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Archive for September 2007

Mariners' clean sheets face test

Looking at this weekend's fixtures in the A-League one stand-out fixture would be the match between Sydney FC and Newcastle Jets which as close to a derby as we can get but I think the match that I will follow closely is the one involving Adelaide and the Central Coast Mariners.

The Mariners have had an excellent start to the season and so far have scored six goals which is the highest number of goals scored by any team so far but more importantly they have kept clean sheets in all the five matches. On the other hand Adelaide began the season well by getting the pre-season cup but in the league proper they have done a Melbourne and that is get draw after draw.

Last week Adelaide had a good showing against Wellington Phoenix and I think this is their chance to notch their first win. A win for Adelaide would mean they would have been the first team to score against the Mariners and with the kind of strikers they have at their disposal they should be up to the task.

The match will also see the Vidmar brothers Tony and Aurelio face each other. Also Damien Mori will come back to Hindmarsh but playing for the Mariners. I don't understand why Mori cannot get a long-term contract with any of the A-League clubs especially in a league of so many misfiring strikers.

Elsewhere Victory welcome the Queensland Roar at the Dome still searching for their first win. Victory had a disastrous first half against the Jets last weekend but played better in the second half to come up with the fifth draw in as many games. I am hoping that if this match is a draw, then it wont be a goal-less draw.

What I don't understand about Victory are the substitutions. Against Newcastle Joseph Keenan was easily the best player on the park for Victory and yet he was substituted and players who were having a poor game like Kevin Muscat and Grant Brebner were left to finish the whole match with minimal contribution. The same thing happened the previous week against the Mariners when Adrian Caceras was taken off instead of taking off the said two central midfielders.

I also think Carlos Hernandez should be left to last whole match because he seemed to do very well against a tiring Jets defence. I just think that the more he plays he the more he gets used to the pace and conditions of the A-League.

For the two remaining matches, I think Sydney and Phoenix should be able to get their first home wins against Newcastle Jets and Perth Glory respectively. Perth still have problems with scoring and I cannot see them go past an impressive Phoenix outfit whilst for Sydney if Juninho plays that would be a big boost and help them win after their lucky win against the Roar last weekend.

Meanwhile on TipsChallenge there is no clear leader as predictions get harder with each passing week.

India clinch thriller

India beat Pakistan by five runs in a thrilling World Twenty20 final to cap what has been an entertaining tournament and one that has been very interesting to follow over the past fortnight or so.

Gautam Gambhir's 75 got India to a good start but Pakistan came very close to actually winning the match as they just needed six runs from from four balls before the last wicket was taken and so this match could easily have gone either way.

After 16 overs, India managed to reduce Pakistan to 104-7 but the good work from Misbah-ul-Haq meant that Pakistan came as close to winning the match as possible as Misbah-ul-Haq got 43 runs off 38 balls.

It was good for once to have a competitive and exciting cricket final after the boring and one-sided finals in the last three World cups.

I think India deserved their win given the way they played throughout the whole tournament. They beat Australia convincingly and against England Yuvraj Singh got the six sixes and then drew against Pakistan in their group match.

I also think that India benefited a lot from the seven match one-day series against England and they carried their form from there into the World Twenty20 tournament.

After the debacle of the Cricket World Cup in the Caribbean, I think the ICC have redeemed themselves with the way they have organised this one and I hope it wont be long before Australia also hosts this tournament.

Geelong hope for Victoria

Around this time last year, I wrote about the lack of Victorian teams in AFL Grand Final but this year we have a Victorian team Geelong competing in the grand final against Port Adelaide and with a real chance of winning.

Once again we don't have a Melbourne team but at least we have a Victorian team and if the Melbourne teams can maintain the momentum they had this season then it will not be surprising to see a Melbourne team in the grand final next year.

Geelong have had a wonderful season which started with winning the pre-season cup and now need to lift the big one. The problem though is that last time around when Port Adelaide were in the final in 2004, not many people gave them a chance but they went on to beat the Brisbane Lions. I hope that this doesn't happen this time around.

But there is a Melbourne team in a grand final and this is the Melbourne Storm who are playing Manly in the National Rugby League final on Sunday. The Storm are in a grand final for the second year running. After a disappointing final loss last year, I am also hoping that the Storm will this time win to cap their excellent season.

Grand final week is always a special week in Melbourne with all grand final related activities taking place and I hope to catch up with at least one of them during this week.

Yuvraj six sixes

There have been a few records set at the ongoing ICC World Twenty20 championships but one of the most impressive I think is Yuvraj Singh's record of being the first player to score six sixes in just one over in international Twenty20 cricket.

Yuvraj scored the six sixes under the bowling of Stuart Broad as England went on to lose that match by 18 runs. It is not surprising therefore that Yuvraj reached his half-century off just 12 balls.

Because this is a new format of cricket there have been a few records set as a result. Brett Lee claimed the first international Twenty20 hat-trick to help restrict Bangladesh to just 123 runs. Lee took the wickets of Shakib Al Hasan, Mashrafe Mortaza and Alok Kapali to clinch the hat-trick.

The other record worth noting is the highest Twenty20 innings total achieved by Sri Lanka when they made 260-6 when they beat Kenya in the group stages.

Lets hope to see more records broken as the tournament reaches the semi-final stage.

Mourinho leaves Chelsea

It didn't come as a great surprise to read that Chelsea have parted ways with their coach Jose Mourinho of three years after a less than satisfactory start to the season.

This season hasn't started well at Stamford with the team struggling for goals and hence the nil-all draw against Blackburn over the weekend but a lot of people expected Chelsea to beat Rosenborg in the Champions League but Chelsea had to struggle for a draw. Before that Chelsea lost to 2 nil to Aston Villa.

There are reports that Chelsea owner wanted Chelsea to play some exciting football but Mourinho's type of football is the kind of football that brings in results, exciting or not exciting. And you cant blame him after all football is all about results and in that regard I think he has been successful.

What has really surprised me is the fact that Chelsea seem to be heavily reliant on a few players namely Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard, John Terry and Petr Cech and if one of these players is injured the team struggles terribly. I wouldn't expect that to happen to a star-studded team like Chelsea because I think they should have enough other players to fill in those gaps.

Now the speculation will start to see where Mourinho goes after the stint at the Bridge. If he stays in England I think he will go to Tottenham where another London team is struggling after spending so much in the off-season. I cannot see any other team beyond that but the only problem is that Spurs are currently not in the Champions League.

In Serie A the most likely team would be Inter Milan if the team does not have a good start whilst in La Liga the usual suspects Real Madrid look stable for a change. Barcelona haven't started the league well but they should be okay unless they get very bad results in the next few weeks.

I am also wondering as to who will take over at Stamford Bridge. Currently they are two great managers out of a job and these are Fabio Capello and Marcello Lippi. If exciting football is the requirement then these may not be ideal but they can bring results including results in the Champions League.

I will also not be surprised should the stand-in manager Avram Grant take the job full time because he was a successful manager in Israel and could give the premiership a go.

One thing for certain is that the premiership will never be the same without Mourinho.

Free early bird plan good

The proposed plan to have a free train travel for commuters who reach their destination by 7 am sounds like a very good idea.

This will be trialed on the Frankston and Sydenham lines from late October and if successful will be implemented on the rest of the network. I don't use any of these two lines but I hope that the people on these two lines will make it successful so that it can be extended to other lines.

The plan is of direct benefit to those people who currently reach their destination before 7 am but can also be used by commuters who currently start work as late as 7.30 am if they prepared to arrive a bit early.

I think its also good for all those who have flexible working hours and that will also mean an early finish and thats not bad in the summer months. However, if you live a bit further from your destination it can mean leaving home just after 6 am which may prove to be a bit difficult especially at the start and moreso in the winter months.

I hope we will get updates on how the trial is going just to know what's happening.

Goal drought at the Dome

Melbourne Victory managed their second consecutive goalless draw at the Telstra Dome albeit with an improved performance against the league leaders, the Central Coast Mariners.

I went to watch this match hoping that this time there was going to be a goal of some kind after the first goalless draw against Perth Glory a fortnight ago but all we got was a reasonably good game but also a game that showed lack of Victory's organisation in the centre of the park.

Leandro Love introduced some creativeness into Victory in the second half and I think Ernie Merrick should let him start the next match against Newcastle together with Carlos Hernandez or else let Hernandez or Leigh Broxham start from the bench. Also Adrian Caceres should be left on the pitch for a bit longer because he offers more attacking options than Steve Pantelidis.

The next home match will be against Queensland Roar and I actually think its going to be a tough one with Queensland now beginning to play well as they showed against Perth Glory to get their first win. There was also a first win for Wellington Phoenix who won away to a disjointed Sydney FC outfit.

The fourth match saw Melbourne next opponents Newscastle Jets get a narrow victory over Adelaide United. In the last match of last season Victory lost 4-nil at the EnergyAustralia Stadium and though I don't think this scoreline will be repeated this time, a loss is quite likely and I will take a draw any time.

Meanwhile on TipsChallenge it was an improved performance from me as I managed to get the exact score for the Perth/Roar match and direction for the Jets/Adelaide.

Raikkonen maintains Spa grip

Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen maintained his winning run at the Spa-Francorchamps track at the Belgian F1 Grand Prix to close the gap between him and current championship leader Lewis Hamilton to thirteen points.

This was Raikkonen's third straight win at the track and this win has helped his faint hopes of claiming the title from from one of the McLaren's drivers. His team-mate Felipe Massa finished a comfortable second but with 20 points behind Hamilton and three races to go his chances are very slim.

Fernando Alonso managed to make sure that Hamilton did not overtake him at the first corner got third place and in doing so closed the gap to just two points and he knows that if he continues to finish ahead of Hamilton in a points position he will win retain the championship.

It seems no race will be finished without some bickering between the McLaren drivers and this time it seems Hamilton wasn't happy with the way Alonso blocked him in the first lap. I think the talking will go all the way to the last race but I think Alonso has got a big advantage now as the race leaves Europe to at least two tracks that Alonso is accustomed with and Hamilton is not.

Only one BMW Sauber finished in the points this time and it was Nick Heidfeld who finished fifth just ahead of William's Nick Rosberg. I am actually impressed with Williams revival this season and I think they are on the right path now after their troubles of last season. Rosberg now has accumulated 15 points and the other Williams driver Alexander Wurz has 13 points to make them lie ninth and tenth respectively in the championship race.

Mark Webber managed to get some points after three races without scoring a point as he finished seventh in front of Renault's Heikki Kovalainen. The other Renault driver, Giancarlo Fisichella did not finish the race. It doesn't look like a good year for Fisichella who I thought had a chance to challenge for the title after the departure of Alonso at the start of the season.

The next stop is going to be at the Fuji and I think Alonso would have been happy with Suzuka where he won last year. But the Fuji circuit makes a return to F1 after 20 years and it will be new to all drivers thus making it even.

Zimbabwe shock Australia

Its not often these days that there is something good to write about when it comes to Zimbabwe cricket but this morning's result is really good news for Zimbabwean cricket as the Southern African nation beat Australia by five wickets in a World Twenty20 championship match played in Cape Town.

Australia were restricted to just 138 runs and Zimbabwe reached that target with just one ball to spare. Australia's tally didn't look that big but given that the opponents were Zimbabwe it seemed like it was going to be enough but Zimbabwe just got there to record a shock result.

Its only two days so far and the inaugural World Twenty20 championship is proving to be very interesting already. With just twenty overs there is not much room for error and you have to score runs as quickly as possible and that leads to the spectacle.

In the other matches played yesterday, I thought Scotland did very well but once Pakistan went beyond 150 runs I just thought that they would struggle to reach that kind of target and they did. In the end Scotland fell 51 runs short Pakistan's total of 171. New Zealand therefore had no problems hauling Kenya's meagre total of 73 runs and I am surprised they even reached that total.

Draws dominate A-League season start

Twelve matches have so far been played this season in the A-League and of those twelve matches, only four have been wins and the rest have been draws and with one team, the Central Coast Mariners, having 75% of the wins.

If we look at the previous two seasons it was the complete opposite picture. In the 2005/6 season, after three rounds there were four draws and eight wins with 25 goals scored and by then all teams had at least scored a goal.

The start of the 2006/7 season had even fewer draws by round 3 with just three draws and nine wins plus a staggering 30 goals. So far this season a total of 22 goals have been scored which is not as bad as it sounds if you consider that these have been scored in just nine matches compared to eleven and ten in the 2005/6 and 2006/7 seasons respectively.

The Mariners have won all their matches so far with three clean sheets and they are one of only two teams still to pick the ball from the back of their own net. The other team is Perth Glory but in different circumstances as I will show below.

It is interesting to see that that three of the four wins so far have been 1-nil wins and all these have been away wins and the only home win resulted in a 3-nil win. This was in the match between the Mariners against the Wellington Phoenix.

Therefore, this season's start is not the kind of start that I had expected but having said that its also not surprising given the fact that the A-League is a fairly balanced league and the salary cap helps even things out. What may make a difference is whom you recruit as marquee player and Sydney seem to have done well on that front.

Now if you look at Perth Glory then it doesn't look very good for their fans with the team so far failing to register a single goal. They have got three points to their name which is the third highest points tally on the league and thats not bad from a points perspective. I wonder how much celebration will greet their first goal when it comes and in round 4 they host Queensland Roar.

The Wellington Phoenix started brightly against reigning champions Melbourne Victory but have since gone on to lose their next two matches and therefore now anchor the ladder with just one point but they should fancy their chances away to Sydney FC in round 4 after a spirited display in their loss to Newcastle Jets.

It is therefore not surprising with these draws dominance that on TipsChallenge very few points have been scored out of a possible maximum of 48 points. I hope to see more wins in the coming round 4 especially as I will be at Telstra Dome to see if Melbourne Victory can hand the Mariners its first defeat of the season. I think its high time for a Victory win in the league at Telstra Dome with the last league win happening some ten months ago.

Federer marches to twelve

World number one tennis player Roger Federer won his twelfth grand slam title and fourth US Open title in a row after beating Novak Djokovic in straight sets in a highly contested final at Flushing Meadows.

I thought this was a far closer final than Federer would have liked and could easily have gone beyond three sets had Djokovic converted some of the set points that he got in the first two sets. Federer needed tie-breaks to win the first two sets.

The fact that Federer could come from 0-40 and in the first set and win the game and force a tie-break just shows how experienced he is compared to Djokovic who was playing in his first grand slam final. At the same time, I think Djokovic gave a good account of himself and I think it wont be long before he gets his first grand slam title.

As for Federer, this was his twelfh grand slam title and he is now just two titles away from reaching Pete Sampras' record of fourteen titles. Looking at next year I can see him win again the Australian Open where he never seems to drop a set and from there he would need just one of Wimbledon or the US Open and therefore there is every possibility that the record can be equalled next year.

In the women's final Justine Henin easily accounted for Svetlana Kuznetsova in another one sided women's grand slam final. Of the four women's grand slam finals this year, only the Wimbledon final was competitive with the rest being one-sided and all lasting just over an hour.

That must not away the fact that Henin was excellent and play some very good tennis to secure her seventh grand slam title and on her form at the moment she should be set for even more.

Alonso wins to narrow gap

McLaren's Fernando Alonso is now within reach of team-mate Lewis Hamilton after his first win at Monza at the Italian F1 Grand Prix.

After the Ferraris dominated the last race in Turkey, this time it was McLaren's turn for a one-two. Alonso knows he has to finish ahead of Hamilton in order to retain his title and he managed to do just that and has now reduced the deficit to just three points.

Hamilton came second but for him I think the most important thing is that he is still in front and with four races to go he also needs to make sure he finishes ahead of Alonso to increase that gap but it looks like this will go all the way to the last race.

A retirement or two can change the whole complex of the title race and Ferrari's Felipe Massa knows about it after retiring after just nine laps due to a suspension problem. I think Ferraris need to match the reliability of the McLaren in order to compete with them or else they will just play second fiddle.

Massa's team-mate Kimi Raikkonen completed the podium after starting fifth on the grid and is now eighteen points behind Hamilton. On paper his chances are now very slim but at least he is still in with a chance.

The BMW Sauber drivers Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica maintained their now familiar positions just outside the podium coming fourth and fifth respectively. I am waiting for the time when they can actually challenge for the podium places and make races even more exciting.

It was another good race for Williams with Nico Rosberg finishing fifth ahead of Renault's Heikki Kovalainen. I think Renault has been very dissapoining this season and especially Giancarlo Fisichella who could only finish twelfth this time.

To complete the points places was Jenson Button with a rare point for Honda for him to score only his second point this season.

Mark Webber had a good race but there was nothing he could have done to catch Button and so had to finish just ahead of another Honda of Rubens Barrichello.

The last European race will be next at Spa next week and with a one week turn around I would imagine Ferrari have a lot to think about in the coming if they want the title to head their way.

From an Australian perspective, I am also keen to see whether Channel 10 would rather show Rugby World Cup live than a F1 race again.

Devaluation at a grand scale

Last week the Zimbabwe Finance minister Samuel Mumbengegwi devalued the Zimbabwe dollar by 1200% in another measure to help arrest the decline in the Zimbabwe economy but soon after finishing that announcement I think a lot of people would have realised that it wasn't enough.

Following the devaluation one US dollar will now buy 30,000 Zimbabwe dollars on the official market but what makes it interesting is the fact that the black market rate is more than ten times the official new rate.

I think the Zimdollar should have been devalued earlier to help catch the black market rate but I think that was never a favoured move and this time it looks like there was no other option but to have this devaluation.

Also one may argue that devaluing the currency without solving the other problems that are causing the economy to collapse will just mean the black market rate just flies away and that it true.

I am waiting to see what other measures will be brought up as elections near possibly in the first half of next year.

Federer on course for final

Roger Federer beat Andy Roddick in the US Open quarter finals to set up a semi-final match against Nikolay Davydenko who dismissed Tommy Haas.

I think Federer has one foot in the final and possibly one hand on the trophy because he is going to meet a player who has never beaten him in the semis and at these latter stages of the tournament Federer always always uses his experience to his advantage.

On the other side of the draw Novak Djokovic will meet David Ferrer after beating Carlos Moya. I am looking forward to see what Ferrer will do because he did well to beat Rafael Nadal and at this moment I would be happy to see Ferrer play Federer in the final.

On the other hand a final between Federer and Djokovic could be very interesting because at their last meeting Djokovic triumphed over Federer in a rare defeat for the top ranked player. Since that defeat Federer has not lost a match but actually went on to win his 14th Masters title.

In the women's game, after beating Serena Williams, in the quarter finals Justine Henin will now meet sister Venus. I think thats going to be a cracker of a match but I still think Henin will reach the final and then win it.

In the other women's semi, Svetlana Kuznetsova will fight it out against fellow Russian Anna Chakvetadze to make sure that for the second year running there will be a Russian in the final after Maria Sharapova was in the final and won last year. Its unfortunate that it would look like this semi is overshadowed by the other semi between Henin and Williams but I think either of these two players will not be able to beat Henin should she reach the final.

For now I will just wait and see what happens in the next few days at Flushing Meadows.

Henin goes past Serena

Justine Henin went past Serena Williams this morning in the US Open quarter final match to storm into the semi-finals where she will meet either Venus Williams or Jelena Jankovic.

The first set was pretty tight and went on to a tie-break and Henin had to save a set point. The second set was much different as Henin went on a stroll and Serena only managed to win just one game.

This is now the third time that Henin has beaten Serena in a Grand Slam quarter-final this year. Serena must be wondering how she can beat Henin but I think she needs to play more matches between grand slams to get fitter and also improve her ranking.

In an earlier match in the men's draw Novak Djokovic beat Juan Monaco to reach the quarter-finals. I think Djokovic has a good chance to win this year's US Open although he didn't play very well against Monaco.

To reach the semis he will have to go past the resurgent Carlos Moya who is playing some good tennis at the moment.

SBS gives a good run

On Sunday the Osaka World Athletics Championships came to an end and I thought that the SBS gave very good over the week or so when the championships were held.

I find that the World Championships that come before the Olympic year are more exciting compared to the ones that come soon after because athletes will be tuning up for the Olympics.

I thought SBS coverage was quite comprehensive and mature and they did their best to make sure that they covered every sport which was very good.

With Channel 7 covering the Olympics next year, it will unfortunately not be the same coverage because I suppose we will be reduced to watching bits and pieces and checking results online. I know that events like the Olympics are a bit difficult to cover but then again there is digital television which should allow viewers to choose which sport they would like to watch.

Calleri shocks Hewitt

I was surprised to see see Lleyton Hewitt exit the US Open in the second round after losing to Agustin Calleri in four sets when I thought that he had a good chance of even reaching the final.

When Hewitt won the first set it looked like it was going to be another straight-forward win for him but Calleri corrected all the mistakes from the first set to upstage Hewitt in the next three sets.

I don't think Hewitt expected Calleri to play so well because he seemed to have no way to respond to his play. Hewitt's exit means there is no Australian player left in both men's and women's singles draw with Casey Dellacqua the only women player to reach the second round losing to defending champion Maria Sharapova.

I thought that Hewitt had a great chance of reaching the final this time as he was on the opposite side of the draw to Roger Federer. So he would have only met Federer in the final but all this has come to nothing after this shocking early exit.

Before Hewitt's match I managed to catch Tim Henman's last match at the US Open as he retires this month after Great Britain's Davis Cup tie against Croatia. Henman managed to win the second set against Wilfried Tsonga and played quite well I thought but he could not match Tsonga's athleticism and his excellent serve.

2007/8 UEFA Champions League draw review

The 2007/8 UEFA Champions League draw has now been made and it throws some very interesting ties that should bring some talking points until matchday six in early December.

In Group A we see the return of Marseille to the Champions League but its hard to look past Liverpool as to who are mostly likely to win this group. It could be a tough fight for second place though but I think Porto should use their experience to pull through and let Besiktas and Marseille fight for the UEFA Cup place.

Chelsea were a top seed for the first time in this competition and therefore avoided the European big guns in their group but they have found Valencia and FC Schalke to fight it out. Although last season's matches between Valencia and the Blues were very tight I think the Stamford Bridge outfit have strengthened their side and should win their group this time. I also think Valencia will come out a close second with Schalke coming third. Interestingly Rosenborg are nearly always in the competition but they never seem to get better and should anchor this group come December.

The new look Real Madrid will remember that last season they were knocked out of the competition by a German team and therefore will need to give Werder Bremen respect. This group looks like a straight-forward fight between Werder Bremen and Real Madrid for top spot and I am not convinced by both Lazio and Olympiacos who I think are going to have their own battle to see who still plays European football in the new year.

Defending champions AC Milan find themselves in a very tough group where I think one of Celtic, Benfica and Shakhtar Donetsk can easily make it to the next stage. I don't think there is any doubt that Carlo Ancelloti's team will come out of this group but its hard to tell who will join them.Celtic will be hoping that their home form will be helped by a better away form but Benfica and Shakhtar are equally good teams. Only two years ago Benfica knocked out Manchester United out of the competition but last season the finished below Celtic in their group and will be hoping to do better now under Jose Antonio Camacho .

Barcelona should rule supreme in Group E and Lyon should take second place with Stuttgart and Rangers fighting to avoid bottom place. I will be surprised if there is a surprise in this group because both Barca and Lyon are very experienced in this competition. My only concern would be that Lyon haven't their domestic season well this year and if that continues then Stuttgart might well get second place.

Its interesting to see that Manchester United find themselves in the same group as Roma. I don't think there will be seven goals this time at Old Trafford but these two teams should easily overpower Sporting Lisbon and Dynamo Kiev.

Serie A champions Inter Milan should fancy their chances of topping Group G with PSV Eindhoven firm favourites to follow them into the round of sixteen. Roberto Carlos and Fenerbahce will have a lot say about that and so will CSKA Moscow.

In Group H, the real strength of the group will be known after the Seville/AEK Athens match has been played in a match which I think Seville will go through. Whatever happens though Arsenal should qualify from this group and of the four English clubs the Gunners seem to have the easiest group of them all. Although Slavia Prague knocked out Ajax from the competition I think they will finish bottom of this group with Steaua Bucuresti getting the UEFA spot.

For the first time, this season I will be participating in the tipping competition at TipsChallenge and it should be great fun.