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Socceroos drawn in tough group
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Newcastle lost 2-1 to Sydney FC in the first leg and the positives on their part are that they played very well in the second half and scored the all-important away goal and should they pick up from where they left last weekend and score another goal then they could see themselves in the preliminary final.
Newcastle's away goal means a 1-nil win will do but on the other hand Sydney only need a draw to advance or if they lose by a one goal margin after scoring more than one goal then they will still be okay using the away goals rule. This means a 3-2 or 4-3 loss for Sydney FC will still be good enough to carry them through for example.
On the other hand Newcastle need to win and should Sydney FC score only a two goal winning margin will give passage to the next stage with a 2-1 victory resulting in a penalty shoot-out. Not so long ago Sydney FC went to Queensland only needing a draw and they got it and I think they will do so again on Friday.
Turning now to the Melbourne/Adelaide match, Adelaide should have scored given the numerous chances that they had at Hindmarsh Stadium in the first leg. Melbourne decided to play an ultra defensive game and had very few attempts on goal but at the end of the day they had no choice because the team lacked creativity and penetration even when they had the ball.
The worrying thing for Adelaide though is that despite all their dominance both in territory and possession they had very few clear cut chances. Shots from outside the area were never going to give Michael Theoklitos, the Melbourne goalkeeper, a problem.
Adelaide got so many corner kicks as a result of their pressure but they failed to get any mileage from them. None of them caused Michael Theoklitos problems and I expected them to change the way they took them but they never did and Theoklitos just easily clutched the ball before any of the Adelaide attackers got their bodies to it.
Despite all that, Adelaide for me will go into the second leg as favourites because Melbourne will have to change a lot of things in order to make an imprint in the second leg. The Melbourne midfield was easily overrun by Adelaide and the few counter attacks that were launched didn't cause many problems for the astute Adelaide defence and Archie Thompson and Danny Allsop were lone figures upfront lacking supply.
I think Gonzalez's failure to take advantage when he broke Federer's serve and with two set points was the turning point of that set if not the match. That was a very good chance for Gonzalez which he should have converted but credit to Federer he played well to break back Gonzalez's serve and then went on to win the set in a tie-break.
In the end Federer won the tournament without dropping a single set and that's remarkable in itself. Although Gonzalez was broken once in both sets two and three you could see that Federer was in control throughout the match.
The next task that awaits Federer now is to wrestle the French Open title from Rafael Nadal.
I don't think that will be an easy task at all and it will make for a fascinating French
I expected the final to be tight and expected Sharapova to have the upper hand but she had no answer to Williams game plan. The match took just one hour and two minutes.
To Williams advantage was the fact that she had nothing to lose in this match being unseeded in the tournament and ranked 81 whereas Sharapova is now the world number 1 and the expectation was for her to play like one but she just couldn't do it.
Meanwhile in the men's final tomorrow it will be Roger Federer against Fernando Gonzalez. I don't see this as being a one-sided final like the women's because Gonzalez is playing nearly as good as Federer especially in the last three matches against the trio of James Blake, Rafael Nadal and Tommy Haas.
Federer will have lots of experience on his side and has the winning mentality and that
could switch the match in his favour.
For me, I was hoping for a few things to happen. One, that England would win the toss and then two that England would then elect to bat. So both things happened which was very good. Failing that then, Australia winning the toss and then electing to bowl.
England batting first would mean that the match would be far shorter especially when looking at previous matches between the two teams. That would mean less than 50 overs for the first innings and in total at least less than 80. Such as has been the state of this Commonwealth Bank International triangular series that those wanting a dose of a good game of summer cricket have now turned to state cricket and haven't been disappointed.
England won the toss and started brightly. Ian Bell was the best of the batsmen and scored 35 runs including a six that was maybe in my opinion the highlight of the whole innings. The moment he left bowled by Stuart Clark, it seemed everybody wanted to follow him back to the pavilion and after 34 overs and 110 runs England were all out.
Australia's innings were quick and the target was reached in just after 24 overs with the loss of one wicket. So in total we had 58 overs, not exactly Twenty20 but nearly.
Roddick looked like he meant business in the first set when he broke Federer's serve but unfortunately for him, that was his only highlight for the entire match as he was swept away in the second set and by the third set the match was finished as a contest.
Federer will now meet the winner of the match between Tommy Haas and Fernando Gonzalez. I think Gonzalez will reach his first grand slam final given the way he is playing now and if he does the final could be very interesting.
Federer last failed to reach the finals of a grand slam in 2005 when he lost to Rafael Nadal in the semis. If he reaches the final of the French Open later this year he will set yet another record of eight finals in a row.
When I watched Serena Williams lose to Sybille Bammer in the quarter finals at the Hobart International two weeks ago I never thought she would reach the finals of the Australian Open but she has done just that. Serena will battle it out against Maria Sharapova for the women's crown.
Having reached this far I think Serena could win the title but Sharapova is not going to be
world number one next week for nothing and I think we have a very good final on our hands.
This is fitting for the women part of the draw which has been very entertaining with many
The last time Federer failed to reach the semis of a grand slam was at the French Open in 2004 when he lost in straight sets to Gustavo Kuerten in the fourth round.
Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray played out an exciting match last night that finished just before 2 am. Nadal will now meet Fernando Gonzalez tomorrow in the quarter finals.
So Roddick now stands in between Federer and another grand-slam final and I think it will be another entertaining match. Federer didn't look as polished as usual tonight and he will have to play better against Roddick because Roddick himself is having a very good tournament.
Watching SBS's World Game program on Sunday, most pundits were of the opinion that its all over for Melbourne and rightly so because of recent form but I think the finals series is a different stage altogether and all teams in a way will be starting from the same position.
Of the teams now left in the finals Adelaide would go in as the form team. In round 20 they overcame Sydney and on Sunday night they easily subdued the Mariners. Newcastle played well against Melbourne no doubt but they were pretty average against Perth Glory and only came to life in the dying minutes of that match.
Although Newcastle have never beaten Sydney FC before, if they play the way they played against Melbourne and most of the season after round 6 they should give Sydney a run of their money. I still think Sydney will prevail though.
Even though Melbourne lost the final two matches of the season, I still think they still have the right kind of players to carry them past what I believe is a very good Adelaide side. With the first leg at Hindmarsh its imperative for Victory to score at least an away goal to ease the nerves before coming to the Dome.
Elsewhere in the A-League, the New Zealand Knights finished off with a flurry and I wonder what would have happened had Ricki Herbert managed them from the start. To some teams they became the finals spoiler and the only blemish for Herbert's team was the fifteen minutes at Olympic Park where they conceded four goals.
I think Roddick is just showing that beating Federer at Kooyong was no fluke and he looked composed as he dispatched the irate Safin who disputed a few of the calls at Melbourne Park. Compared to the first two matches that Safin played, I think he played very well in this match but his opponent was just too good this time around.
I still don't know how Nadia Petrova lost her match to Serena Williams. Leading 5-4 in the second set and serving for the match, Williams turned the tables around and went on to win that set and then surged on to win the third and the match.
On the Aussie front, Lleyton Hewitt will face Fernando Gonzalez in what will be Hewitt's toughest test so far at this year's Open. Alicia Molik on the other hand will match up with Patty Schnyder and this looks like a far tougher assignment than Hewitt's.
I just hope at least one of them if not both win to still have some Aussie presence going
into the second week.
Elsewhere, Federer is showing that he is still at his best when he dismissed Jonas Bjorkman in straight sets. I think he will retain his crown and at the moment I think its a question of whether he will drop a set or not and if he does how many.
At this stage of the tournament the match I am looking forward to in the third round is the one between Marat Safin and Andy Roddick. While Safin says he is still coming back from injury, I think he will give Roddick a run for his money and could win the match. To do so he will have play much better that he did against Israeli qualifier Dudi Sela.
In the women's draw no surprises at the moment and I think the women's draw is less predictable than the men's in the second week. A notable match in the third round is the one that pits Serena Williams against fifth seed Nadia Petrova.
Now its not as hot as it was on Tuesday when the mercury went past 40 degrees in Melbourne and while the question has been whether the heat rule is good for the players or not, the same argument can be extended to the fans watching the match. It's not good to be standing in the sun at such baking temperatures but at least the fans can walk away but the players have no choice but to finish the match. That may need revision, I think.
After Newcastle's dramatic draw in Perth last weekend they now need to win to guarantee a place in the finals or draw and then depend on a result in the match between Queensland Roar and Sydney FC to be played on Saturday.
If Newcastle were to draw with Melbourne then Queensland and Sydney can just play out for a draw which will guarantee both teams a place in the finals. Why would either team attack and risk a counter attack and end up losing and out of the finals?
I wouldn't have expected all the four matches in this round to have been played at the same time because New Zealand Knights and Perth Glory are both out of contention and they should have played at their own time but the other three matches I think should have been played at the same time to make it fair to all four teams vying for the three finals places.
Whilst the team having the biggest disadvantage is Newcastle, the team having the biggest advantage is Adelaide. Adelaide play on Sunday and by then they will be knowing exactly what they need to do to get what position on the final ladder. In the event of a draw in the earlier matches then they will get second place automatically and therefore in that case they can afford to field a weakened side because a result wouldn't be that important anymore and keep their key stars fresh for the finals.
I hope that in future seasons the A-League organisers will make sure that the final fixtures are played concurrently. Hard as it may be due to the differing time zones, its the only fair way to finish off a season.
While we could wash our cars with a bucket and could water gardens with a trigger nozzle at nominated times among other things under stage 2, now car washing has to be done at the automated car wash and watering gardens is now restricted to just two days of the week and the days depend on whether your house number is odd or even. Mine being even it means Tuesday and Saturday.
While maybe most people don't want water restrictions, they are good because they help conserve the remaining water. While travelling through country Victoria last week, I passed through some towns like San Remo that are now on stage 4 and I hope that Melbourne doesn't get that far soon. Speaking to locals at San Remo, stage 4 has actually been in place since sometime in November last year. I was fortunate that the town where I was based, Inverloch, was still on stage 2 water restrictions.
The effects of water restrictions has meant that you rarely hear lawn mowers rattling over the weekends these days. Watering lawns stopped more than two months ago and without water the grass is hardly growing and hence a lot of lawnmowers just lie idle in garden sheds around the city.
I hope and pray that there will be rains soon and plenty of it to improve the water storage
levels and bring back the green landscape in and around Melbourne.
After the initial speeches and fanfare, I wonder where he is now. I haven't seen him in the headlines for some time now and I wonder whether he has fizzled out or maybe he is busy planning the strategy for the 2008 Presidential elections.
If the constitution doesn't get changed then the next presidential elections in Zimbabwe are going to be held next year and it should be interesting to see how Mutambara will fare in his
Its been more than two months now since Victory last won at the the Telstra Dome and that match was the Oaks Day match against Perth Glory where victory was secured by a solitary goal scored by Grant Brebner in the dying stages of the match. Interestingly that match recorded the lowest Telstra Dome attendance so far this season of 22,890.
Going into the finals I think its important that Victory starts winning now at the Telstra Dome and I hope coach Ernie Merrick will put up a strong side that will sign off with a victory come Friday and it will also be good for us fans as well.
Although this match may not be all that important for Victory having secured the minor premiership already the same
cannot be said for the Roar who have to win to keep their slim finals hopes alive. Currently sitting in fifth
position and with 25 points, winning their last two matches will help them secure a top four finish especially if
Sydney FC loses away to Adelaide this weekend.
The change of captain to Michael Vaughan failed to inspire the team as England were dismissed for 144 runs chasing 222 runs to win.
I never got a chance to write about the fifth Ashes Test but in the end it was an embarrassing whitewash for England. Before the series begun it was said to be the most anticipated Ashes tour in Australia for some time but it turned out to be just ordinary especially for the last two Tests. Its not surprising that for the Boxing day test at the MCG, most probably the best thing about it was that we were spared going again for the fourth day and in the end we got our full refunds instead.
The turning point of the series I believe was the Adelaide Test. This is the Test where England had a very good first innings and had they got a draw or a win they could have gone to the WACA for the third Test with more belief. But going to the WACA knowing that they had to win at least two of the remaining Tests and add to that the manner in which they lost the Adelaide test a whitewash was on the cards even then because I think all the confidence had just disappeared.
It will be debated for sometime whether Monty Panesar should have played from the first Test and I think he should have but by the time he came into the fray the Ashes had already but gone.
We saw Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Justin Langer playing Test cricket for the last time in this tour and I think they bowed out with a very good win to add their glittering careers.
Finally I was impressed by the Barmy Army support for England. They stuck with their team even in difficult
circumstances and also created a very good atmosphere especially in the chilly conditions of the MCG. I think they
deserved at least one win but that never came which is a bit of a shame really.
The gap at the top of the premiership table has now increased to six points which means that if Chelsea were to win all their remaining matches they would still trail Manchester United by three points assuming Manchester United win all their matches but lose the away match at the Bridge.
After the last two seasons you wouldn't think Chelsea would have problems that they are having this time around but I think that the two players being missed are Damien Duff and William Gallas. Duff and Robben used to create so many chances between the two of them that Chelsea would be certain to score at least a goal and also many teams would defend deep fearing a counter on the wings. Now Duff has gone and the replacements in the form of Salomon Kalou and Andriy Shevchenko are still coming to grips with the premiership at the same time Chelsea is losing grip of the premiership title.
People may talk about World Footballer of the Year Fabio Cannavaro as the best defender around at the moment but I think William Gallas is up there with the best insofar as defenders are concerned. Here is a player who can play very well in all four defensive positions and therefore a very vital player for Chelsea last season. Chelsea got Ashley Cole and while he is an accomplished left back that's about it.
Now with John Terry injured it has been a real panic at the back and you only have to look at the match against Everton how Khalid Boulahrouz panicked at the back and also the match against Reading where in the end Michael Essien scored an own goal.