good to see that at last the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) has now decided to formally discuss the Zimbabwe situation through the Emergency Sadc summit in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, instead of employing the usual rhetoric that the Zimbabweans must solve their problems by themselves.

There has been a lot of news coming from Zimbabwe over the last few weeks since the Movement for Democratic Change(MDC) leaders were arrested and allegedly beaten up in police custody and now Sadc has realised they cant just look at the situation and hope it goes away.

Now that the meeting has taken place, Sadc has agreed that South African President Thabo Mbeki should try to promote political dialogue inside Zimbabwe. From what I have read so far no time limit has been set and so this can take as long as it takes and no detail has been given on how its going to be done.

Its a good start at least on the part of Sadc to come along and try and arrange talks between the opposing forces in the Zimbabwe crisis but this has been going on for a long time now that Sadc should have taken action a long time now. Maybe its a question of better late than never.

Being the regional grouping for the Southern African region, a lot is expected from Sadc not only regarding the situation in Zimbabwe but also the other member Sadc countries. One cannot expect the African Union (AU) to do anything at all because to me it looks like the AU is mostly concerned about the African leaders only with not much attention given to the African people.

I wonder whether something would have been done had Sadc been more proactive like West African regional grouping Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas). At least Ecowas has tried to bring on dialogue when problems have occurred in Ivory Coast, Liberia and Sierra Leone with a degree of success.

Now I am waiting to see Mbeki try and promote dialogue between Zimbabwe's president Robert Mugabe and the leaders of the two factions of the MDC, Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara and the other relevant parties.


Australia continue good form

Australia continued its good form at the ICC World Cup beating the host nation, the West Indies by 103 runs when the match continued this morning after the rain disrupted the match the previous day.

The hero of this match will always be Matthew Hayden who scored an Australian world cup record score of 158 runs. The West Indies never came near to Australia's total of 322 as they were dismissed for 219 in forty-five overs with Brian Lara top-scoring with 77 runs.

Hayden's score underpinned Australia's innings because the next best score after that was Michael Clarke's 41 but the result should have made Australia's intentions of defending the cup clear. This win increases Australia's chances of reaching the semis but there are still some tough matches to come.

In the other match this morning South Africa went back to winning ways after beating Sri Lanka by one wicket. Sri Lanka never got going like they did in their last three matches only managing to score 209 runs and South Africa should have sensed victory then. This is the first time in this cup that Sri Lanka have failed to score more than 250 runs.

With the match seemingly coming to an obvious end at 206 for 5, Lasith Malinga became the first bowler to take four wickets in four balls in international cricket. That record breaking performance did not however help Sri Lanka win the match but I think it will be talked about for a long time to come.

Australia's next match will be against Bangladesh and I don't that this will give the Australians a lot of problems whilst tomorrow England will face Ireland.

Canas beats Federer again

For the second time in a fortnight Guillermo Canas has beaten Roger Federer again and this time it was at the Miami Masters to advance to the quarter finals.

Canas has managed to do what so many players failed to do for most of last year and part of this year and that is to beat Federer and for him to hand Federer back to back defeats is something special.

I think some other players must be wondering what formula he uses to beat the world number one and also Federer must now trying to work out his plan to overcome him or hope that he will be on the other side of the draw next time.

I hope that Canas will take advantage of his win this time and proceed to the semis at least of this tournament because two weeks ago when he beat Federer at the Pacific Life Open he went on to lose the next match and was out of the tournament. He lost to Carlos Moya in straight sets in the third round.

The quarter final match that I am looking forward to is the match between the two Andys, Roddick and Murray. Murray has been playing well lately and I would like to see how he fares against Roddick who is also playing some good tennis at the moment.

Meanwhile in the Sony Ericsson Open, Serena Williams beat Maria Sharapova 6-1, 6-1 in a repeat of the Australian Open Women's final. This is the first time these two have met since the final at the Rod Laver Arena and I had expected Sharapova to give a bit of a fight this time around but in the end it was nearly like the Australian Open.


Australia upstage South Africa

Australia produced a good all round performance at the ICC World Cup this morning to beat South Africa by 83 runs.

In one of the most anticipated matches since the draw was made, the match was quite interesting especially when South Africa had 184 runs on the board halfway through their innings for the loss of one wicket.

But after such a good start, South Africa could not maintain the momentum as they went on lose their last nine wickets for just 74 runs. South African bowlers had no answer to superb bowling by Australia and Shaun Pollock could not even manage a wicket.

Matthew Hayden had a particularly good game scoring 101 runs from 68 runs and Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke chipped in well with 91 and 92 runs respectively.

Meanwhile England easily reached the Super 8 stage after comfortably beating Kenya by seven wickets. With Andrew Flintoff back in the side, England had no problems chasing Kenya's target of 177 runs with Kevin Pietersen and Paul Collingwood leading England home after some good work by Ed Joyce who scored 75.


Socceroos cruise past China

The Socceroos managed to brush aside China in a good first half display scoring two goals in the first thirty minutes through Brett Holman and Mark Bresciano in Guangzhou.

China and the Socceroos were using this friendly to prepare for the 2007 Asian Cup and the Socceroos should be more than pleased with the way things went in the match. The Socceroos were missing a number of key players including Tim Cahill and Vince Grella but all the same played some decent football for most of the match.

The Chinese team on the other hand had most of its key players in the team including Charlton striker Zheng Zhi but they looked disjointed and lacked ideas in the middle of the park especially in the first half. One key player missing for China though was PSV Eindhoven's Sun Xiang.

I thought Socceroos debuntants Carl Valeri and Shane Stefanutto had good games and should look forward to more Socceroos caps whilst Brett Holman's overall contribution was very good.

This was the kind of international friendly a lot of football fans have been asking for - a friendly against Asian opposition and in Asia and it was a good preparation for the Asian Cup and I think one or two more friendlies nearer the time would be also good.

India face World Cup exit

India look set to make a shock exit from the 2007 ICC World Cup after losing to Sri Lanka by 69 runs.

Needing a victory to stay in the tournament, India's top batsmen could not repeat their record breaking performance against Bermuda against an in-form Sri Lanka team. Sachin Tendulkar scored a duck on a day when runs were needed from every member of the team.

Sri Lanka now go into the Super 8 stage with six points and they are going to be joined by the West Indies who also have six points after beating Ireland by eight wickets with Shiv Chanderpaul scoring a superb 102 from 113 balls.

Looking at the coming fixtures, the big match for Australia against South Africa is going to be played tomorrow morning and this will check Australia's return to form. South Africa are playing some very good cricket at the moment and neither team is prepared to drop points and it should be an exciting encounter.

England and Kenya both have a chance to be in the Super 8 and whoever wins this match will be there. So its a final before a final for these two teams. I would expect England to win this one but Kenya will give them a run of their money.

The last group match will see Bermuda battle Bangladesh to decide who will join Sri Lanka in the next stage in group B. Before the tournament started, the match looked like a non-event because by then most expected India and Sri Lanka to have qualified but that hasn't happened and so its now the most anticipated match in this group.

The good news is that there will be only one match on this day and so I hope to give this match my undivided attention.

Night race a non-starter

During the Melbourne Grand Prix last week there was talk of changing the Melbourne F1 race to a night one and one of the reasons given was to run it at a time suitable for the European audience and therefore increase interest and TV ratings.

I see this is as coming up with a solution for a foreign market without considering the local people. This talk was fuelled even more by the low numbers that attended this year's four day event with Saturday's numbers being reported as the second lowest and Sunday's being reported as third lowest night racing is now being touted as a solution to the dwindling number of people coming to Albert Park.

Has anybody thought of the environmental effects, safety of the fans, transport to and from Albert Park and the noise pollution to the residents of St Kilda, South Melbourne and other surrounding suburbs especially on a Sunday night? These are some of the local problems that must be considered first before thinking about some audiences somewhere.

The low numbers are due to a number reasons and this year the lack of V8 racing was a major one. The good weather on the day could also have had an effect with people deciding to do other things instead.

I am surprised that Bernie Ecclestone could talk about boosting audiences in Europe and Asia. What about Australia's audiences? Network Ten, the Australian F1 broadcaster produces a very good production of the Melbourne Grand Prix with blanket coverage especially on Sunday which is good. The problem is that this is the only race we will then see live as nearly all the other races are shown delayed. Why can't Ecclestone fight for us to get live races as well?

We don't need the European races time to be changed because European races start at 10 pm Melbourne time which is an ideal time but Network Ten decides to show these races at around 11.30 pm and the delayed race with its load of commercials goes into the early hours of the morning. The question is then why can't the Australian audience also watch F1 live?

I think this is also one of the reasons why people are getting put off by F1 because they never get to watch it live throughout the season. The Europeans may miss three races because of inconvenient time of coverage but we miss at least 16 because they are not shown live at all.

Back to night racing. Night races are not on for a number of reasons. Firstly, it's not convenient for families with young children. Imagine if the race starts at around 8 pm and you would expect it to finish at around 9.30 pm and this is on a Sunday evening. This means some people will get home as late as midnight and added to that the following day is a school day.

Albert Park is not like the MCG or Telstra Dome for example where there is train and tram network nearby and therefore its easy to leave once an event is finished. Those shuttle buses and trains are not good enough especially at night and you are talking about more than 100,000 people here.

The ticket prices of F1 must be kept reasonable and this year $99 was needed for general admission and hopefully the price will remain the same next year or maybe slightly increased to cater for inflation.

A lot of people follow V8 racing because it's local racing and a lot of people can identify with it and so this must be brought back to Albert Park to get more people past the turnstiles. You just can't ignore the importance of the V8s to the carnival.

To sum it up all, the organisers of the Melbourne F1 Grand Prix must champion for Australians to get live coverage of F1 first so that they can keep an interest in the sport throughout the season and when the it comes to Melbourne they will turn out in large numbers.

Will India's 413 be enough?

India beat Bermuda by 257 runs in the ICC World Cup after scoring a world cup record score of 413 but the question is will India be able to reach the Super 8 stage?

I think India were very fortunate in that Bermuda won the toss but then decided to field and India knowing that their fate could well be decided by run rate went on to score a superb 413 runs for the loss of five wickets. With two points on board now and a run rate of 2.5 India will have to beat Sri Lanka in order to stay in the Cup.

Bangladesh are playing Sri Lanka tomorrow and they can take comfort in the fact that their last match is against Bermuda. I don't think they will take the match against Sri Lanka's lightly though because a win will almost assure them of Super 8 stage.

On the other hand Sri Lanka has to beat Bangladesh because with their last match being against India, on paper this is the easier of the two matches.

Meanwhile in Group D, the West Indies reached the Super 8 stage after beating Zimbabwe by six wickets. Zimbabwe made the Windies work for the victory but in the end they could not stop Brian Lara's side from taking all the points. Now Zimbabwe will have to beat Pakistan in order to have a chance of reaching the next stage.

Nadal too strong for Djokovic

World number 2 Rafael Nadal won the Indian Wells Masters after beating Novak Djokovic in straight sets.

I think this is a significant victory for Nadal because its his first win since winning the French Open in June last year and it could sign of a change in fortune for him.

After the French Open Nadal went on to reach the Wimbledon final the next month and that was the plateau because from then on he failed to reach a single final until this week. This was due to a loss of form mostly caused by a string of injuries.

Nadal has won the Indian Wells Masters title without dropping a single set and this indicates he is back to the form that made a lot of people think he was the only player who could challenge Roger Federer.

The first set was a pretty straight forward win for Nadal who played some excellent tennis similar to the one that helped him overcome Andy Roddick in the semis. But Djokovic came back in the second set but it wasn't enough to turn around the tables as Nadal broke him once and cruised to a 7-5 win and win the title.

Hodge shines in Cup win

Australian Brad Hodge scored his maiden one-day international century against The Netherlands in the ICC Cricket World Cup.

Australia beat The Netherlands by 229 in a one sided match in which the Dutch team could only score 129 runs in 26.5 overs. They were chasing Australia's score of 358.

But the day belonged to Hodge who scored 123 runs off just 89 balls. Michael Clarke also had a good game scoring an unbeaten 93.

Brad Hogg was the pick of the bowlers taking four wickets for 27 runs. This is however, the end of the easy matches with South Africa going to be a real litmus test.

With the South African match coming next, its interesting to see who is going to be dropped to make way for Andrew Symonds. I am wondering whether Hodge's performance will help him keep a place in the team or will Mike Hussey be dropped instead.

In the other day's match England without Andrew Flintoff managed to beat Canada whom I thought gave some very good resistance. Canada lost by 51 runs after scoring a respectable 228 runs chasing England's 279.

However, it was a sad day for cricket as a whole with the death of Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer.

Nadal in Indian Wells final

At last Rafael Nadal has managed to reach a final for the first time since reaching the Wimbledon final on the 9th of July last year.

Nadal beat Andy Roddick to get a place in the Indian Wells Masters final against Novak Djokovic who beat Andy Murray in straight sets.

Its surprising to see that although Nadal has managed to maintain second ranking behind Roger Federer he actually has failed to reach a tournament final in the last nine months. Interestingly the semi-final match against Roddick was a good chance for Roddick to close the points gap between him and Nadal and I think he has lost a very good chance.

I think Nadal is regaining his form at the right time and this would be good time for him to win a trophy after last winning the French Open last year.

Raikkonen's flying start

Kimi Raikkonen had a flying start to his Formula 1 career with Ferrari after comfortably winning the 2007 Melbourne Grand Prix from pole position.

Raikkonen had a fine race as he cruised to a comfortable win with McLaren's Fernando Alonso and debuntant Lewis Hamilton completing the podium. The other Ferrari car with Felipe Massa finished sixth.

Hamilton in particular had a fine race if you consider that it was his first F1 race and the way he drove in the first corner to overtake fellow teammate and current world champion Alonso and take second place was very good. He drove like a seasoned driver and maintained second position until later on when Alsonso grabbed second place after a pit-stop and stayed there for the rest of the race.

From this race it looks like McLaren is back and although the Ferraris were faster over the weekend the McLaren was not that far back. The same cannot be said about Renault though who did not look convincing to me.

BMW Sauber also had a good start with Nick Heidfeld snatching fourth position from Renault's Giancarlo Fisichella who finished fifth ahead of Ferrari's Massa. Considering that Massa started from the back of the grid, I think he had a good race and I wonder what would have happened had he started the race somewhere nearer the front given that he looked like he was the fastest in the paddock until his car had problems in qualifying.

Williams-Toyota's Nico Rosberg and Toyota's Ralf Schumacher completed the points finishing seventh and eighth respectively.

The first race, apart from being in Melbourne, is always interesting to me because it gives you some pointers on to who is performing well after the off-season testing. From this race it would appear like BMW Sauber are going to be more competitive than last year and with a Williams Toyota car finishing seventh it looks like this could be a better year for them.

From an Australian perspective, Mark Webber finished well out of the points in thirteenth position for his new team Red Bull-Renault and it doesn't look very good him at the moment.

I now wait to see what will happen in the race at Sepang in Malaysia in three weeks time.

Ireland sends Pakistan packing

Pakistan became the first seeded side to go out of the 2007 ICC World Cup when they lost to Ireland by three wickets.

Having already lost to the West Indies in their first match, Pakistan needed to win to keep their hopes of a place in the Super 8 stage but this shock loss means that the maximum points they can get from this World Cup is two which in not enough with Ireland already on three and for the next group match a West Indies win will give them four points whilst a Zimbabwe win will give them three points.

I actually had thought that Pakistan had a good chance of reaching the final yet again this year but this loss means they will now have to turn their attention to the 2011 World Cup in the sub-continent instead.

Pakistan's top order didn't perform on the day with Imran Nazir top scoring with just 24 and Younis Khan a duck. Only Kamran Akmal did the Pakistan innings any good with his lowly 27 but still the best of all the Pakistan batsman.

On the Irish side Niall O'Brien had a superb performance scoring 72 and you can understand the significance of that score if you think that the next best score after this was 16 scored by Kevin O'Brien.

If Ireland had beaten Zimbabwe in their first match they would have been the first side to reach the Super 8 stage but still at this moment in time I think they have a better chance than Zimbabwe of reaching the Super 8 stage.

Anybody who discounted the minnows now has to think again.

Bangladesh shock India

Bangladesh shock India Bangladesh beat India this morning in the 2007 ICC World Cup by five wickets after an excellent bowling performance.

Bangladesh managed to restrict India to just 191 runs in 49.3 overs and then reached the target with 9 balls to spare. In my preview of the World Cup, I said this was a group were a seeded team was likely to miss out on the Super 8 stage and this looks like a possibility now.

The fact that only one Indian player Sourav Ganguly managed to score a half century tells the whole story about India's batting on the day. On the Bangladesh side, three teenagers Tamim Iqbal, Mushfiqur Rahim and Saqibul Hasan scored half centuries to help Bangladesh reach the 191 target.

At the moment the advantage is with Bangladesh with their next match being against Sri Lanka and the last match against Bermuda. So Bangladesh are most likely going to finish with a minimum of four points and everything being equal what could stop them from qualifying for the Super 8 stage would be the run rate.

India on the other hand can expect a maximum of four points now and their next match is an easy one against Bermuda but it is the final group match against Sri Lanka that's going to be pivotal. Lose that and they will be heading home.

Yesterday New Zealand easily dismissed England after another less than convincing display by England. What got me thinking is the possibility of England losing to Kenya. Will that be possible or will England rise and get the all important two points?

The other match between South Africa and the Netherlands will be remembered as a match in which Herschelle Gibbs scored six sixes in one over. This is the first time this has ever happened in international cricket.

Australia too good for Scotland

After all the talk about facilities not being ready on time, the 2007 Cricket World Cup begun in earnest yesterday with the group D match between the West Indies and Pakistan.

I thought Pakistan was going to overhaul the Windies target of 242 but they fell short due largely to the Windies excellent bowling.

This morning as expected Australia beat Scotland in the first Group A match by 203 runs. This is the problem of some of the group matches because it was very unlikely that Scotland would pose any problems for Australia. However, the same cannot be said for the other match between Canada and Kenya which is the one I watched instead.

Kenya played well to beat Canada by seven wickets . I have always wondered how long it will take Kenya to get to the big stage of cricket because at the last World Cup they played reasonably well and I also remember the 1996 famous victory over the West Indies.

Maybe Kenya needs to play the bigger teams more often to gain experience and possibly later on gain Test status.

Looking ahead tomorrow morning Sri Lanka will take on Bermuda and Zimbabwe will play Ireland. The Sri Lanka/Bermuda match looks like a no contest to me but the Zimbabwe/Ireland match could be very interesting.

Although Zimbabwe cricket hasn't had the best of times lately they should able to beat Ireland and should they fail then Zimbabwe is more likely to leave the tournament winless.

Swimming and the tickets

Melbourne hosts the 12th FINA World Swimming Championships starting on Saturday 17th of March, 2007 and the talk right now is about unsold tickets.

According to The Age organisers have sold about 11 percent of the tickets available for synchronised swimming whilst the overral figure is said to be just over fifty percent.

It was interesting last week to come out of the train station at Flagstaff Gardens to be greeted by men and women in swimming gear dishing out pamphlets for the swimming championships. This was also done to raise the Melbourne's public awareness of the event and I think it managed to do that but whether that converted to actually buying the tickets I don't know.

I am looking forward to watching the events on television especially the swimming to be held at the Susie O'Neill Swimming Pool, a temporary pool constructed at the Rod Laver Arena.

Canas stops Federer's run

Guillermo Canas beat Roger Federer in the second round at the Pacific Life Open tournament to stop his impressive unbeaten run which was now on 41.

I never saw this defeat coming at all and I am wondering whether Federer was so much conscious of the impending record or it was a case of Canas just being too good for Federer. Canas now joins the 'special' group of players which includes Rafael Nadal and Andrew Murray, players who have managed to overcome Federer in the past year.

With Federer out it opens out the field to other players to take the mantle. I watched Ivan Ljubicic beat Thomas Johansson today in clinical fashion and I think if he keeps on like that he could be challenge for this title.

But there is also Andy Roddick and Rafael Nadal who also won their second round ties although they both needed tie breaks and they too will try everything especially knowing that Federer is now out of the tournament.

So the Federer the counts starts again from zero and realistically I think the actual count will begin with the start of the grass court season unless he does so well on clay this year and win the French Open.

Champions League quarter-final draw

The UEFA Champions League quarter-final draw has been conducted and thrown in some interesting ties. A draw was also made for the semis and we could see yet another Liverpool/Chelsea clash in the Champions League.

AC Milan who knocked out Celtic will meet Bayern Munich. Bayern have the advantage of playing the second leg at home but I think AC Milan will sail through and this could be decided by an odd goal. The winner of this match will meet the winner of Roma/Manchester United.

Roma have done very well to reach this stage after disposing of early favourites Lyon. I think they are going to give Manchester United a tough match and I will put my money on Roma to go through.

PSV Eindhoven have been paired once again against Liverpool this season in the Champions League. After dismissing Arsenal from the competition PSV should fancy their chances against yet another English opposition but I think Liverpool are well drilled for Europe and I will not be surprised to see Liverpool in the semis facing the winner of Chelsea/Valencia.

Valencia have been paired against Chelsea and this is going to be a very interesting tie indeed. After starting the season on a high in La Liga, Valencia's form dipped just before Christmas but they are now flying high again and because of that I think this could be the last time we see Chelsea in the competition this season.

With three weeks before the first legs to be played in the first week of April, the teams have enough time to study their opposition and map out a strategy that may pave their path to European glory.

The 2007 Cricket World Cup preview

The 2007 ICC Cricket World Cup starts in the West Indies on Sunday 11 March with the opening ceremony but the first match will be on Tuesday the 13th of March when the hosts West Indies take on Pakistan in a group D match.

The ICC Cricket World cup has a very interesting setup whereby there is a group stage and then there is a Super 8 stage. There are four groups each comprising of four teams, two seeded and two unseeded and the the top two teams in each group will reach the Super 8 stage.

I will be very surprised if any of the seeded teams fail to proceed to the Super 8 stage and that for me makes the group stage rather predictable and somewhat boring if you can call it that. But that doesn't mean there are no interesting matches in the group stage. There are some appetising ties in the group stage, for example Australia versus South Africa but unlike in other World Cups where finishing top is very important here what matters is just finishing in the top two positions and I will explain why.

The reason is that the Super 8 stage schedule is already decided with the team's ranking. Take for example Australia, they are ranked first and therefore designated team A1, A standing for group and 1 being the ranking. Australia only needs to finish first or second and they will maintain their A1 tag and will proceed and play those matches scheduled for A1.

I think where it becomes interesting now is when a seeded team fails to finish in the top two positions. The unseeded team will take the seeding of the team they have displaced. So in the case of Australia, in the event that they fail to finish in the top two and either of Scotland or the Netherlands does, that team will inherit the A1 tag and play the matches scheduled for A1.

Its hard to see a group where such a scenario may happen but I think the closest where it could happen could be in Group B where Bangladesh could possibly oust one of India or Sri Lanka.

In Group A, Australia and South Africa should be too strong for the Netherlands and Scotland and in Group C I would expect England and New Zealand to see off Kenya and Canada.

Lastly but not least in Group D, Pakistan and the hosts the West Indies should be too good for Zimbabwe and Ireland.

It is important to note though that points gained from the group stage will be carried over to the Super 8 stage and therefore its very important to get those points on board because the Super 8 stage is not easy at all.

I hope there will be one or two upsets to make the group stage very interesting and I also hope we will see some interesting cricket over the coming few weeks.

Arsenal, Barca bow out

Last year's UEFA Champions League finalists Arsenal and Barcelona are both out of the competition after being dispatched by PSV Eindhoven and Liverpool respectively.

Having lost the first leg by one goal to nil, Arsenal had to beat PSV by at least two goals and they would have been in the hat for the quarter-finals draw. With PSV securing a draw with seven minutes left on the clock and Arsenal now needing two goals to win or one to force extra time I could see that Arsenal's season was literally over after being knocked out in the FA Cup and languishing a distant fourth in the league. All Arsenal can do now is prepare for next season and at the same time hold on to fourth place.

Goals by Craig Bellamy and John Arne Riise at the Nou Camp proved invaluable for Liverpool as they booked their place in the quarters thanks to the away goals rule. I think Barca blew it in the first leg where it looked too easy for them in the first half but could only score a solitary goal. Liverpool then came back in the second half and snatched the two away goals.

Valencia will now fly the Spanish flag as the only Spanish team left in the Champions League after a nil-all draw at home ensured progress on the away goals rule. Inter who are leading Serie A by sixteen points at the moment must be regretting the goal scored by David Silva with just three minutes remaining in the first leg. That goal proved decisive.

The other Spanish team Real Madrid bowed out after losing 2-1 to Bayern Munich. In a match between two teams not doing particularly well in their domestic leagues, Bayern came out tops especially with their home performance where Roy Mackaay scored a goal with less than fifteen seconds on the clock. After conceding such an early goal, and for a team seemingly low on confidence, it was obvious from then on that it was going to be Bayern's night. Ruud van Nistelrooy late penalty goal only meant a frantic finish and a more respectable loss on away goals for Real.

Only one goal was needed to separate AC Milan and Celtic and that goal was scored in extra time. This was the only match to go into extra time in this round. Celtic came as close as they could get and I think they can go out with their heads held high because they were so close to an upset but Milan's experience shown through in the end.

Another match that could have gone into extra time was the one between Chelsea and Porto but Michael Ballack, in a rare goal for Chelsea, made sure that that didn't happen. Chelsea were not at their best and especially in the first half but it looks like they drew so much from their experience to dump former winners Porto out of the competitition.

Lyon are also out after being bundled out by Roma. To me Lyon were easily the best team of the qualifying round but they could not find a goal against a Francesco Totti inspired Roma and therefore exit the competition at the first qualifying stage when I thought they could go as far as possible this time around.

Manchester United made sure that there would be no French team in the quarter finals by beating Lille 1-0 in both legs. Although Lille disputed the United goal from the first leg it was up to them to at least score twice at Old Trafford and win the tie but that they couldn't and will now have to watch from the sidelines.

Its hard to tell the favourite to win the competition at the moment. The first knockout qualifying stage was tight and you can tell with three ties being decided on goal difference, three by a one goal margin and the remaining two by a two goal margin. But I think for most of the teams going into the quarters, the most important thing is to be in the hat for the draw.

For additional news, interviews, and other features about the UEFA Champions League, checking the world wide web for podcasts can be a good option. This internet medium is considered as the the sport's aficionado's bestfriend because of valuable information that can attained from it. Many podcasts are widely available in the Internet and are often sponsored by prominent companies. For instance, telecommunications giant O2 have been sponsoring free podcasts that can be downloaded from iTunes.

2007 F1 season preview

Itís now less than two weeks before the F1 season kicks off here in Melbourne at Albert Park and as always there is so much expectation this year with some drivers having changed teams and also with some rules changes covering tyres and safety car among others.

For the first time in sixteen years there won't be Michael Schumacher on the grid this season after he retired at the end of last season. For a sport that has been criticised in the past for being too predictable, I think there is nothing predictable about it this season.

This season will see one tyre supplier, Bridgestone, supply all the teams with tyres and that could make it a bit interesting. There is no more gaining advantage because your tyre manufacturer has tyres more suited to certain conditions like rain or heat. Some may think it takes away some of the drama but I think it will bring the cream to the top.

I think teams like Ferrari who have been using Bridgestone have a slight advantage because they are familiar with tyre and know exactly how to get top performance out of it. The former Michelin supplied teams will have to adopt but having said that I don't think that it is a big concern because by now all the teams have had enough time to test the tyres up.

Fernando Alonso won the championship last year with Renault but he has since moved to McLaren where he will pair with debutant Lewis Hamilton. If McLaren can make their car a little bit more reliable then they can be competitive again and I think its high time McLaren wins the title after the Kimi Raikkonen/Pablo Montoya combination failed to provide one despite the hype.

I still think that Ferrari, even though they no longer have Schumacher are front-runners together with Renault. Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa should between them be able to secure a good number of podium finishes if they put their experience to good use. Ferrari have an experienced set of drivers compared to their major rivals, Renault and McLaren and therefore will be my favourite for the constructors title at least.

I think Renault are still very good despite losing Alonso. This year they will have Giancarlo Fisichella and Heikki Kovalainen and to me Kovalainen is untested at this level and will have to see how he goes in the first few races before saying much about him.

Fisichella showed glimpses of how good he is but he was overshadowed by Alonso and now it's his time to shine. Renault had a very fast car last season and if they can build on that then they will be very hard to beat.

Elsewhere Mark Webber has moved to the Red Bull teaming up with David Coultard and I think they should be happy to be in the points most of the time. I think the jury is still out on Webber and this could be the year when he can prove his doubters wrong.

Jenson Button did quite well for Honda last season securing a maiden win and should he improve on that he could get more podium finishes if not more wins. Rubens Barrichello didn't have a particularly good season but now that he is in his second year with Honda maybe he will have a better season.

Its very hard to know what to expect from Toyota. Despite having a capable driver in Ralf Schumacher they are so inconsistent its hard to tell what we will get from them this time around.

If Williams can just finish a few more races then that will be a big good improvement for them from last season. A change of engine to Toyota could be all that can change their luck. From last season's performance its hard to tell that this is a team with seven drivers and nine constructors titles to its name.

Of the remaining teams the one to look out for is BMW Sauber with BMW going into its second year in full control. Scuderia Toro, Rosso Spyker and Super Aguri know what to expect and I hope they will also bring in some competition this season although that seems very unlikely.

So let the new season begin and let us see whether Alonso can secure a third consecutive championship.

Answering the call

This is a continuation of the post Seeing beyond circumstances posted earlier based around 1Kings and the prophet Elijah. As I continued to read 1Kings chapter 19 its interesting to see God sending Elijah on a final mission soon after saying he was only the only prophet left. He instructs him to anoint Hazael King over Aram, Jehu King over Israel, and Elisha to succeed him as prophet (vv. 15-16). Elijah obeys Godís instructions and finds Elisha ploughing a field.

He throws his cloak, a symbol of the anointing, around Elisha and calls him to follow him. Elisha immediately leaves his oxen and plough and runs after Elijah. Then, however, he asks the prophet for permission to kiss his family good-bye. I think for a moment, Elijah must have questioned whether God had sent him to the right person, for no-one who puts his hand to [Godís] plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God (Luke 9:62). Hence his reply, ďGo back. What have I done to you?Ē (v.20)

Little did Elijah know that Elishaís reason for going back was to burn his bridges: he went to kill the oxen with which he had been ploughing with and cooked them over a fire made with his ploughing equipment. He had heard Godís call and was willing to leave everything to answer that call. And not only that he was willing to follow on Godís terms and not on his own.

He actually faithfully served Elijah until the day when his master was taken up to heaven and the cloak of Godís anointing finally passed on to him (2Kings2).

God is never anxious about His purpose but I think its us who do sometimes. He never loses the plot. He alone has the overall picture. He knows what He is doing, and He will always find someone who is willing to leave what they are doing to answer His call and to be faithful to his purpose.

Title beckons for Man Utd

Looking at the English Premier League table and the remaining fixtures there is no denying the fact that Manchester United now have one hand on the title. I think they now have the title to lose and its up to them to keep on the winning streak and come May they will be declared champions once again.

Of the remaining fixtures up to last weekend, I thought the match against Liverpool was the match United were likely to lose but after winning one nil at Anfield, the only other tough match would be the one at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea. Even if United were to lose that match they would still be three points ahead assuming both would have won their matches up to that stage.

Chelsea on the other hand have got Arsenal away in their remaining fixtures. The Gunners are still to lose at the Emirates Stadium and its hard to see a Chelsea win especially when Chelsea only managed to narrowly beat a youthful Arsenal side in the Carling Cup final.

Going to the other end of the table, relegation looms large for West Ham and with the other teams around them picking up points here and there, they may soon find themselves in a difficult position.

Alan Curbishley hasn't really turned things around as expected and the January signings seem to have added nothing to the team so far and so they have to start winning matches starting with the local derby against Tottenham Spurs.

Federer on course for record

I have been closely following the Dubai Open from the start hoping that Roger Federer would meet Rafael Nadal in the final but in the end that never eventuated as Nadal lost to Mikhail Youzhny in the quarters and Youzhny went on lost to Federer in the final.

If Nadal had reached the final it was going to be the first time for him to reach a final since Wimbledon last year and if he had won it would have been his first win since the French Open.

That to me shows that although Nadal still holds the world number 2 ranking, he is not quite there in terms of winning tournaments and finishing off opponents the same way Federer does. The fact that he still holds the number two ranking in a way confirms the lack of challengers in the men's circuit.

Federer's win in Dubai is his 41st consecutive win and he now only needs five more wins to equal Guillermo Vilas' all-time record of 46 and that is some consistency.

I think a lot of people will be following the Pacific Life Open starting on the 5th of March to see whether Federer can equal Vilas' record at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.