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Archive for June 2006

Twenty20 popularity contest

I read with interest the news that the Newcastle Knight rugby league player Andrew Johns is going to play for New South Wales in the Twenty20 competition next January. While its undoubted that Johns is an excellent rugby league player and therefore popular, I think the selection of the team should be based on merit and not on popularity stakes.
Its also denying up and coming cricket players a chance to play at state level even though this is only for two and possibly three games. I can imagine how the player who is going to miss out just because a popular rugby league has been drafted into the team feels about this. Are we also going to see Harry Kewell included in the NSW team especially with his popularity with the Socceroos?
I hope Victoria doesn't go this way by drafting popular AFL players into the Bushrangers squad. It just doesn't send the right signal to youngsters trying to choose a sport when they know they could lose out to a popular player from another sport despite their best efforts. We will see what happens in January.

A call to a new purpose

This morning as I was reading the Gospel of Luke I was captivated by the first eleven verses of chapter 5. In these first eleven verses I read about how Jesus calls Simon Peter to follow Him. While Simon Peter and his companions are cleaning their nets after a hard night’s work, Jesus appears at the lakeside and begins to teach a crowd of people who have gathered around Him.
Peter is evidently enthralled by the words of Jesus. Suddenly Jesus turns to him and challenges him to go out once more and let down his nets. To an experienced fisherman, casting out his nets after daybreak would have seemed a foolish thing to do, but Peter, recognising that this man was speaking with the divine authority, obeys.
What happens next is a miracle: when the fishermen draw in the nets, they are so full of fish that they begin to tear, and as the men empty them into the boat, the boat nearly sinks. Clearly the one standing in front of him is not just another itinerant preacher, of whom there were many at the time; only God Himself could have performed this miracle!
Standing in the presence of God, Peter can only respond by saying, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” In the light of God’s presence, we see ourselves not as we would like to be, but as we really are. Nothing can be hidden from Him. He reveals every deed and every thought. Like Peter, we cannot feel comfortable in His presence with our sin.
Jesus, however, does not leave Peter in this desperate state. God convicts us of sin, not to condemn us, but to set us free. He calls us to follow him and changes our lives into something new. Jesus responds to Peter, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.”
The most important thing I learnt is that if we confess our sins and failures to God, He forgives us and cleanses us, and He gives our lives a new purpose. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5:17). “He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.” (v.15).

Ghana bow out as Ronaldo breaks record

The Black Stars of Ghana bowed out of the FIFA World Cup this morning but they gave good account of themselves. I was impressed by Ghana's first half display but once again they were let down by their wayward shooting and discipline. Brazil knew what they had to do and they got what counts in football and that's goals.
In the last ten minutes alone Brazil could have scored at least three goals and you cannot afford to play with ten men against Brazil let alone eleven. Once again as expected all the marginal decisions went the big team's way and I think that included Adriano's goal.
It was good to see Ronaldo break the World Cup scoring record and after so much criticism at the start of the tournament he is beginning to find his feet. I guess it will take long time to break that record especially with football getting so defensive and standard of play having been raised across the board.
Back to Ghana, Ghana's exit means the end of African participation in this World Cup and now there are only two continents left, South America and Europe compared to five at this stage at the last World Cup.
For Ghana its time to move on. They can look back with pride at this campaign and they can build upon the good platform they have laid especially with Ghana hosting the next edition of the Africa Nations Cup in eighteen months time.
In the last game of the second round France turned on the style and Spain looked out of their depth as Vieira and Zidane dominated the midfield. To me it looked like the only way Spain could score was through another penalty and for once there was a very good referee in Roberto Rosetti who nearly got every decision right.
Interestingly, Spain alongside Switzerland are the only first round group winners to fail to qualify for the quarter finals where Portugal and Ukraine are the only non-previous winners among the eight teams left standing.
But for me its back to the France 98 final as Brazil meet France in the quarter finals and will Ronaldo this time be a match winner instead?

So near yet so far for Socceroos

The Socceroos went out of the FIFA 2006 World Cup with a fight and I think they gave their all but in the end Italy most probably deserved to win given that they had better clear cut chances and played the game to their strengths.
The turning point of the game was obviously the sending off of Marco Materazzi. I think that the red card in a way actually benefited the Italians more because they were then able to revert to the defensive game which they are more than capable of doing. They defended very well and the Socceroos needed a creative player on the park to take the game to them but there just wasn’t any. The absence of Brett Emerton through suspension and Harry Kewell through injury was strongly felt as we could not take advantage of playing the ball along the flanks and I think the presence of these two players could have dramatically changed the course of the game.
Then came the penalty. The referee was so close to the action but I don’t seem to have seen what he saw as foul play. With the match so close to the finish and some of us already preparing for another 30 minutes or so of less sleep it just wasn't the right time to concede a goal and especially when the team had given so much and made every Socceroo fan proud. The rest is history.
I hope the experience from this campaign will help shape the future of the game and especially looking at the South Africa 2010 World Cup. The bar has now been raised and we are no longer just happy to qualify for the World Cup but to also get there and play a big part in the proceedings. I also hope that there is going to be a big improvement in the FIFA ranking for the Socceroos.
In the other game it was sad to see Switzerland go home having played so well and conceded no goal in open play but such is football. I didn’t understand the Swiss substitution of Alexander Frei with penalties looming. Being the top Swiss striker he could have a say in the shoot-out and in the end they failed to convert a single penalty.
Italy/Ukraine match to me looks like there can only be one winner and that will be Italy. Shevchenko will have big say on that against the defenders he knows fully well from Serie A but I think the semi-finals are a bridge too far for Ukraine.

Sixteen yellow cards, four red

I have never seen a match like this one before where cards flew like confetti. This was the Portugal/Netherlands match or contest if you like. Portugal should try to avoid any more yellow cards against England as they most probably would be second yellows otherwise they will have very few players to select from should they win and proceed to the semi-finals.
Talking about the match itself it was good to see the Netherlands fight back trying to score and contrast this to the earlier match where you couldn't tell that Ecuador were a goal down and were trying to even the score against a disappointing England. I should say I was happy to see Portugal go through because they play some entertaining football and have a very good coach in Scolari.
Ruud van Nistelrooy must be wondering what is happening in his world now that he found himself on the bench for the whole match and even when his team needed a goal Marco van Basten chose to send in Jan Vennegoor of Hesselin instead. He found himself in a similar situation for his club Manchester United towards the end of last season and its unfortunate he finds himself in the same situation at international level as well.
I think the England/Ecuador match is the most boring and uneventful of all the second round matches played so far. I was regretting having to stay up late to watch this match where Ecuador looked pleased with just getting to the second round of the World Cup and had only one shot on target for the whole match. England against Portugal should therefore hopefully be an interesting tie and its a match where England's resolve will definitely be tested. I am picking Portugal to win by a handful.

Socceroos, Black Stars march on

Yes, the Socceroos and the Black Stars have made it to the second round. All talk in Group F before the tournament was about how Croatia qualified without losing a match and hence were favourites to qualify behind Brazil but this morning that counted for nothing as the Socceroos fought back from behind twice to clinch the required draw. Such was their determination I guess if a win was required they would have got it all the same.
Now Italy awaits and that one is going is be an even tougher assignment with Italy beginning to show why they are one of the favourites to win the World Cup. I take comfort in the fact that Hiddink knows a thing or two about how to defeat the Italians having guided South Korea to victory over Italy in the last World Cup. Having said that the goalkeeping duties must be returned back to Mark Schwarzer.
Turning to the match itself, I don't know what happens to Simunic after he got the second yellow card and didn't leave the field and then went on to get a third yellow card. Is the responsibility with the player or the referee? I wonder what would have happened if he had gone on to score a goal for Croatia. Surely you don't expect such referee blunders to take place at the World Cup stage.
Ghana, what can I say. Before the tournament all talk was about the Czech Republic and Italy and justifiably so because these are top football nations but Ghana has turned the tables upside down. With Ivory Coast having gone out it was looking likely that there was going to be no African nation in the last 16 but Ghana has played some scintillating football especially against the Czech Republic and deserve to be there. Brazil will offer a very stiff test especially without Michael Essien but Ghana have nothing to lose and all they have to do is give their all and see what happens after all this is their first World Cup.
Looking forward to tonight's matches Tunisia can qualify if they can overcome Ukraine whilst the most interesting tie is the one involving Togo and France. France could go out if they don't win this match and I will be watching this match with much interest.

The scramble for Ashes tickets

Now that I finally have my tickets to the fourth Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) in December, I can now start looking forward to the actual cricket come Boxing Day. This is said to be the most anticipated Ashes test series in Australia for years and justifiably so because England won the last series and got the Ashes and now is the time for Australia to reclaim the Ashes.
But for me, having watched the way England played against Sri Lanka in the just ended three match series I am now thinking that this may not be an exciting series after all but a one sided series with Australia in charge. The England that we watched last year getting the Ashes doesn’t seem to be the same with the England playing now. When England toured the sub-continent I expected them to struggle a bit and I therefore didn’t read too much in the results but I expected them to play better against Sri Lanka at home and they didn’t. Whether they missed Michael Vaughan too much or not I just don’t know.
On the other hand, since losing the Ashes, Australia has gone from strength to strength notably winning back to back tests against South Africa and should be able to easily contain England. This is why when I look at the ticket for the third day I just wonder whether I will actually use it but its up to England to prove me wrong.
I therefore wait with bated breadth for the four match test series that England is going to play against Pakistan next month. Hopefully Vaughan will play and it is my hope that the series will give us a good indicator of how our own cricket of summer will unfold and whether I will be able to use the third day MCG test after all.

Advantage Socceroos!

Yes, its advantage Soccerooos as the Socceroos have their fate in their own hands going into the last game against Croatia. It was a very good composed display against Brazil who everybody expected to win anyway and the good news is that none of the players on one yellow card got another one and so all players will be available for selection come Friday's game. The same cannot be said of Croatia though with Robert Kovac now suspended and they will miss his influence in defence.
Croatia were a shadow of the team that played Brazil and if they play like that against the Socceroos then we would be in the second round before we know it. Its going to be very important for the Socceroos not to play for a draw and in the event of a one goal lead it will be better to try and avoid defending that slender lead but continue to attack. Friday morning could see another whole new chapter written in the history of Australian football.
Mathematically Japan can still qualify for the second round but they would need to beat Brazil by a sizeable margin and then hope that either Croatia hold Australia or Croatia narrowly beat Australia. I just can't see that happening.
Although France only managed a draw against S Korea, I think they will be able to beat Togo in their last match and advance to the second round. You would expect a team like France to be able to kill off the game especially having scored so early but S Korea to their credit finished strongly and now a win against the Swiss will see them through to the next round.
Turning to yesterday's action it was good to see Africa's first win in the form of Ghana beating the Czech Republic. This is a game I didn’t expect Ghana to come up with anything especially given the way the Czech dismantled the USA but in the end Ghana could have won by a bigger margin had it not been for the brilliance of Peter Cech. For a moment I thought that Ghana would regret the missed penalty but then they sealed the game with a spectacular goal. Its very important that Ghana keeps its feet to the ground because nothing has been won yet and USA are going to give them a very good game because they also can still qualify for the second round.
And talking about the US/Italy game, it was good to see that referee took the bold decision and dished out the red cards when they were supposed to be given.

Bananas gone bananas

Yesterday I went to my local market at Preston Market here in Melbourne and I was surprised to see that bananas have continued to surge towards $10 a kilo. The story is Cyclone Larry destroyed most of the banana plants in north Queensland and that area reportedly produces 90% of the bananas consumed here in Australia. This has created a banana shortage and this shortage has seen prices sky rocket to the current prices.
People talk so often about fuel prices but the banana price has increased five fold in the last few months alone.
I read elsewhere that there is an oversupply of bananas on the world market but this doesn't help us at all because all bananas we consume are locally produced and no imports are allowed. So I will have to contend with the high prices but in the meantime I will probably have to reduce my banana consumption and that's not going to be a walk in the park.

Unexpected World Cup results

I think there hasn't been some real upsets in the 2006 FIFA World Cup so far but I could say there has been some unexpected results. The most notable one is the Serbia and Montenegro's 6 nil loss to Argentina. From a team that qualified having just conceded a solitary goal to a team that has now shipped in 7 goals is a bit of transformation. Without taking anything away from Argentina who I thought did nothing wrong and gave by far the best performance so far, one would have expected the goal margin to be at least a two goal margin but six no. By the time Kezman was sent off, his team was already 3 goals down so that wasn't much of a factor either.
Another result which was a bit unexpected is the Mexico draw with Angola. I should say Angola played particularly well and whilst they did everything well in defence and midfield they ran out of ideas in the final third. But having watched Mexico against Iran my expectation was for Mexico to at least score a goal.
Back to Angola, its good to see Angola going into their final match with a chance to still qualify for the second round but to do that they have to score and possibly not just one goal. Also good was the fact that Joao Ricardo became the second African player to get the Fifa man of the match award in this tournament.
England, well, have their work cut out and I just don't see them beating Sweden in the final match unless the team's form changes dramatically overnight. Trinidad and Tobago were unfortunate to lose that game having done everything right but score in their few chances and I hope they will be able to score at least a goal against Paraguay.
It would be interesting to see if Ukraine can still come back from their humiliating defeat against Spain and qualify for the second round and having said that I think it would be appropriate for a profilic goal scorer in club football like Shevchenko to come up with at least a goal from the World Cup. I should also add that the goal margin in that match was also unexpected.

Socceroos on pole position

The first round of the FIFA World Cup Group F matches has been completed and guess what the Socceroos are on top of the table! If this was the final table surely I would frame it. The truth is there is still a long way to go
Now that I have seen all the four teams in the group play I can look forward and see what we can expect in the coming games. It was very important to win the Japan match but the way it was won meant at one time I wondered where the goal was going to come from but when the goals came there were three of them. I think Japan invited trouble by defending too deep for long periods and one was bound to make a mistake which their goalie did and that led to the first goal and hence the opening of the floodgates.
Looking forward to the next game against Brazil, from the eleven players that finished the Japan match I hope Hiddink starts with ten of them plus Moore minus Kennedy. Its very important that Viduka gets somebody who supports him upfront from the start in the form of Aloisi to cause the Brazil a bit of problems.
Talking about Brazil, Croatia stretched them to the limit and a draw would have been a fairer result but not good for Australia. Croatia played so well that if they play like that in the next two matches then they will have a very big say on who goes to the next round. The only positive thing from the Socceroos point of view, if anything, are the three yellow cards given to Croatia's key players and if they get second yellows then they would miss the final crunch game with the Socceroos.
Elsewhere, I wasn't expecting much from Togo given the reported turmoil in their camp but they gave all they could against South Korea and although France did not win I still expect them to sail to the next round. Ghana's athleticism was good but was required of them was shots on target which Italy to their credit did. I would rather have weak shots on target than blazing powerful shots off target.

Three days gone

Three days have come and gone and its been an interesting World Cup so far. I thought a draw would have been a fair result in the Paraguay/England and Ivory Coast/Argentina matches. Ivory Coast more than impressed me but the million dollar question is can they repeat their performance against Argentina in their next match against Holland. On England, their display against Paraguay means they still have a lot of work to do if they still want to win the World Cup. With Wayne Rooney playing in the later games maybe that will give them more options.
Interestingly, there have been some real nervous starts especially for Paraguay and Angola. In the Angola/Portugal match I was about to reach for my abacus but then Angola settled well and gave Portugal a run of their money in a display that would have made every Angolan proud.
Tonight its the turn for the Socceroos. As said before the Japan game is a must win match for the Socceroos as even a draw may not be good enough with the Brazil and Croatia in such a group. I will wait and see.

Kick off at last

After weeks of hype, analysis, reviews, previews and injury reports at last its kick off time for FIFA 2006 World Cup. For us here in Melbourne, Australia the matches are at 11pm, 2am and 5am local time and I have made a simple decision to just watch the 11pm and 5am matches if possible and leave the 2am ones for repeats or highlights.
So this morning I watched the Poland/Ecuador match and it was good to see Ecuador come off with a win (away from Quito!) and they now have a very good chance of making it to the second round. I thought they played quite well at times after a shaky start but gave away silly free-kicks in dangerous positions and if they repeat that against Germany they may well be punished. Poland defence looked very shaky and they have to get something from the Germany game or they will be going home.
Now turning to tonight's matches I expect England to come up with a win and anything less will be a huge disappointment. The match I have been waiting for is the Argentina/Ivory Coast one and I am hoping it ends in a draw. I would like both Argentina and Ivory Coast to go through but its a tough group and we will have to wait and see.

The NCA should lead by example

Its sad to see that the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) of Zimbabwe has fallen for the trap of changing the constitution in order to extend the number of terms for the existing leader, in this case Dr. Lovemore Madhuku.
I should say that Madhuku has done a very good job working in very difficult circumstances where the political terrain is unpredictable and rough but surely the baton should be now left to somebody else even if its just to show a principle that two terms set at the beginning is still two terms at the end and one moves on in life.
I have followed the NCA campaigns and demonstrations over the years and I have a lot of respect for the organisation but to change the constitution to allow three terms for the chairman is just scoring an own goal. You would expect groups like the NCA that campaign for democracy to refrain from going along that path just to set an example. You get the same recycled reasons 'the people like me to stay' that we have heard again and again when this has happened before in Africa but its now time that those leaders stand up and say 'yes you like me but let me give somebody else a chance'.
I can understand why there is a temptation to stay on for founding leaders. They think its an unfinished job and they would like to continue and do this and that but that’s simply not on because somebody else may even bring better ideas but the thing is we will never know because that somebody else never gets the chance.

Socceroos' group review

I am sure every Socceroos fan was just excited for Australia to be represented in Germany at the World Cup but now with less than a week to go to the actual tournament I am expecting the Socceroos not only to be there but to progress to the next round.
In the Socceroos' Group F, Brazil are obviously the favourites to go through to the next round possibly as group winners. Brazil has got a very strong and experienced squad and score goals from almost anywhere. I think its up to Australia, Japan and Croatia to grab the second spot and I think the Socceroos have a very good chance of doing it.
The team has changed dramatically since the Confederation Cup in 2005 with Hiddink taking over as coach. While the players have remained nearly the same since the Confederation Cup, the attitude has changed and the team is more organised and bubbling with confidence. Having said that Croatia and Japan are no pushovers.
Croatia qualified for the World Cup without losing a single game but just one draw. Having failed to qualify for the second round for both the 2002 World Cup and Euro 2004 tournaments, they will come here with determination to progress as far as they can.
Japan on the other hand are the current Asian champions and are well organised and disciplined and very fast on the ball. The team has continued to improve under Zico and they now more players with European exposure and on their day they can beat anyone. One thing in their favour is that they play Brazil last. If Brazil has qualified by then (by winning the first two games), I don't see them risking their top players in the third game and that could give Japan an advantage. For that to be worthwhile Japan should have got points from their first two games. The flip side is that if Brazil has not qualified by then, it will then become a cup final for Brazil and you can guess who winner will be.
Therefore its important that the Socceroos get something from their first game against Japan so that they don't go into the game against Brazil pointless. The fact that Socceroos play Croatia last is good because that's a winnable game and it would be good for us fans for the team to go into that last game with qualification to the next round still a possibility.

African World Cup teams review

I am normally used to seeing Cameroon and Nigeria at the World Cup but this year there are four new African teams compared to the last World Cup and so its going to be interesting to see how they perform.
When I saw the draw for Ivory Coast in December 2005 I just thought that was the end of it for Ivory Coast because theirs is a very tough group and one would normally expect at least Argentina to go through. But over the last few months I have to come believe that Ivory Coast could potentially go into the second round. With the emergency of Eboue they have a very good defence marshalled by the dependable Toure and up front they have Drogba and so it looks like they could pull through but I should say its not going to be easy for them.
Ghana didn't do well in the African Nations Cup but with Essien in the team they look like a different team now. They have played well in their friendlies but having said that their group is very tough. The Czech Republic is a very good team and so are Italy and the USA and its interesting to see if Ghana goes through who will miss out.
From the little I have seen of Angola I don't think they will be in the second round. Their squad is mostly the one that took part in the Africa Nations Cup and they also failed in their bid to get some players who ply their trade in Portugal and have played for Portugal before to play for them. I would fancy Portugal to be top in their group with Mexico slight favourites for second although Iran are quite capable of an upset because they now have a stable and experienced team.
Tunisia is only African team that were there in the S Korea/Japan World Cup that will be in Germany. They have a very experienced coach and in the Africa Nations Cup they did quite well and I think their group is an open one and they could potentially be in the second round. I actually think they have the best chance of progressing to the round of 16 of all the African teams.
I don't know what to expect from Togo but I think they will get 'special' treatment from France. Having lost to Senegal in the last World Cup, I think France will make sure they win this game. Togo should have a good chance of reaching the second round if they can get at least four points from the Switzerland and South Korea matches but again that's its quite a tall order for them. They now have a new coach after having had Keshi at the Nations Cup and hopefully they will up for their game for the World Cup.
What do you think?

World cup friendlies - any pointers

For the last two to three weeks we have seen a number of pre-World Cup friendlies and I wonder whether as a fan I can draw any conclusions from them.
Our own Australian football team, the Socceroos played well last night against the Netherlands especially in the second half where they had good exchanges of their own and even though they where down to 10 men. But that friendly said more of the Dutch team if anything because they had so much possession especially in the first half but had only goal to show for it. Given how tough their World Cup group is they will probably need to take all their chances to get into the second round. But then again it was just a friendly.
Ivory Coast have played so well in their friendlies and did well to beat Slovenia but does that mean they are going to perform well in the actual world cup with the pressure and only three substitutes and not six?
England did well against Jamaica but in a way that was expected with Jamaica having lost earlier in the week to world cup debutants Ghana who have also done well in their friendlies.
But the likes of Angola and to some extent Poland would possibly like to quickly forget about the results from the friendlies and hope for better fortune in the tournament itself.
Are these friendlies just practice games that we dont have to read too much from them? Or are they real pointers to what is going to happen in Germany over the next month? I wonder.
For us Socceroos fans, expectation couldn't be higher.