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Archive for December 2006

Whitewash looms as England falter

The prospect of a whitewash after England's dismal performance at the MCG looms large after England lost fourth Ashes Test by an innings and 99 runs.

On the third day which eventually became the last day with England's loss, there was nothing much to cheer for England apart from in the morning when England took three wickets to restrict Australia's first innings to 419 and were left trailing by 260 runs.

Despite the excellent vocal support from the travelling England supporters, the England batsmen just lacked bite and only Andrew Strauss managed to score more than 30 runs.

I was particularly impressed by Brett Lee and Stuart Clark performances taking a combined seven wickets and on the England side I was impressed by Monty Panesar who scored a quick 14 runs from 19 balls. Lee and Clark are the future of Australia's bowling and on their performance today it looks bright.

Unless something dramatic happens on the English side it looks very likely that England will lose the fifth and final Ashes Test resulting in a 5 nil whitewash.

No late goal for Chelsea

Chelsea could only manage a 2-all draw against Reading this morning, a scoreline which could have been for the last two league matches had Chelsea not scored late goals against Everton and Wigan. This time around there was no late goal to clinch the now familiar 3-2 win.

The way Chelsea are conceding goals this season its hard to believe that this is the same team that used to win 1-0 so often last season. Against Wigan Chelsea went to 2 up and Wigan responded with their own two goals and Arjen Robben had to score in injury time to secure all three points.

The Chelsea draw means that Manchester United now lead by four points with two more matches to go in the 4 match Christmas holiday program.

The next two matches for Manchester United are at home to Reading and then away to Newcastle whilst for Chelsea its home against Fulham and then away to Aston Villa. With the way Man U are playing you can foresee the possibility of six points whilst I wouldn't be able to say the same for Chelsea especially the away match at Villa Park. Its interesting to see that in the four matches both teams meet Reading, Wigan and Aston Villa. Should the gap increase to more than 4 points it could be difficult for Chelsea to claw back but one thing I know is that its going to be an interesting run in this time to the premiership crown.

Another legend to retire

In my last post I talked about Shane Warne's retirement. Now Glenn McGrath has followed suit as he announced his retirement from all forms of cricket at the end of the 2007 Cricket World Cup to be played in the West Indies.

McGrath has so far taken 555 wickets and I think he went about his job queitly without drawing headlines in the press. Its good that he will play his last Test before his home crowd at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

It will be a totally different bowling attack when Australia next plays a Test match after the Ashes series without both Warne and McGrath. I think this will give a chance to other bowlers especially Stuart MacGill and Brett Lee will now take a more prominent role having been in the shadow of cricket stalwarts McGrath and Warne so far.

Australian leg finished for Warne

Its always great to go whilst you are at the top especially when you have been so good and Shane Warne will do just that as he announced today that he would retire from international cricket as well as Australia's domestic cricket. He said he will still play for the English county side Hampshire.

With 699 wickets to his name and one more required to be the first bowler to take 700 wickets, his retirement announcement has brought another dimension to the Ashes Boxing Day Test at the MCG.

Not only are we hopefully going see his 700th wicket but we will also be seeing Warnie for the last time playing for Australia at the MCG. That should be appetising in itself.

I should point out that Sri Lankan bowler Muttiah Muralitharan is only 25 wickets behind at this stage and will possibly overtake Warne's haul soon.

Warne has entertained the crowds showing so much passion for the sport he loves so much. It will be a totally different Australian side when Australian next fields without Shane Warne.

With Glenn McGrath rumoured to be retiring at the end of this series as well, Australia will have to go through a mini team rebuiling exercise in the bowling department but what a legacy Warne has left not only for Australia but the whole cricket world at large.

Socceroos and Iraq in same group

The Socceroos were drawn in Group A alongside co-hosts Thailand, Oman and Iraq in the 2007 AFC Asian Cup finals to be held in Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam . Being seeded meant that the Socceroos were always going to avoid the Asian powerhouses of Japan and South Korea.

I think in this group the Socceroos' main threat will come from Thailand and Iraq. Thailand as hosts are going to have crowd support behind them and they are also going to be familiar with the conditions.

But Thailand didn't play particularly well in the last tournament in China where they finished pointless with just one goal to their name and conceding nine goals in the process. Hence Thailand will have to up their game a lot to be able to qualify for the next round and gain from the home crowd support.

Interestingly, Oman was in the same group with Thailand the last time around in the 2004 Asian Cup in China and their only win came against Thailand. Oman did reasonably well in qualifying but they could only salvage one away win against lowly Pakistan who lost all their matches and this could suggest that they are poor travellers. But this is in a tournament environment and I don't think they will be pushovers.

Iraq topped its group in qualifying and that wasn't an easy group if you consider that in that group was China as well. I think this will be the tricky tie for the Socceroos and one that could potentially cause a few headaches.

Elsewhere, I think that the toughest group must be Group D which brings together co-hosts Indonesia, Korea Republic, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Although the hosts may not be particularly strong in this group the other three teams are and I will be watching this group closely.

As the saying goes 'there are no easy games at this level' complacency could be the Socceroos greatest enemy in the effort to bring the Asian Cup home.

Victory's premiership and Knights plight

Over the weekend Melbourne Victory won the A-League minor premiership with four rounds to spare and they are now guaranteed a place in the 2008 Asian Champions League. The team they played and beat New Zealand Knights seem to have a lot of problems to content with at the moment and it was good to at least see them show a bit of flair in the second half.

It seems like a long way ago now early this season when we went to Victory's last match of the 2005/6 season against the Knights, a match between the bottom two teams in the league then. I remember at that match some people came just to show their displeasure with Ernie Merrick and also Danny Allsop. Ten months later the two are the toast of town. How quickly things can change in football!

Now that the minor premiership is won I hope Merrick will play some of the fringe players. In particular I would like him to play the Brazilian Claudinho. I liked what I saw of him when he came on as a substitute early in the season against Adelaide and scored a beautiful goal but since then he has hardly been in the team and that’s due mostly to Thompson and Allsop rich vein of form.

I also hope that should Victory reach the grand final on February 18, then the match would be played at the MCG for the simple reason that a lot of people will be able to go and watch it.

Talking about the Knights, I am one those people who think its good to have a New Zealand team in the A-League mostly because it could probably help the growth of football in New Zealand. I also agree with many observers who say that there must be more New Zealand players in the team because that way it helps the NZ national team.

But its always a fine balance in trying to pursue success on the field and then trying to groom local players and many teams are failing on that front and thus we have seen Arsenal, for example, failing to have a single English player in their starting lineup. But Knights are not Arsenal and they should at least have half the team being New Zealanders.

I also go further and say that the team should be named after a city or state or region and not the country. The team is from Auckland and it should just be called Auckland Knights or something like that. This is also in line with the naming convention for the rest of the A-League teams.

Australia regains Ashes

Australia regained the Ashes at the WACA ground today in Perth after beating England by 206 wickets thus attaining an unassailable 3-0 lead in the five match Ashes cricket series.

England's resistance in the second innings ended when captain Andrew Flintoff went off after scoring 51 runs because after that the batsmen who replaced him could only muster a total of five runs.

Australia won this third Test with their commanding second innings where Ricky Ponting's men scored 527 runs thereby establishing a lead of 556 runs.

When Australia were all out for 244 in the first innings I thought England had a very good chance of taking a first innings lead but with only Kevin Pietersen achieving a half century a big chance went begging.

Although Monty Panesar was included in this test, England's bowling was still not sharp enough. Australia had five different bowlers take 18 wickets whilst for England only three bowlers managed to take all their wickets, 14 of them.

Now the fourth test is going to be in Melbourne and I will have a chance of watching that one live at the MCG. It will be a battle for England to avoid an embarrassing white wash but with the way they are playing a whitewash looks increasingly likely.

In the end, I think it looks too easy but I don't think it was meant to be like that - England were expected to put on a fight.

Giants clash as L'pool face Barca

To me the most outstanding match from yesterday's UEFA Champions League draw is the match between 2005 champions Liverpool and current holders Barcelona. Barcelona was always going to be the team to avoid for the teams that finished top but somebody was going to draw them and in this case it was Liverpool.

The first leg of these fixtures is going to be played on February 20 or 21 and by that time Barcelona should have most of its stars back from injury including Lionel Messi and possibly Samuel E'too and that should make it even more difficult for Liverpool.

I think Barcelona will prove to be too powerful to Liverpool even though they have to play the second leg at Anfield.

The second interesting tie for me is the one that pits Bayern Munich against Real Madrid. Bayern did well in the group stages where their main challenge came from Inter Milan but I think we could be seeing the last of them in the competition this season in these two legs.

I see the Arsenal/PSV Eindhoven, AC Milan/Celtic and Valencia/Inter Milan as ties that can easily go either way although Valencia could easily be overcome by Inter if they have not regained their form by then.

For the rest of the matches, Chelsea should see off Porto and I don't think Lille will cause Manchester United too many problems this time around whilst Lyon should be good enough to dismiss Roma.

Getting rid of Zone 3

From March 4 2007, the Melbourne Metropolitan transport Zone 3 will cease to exist and therefore there will only be two zones, 1 and 2. This was a promise from the state election now being carried through and will greatly benefit those people currently living in zone 3.

For somebody like me living on the boundary of zone 1 and zone 2, but on the zone 2 side I thought that there would also be consideration to extend zone 1 a little bit. Train station wise it would be something like moving up one or two stations up.

Having said that, I am looking forward to seeing the new price listings that will also kick off in March 2007. Specifically I am hoping that new fares will reflect the level of service offered especially by the trains because on my line barely a week goes without a service or two being cancelled.

Baffled by Martyn

A day later I am still baffled by Damien Martyn's decision to retire from all forms of cricket with immediate effect.

Just three or four weeks ago I watched Martyn in a television interview saying how much he was looking forward to the most anticipated Ashes series in Australia and then suddenly he now lacks the motivation. Talk about how quickly time moves.

But having said I respect his decision and I think he has made the right decision for himself and I wish him all the best in the future.

One would have thought retiring after the end of the Test series would have better but unless there is something else I think he thought retiring after the amazing Adelaide test win was even better.

Champions League Roundup

The final round of the UEFA Champions League didn't produce any real surprises and in the end the usual suspects went through to the knockout stages.

After their impressive showing earlier on in the campaign Werder Bremen and CSKA Moscow would feel hard done by having failed to reach the next stage of the Champions League. As for Werder Bremen, I think this was mainly because they found themselves in a very difficult group and having to play the deciding match at the Nou camp didn't help them either.

In Group A, Chelsea and Barcelona have gone through leaving Werder Bremen to drop to the UEFA Cup. I think Chelsea and Barcelona showed their class in this group and deserve to go to the knockout stages. In any other group Werder Bremen could possibly have qualified but they were in a tough group and they will have to show what they are made of in the UEFA Cup.

An intense battle for the UEFA Cup place ensued in Group B where Spartak Moscow had to beat Sporting Lisbon away to secure it. At the top Inter started the campaign badly but recovered in time to take second place behind Bayern Munich.

2004 winners Liverpool had a straight-forward run to clinch top spot in Group C ahead of PSV. This was to be expected in a group where Bordeaux and Galatasaray were expected to fight it out for the UEFA place which eventually went to Bordeaux.

Valencia made it look so easy in Group D losing just the final match to Roma who themselves needed a to win to secure second spot. In the end Roma's win wasn't as important as Shakhtar Donetsk could only get a point against Olympiacos to finish with six points and get the UEFA place. Olympiacos required a win in their final match to get third place and the draw means Europe will now have to wait until next year.

Lyon and Real Madrid had Group E to themselves with Lyon finishing top. Lyon conceded just three goals in their six matches finishing with the best goal difference in group qualifying of nine. Steaua Bucuresti grabbed third place ahead of winless Dynamo Kiev who finished last.

Group F was probably the tightest group of them all the with team finishing last, FC Copenhagen, amassing seven points. This is more than what Steaua Bucuresti(5), Spartak Moscow(5) and Shakhtar Donetsk(6) amassed but still qualified for the UEFA Cup. Manchester United finished top winning the last day match against Benfica who dropped into the UEFA Cup while Celtic who won all their home games and lost all the away ones finished second.

A three way battle raged between Arsenal, Porto and CSKA Moscow which was won by Arsenal and Porto with CSKA Moscow having to settle for third place. Hamburg was disappointing and the win against CSKA Moscow on the last day just helped them avoid finishing with zero points.

Finally, AC Milan achieved top post with a match to spare and therefore the last day loss to Lille wasn't surprising. However, that loss helped Lille reach the qualifying stages of the Champions League for the first time in their history. AEK Athens had a great chance to secure second but their failure to get all the points against Anderlecht means their European adventure will now continue in the UEFA Cup.

Easy for Bangladesh

This morning Bangladesh won the five match one day series against Zimbabwe after taking an unassailable 3 nil lead.

Matches between Bangladesh and Zimbabwe are a bit interesting because these are sides of nearly equal strength and therefore the contests could be hard fought sometimes. At this moment in time Bangladesh should be the stronger of the two because they are still playing Test cricket and they have a more stable side.

On a positive note for Zimbabwe Sean Williams has reached half centuries in the last two matches and in both matches he came in on number five. In the first match he came in on number 3 and he only scored 2 runs.

On the other hand Bangladesh has won these matches without having to bat the full fifty overs. Shahriar Nafees has excelled averaging 69 so far but the highlight should be his 105 runs from the first match.

Zimbabwe now has two matches to avoid a whitewash and from their showing in the third match they could well avoid it. The last two matches will be played this coming Friday and Saturday in Fatullah.

Australia stun England

Australia won the second Ashes Test against England in Adelaide in a match which I thought England could only draw at worst.

I expected England to go through the last day at their own pace and then declare at some stage when they knew the test was safe but that wasn't to be because Sharne Warne rattled England batsmen and in the end England second innings of 129 was not enough.

Its good to see that Australia believed that they could still win the match on the fifth day and just went on searching for victory. Although Australia lost four wickets, with an hour to go you could tell that victory was the only result.

As if they didn't know before, England should now know that its not enough to play excel in the first innings and then do nothing in the second one. A paltry score of 129 and a top score of just 34 by Andrew Strauss was never going to be enough against a confident Australian side.

If we go back to the first day all talk was about England winning the toast and then Kevin Peitersen and Paul Collingwood in particular did their bit to pile up the runs putting England in what looked then like a comfortable total which was followed by a declaration.

Now when Australia got the chance to bat England's bowlers Steve Harmison, Ashley Giles and James Anderson failed to take wickets and restrict Australia to a lower total and I think that was where the Test was lost.

Australia now need to win one more test to regain back the Ashes whilst for England its now an uphill struggle requiring at least two wins and a draw to retain the Ashes. To me that sounds like an impossible task.

If you look at this Adelaide test again maybe it was a question of snatching defeat from the jaws of a draw!

Liverpool face Arsenal test

The most outstanding fixture to come out of the FA Cup draw this morning is without doubt the fixture between Liverpool and Arsenal.

With an indifferent form in the league for both teams, I think both teams would have loved a 'favourable' draw but as the case now stands unfortunately one of them will not be going into the next round.

I think its too far out at the moment (match to be played 6/7 January 2007) to predict who the winner is likely to be but having home advantage to me makes Liverpool the favourites. They are also current holders and that should add an extra dimension to Liverpool as they will be defending the Cup.

My team West Brom play Leeds at home and although I am not very confident with the team at the moment its a winnable match. Leeds currently like in the relegation zone of the Championship league but they have gained some ground since Dennis Wise took over.

Manchester United have been drawn to meet Aston Villa at Old Trafford but its interesting to see that the two teams meet again at Old Trafford the following weekend in the league. By the time they meet in league the following weekend the two teams should be very familiar of each other I suppose.

Russia takes Davis Cup

Its always interesting when a Davis Cup tie goes down to the last rubber to decide the winner and this is exactly what happened in the Davis Cup final between Russia and Argentina in Moscow.

After David Nalbandian had beaten Nikolay Davydenko to make it 2-all, it was down to Marat Safin and Jose Acasuso to decide who won the 2006 Davis Cup. In the end Safin won in four sets.

Its interesting to see that the players who were involved in the doubles rubber the previous day, Safin and Nalbandian, both won their final ties. In fact Safin won against Acasuso who was playing his first match in the final.

I actually have been wondering why Acasuso was given the nod ahead of Juan Ignacio Chela. It could be because of two reasons. The first one being that before this match he had a 2-1 advantage over Safin and secondly because he hadn't lost a Davis Cup rubber this year.

It would have been Argentina's maiden Davis Cup title had they won but it wasn't to be. I think they still have got a chance in the coming years as long as they maintain their big pool of top ranked players.