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Archive for August 2008

2008/9 UEFA Champions League draw review

The draw for the 2008/9 UEFA Champions League competition has been made and already there are some groups that look tough and some appetising fixtures to look forward to.

Its always good to see some new teams enter the competition because they bring with them an element of surprise and this year there are a number of new teams.

This time the top seeded teams were the four English teams Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal plus Lyon, Inter Milan and the Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid.

In Group A, Chelsea and Roma seem to be in a good group and I expect those two to go forward to the next stage. In saying that I don't know a lot about CFR Cluj-Napoca but I think however good they may be they don't have the experience that Chelsea and Roma have in this competitition and if they do really well then maybe they can get the UEFA place ahead of Bordeaux.

Group B has another Champions League debutant in Anorthosis Famagusta who will be joined by Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan plus Werder Bremen and Panathinaikos.

I think Inter Milan will easily go to the next round as group winners and I see second place as likely to go Werder Bremen.

Mourinho has a lot of experience in this competition and I think he should be able to guide his team as winners in this group.

Groups C is another group with a clear favourite in Barcelona who will play against Sporting Lisbon, Basel and Shakhtar Donetsk. Basle makes a welcome return to the competition and I think second place is hard to call in this group. I will go with Sporting Lisbon because Shakhtar Donetsk has not impressed in recent seasons.

The toughest group could be group D where Liverpool will fight it out with Marseille, Atletico Madrid and PSV Eindhoven. This group was made tough by Atletico Madrid being in the fourth pot of seeds and yet I don't think they are the weakest team in this group.

I still think that if Liverpool gets itself sorted it should use its experience to negotiate its way out of this group but its hard to tell which team will join it in the next stage.

Apart from last season, PSV has been very good in this competition and Marseille played reasonably well last season but Atletico Madrid may lack experience but the team has very good players. For me that could be the difference.

So its a very tough group and if I had to choose which team I thought would make it to the next stage I think I will go with Atletico Madrid. Its interesting to see that Liverpool's Fernando Torres will face his former team and that should be an interesting match.

Group E brings together Celtic and defending champions Manchester United and Villareal could be the team that spoils it all in this group.

Celtic have a very good home record but I think they should start getting at least draws to sail comfortably in this group where I expect Man Utd to be too strong for the other teams in the group. It will be interesting to see what AaB Aalborg are made of.

After a one year absence Bayern Munich makes a return to the competition in Group F where its opponents will be Steaua Bucharest, Fiorentina and Lyon. This looks like another tough group comparable to Group D and I think the French champions Lyon will need to be at their best to come out of this group.

I think Fiorentina and Steaua Bucharest will battle for the UEFA place whilst Bayern Munich should progress to the next stage.

In Group G the deciding team should be Fenerbahce which could spoil the party for Arsenal and Porto. Last season Fenerbahce proceeded to the knock-out phase and they should be confident of doing the same this year whilst Dynamo Kiev has been a disappointment over the last few seasons.

Lastly but not least in Group H, former champions Real Madrid and Juventus clash but they will have to take care of Zenit St Petersburg if they are going to reach the next level.

Zenit St Petersburg are the current UEFA Cup holders and they surprised everybody with their great run last season in the UEFA Cup and if they were to have a similar run this season which I think they can we could see one of Real Madrid or Juventus not coming out of this group.

But once again it could end up being down to experience in the competition but I think this is one group that could produce some very interesting results.

I cant wait for the for the first round of fixtures and once again I will take part in the Champions League tipping competition on TipsChallenge.

Guccione flies the flag

After Jessica Moore's loss to Anna-Lena Groenefeld in her second round match, Chris Guccione is the only Australian left in the singles draw of the US Open.

Guccione has a tough task in the third round as he faces seeded Radek Stepanek and it will be a big win for him if he can win that match.

The absence of Llyetton Hewitt through injury has always meant that it was highly unlikely to see any of the seven Australians in the main draw come through to the second week.

Meanwhile world number one Ana Ivanovic was knocked out in the second round by Julie Coin in the biggest upset of the tournament so far.

This opens up the women's draw which has been very interesting lately with a number of options for the winner of at Flushing Meadows next week.

Its Parliament time in Zimbabwe

The Zimbabwe Parliament is set to open after five months of inactivity following the March 29 elections.

The parliament was dissolved before the March 29 elections and the new Members of Parliament had to wait for just under five months to be sworn in to the new parliament.

Morgan Tsvangirai's MDC won the Speaker of Parliament post with Lovemore Moyo becoming the first non Zanu PF MP to be elected speaker.

Zanu PF did not enter a candidate for the speaker's post but instead choose to vote for MDC Mutambara's candidate Paul Themba Nyathi. I don't think for the MDC Mutambara faction to survive it needs Zanu PF support but its good that the majority of the MDC Mutambara faction choose to vote for Moyo instead.

That should tell Mutambara that he may try to align himself with Mugabe but the majority in his party may not favour that and its something that he needs to correct now because I don't think that the majority of his 10 MPs are suddenly going to go with Zanu PF now when they have opposed it all these years.

I suppose had Nyathi won, Zanu PF would have asked for a favour next time from MDC Mutambara having helped their own to be speaker and its good it did not work.

The interesting thing is that Zanu PF is now the opposition party but MDC cannot be called the ruling party because Robert Mugabe still remains president.

With the talks stalling these are going to be some interesting weeks for Zimbabwe. With the way things are at the moment, Mugabe will have to choose a new cabinet from his party which for the first time no longer enjoys the majority that it has had a monopoly on for the last 28 years.

The problem is that not much will be achieved by this new parliament unless some sort of deal can be reached between Tsvangirai and Mugabe. Zimbabwe cannot afford to waste any more time now with the economy now in total ruins but at the same time Zimbabwe cannot afford a deal which gives Mugabe total control of power because he has had it for all these years and now look where he has taken the country.

I am beginning to lose hope in the current mediation process being done by South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa but unfortunately as it stands now its hard to see if there is another option. The mediator should have been replaced in the first place but that did not happen and now looks like a real messy.

You cannot allow a situation where the people of Zimbabwe continue to suffer even more until the whole system breaks down and so I hope a compromise will be reached soon to get the country back on track.

Massa gets fourth season win

Ferrari's Felipe Massa won the European Grand prix in Valencia after starting from pole to close the gap between him and current championship leader Lewis Hamilton to six points.

This was the first race at the new Valencia street track and I didn't it Hamilton came second and thus maintains his lead at the top and I think he is in a good position at this point of the season with just six races to go. As long as he finishes second it will take longer for Massa to catch him unless Kimi Raikkonen and Massa start finishing in the top two positions.

I have no doubt that the talking point is the fact that Massa was fined instead of a drive through penalty for example when he was released into the path of Force India's Adrian Sutil but I think its a fair verdict since he didn't get an unfair advantage in that incident.

Raikkonen did not finish the race after his engine blew and as I have before he better starts getting back to his winning ways if he still wants to defend his title. He is now 13 points behind Hamilton.

BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica completed the podium with a comfortable third place. Unfortunately the other BMW of Nick Heidfeld could only finish ninth.

Heikki Kovalainen came fourth ahead of Toyota's Jarno Trulli. It seems like Toyota has now found some consistency because they are now beginning to get points in races and this time both their drivers got points just like in the last race in Hungary. Timo Glock the other Toyota driver got seventh place.

In between the two Toyotas was Toro Rosso- Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel and Nico Rosberg got the last points placing for Williams.

This wasn't a good race for Mark Webber and Red Bull. Webber finished a disappointing twelfth and his team-mate David Coultard finished 17th which was last place for drivers who finished the race. This is the second consecutive when Webber has failed to finish in the points.

Fernando Alonso was the first to retire after a crash with and I think that should have disappointed the home crowd. I don't think he would have got something out of the race having qualified twelfth but I think the crowd wouldn't have cared much about that.

There are now just six races to go and the next stop is going to be the Belgian Grand Prix.

Champions Trophy year delay

The ICC announced over the weekend that the ICC Champions Trophy will be delayed by at least a year but the event will still be held in Pakistan.

That in itself is good but what I don't understand is what makes them think that the same security concerns will be gone in a year's time.

At the moment General Pervez Musharraf has just resigned and I assume there must be some tensions in the country because of that and I think that the ICC hopes that next year it will all be good.

Its good also to see that the ICC has mentioned that the location could be moved if the security concerns persist. I think that will be better than yet another delay.

Next year England will host the 20Twenty Championships and with the addition of the Champions Trophy it looks like an already busy calendar for the teams.

I hope that the tournament will go ahead as now scheduled and that all teams will participate because I think it will be good for the Pakistani fans.

Hewitt pulls out of US Open

Lleyton Hewitt pulled out of the US Open and will be back playing next year.

According to his official website he will only be back playing in January next year after having surgery to his troubled hip area.

This means he will not be seeded for the Australian Open because his ranking can only go down now that he will not be playing in any other tournament.

Its very hard to see any Australians in the second week of the US Open this year and also the Davis Cup tie in Chile will be very hard to win without Hewitt.

But I hope that when he comes back next year he will notch some wins and go up the rankings again.

Hewitt unseeded at US Open

Lleyton Hewitt will be unseeded at the US Open after his ranking slipped down to 55.

This will be the first time that Hewitt is unseeded at a grand slam since the year 2000 and being unseeded could mean a tough draw when the draw is conducted later this week.

But its good news for Rafael Nadal who will be seeded first for the first time in his career at a grand slam.

Nadal took over the world number one spot from Roger Federer this week and Federer will now find himself in an unfamiliar position of second seed as he defends his US Open crown at Flushing Meadows.

Interestingly both Nadal and Federer won gold medals at the Beijing Olympics but in different circumstances.

Nadal won the singles gold whilst Federer won the doubles gold after teaming up with countryman Stanislas Wawrinka.

Talks continue at Sadc summit

The Zimbabwe talks between Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai will continue at the Sadc two day summit in Johannesburg.

I haven't read a report that suggests the leader of the smaller MDC faction Arthur Mutambara is there at the summit and so I am wondering whether he will take no part in this phase of the talks or is it just that the media hasn't really mentioned his name.

I think Tsvangira is right to demand real power because that will make him accountable for whatever happens in that new setup. Also that will enable the much needed international funding to come through to the new administration.

However, if he is not given real power and is part of the government then he will be blamed for everything and he will be worse off and its better to stay out of it altogether.

I think Mugabe has ruled for a very long time and should not be clamouring for much more power because I don't think he has nothing new to offer and therefore it is better to transfer the day to day running of the country to Tsvangirai.

I also thought that Zanu PF could take advantage of these talks and have their successor strategically placed because all I read is about Mugabe who is 84 and not getting any younger.

I think this is the reason why Zanu PF are said to be keen for a five year transitional government because that will give them time to sort out the succession issue. I cannot see them offering an 89 year old candidate in 2013.

I hope the Sadc talks will move towards positive territory and I hope the other leaders will see that Tsvangirai's demands are realistic and should be honoured and put the necessary pressure on Mugabe.

Related documents:

Jul 08 Memorandum of Understanding

2008/9 A-League Season Preview

The 2008/9 A-League season kicks off this week in what looks the last time it will kick-off as an eight team league.

So once again it will be another 21 matches in order to win the minor premiership or reach the finals and being an even league as it is I think it's very hard to see exactly who might come up tops.

I will have a quick look at the season ahead and look at the teams and see what has changed since last season.

Its very hard at this point to even try to pinpoint which team might reach the finals because there have been a few changes over the off-season for all the teams.

Melbourne Victory won the pre-season cup but I don't think it will translate to much because when the season proper starts all teams will have a different approach.

But by winning the pre-season cup it shows that Victory are better than what they were at the start of last season where I think they finished bottom of that same cup and when the season started it was hard to get goals until the last third of the season.

This year's team on paper looks balanced and I watched the team play Whittlesea Zebras in a friendly and I was impressed by what they did especially in the second half.

I think the most important addition will be Michael Thwaite and I don't expect Jose Luis Lopez to click straight away. Upfront the addition of Ney Fabiano is welcome and I hope that coach Ernie Merrick will choose the forwards on form to make sure that there is competition.

Adelaide did well in the Asian Champions League but they have since lost Bruce Djite and Nathan Burns to European clubs. They have added Robert Younis, Fabian Barbiero and Cristiano and its very hard to tell what impact these players will have when the season starts.

Sydney FC's marquee player this time is John Aloisi. I think Simon Colosimo will be their most important acquisition he has so much experience in the A-League and was very influential at Perth Glory.

Newcastle Jets are the champions and I expect them to continue with their fast flowing football and getting results in difficult matches.

They now have Edmundo Zura as their marquee player and he can only be judged after playing a few matches for them. They also now have Kaz Patafta and I am keen to see whether he will be given more of chance by coach Gary Van Egmond than what he got at Victory.

The Central Coast Mariners will no longer have the services of John Aloisi but they have new talent in Dylan Macallister and Adrian Caceres.

Perth Glory lost Colosimo to Sydney FC but they have also brought in Amaral, Eugene Dadi and Adriano Pellegrino.

The Queensland Roar reached the finals last season and I am sure they will be keen of doing the same this season.

To help the Roar do that will be Sergio Van Dijk, Tim Smits, Isaka Cernak and Tommy Oar, David Dodd and Luke DeVere.

This will be the second season for the Wellington Phoenix and therefore naturally I expect them to do better than last season. Among the players they have added to their ranks are Manny Muscat, Leilei Gao and Adam Kwasnik.

By reaching the pre-season cup final I think it will not be surprising to see the Phoenix reach the finals as well but that will call for consistency especially in the away matches.

Once again I will be playing the A-League tipping competition on TipsChallenge and hope that me and Victory will do well this season.

Zimbabwe talks in second day

The Zimbabwe talks between the three leaders of the three main political parties and chaired by South African President Thabo Mbeki have now gone into the second day.

The second day is actually a Heroes Day public holiday which is a day when Zimbabweans honour the men and women who died in the liberation war.

I think its getting clearer that it looks like what will emerge will be a government of national unity of some sort and it is the detail that a lot of people will be concerned about.

Firstly, I think that the new government should be in charge for a very short time preferably less than two years with a mandate to change the constitution and organise fresh elections which should be free and fair. If all that could be done in less than one year that could be even better but I think you need more time to come up with good results.

It will effectively be a transitional government that will restore justice and peace to Zimbabweans and restore freedom of speech and movement.

However, if the talks fail that could be a different scenario altogether. It will mean that things will get worse in Zimbabwe especially economically and I can't imagine what kind of scenario that will be.

But I hope the talks will not fail but I also hope that Morgan Tsvangirai will not give in to anything just to make the talks successful.

I think its better for the MDC to be in government at least to make sure that the next elections will be free and fair. To me thats the key because I think the MDC will win any election that's free and fair but if its not then thats a different kettle of fish altogether.

I will now wait to see what the second day of talks will yield.

2008/9 English Premier League Preview

The 2008/9 English Premier League season kicks off next week and just like last season there is all the buzz and excitement associated with a new season.

For me I am excited because my team West Bromwich Albion is back in the top flight and they kick off against one the top four teams away from home at the Emirates.

I will start by looking at the title race. I think that once again it will be a two horse race between the defending champions Manchester United and Chelsea. Man United hasn't really added to its ranks so far but they had a very good team last season and I think it can help them deliver the goods this season.

I think the key for the Old Trafford team was to retain Cristiano Ronaldo for yet another season. But if I have any concern then it will be the loss of assistant coach Carlos Queiroz who is now the Portuguese national coach. His influence will be missed but it also depends on how influence he had.

Like every new season Chelsea continues to add to its ranks and this time maybe their high profile acquisition so far is Deco who was signed from Barcelona. I don't think Deco will make much of a difference because I think Chelsea already had a good midfield and it will be a problem of whom to pick if all the players are fit.

But a new dimension to Chelsea this time is the new coach Luiz Felipe Scolari. This will be Scolari's first season in club football for a long time and if he re-adjusts quickly to club football management then that could be the turning point for his team.

I think Chelsea lost the title last season because of a slow start and if they can avoid that this time then they could give Man U a big fight. Also scoring many goals will be a key.

I think Liverpool will look a bit different this time and I think they are now a class apart from Arsenal. I think the Anfield outfit will easily finish in the top three positions and even better depending on how Chelsea and Man U play.

The Gunners have lost some experienced players in Gilberto Silva, Alexander Hleb and Mathieu Flamini and have replaced them with inexperienced players and I think that will spell trouble for them.

A threat for them will come in the form of Tottenham Hotspurs who I think can challenge the top four this season. I know I have said this several times before about Spurs and got disappointed but I think that this time they have a team capable of challenging the top four and a very good coach in Juande Ramos.

Before looking at relegation, I will quickly look at the teams that could challenge for the UEFA Cup places. I expect Roy Keane's Sunderland to be as near the top as possible by just going by the players that have been brought to the club so far.

So far the former Man Utd captain has brought in Pascal Chimbonda, David Meyler, Teemu Tainio, El Hadji Diouf and Steed Malbranque and there could be more to come before the window closes.

I think Keane has rejuvenated his team well team this time and if it gels together quickly I think they could be challenging for a UEFA Cup place and not flirting with relegation like last season.

I think they will find competition from Aston Villa, Manchester City and Portsmouth.

Man City have a new manager Mark Hughes and I think he has brought in some exciting talent and how he will work with it is unknown at this point. But looking at Hughes record at Blackburn I will not be surprised with City finishing in the top six.

I think for the rest of the teams it will be a relegation fight. I think for the rest of the teams it will be a relegation fight. The only team that intrigues me is Fulham because Roy Hodgson has brought in so many good players this time including John Pantsil, Bobby Zamora, Zoltan Gera, Mark Schwarzer, Fredrik Stoor and Andrew Johnson and I can't really tell how he is going to get them playing well together and win games. They could be the surprise package for this season.

I expect at least one of the promoted sides to go down. Until they start playing it's very hard to tell which one is going to be but I hope it will not be the Baggies.

I expect the likes of Blackburn and Middlesbrough to struggle whilst you never know with Newcastle and West Ham.

I am looking forward to the start of the season and once again I will be playing the football tipping competition on TipsChallenge and I hope that the Baggies will not cost me a lot of points. because I think I will always be backing them.

Football the 7 way

Channel 7 began their 2008 Olympics coverage by showing a Group A football match between Australia and Serbia last night.

To start with this match was not live but that wasn't very much of a problem but it was the showing of ads during the match that irked me. The published time was 9 pm but they started showing the match nearly at quarter past nine.

What annoyed me more than anything else is showing ads during that match. I know its not a live match but they should have waited until half time to show those ads.

In the 40th minute for example, the ads took something like four minutes and it was a long wait especially knowing that the match had just five or so minutes to go before half time.

The schedules shows that 7 is going to show the Australia/Argentina match and I hope they are not going to stop the match to show ads and also hope they will show it live.

Even when Foxtel shows re-runs of overnight English Premiership matches they wait for half-time to show ads and I think that's the way it should be.

I cant wait for SBS coverage of Olympic football because at least SBS know how to show football properly.

Heikki Kovalainen in maiden win

Heikki Kovalainen won his first grand prix when he won the Hungarian Grand Prix when the Ferrari's Felipe car's broke down with just three laps to go.

Massa had managed to pass both Maclaren's drivers Kovalainen and Lewis Hamilton on the first lap and looked set for a victory but all that came to nothing when his car could not complete the race.

But it was also good for Kovalainen who got his maiden Formula 1 win. Kovalainen has been scoring points here and there but with Hamilton scoring the wins for McLaren and he must be relived that he has finally got the top podium finish.

It was also a good day for Toyota with Timo Glock coming a surprise second ahead of Ferrari's Kimi Raikonnen who completed the podium.

Glock who started fifth on the grid got his first drive and this is good for the Toyota who haven'y had much to celebrate for the last few seasons. Both Toyota cars in the points with Jarno Trull getting seventh position.

Former champion Fernando Alonso finished fourth ahead of Hamilton who I think could have finished with a podium place had he not had a puncture in the race.

After finishing on the podium in the last race, Nelson Piquet could only manage sixth position.

I think it was a disappointing race for BMW Sauber who had Robert Kubica get the last points place with Nick Heidfeld in sixth. BMW have been consistent so far with finishes fifth and under but this time they did not do as well.

Mark Webber finished pointless as he finished just behind Kubica.

Hamilton now leads the championship by five points going to the new circuit in Valencia for the first time.

Number one up for grabs

The number rankings in both women's and men's tennis will change hands this month with Jelena Jankovic and Rafael Nadal taking over the top spots.

First to take the number one spot will be Jankovic who will take over the women's number one ranking from Ana Ivanovic on the 11th of August.

With Maria Sharapova injured and missing the Olympics and the US Open, it looks like the fight for number one will be between Ivanovic and Jankovic for some time and it is interesting to see who will end the year as number one.

In men's tennis, current number two Nadal will take over the number one spot after losing to Novak Djokovic in the Cincinnati Masters tournament semis.

That defeat means that Nadal will have to wait until the 18th of August to claim the top post and I think he fully deserved the top ranking status.

He has been playing some amazing tennis and after winning both the French Open and Wimbledon, there is no doubt in my mind he is currently the leading men's tennis player.

What will be interesting though is how long he will stay at the top. He will need to maintain his current form for the rest of the year to finish the year as number one but barring injury this looks possible.

Federer's reign on the brink

Roger Federer's reign at the top of the tennis rankings is under threat for the first time in many after he lost to Ivo Karlovic in the third round of the Cincinnati Masters.

I wasn't really surprised by Federer's round to Karlovic because he just made it past Robby Ginepri in the second round where he to break back in the second set in order to force a tie-break which he eventually won.

In this third round match he also lost the first set on a tie-break but won the second 6-4 and I think he must have thought that he was going to wrap up the last set but Karlovic won it in a tie-break.

World number two Rafael Nadal will take over as number one if he wins in Cincinnati and thats a very strong possibility but even he doesn't it looks like Federer's reign at the top could be coming to an end.

I think Federer is still a classy player and if he wins the first set then I think he can easily win a match from there but the problem is that he is losing the first set giving his opponent some confidence.

I still whatever happens he will still be the man to beat at the US Open and I will not be surprised to see him retain his title.