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Archive for June 2007

Real, Capello part company

Title winning Real Madrid coach Fabio Capello has lost his job after the club decided to get rid of him supposedly for the football style the team was playing on their way to the title.

It seems that at the Bernabeau winning alone is not enough but the team has to win in style and it seems the top hierarchy at Real were not too pleased with the way his team played even though it was winning.

I feel for Capello who was taken aboard at Real with the aim of getting the title back to the Bernabeau and he managed to do that although with some late shows as I mentioned in an earlier post. But I also think he made a number of mistakes and one the biggest ones was not seeing the value of David Beckham to the team and declaring that he was never going to play for Real the moment he announced that he was going to the MLS club, Los Angeles Galaxy.

I also think he didn't treat Ronaldo well and did not get the best out of him and that resulted in him leaving for AC Milan where his has been re-ignited his career.

But having said that, Capello can walk tall having had two one season stints with Real and in both seasons managing to get the La Liga title.

Capello managed to get the team playing as a team and fighting for results soemthing which the previous coaches in the last three years failed to do.

Looking at his replacment, the fact that they want a younger manager seems to rule out Arsenal's manager Arsene Wenger which would be good news for the Gunner's supporters but the Getafe coach Bernd Schuster seems to have the job in the bag.

Whoever the takes the job will be under even more pressure because the team has just won a title.

Arthurs run continues

Wayne Arthurs last night beat eleventh seed Tommy Robredo to continue his Wimbledon run into the third round delaying retirement by at least one more match.

I thought Arthurs started his match very well breaking Robredo very early in the first set which he eventually won 6-3. The second wasn't that straight forward and he needed a tie-break to get through it but I think in the third he knew that he could win that match and did exactly that.

There are two Australians left now in the men's draw with Lleyton Hewitt being the other one after Chris Guccione lost to Nikolay Davydenko in five sets.

Davydenko had to draw from his experience to come back from two sets down and overcome Guccione.

The last Australian woman standing in the women's draw Nicole Pratt lost to Nicole Vaidisova.

The match that I am looking forward to is the match between reigning champion Roger Federer against Marat Safin. That is going to be a tricky match for Federer but I still think he will win it.

The changing heights

A few weeks ago FIFA announced that no World Cup qualifying matches were going to be played at altitudes of more than 2500m but yesterday that maximum altitude was adjusted upwards to 3000 metres.

Pressure from the South American federation (Conmebol) has paid off because it had at least four of its members affected by the controversial ban.

The latest increase will now allow Colombia to play in its capital Bogota at 2640m and Ecuador to play in Quito at 2800m.

However, this new altitude maximum still rules out Bolivia's La Paz at 3650m and Peru's Cuzco at 3400m and obviously the latest change will not please Bolivia and Peru.

I don't understand why FIFA only looked at altitude without looking at other conditions like heat, cold and humidity. As long as they concentrated on altitudes alone and left other extremes untouched it was always going to look like they were deliberately targeting South American countries.

I think the best thing to do is to remove the ban altogether unless FIFA rules that no football of any sort should be played in places like La Paz. That they won't do and that is the problem.

I am wating to see what will happen at the special FIFA conference in October that will now discuss playing football in all extremes.

Henry exits Arsenal

One of the biggest transfer news so far this off-season in the English Premiership is the Arsenal captain Thierry Henry's move to the Spanish giants Barcelona.

The news that Henry will be moving to Barcelona comes as no surprise as it was always question of when and not if. Last season it was thought that he was going to move to Nou Camp at the end of his contract but he decided to renew the contract and stay with the Gunners.

I think there were three reasons why he stayed in North London and sign a new contract. One of them I think was the lure of the new stadium and he was keen to lead Arsenal into a new era and a new stadium.

The second reason I think was because of the treatment he got from the Barca players during the Champions League final. He wasn't their player and they needed to win the final and so you can't Barca players for that. I still contend that had Arsenal not met Barca in that final, he would have gone to Barca at the end of that season.

The third and final reason I think is his loyalty to Arsenal manager Arsenal Wenger. And so what has changed then?

I think what has changed is that David Dein is no longer there at Arsenal and with his departure it looks likely that Wenger may not stay beyond next season.

Wenger's contract expires at the end of the new season and Wenger has stated that he will serve out his contract which means he will be at Emirates as the new season starts. What he hasn't said though is whether he will renew that contract when it expires and for me it looks very likely that he will not and that will change the face of Arsenal as we know it if that does happen.

So Henry knowing that Wenger may go in a year's time has decided its the time to seek a new challenge and I think that's a good move on his part. In a year's time he may not have been as an attractive proposition and this looks like perfect timing.

I think Henry's departure will not affect the Gunners as much because for most of last season he was injured and the Gunners coped reasonably well. A few years back they wouldn't have.

What affected the Gunners more was the loss of both Henry and Robin van Persie at the same time. No team wouldn't have been able to replace both those players and so Arsenal may now have to build their team around van Persie and assuming Cesc Fabregas stays, the future may not be as gloomy as it seems.

Arsenal created so many chances last season last season but could not put them away and one match in particular was the home match against West Ham. In the end they lost that match but could have easily scored at least five goals.

That's a problem that they have to solve by bringing in somebody who can put the ball in to the net and still fit in with their present and I am sure Wenger will be able to do that before the transfer window closes.

However, it will be very gloomy should Wenger leave because it will mean bringing in somebody to come and continue building Wenger's team and that will not be an easy undertaking for anybody. I hope that doesn't happen.

All set for Wimbledon

With the seeds now decided and just only the draw still to come, all is set for Wimbledon, the third grand slam of the year which starts next week.

The men's seedings are based on the current world rankings, but are then slightly adjusted to take into account grass-court performances in the last two years and that has seen Lleyton Hewitt seeded 16 in front of Juan Carlos Ferrero for example who is ranked higher than him.

I actually think there is no need to adjust the world rankings because it disadvantages players who do well on clay and improve their ranking but then that ranking does not help them when it comes to Wimbledon if they have had a poor grass performance in the two years prior.

On the men's side the hot favourite is as always Roger Federer and I think he will be trying to get his fifth title at the All England club. One interesting thing is that Federer has not played in any warm up tournaments in the run up to this year's Wimbledon and that will mean he will be well rested.

Andy Roddick and last year's finalist Rafael Nadal are possibly's Federer's closest challengers and with Roddick seeded third he can only meet him in the semis.

On the women's side, its hard to see beyond Justine Henin. She has been in good form since winning the French Open and she has now reached the semi-finals of the Eastbourne International tournament. It will be interesting to see what happens should Henin meet last year's Wimbledon champion Amelie Mauresmo at Eastbourne assuming they both reach that final.

I can see Henin' closest challengers as being Maria Sharapova, Mauresmo and possibly Serena Williams. Beyond those three I cannot anyone even taking a set off her.

Its good to see that Wayne Arthurs qualified for the main draw at Wimbledon as he is set to retire after the tournament.

Desalination plant to the rescue

Some solutions to the water crisis caused by the current drought are beginning to come through and this week the Victorian Premier Steve Bracks announced the new desalination plant to be built near Wonthaggi.

This sounds like a good idea because the desalination plant when fully operational will supply 30 percent of Melbourne's water needs. I think that it’s quite a lot of water from one source and also it will continue providing water irrespective of the prevailing weather conditions.

The biggest price to be paid I think will be the environmental impact of such a big plant in an rural area like the Wonthaggi region. Early this year I went to Inverloch which is a few kilometres from Wonthaggi and I assume that the area will not be the same again with the building of the desalination plant.

The desalination plant will be the biggest in Australia but the only other desalination plant in Australia is in Western Australia and one that became operational a few years ago and so the comparison is just between two plants here.

Once the plant is finished, the other thing to consider will be the cost of water to Melbournians. This $3.1 billion desalination is definitely going to water make water more expensive but the question is by how much. Nobody is talking about it yet but I think soon we will start to have slight increases in the price of water and before long I will become quite expensive.

Real snatches title

Real Madrid this morning won the La Liga title after beating Real Mallorca by 3 goals to 1 in an exciting match played at the Bernabeu to snatch the title from arch rivals Barcelona.

Despite Barcelona winning 5-1 against Gimnastic and finishing with the same points as Real, La Liga uses head to head results before considering goal difference and so Barca lost out on that head to head criteria. So the loss by Barca at the Bernabeu proved very costly.

I still think that Real were very fortunate to win the title this year because they got some very late goals to win matches in the last month whilst Barca drew matches also in the dying minutes of matches to lose their lead. One match in particular was the match between Real and Espanyol. Espanyol, with one eye on the UEFA Cup final led 3-1 in the second half only for Real to come and win 4-3 in the dying minutes of that match.

Barcelona on the other hand against the same team were leading 2-1 until the last few minutes of that that match only to draw 2-all and that draw proved costly because on the same day Real had drawn 2-all against Real Zaragoza.

Some may argue that in a league format spanning thirty eight matches head to head should not be considered especially if you consider that Barca had a 45 goal difference compared to Real's 26. Maybe the lesson is that you shouldn't lose to league title rivals or else that may cost you the title.

Having said that, Fabio Capello has to be commended for coming and winning the the La Liga title on first attempt again despite his job not looking very safe for much of the season with every draw or loss. This is the second title he has won with Real Madrid and I hope that the powers that be at the Bernabeu will allow him to continue and build a strong Real team that can once again challenge for the Champions League crown.

I thought that ESPN's coverage of La Liga throughout the season was great but I expected them to at least show the goals from Barcelona's match instead of just announcing the result on the screen. That was was done very well by Sky Sports on the last day of the Championship season for example and made it very interesting.

Hamilton extends lead

Lewis Hamilton's record breaking start to his Formula 1 career continued with a second consecutive win at the United States Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as he extended his championship lead at the top by two points ahead of team-mate Fernando Alonso.

Hamilton lead from start to finish and he did well to make sure that Alonso did not overtake him on the first corner and from then on Alonso was second best despite trying to overtake again later in the race.

This was Hamilton's seventh podium in seven races and this time the podium resembled the podium of the first five races of the season as Ferrari's Felipe Massa took third and hence McLaren and Ferrari on the podium.

Massa fought off the challenge of team-mate Kimi Raikkonen in the later stages of the race but I think that had Raikkonen not had a bad start where dropped from fourth on the grid to seventh he could possibly have overtaken him.

Renault's Heikki Kovalainen had a good race as he finished fifth ahead of Toyota's Jarno Trulli who finished sixth. Talking about Toyota, Ralf Schumacher had another nightmare race as he bumped into David Coultard and in the process led to Rubens Barrichello's retirement.

So far Schumacher has garnered just two points compared to Trulli's seven. That I think is a poor return on his part and I am expecting him to do better later in the season.

Mark Webber got his first points of the season after finishing seventh. This was good for Webber who has at least managed to finish two consecutive races now and I hope that his good run will continue as the circuit returns to Europe.

BMW Saubers's Sebastian Vettel got the last points position and in the process created a record of being the youngest driver to score a F1 point. But his point was because William's Nico Rosberg retired with just five laps to go.

The next race circuit goes back to Europe and I think the pressure is on Alonso and Raikkonen to do better at Magny-Cours.

A less than normal increase

I have been following the pattern of the Melbourne fuel cycle for some time now and what normally happens is that sometime on Wednesday the price goes up by between 9 to 12 cents but for some reason this week the price just went up by an average four cents.

So for example at my local service station the price went from 128.9 cents to 132.9 cents instead of something like 138.9 cents like last week.

I think the main reason for the slight increase this week is because of claims of oil companies ripping off motorists by not passing on international price reductions at the local bowser.

Just last week the Prime Minister John Howard indicated that he was willing to give the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) greater powers if petrol prices don't come down.

What will be interesting to see is whether the price will go down to something like 122 cents next week because that is where I would expect the price to go before the petrol cycle starts again next Wednesday.

Hamilton in maiden win

Lewis Hamilton's amazing debut season continued but this time with a maiden win at the Canadian F1 Grand Prix in an incident packed race.

Hamilton made sure he used his maiden pole to his advantage but taking the lead from start to finish to claim his first win and so far to be the only driver who has finished on the podium in all the six races.

But it wasn't all that good for BMW's Robert Kubica who had a nasty crash he was trying to overtake Toyota's Jarno Trulli on lap 26.

I think this was by far the most incident packed race this season with the safety car deployed four times and seeing Felipe Massa and Giancarlo Fisichella being disqualified for leaving the pit lane while a red light was showing. There were also eight retirements in the race leaving just twelve cars to cross the finishing line.

For the first time this season there was no Ferrari driver on the podium and also instead of two teams represented on the podium this time we had three.

I wasn't surprised that BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld finished second behind Hamilton because he has had a good start to the season. To complete the podium was Williams' Alexander Wurz and what a change of fortune for Williams who failed to have any impact last season but are already are riding high this season.

Renault's Heikki Kovalainen finished fourth ahead of Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen. I think this is a race where nothing seemed to work for Ferrari and they will possibly want to forget about it in as quickly as possible.

Super Aguri-Honda's Takuma Sato finished ahead of reigning champion Fernando Alonso who had to settle for seventh position after a slow finish to the race that was mostly affected by the 10 second penalty.

To complete the points placings was Toyota's Ralf Schumacher. Mark Webber finished just outside the points in ninth position after a superb race and this was probably his best chance to finish in the points so far this season.

The next race is next week at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and lets see if Hamilton's can continue and talking about him winning the championship may not that wayward after all especially now that he has opened an eight point lead.

Nadal rules at Roland Garros

Rafael Nadal beat Roger Federer in the French Open final to win the clay grand slam for the third consecutive time and maintain his unbeaten run at Roland Garros.

Nadal showed everybody why he is impossible to beat at Roland Garros playing so well that even Federer as good as he is could not find a way past him.

I think Federer started poorly especially with his first serve and that I think contributed largely in him losing the first set. Also I thought he let so many break points go by and you simply can't do that against Nadal.

Federer went on to win the second set and that was the only time Nadal had dropped a set at the tournament but Nadal came back in the third and from there on there could only be one winner.

Federer is not that bad on clay but I think it is just that Nadal is just far much better on that surface. He seems to have so much energy and he has the ability to chase every ball and when he returns the ball he returns it with so much force and precision that his opponents can only look.

I think Federer really liked the French Open this time because that would have meant that he would have held all the four grand slams at the same time having won Wimbledon, the US and Australian titles but Nadal ensured he maintained his own record of being unbeaten at Roland Garros.

Looking forward to next year, if Nadal continues to play as he is doing then he could win a record fourth consecutive title because this year nobody really troubled him at Roland Garros.

I actually don't know how much the loss in the Hamburg final made Nadal even more determined to play better at Roland Garros but he seemed to me like a man on a mission.

The women's final turned out to be more or less one sided like the Australian Open one with Justine Henin easily beating Ana Ivanovic. Ivanovic didn't look like the same player who had convincingly beaten Maria Sharapova in the semis and Henin made sure he quickly got her third consecutive French Open title.

Davydenko lets chance go by

Nikolay Davydenko lost to Roger Federer in straight sets in a tight semi-final match at the French Open but I think he had a very good chance of winning that match and its a chance that he let go by.

In the first set, Davydenko got a break early but Federer broke him later and then went on to win that set. Then I thought he was going to get the second set after getting an early break but Federer crawled back again. Infact in the second and third sets, Davydenko actually served for the sets and fluffed both chances.

I think that was Davydenko's best chance to beat Federer and a chance he will regret. Having said that, Federer himself was digging deep when he needed to and I think that was the difference in a tightly fought match.

Rafael Nadal beat Novak Djokovic and will now go on and play Federer in the final tomorrow. I think Nadal will win for the third consecutive time because he is playing very well and has been consistent for the past fortnight.

A long weekend

This weekend it will be a long weekend in Victoria and other states of Australia apart from Western Australia where they have the Queen's Birthday holiday sometime later in the year.

What makes this public holiday interesting to me is the fact that the next public holiday in Melbourne will be in November for Melbourne Cup - a gap of five months.

The situation reminds me of the August Bank holiday in England when it was the last public holiday and long weekend until Christmas. The gap wasn't that big though.

I will try to use the long weekend to catch up with friends I haven't seen for a while, apart from through email or a blog comment and so the weather will not have much of a bearing although the forecast at the moment doesn't look that bad.

Federer/Nadal final looms

The French Open semi-final match ups for both the men and women have now been finalised and there are some interesting matches coming up over the next two days.

Guillermo Canas' exit meets Roger Federer no longer has to meet to him in the semis and I think he must be relieved that Nikolay Davydenko knocked him out. I think Davydenko plays very well in the early rounds but when it comes to the final rounds he just fizzles out and I think that's going to be the case against Federer. I expect Federer to be in the final and I also think it will be a straight sets win for him.

Novak Djokovic stands between Rafael Nadal and yet another French Open final but Nadal has been playing so well at this tournament its hard to see him even dropping a set. Djokovic also played quite well against the unseeded Igor Andreev and should give Nadal a run of his money.

On the women side of the draw Maria Sharapova overpowered compatriot Anna Chakvetadze to reach the semis. I think that the quarter final match was her best so far at the tournament and she should give Ana Ivanovic something to think about. Its very hard for me to predict if Sharapova will reach a second consecutive grand slam final this year.

After disposing of Serena Williams Justine Henin will meet Jelena Jankovic. There are two Serbian women in the semis and if they both we will have an Serbian final but I still think will be too good for Henin and will stop that happening.

The men's looks likely to be another Federer/Nadal match but in the women its quite close and I think any of the four women could reach the final.

Nadal faces Hewitt test

The French Open has entered the second week and now we will start to see some really exciting encounters with Lleyton Hewitt meeting Rafael Nadal and a rejuvenated Marcos Baghdatis facing Igor Andreev in the fourth round.

In the first week, its hard to see what constitutes a shock and what doesn't unless its either Nadal or Roger Federer going out because some top players like Andy Roddick don't just play well on clay. That said I think Amelie Mauresmo losing to Lucie Safarova was a shock especially for it was a home grand slam for Mauresmo.

The Hewitt/Nadal match should be an exciting one and a match that can easily go into five sets especially if Hewitt plays well. In the third round Nadal played very well to beat compatriot Albert Montanes and I think Hewitt should avoid the slow start he had against Gaston Gaudio or else he will be out before he knows it.

In the women side of the draw, I thought Maria Sharapova was quite fortunate to pass Patty Schnyder and she will need to play much better than that in the quarter finals against compatriot Anna Chakvetadze.

The quarter-final match that I am looking forward to however, is the match between defending champion Justine Henin and Serena Williams. I think the winner of the women's title could come from that match now that crowd favourite Amelie Mauresmo is out.

Looking ahead Federer may meet Guillermo Canas if he beats Tommy Robredo and Canas beats Nikolay Davydenko. Canas beat Federer twice earlier this year and this time its also on clay and that could be a very tricky match for him. I just thought Federer didn't play that well against Mikhail Youzhny, or maybe he was preserving the best play for later rounds.

Whatever happens the final week of the French Open should be very interesting.

Uruguay upset Socceroos

Uruguay upset the Socceroos in a friendly played at the Telstra Stadium in Sydney in the latest match preparing for the Asian Cup to be played next month. Debutant goalkeeper Brad Jones let the ball slip through his hands allowing Alvaro Recoba a simple tap in on goal.

With the match evenly poised on 1-all after first half goals from Mile Sterjovski for the Socceroos and Diego Forlan for Uruguay, Jones' slip meant the South Americans got away with a victory to continue with their recent good away performance.

Despite being a friendly I thought this was a very competitive match with tackles flying everywhere and Italian referee Roberto Rosetti was forced to issue some yellow cards to keep the game under control.

I thought Australia did quite well and for me the best spell came in the first twenty minutes or so and then after the Uruguay goal. But Uruguay made sure the match was always in their reach and never looked like losing and showed off some good ball control.

Of the A-League players who played, I thought Nick Carle played very well in the 20 minutes or so he got and I will be surprised if Graham Arnold left him out of the squad for the Asian Cup. Danny Allsop on his debut didn't have much time to impress although he came on when the Socceroos were playing well trying to get an equalising goal.

A draw would have been a fair result but I think this was good preparation for the Socceroos as the Asian Cup nears.