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Monday, 30 November 2009

Ireland plead for a 33rd place at the World Cup. Don't hold your breath. But we may get two more refs.

THE Thierry Henry handball fiasco, like Tiger Woods' mysterious car crash, just won't go away. Today, FIFA boss Sepp Blatter informs us the Republic of Ireland have asked for a 33rd place at the World Cup finals in South Africa next June - and he hinted two extra match officials may be used behind either goal at the tournament.
Ireland's reprieve is not going to happen. But it should. Lest we forget, Henry's basketball-style manipulation of the ball with his left arm led to the William Gallas goal which put France through at Ireland's expense in Paris a fortnight ago.
Right-thinking fans around the world - 345,000 of them on a Facebook petition alone, many of them French - demanded a replay. Even the Irish government became involved. But FIFA, being FIFA, declined the tidal wave of support for the replay without adequately explaining why.
Expect little better this time. Blatter, who appears to care only about certain countries and certain controversies (he allowed a replay between Uzbekistan and Bahraine over a disputed refereeing decision in a far less important World Cup qualifier) said only: "I will bring Ireland's request to the attention of the Executive Committee."
He might as well have told our inconsolable Irish neighbours: "Sorry, France are going, you're not. Ya boo."
Angry Irish fans won't be placated by the other titbit offered by Blatter, who finally admitted: "Something has to be done about match control" and suggested FIFA are thinking about introducing two extra officials for the tournament next year.
Once they have dismissed Ireland's request for an extra place at the table, the executive committee will hold "an emergency meeting" to discuss the addition of an extra match official behind either goal.
Their meeting takes place in Cape Town on Wednesday, two days ahead of Friday's eagerly-awaited World Cup draw, which will decide where and when each of the 32 nations plays.
But even if they agree to the change, it won't be put to the international board in Zurich until March. Blatter admitted: "We have only one man on the field of play who can intervene. He has two assistants for the time being, perhaps more in the future. He has to make an immediate decision.
"He has only two eyes. So match control is now is on the agenda. How shall we avoid such situations as we have seen in this very specific match? It's possible we will make additional officials for the World Cup but we have to see if it is feasible or realistic."
Unfortunately for Ireland, Costa Rica feel they were robbed by Uruguay too, citing an offside decision in their play-off defeat. That will, no doubt, be the excuse FIFA needs to keep Ireland out. They will argue if they let one side in, they'll have several demanding a place.
Unfazed, the FA of Ireland released a statement, confirming a 90-minute meeting with Blatter in Zurich last Friday.
The FAI said: "A lot was discussed at the meeting and at one stage the FAI asked if Ireland could be accommodated into the World Cup 2010.
"Other suggestions were also made to mitigate against further occurrences of such incidents, including the use of additional goal-line assistant referees for Fifa international matches, further use of video technology for matches at the highest level, stronger provisions to discourage players from engaging in such blatant breaches of the laws of the game and provisions to strengthen referee selection for such important matches."
Let's hope Blatter was paying attention. One day something might be done. But Ireland's exclusion will not be reversed... and their sense of injustice will take a long time to fade.

Labels: fifa, , , injustice, , sepp blatter,

Tiger responds. But the questions remain

SO we finally have the word of Tiger Woods. Or, more likely, the carefully-crafted statement of somebody respresenting the world's No1 golfer after his early-morning car crash on Friday.
He asked for "understanding" and blasts the "malicious" rumours surrounding the golfer's wayward driving.
It's on his official website, so we have to believe it's what Tiger feels, rather than the imperious word of the great management company IMG.
As papers all over the world agree the crash came after a golf-club-wielding wife Elin raised the subject of Tiger's alleged liasions with a New York events planner called Rachel Uchitel, but this morning Tiger himself is purported to have said|: "My wife, Elin, acted courageously when she saw I was hurt and in trouble. She was the first person to help me. Any other assertion is absolutely false.
"This incident has been stressful and very difficult for Elin, our family and me. I appreciate all the concern and well wishes that we have received.
"But, I would also ask for some understanding that my family and I deserve some privacy no matter how intrusive some people can be. The many false, unfounded and malicious rumours that are currently circulating about my family and me are irresponsible."
Tiger said the crash, which left him unconscious with facial wounds, was all his fault. He was discharged from hospital on Friday but news of the accident didn't emerge for 12 hours and Tiger has still not been seen in public.
And then we are confronted with Tiger and Elin turning away the Florida police THREE times when they arrived to question him at his Windermere home near Orlando over the weekend.
Sgt Kim Montes of the Florida Highway Patrol said a "chat" about the accident has still not been scheduled with Tiger's lawyers.
Then there are the tapes of the 911 emergency call doing the rounds. A concerned neighbour tells police: "I need an ambulance immediately. I have someone down in front of my house. They hit a pole.".
Police say they were treating the incident as a traffic accident, not a domestic issue. According to the highway patrol, alcohol was not a factor in the incident. Chief Daniel Saylor of the Windermere Police Department said: "From what we understand, his wife came out of the house when she heard the accident, him hitting the fire hydrant, (and) used a golf club - that's what we were told - to break out the rear window to gain entrance into the vehicle, removed him from the vehicle and laid him down in the street.
"He was in and out of consciousness with lacerations to his upper and lower lip, with a little bit of blood in his mouth, but he was conscious enough to be able to speak a little bit. According to my officers, it was not life-threatening injuries."

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Out-powered. Out-classed. For Arsenal, the war is over

SO that's it for another season, Gooners. The Premier League trophy will have to wait for yet another year. After Arsenal 0, Chelsea 3 today, the Blues are 11 points clear of their north London rivals. And that gap is not going to narrow on the evidence of yesterday's showdown.
As Jamie Redknapp said: "Out-powered, out-classed. Chelsea were on another level to Arsenal."
He's right of course. I saw Nigel Winterburn yesterday trying to think of Arsenal players who would get in the Chelsea team. Eduardo and Andrei Arshavin wouldn't have a hope against Didier Drogba, who scored two yesterday, and former Gunner Nicolas Anelka, who simply cut his old side apart. The injured Robin van Persie is hardly in that class either.
Winterburn suggested Thomas Vermaelen, who contributed an own goal yesterday, but given the dominance of John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho, I can't see a place for the Verminator either.
And in the middle of the park, Michael Essien, Frank Lampard, Michael Ballack and Co are hardly going to be threatened by lightweights like Alex Song, taken off at half-time, and Denilson. Men against boys.
Typically, Arsenal played their pretty football. But despite the imploring Emirates crowd, the shots never came. In front of goal, the loss of Emmanuel Adebayor remains glaring. Wenger's moth-filled wallet should have creaked open for a new striker when the Togo international went to Manchester City, but it never happened.
And the one real chance, where Arshavin scored at 2-0 down in the second half, was righly ruled out for Eduardo's high foot, which took the ball out of Petr Cech's hands.
Drogba, who now boasts ten goals in nine games against Arsenal, said: "I like to play against them. They used to be the team everyone in France supported. I really like a win like this. I was pointing at my right boot as I came off to show the red laces, my part in the campaign against AIDS.
"Last season we showed we could be champions but we lost a lot of points at home. This season, we don't give the opposition any chances. We have more confidence, it's easier."
John Terry said: "Once again, we soaked it up. Going forward, we were exceptional. Our midfielders were going through the middle of them. We have to stay together now. You can see people throwing their bodies in front of balls. Fighting for eachother."
Carlo Ancelotti certainly seems to have his team playing for eachother, a trick Jose Mourinho managed but Avram Grant, Phil Scolari and Guus Hiddink couldn't quite match.
Ancelotti, five points clear at the top, said: "Today in defence we were fantastic. Offensively we could do better, sometimes we lost the ball. We have to stay at the training ground."
Sure, Manchester United shrugged off Portsmouth yesterday with a Wayne Rooney hat-trick - and didn't Ryan Giggs do well - but Chelsea are different gravy.
Of more imporance in north London? Fourth place. Spurs are third at the moment at look like they might stay there after their 1-1 draw against Aston Villa. Fifth-placed Liverpool saw off Everton 2-0 to win the Merseyside derby and start putting pressure on Arsenal.
And Wenger has to accept, as the seats at the Emirates emptied long before the finish, Arsenal fans fear years of under-investment could finally see the Gunners slip out of the top four.
Wenger, whose pledge to end the five-year trophy drought is looking a little hollow, said: "The first part of the game was all us. Their first shot of the game went in. We find ourselves 2-0 down at half-time and it's difficult. We were very unfortunate to be like that a half-time.
"I watched the decision on the goal we scored five times, I still don't understand it. It was their player who had a foot up (as he said that, the television replay showed Eduardo kicking the ball out of Petr Cech's hands before Arshavin's fine finish). We had plenty opportunites where, with a better first touch and more belief, we could score.
"We have nothing to be ashamed of. It all went Chelsea's way today. I was not specially impressed with what happened on the pitch but they took their chances well. We're not in the title race right now but it's up to us to come back into it."
And Arsenal fans everywhere held their head in their hands.

Labels: arsenal lose, chelsea win, , nicolas anelka, premier league title

Rout of Africa: England instantly unbeatable in Port Elizabeth

SO this is rapidly becoming the Jekyll and Hyde tour. One minute England are absolute rubbish, bring 'em home, drop the lot. Then they're unbeatable, superb, give them all a knighthood.
Did I say unbeatable? After today's emphatic seven-wicket victory over South Africa in Port Elizabeth that's exactly what Andrew Strauss's men have become, given that they're 2-1 up in the One-Day series with one to play at Durban on Friday. Not bad against a side unbeaten in ODI series since 2002.
Today's victory, set up by a best-ever James Anderson (10-3-5-23, right), superb discipline plus incredible fielding and finished off by Cape Town-born Jonathan Trott's unbeaten 52, was in total contrast to Friday night's record thrashing at the hands of Graeme Smith's men at Newlands.
We blamed that little lot on Strauss's failure to win the toss. He lost it again today and admitted afterwards: "That was a good toss to lose" as a "very disappointed" Smith chose to bat and, despite being 55-3 and 78-4, slumped to 119 all out off just under 37 overs.
Strauss grinned: "We had a good chat about what went wrong in Cape Town and were very accurate today. James Anderson was outstanding, creating pressure and bowling wicket-taking deliveries as well."Anderson said: "We had a chat after the last game because we didn't bowl as well as we could have done. We wanted to come here and bowl a lot better, and luckily we got a wicket (Smith) that helped us with our plans."

They all failed, the great South Africans who had made our lives a misery in Cape Town. Graeme Smith went first, leg before to Stuart Broad for two, Hashim Amla was Anderson's first victim for 11 and the great AB De Villiers was snaffled up by a jubilant Tim Bresnan. He look unhappy with the LBW decision, but it looked pretty good on Sky. But then I would say that. I'm off to cover the four Tests next week and this is just the result England needed.

Somehow, despite the huge gulf between these two sides, were are going to get to the four five-day clashes without losing either the Twenty20 or the ODI showdowns. Amazing.

Yet today England actually looked the tighter, more impressive outfit, just as they had in Centurion a week before. Anderson, shrugging off his injured knee, bowled like a dream, Strauss captained with verve and purpose, bringing Jimmy back quicker than expected to complete his first five-wicket haul in ODIs, Luke Wright, though he didn't bowl that well, finished the Proteas with an astonishing one-handed catch to get rid of Alviro Petersen, South Africa's only batsman on the day with 51 off 79 balls.
Trott led the way in reply, scoring his 52 off 77 balls and though he lost skipper Strauss for 28 after a 74-run opening partnership, Eoin Morgan joined him with 28 off 38 to complete victory. Oh, Kevin Pietersen and Paul Collingwood failed but by then, who cared?
Durban on Friday becomes a real contest, with South Africa desperate to bounce back, struggling to retain that unbeaten home record. But somehow, it won't matter. England are unbeatable!

Labels: england one-day international, , ,

Saturday, 28 November 2009

One win in seven, but South Africa are favourites in Port Elizabeth

SOUTH AFRICA'S rugby team return home this week with an unwanted record of just one win in five games. After today's 15-10 defeat against Ireland, the World Cup-winners fly home having beaten just Italy on their trip to Europe, with defeats against France, Leicester and Saracens to add to today's 15-10 defeat in Dublin. Shocking!
Their cricket team of course is in even worse shape. In their last seven One-Day International showdowns against England they've won just once. Not great for the No1 ranked Test nation. Nearly as bad as their football team, still switching coaches and begging stars to play six months before football's World Cup kicks-off in Johannesburg on 11 June next year.
But let's be honest, that's a cheap dig at Graeme Smith's Proteas. They are in a different league to the Rainbow Nation's football and rugby sides right now.
Friday's clash at Newlands saw a comprehensive victory for the Proteas, with centurion AB De Villiers imperious in a 118-run triumph which levels the series at 1-1 with two to play. Home skipper Graeme Smith says he now intends to make life very diffficult for Andrew Strauss, who insists his side are "still a work in progress".
The teams flew up the Garden Route at the crack of dawn this morning for tomorrow's clash at Port Elizabeth with Paul Collingwood, fresh from scores of 105 not out and 86, insisting: "We're straight back into a game tomorrow, but in many ways that's a good thing. I feel in very good form at the moment - I'm seeing the ball well. I'm enjoying the wickets out here, I gained a lot of confidence from playing in the Champions Trophy on faster and bouncier wickets.
"My confidence is high, and it's amazing what you can do when confidence is that high."
You can say that again. A couple of weeks into the tour it looked like a bad back might force him out of action. Now he says: "It's settling down. I think I've just got to control it as much as possible. Touch wood, everything feels fine at the moment - and I hope we can get another win."
England's other wounded troops, James Anderson (knee), Graeme Swann (side) and Stuart Broad (shoulder), should all be okay to resume battle tomorrow but having let the South Africans get a near-record 354-6 on Friday, the return of Swann and Broad didn't have quite the impact England were hoping for in Cape Town... where losing the toss was a huge drawback.
While Strauss practices his coin-tossing, South Africa are sweating on the dodgy hamstring of the world's No1 pace bowler Dale Steyn, though they have the consolation of knowing Wayne Parnell and Morne Morkel returned to take eight wickets between them in Cape Town. Charl Langeveldt is ready to step up and Smith says: "If Dale doesn't play we will miss him dearly. But the positive side is it gives someone else the opportunity to rise to the occasion."

On a weekend when Tiger Woods crashed his car, Wayne Rooney scored a hat-trick and West Ham enjoyed a high five, tomorrow sees further huge sporting showdowns including this one in Port Elizabeth and, in London, the make-or-break game for Arsenal against Premier League leaders Chelsea. As a cricketing Gooner, I predict a sad Sabbath. South Africa and Chelsea will seize the day. As for Real Madrid v Barcelona, on immediately after the Arsenal v Chelsea clash... it's got to be Barca.

Labels: , , , , Ireland rugby, , , series, , Springboks

Friday, 27 November 2009

Tiger Woods: It happened something like this

SO the truth about Tiger Woods' accident in Florida yesterday morning at 2.25am is beginning to leak out. It wasn't just a simple car crash as anyone with a nose for these things suspected all along.
And yes, it did involve the allegations surrounding Rachel Uchitel, a New York-based events planner who follows the world's No1 golfer around the world.
According to most sources this morning, Tiger's Swedish supermodel wife Elin Nordegren, 29, reacted to National Enquirer pictures leaked on the internet, showing Uchitel entering a hotel in Melbourne where Tiger was staying when he played in Australia this month.
Tiger may be the world's first sporting billionaire but no marriage can survive such pressure. Elin, mother of his two children, lashed out. Tiger leapt into his Cadillac SUV and crashed into the now-infamous fire hydrant and tree.
Some reports suggest Elin then helped him out of the car by smashing the rear windscreen with a golf club. Others are more sceptical, suggesting her actions caused the crash.
Suspicions over the crash were first raised when it emerged that a total news blackout had surrounded the incident for 12 hours. There were also suggestions Tiger had been admitted to hospital under an assumed name.
Details remain sketchy but what is clear is that, after the crash, Tiger was unconscious for six minutes and has sustained some kind of facial injuries, from the accident or from his wife, or a combination of both.
Gary Bruhn, mayor of Windermere, just outside Orlando, where Tiger lives, said: "There were facial lacerations and he was treated. This was an accident. Nothing special."
But Windermere Police Chief Daniel Saylor said Elin was standing over Tiger in the street as shocked neighbours gathered. One local brought him a pillow and a blanket.
Police arrived to find the champion semi-conscious. Saylor said: "He had lacerations to his upper and lower lip, and a little bit of blood in his mouth. They asked his wife what happened. She said the car hit a fire hydrant then a tree.
"When he woke up, he tried to get up and lost consciousness. Ms Nordegren was very distraught, very upset."
Tiger's agents IMG and the hospital both moved to calm the growing speculation, suggesting he was "fine" and in "good condition" but until Tiger himself talks - and shows the world his injuries - the speculation will continue.
What is clear is that drink was not involved. But Tiger could face a charge for not wearing a seat-belt. Hopefully sensible forces in Orange County will choose to overlook that minor offence on a night when Tiger's life, for once, veered wildly off the fairway.
And the worst drive of his life will soon become consigned to history.
But Ms Uchitel, 34, whose husband died in the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre, will not be able to slip quietly out of the limelight.
The New York Daily News said today she sent them a message from her Facebook page that read: "There is NO relationship with Tiger. I resent my name being slung thru the mud."
But she told the New York Post: "God forbid Tiger got into a car wreck because of this false report of him having an affair."
Tiger is currently holed up at home at when officers from the Florida Highway Patrol tried to interview him, they were turned away.
What is clear is that this is no sports story. Just a near-tragic tale of ordinary life, which can leave even the super-rich lying injured in the road.
Perhaps it's time to return to England's thrashing at the hands of South Africa in Cape Town yesterday, or Arsenal's crucial showdown against Chelsea tomorrow. It feels more comfortable.

Labels: car crash, elin, hospital, news black-out, police, Tiger Woods, wife

Tiger Woods "fine" says agent, hospital say he's in "good condition"

TIGER WOODS is "just fine" according to his agent Mark Steinberg as the mystery over his early morning car crash deepened. Early reports suggested the world's No1 golfer was seriously injured in an accident near his home in Isleworth, north of Tampa in Florida.
But both the mayor of the town, Gary Bruin, and Steinberg, vice-president of the International Management Group, have denied those reports, insisting Woods has been released from hospital with facial injuries after hitting a tree and a fire hydrant.
A statement from the Health Central Hospital in Ocoee said: "Tiger Woods was in a minor accident. He came in last night and was released today. He was in good condition."
The hospital would not say what injuries he had suffered amid rumours he checked in under a different name.
Nobody else was in the car but police say the incident was "not alcohol-related" - though one report suggested "charges are pending" and that "an investigation is pending".
Woods was driving his Cadillac SUV which apparently ricocheted off the fire hydrant into the tree. The airbags did not detonate, suggesting he was travelling at low speed according to Florida Today.
The accident happened at 2.25am local time this morning - and news of the incident took over 12 hours to emerge. Woods lives in Orange County with his wife, Swedish supermodel Elin Nordegren, 29, and their son and daughter - they met at the 2001 British Open.
Woods has won 93 tournaments including 14 “majors” and was the world’s highest-paid professional athlete last year, earning an estimated $110 (£66 million) from winnings and endorsements. He became sports first ever billionaire dollar earner earlier this year.

Labels: car crash, facial injuries, golfer, injury, Isleworth, Orlando, Tiger Woods, world number one

John 'Influencial' Terry: England captain and marketing tool

"The FIFA 2010 World Cup Finals in South Africa are fast approaching. John Terry is available to create effective brand awareness and endorse products and services globally. He has been voted one of the world's most influencial people."
Yes, influencial. Get the spell-checker out. Good old JT. Fluent in English he is. And in case his PR company have missed it, that's INFLUENTIAL mate. Except when it comes to taking penalties against Manchester United in European Cup finals in Moscow. Then he's just effluential.
The Daily Mail makes a huge deal of the selling of England's captain before next year's World Cup today, complaining he's "putting the nation's armband on sale". And they're right. It stinks. The man is on £170,000 a week. At least. A couple of years ago I sneaked a peek at an international star's monthly wage packet at Liverpool. Apart from the basic £82,000-a-week, he was paid all kinds of win bonuses, training bonuses, Champions League bonuses and extras to do with his house, car and sundries. I'm sure Terry gets plenty of that.
Yet here he is, six months before the greatest footballing show on earth, presenting himself as a marketing tool (rather an apt expression in this context) rather than quietly getting on with the job of leading England to the World Cup after 44 years of hurt. Sir Bobby Moore must be turning in his grave.
A company called Riviera Entertainment are behind the campaign (pictured). They were appointed by Elite Management, Terry's agents. Interestingly, Elite Management, to quote their press release "is owned and controlled by John Terry’s long term friends Paul Nicholls and Keith Cousins."
So at least we know it's not just John Terry who's getting millions for being England captain. All his pals are in on the act too.
The bits they don't mention in their puff for big John? His mum Sue was arrested for shoplifting £800 of goods including dog food and flip-flops from Marks & Spencers in March this year. His dad John Snr, was filmed arranging a drug deal by the News of the World earlier this month. The Daily Mail are quick to remind us of both points.
But we don't need to know that. Elite tell me: "Terry is the main face for the Umbro sportswear brand. He has also appeared in adverts for Samsung, Nationwide
and has been the face of King of Shaves. He has a sponsorship deal with football gaming series Pro Evolution Soccer, and appears on the cover of the UK version of ‘Pro Evolution Soccer 6’ with Brazilian international Adriano."
Thanks lads. Let's hope he gets lots more exposure in the build up to the World Cup. He deserves it. And perhaps on Sunday, when Chelsea could end Arsenal's title hopes and take an 11 point lead over the Gunners, he'll be too busy imagining his future riches to stop Eduardo's hat-trick.
We can dream...

Labels: chelsea captain, England storm, John terry captain,

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Fancy glasses, flashy cars and England's South Africans

GRAEME SMITH came perilously close to accusing England's four South African-born players of being too keen on "fancy glasses and flashy cars" before tomorrow's massive third One-Day International at Newlands.
The no-nonsense Proteas captain (pictured), possibly in shock at finding himself 1-0 down in the series with three to play, said: "Look, for me I always had a dream of playing for South Africa and it has worked out. I think it's a good job now, being a cricketer for your country. I feel playing for South Africa has brought a nation together, it's carried the nation.
"The only thing we need to work on is the value of the Rand!"
And turning to those like Andrew Strauss, Matt Prior, Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott who were born in South Africa but chose to pursue a career with England, he said: "There are some players not ready to just do the work, to wait for it to happen like I did.
"It's more about the financial rewards. Some players want the fancy glasses, the fancy cars."
But he insisted the drain of talent is coming to an end, adding: "What's really encouraging is we've seen lately a lot of players are coming back into our system from the County game where they were Kolpak players, it's encouraging from out perspective."
Though Smith's comments were not directly aimed at the quartet of expats, there's no doubt the South Africans will be keeping an extra-close eye on their former countrymen over the next two months.
With the four-Test series starting on December 16, this One-Day war is seen as vital for momentum after England were highly fortunate to grab a 1-1 draw in the Twenty20 showdowns. South Africa have a great record in Cape Town, but the side batting first has won 20 of the last 25 ODIs in the shadow of Table Mountain.
The good news for England is that injured Nottinghamshire pair Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann may both be back for Newlands tomorrow.
Last Sunday at Centurion, rampant England might have had just two weak links - inconsistent seamer Sajit Mahmood and woefully out-of-form spinner Adil Rashid. Broad and Swann will slot in easily to strengthen the attack - and both can bat a bit too.
A stronger, fitter England will worry the South Africas with captain Andrew Strauss saying: "Broadie looks 100 percent now after the shoulder injury and it will be great to have him back.
"Swannie bowled for the first time in the nets, so he may be ready too. To be honest he's been a pain in the dressing-room. Too much energy! It would be great to have him back too.
"There is a long-term plan in improving our one-day cricket - and these sorts of games are the ones that can really take us forward
"We've said in the past we've always responded well to defeat, but we have not been quite so great on building on a good performance. We're going to try to put ourselves under a bit of pressure this game to make sure we build on that."
The only bad news on the England front? Former coach and Sky commentator David "Bumble" Lloyd, clearly a Lancastrian as opposed to archetypal Yorkshireman Geoffrey Boycott, complains on Twitter: "Mortified..bloke just come up and said ,“ Hi, Geoffrey." Ouch.

Labels: , david lloyd, england world, geoffrey boycott, , , , ,

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Newlands awaits a Broad side and England are having a whale of a time

JUST three words from Stuart Broad and a buoyant England camp in Cape Town is positively bubbling. "I feel good," says the Nottinghamshire paceman - or should we say all-rounder - after a couple of weeks out struggling with a dodgy shoulder.
Given that England crushed the South Africans at Centurion by seven wickets last Sunday, that's just what coach Andy Flower will want to hear in the city of his birth... though Sajid Mahmood may suffer for it when the team is picked for Newlands on Friday.
Mahmood looks like being the fall-guy for Broad's return after conceding 92 runs from seven overs in the drawn Twenty20 series and seven overs for 41 at Centurion last Sunday.
But let's not be negative. England are on a run of six successive one-day wins over the hosts and after last Friday's rained-off opening ODI, they are 1-0 up in this series with three to play.
Another win and a morale-boosting series triumph before the four Tests start on December 16 will appear on the horizon.
Broad's larger-than-life Notts pal Graeme Swann twitters to keep us up to date with the background to the team's current plight in mid-summer Cape Town, one of the finest cities in the world. He said: "300 miles on a Harley Davidson, great white sharks and whales. Not the worst day that! Apart from sunburnt hands!"
That can be loosely interpreted as a motorbike trip to Hermanus to see the great monsters of the sea. Not a bad way to prepare for another massive showdown against a side hovering around the top of the world rankings. And all this in a city which proclaims in today's newspapers: "Trott's coming home", a reference to the Capetonian roots of England's in-form batsman Jonathan.
And there was Broady yesterday, in the shadow of the stupendous Table Mountain, training with the rest of them at Newlands... and looking tip-top, ready to repeat his Ashes-winning performance from last summer. Hopefully.
He said: "It's been a tricky couple of weeks getting my shoulder right but I feel back to full fitness and excited if selected for Friday.
"We've built some momentum but it's important we kick on from here. There's only three one-dayers left in the series so this is going to be huge for us."
Swanny was out and about too yesterday after his rib injury. With Adil Rashid bang out of form and emergency call-up James Tredwell yet to play international cricket, Swann's needed in the spin department. Elsewhere, pacemen Graham Onions and James Anderson plus opening bat Alistair Cook are all struggling for fitness.
Strange that. Broad, Cook and Anderson all injured... and all three featured in our picture (above) in a shoot for sponsors Hugo Boss. That'll teach 'em! Please feel free to comment on this post... or even, dare I say it, follow me. Pleeeeease!

Labels: , , , , ,

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Liverpool bitten by Lyon... now for the Europa League

DEPENDING which paper you read, Liverpool lost anything from £10m to £40m last night when they failed to qualify for the knock-out stages of the Champions League.
Quite how that odd American couple, Gillette and Hicks, will take this loss of earnings on their Anfield investment is not yet known. But under-fire boss Rafa Benitez, now talking about winning the Europa League, knows he's got a job on his hands.
Sure, the Reds won 1-0 at pointless Debrecen but with Lyon understandably losing 1-0 at Fiorentina, qualification from Group E is now beyond them. Would you want to win or draw if it meant going to Anfield and playing for your lives?
Poor old Liverpool. Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard have been battling injury all season and they're a modest 7th in the Premier League, five points behind Spurs in fourth. We won't even mention the beach ball.
Dramatically, Sky Sports 2 showed Gerrard watching the final minutes of the game in Fiorentina on a screen in the tunnel at the Ferenc Puskas stadium in Budapest. Gutted. He didn't stop to talk when the whistle went. Later he said: "You get what you deserve in football. The disappointing thing was having to rely on other people. We have played well today but now we have to try and move on, build on tonight and, with a lot of players coming back from injury, try and win the Europa League.
"Of course its disappointing. The Champions League is the main trophy at the start of the season but the only consolation now is to try and win the Europa League."
And Benitez emerged briefly to say: "I am 100% confident we will finish in the top four in the Premier League this season."
And all this while Arsenal were merrily skipping through to the last 32 with a game to spare. Their 2-0 win over Belgium's Standard Liege came courtesy of welcome goals for the returning Denilson and Samir Nasri (pictured).
Quite an improvement after Saturday's demoralising 1-0 defeat at the hands of Sunderland and their former Spurs striker Darren Bent. No need to mention the two penalties turned down in front of the Emirates crowd... or the double rattling of the woodwork by the Belgians, who had a man sent off late on. Funny how we don't notice these things when English clubs are winning. Former Gunner Paul Merson did. He pointed out in the Sky studios: "What worries me is they were dominant throughout but they still could have lost this game. Liege had a stonewall penalty and a couple of clear chances. Any team that plays Arsenal knows they're always in with a chance, they can always nick a goal."
Another small point before the London showdown against Premier League leaders Chelsea on Sunday: William Gallas took a nasty blow to the eye and looked concussed after clashing heads with Andrei Arshavin, while Kieran Gibbs limped off with what looked like a recurrence of his ankle injury. But still, they're through for the 10th season in a row, joining Chelsea and Manchester United, whatever they do tomorrow night.
Rangers are out too, beaten 2-0 by Stuttgart... and they don't even get the consolation of a late place in the Europa League as they finish bottom of Group G.
The good news for UEFA came in Spain where Barcelona eased the threat of non-qualification with a 2-0 win over Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan in fascinating Group F. Rumours of Thierry "Hand of Gaul" Henry diving twice in the first half have yet to be confirmed.
Bad news for Portsmouth fans with manager Paul Hart departing (former Chelsea boss Avram Grant is waiting in the wings), good news for Wycombe, the Division One strugglers, who followed up their shock 2-0 win at Millwall with a 1-0 win over Brentford last night.

Labels: barcelona, , debrecen, , lyon, , , world cup, Wycombe

I'm not like Maradona says Henry, the mouth of God

THIERRY HENRY should not be judged in the same bracket as fellow Hand-of-God user Diego Maradona. And who says so? Erm... Thierry himself.
Today we are assailed by another avalanche of self-justification and bluster from the man who cheated to put France through to the World Cup finals in South Africa next year, courtesy of a blatant handball.
Maradona did the same for Argentina in the World Cup quarter-final against England in Mexico 23 years ago but never admitted he cheated, preferring to refer to his deft finish over Peter Shilton as "the Hand of God".
Henry apparently feels he has the Mouth of God as he attempts to wriggle out of the situation he has created for himself.
The 32-year-old Frenchman has been under pressure ever since his basketball-style move helped make the crucial goal for William Gallas in Paris last week, but as the 450,000 strong Facebook petition to have the game replayed fades in FIFA's memory, the Barcelona striker says: "I was in a situation where, whatever happened, I couldn't have won. At a certain point I thought I had done something very seriously wrong. After the game I went to a press conference to say I had touched the ball with my hand.
"That is not like Maradona or Messi (his Barcelona team-mate Lionel also scored with his hand once, perhaps the Nou Camp has an expert on hand to explain this), I could have easily avoided it and not said a word.
"But I did not run away from my responsibilities. On Friday, when everything went too far, I was really upset."
Hold on a bit Thierry, most of Ireland and the rest of the football-speaking world were upset too. With you. And it hasn't helped that the perfectly acceptable idea of a replay - agreed as "the fairest solution" by you and a million others - appears to have been firmly shelved by FIFA.
Despite yesterday's claim that he nearly quit playing for France over the incident, Henry adds: "I've always fought for Les Bleus. Like a dog. I won't let my country down."
No, Thierry, you've already done that. Last Wednesday. With your left arm.
And like Maradona, that single act will define your career.

Labels: barcelona, diego maradona, hand of God, , , , , world cup

Monday, 23 November 2009

Trott's colours nailed firmly to the England mast

JONATHAN TROTT'S creed, his mantra, may help to explain how he is able to return to Newlands, Cape Town's magnificent cricketing bowl in the shadow of Table Mountain, with such confidence... batting, if you'll pardon the expression, for the other side.
The former Western Province batsman - perhaps we should call him an all-rounder after his performance in the second One-Day International triumph over South Africa on Sunday - plays at his old home ground for the tourists on Friday expressing this philosophy: "I'm always trying to better myself."
So far, Trott (pictured) is successfully treading the path broken so controversially by Pietermaritzburg-born Kevin Pietersen in 2005. And he is bettering himself with every innings
Trott scored 87 at Centurion over the weekend to help Paul Collingwood put England 1-0 up in the five-match ODI series after the opening game at The Wanderers on Friday was monsooned-off.
He also bowled seven overs for 21 runs, earning Ian Botham's heartfelt praise: "As an all-rounder, he was a revelation."
And who can forget his Test debut in the summer when, with KP in hospital and Ricky Ponting on the sledge, he scored 41 and 119 in the final Test at The Oval against Australia to help seal the Ashes for his adopted country? Instant runs, instant confidence at the heart of the storm.
Between those two innings, while he was mysteriously left out of the one-day humiliation against the Aussies, he was accused by former captain Michael Vaughan of celebrating with the South Africans after their Test series win in England last year, a week after being 12th man for the home side.
Nasty stuff which put huge pressure on a tour rookie, but it sold books, I guess.
Ian Jonathan Leonard Trott, who also managed 33 and 51 in the drawn Twenty20 series last week, appears unfazed. He says before Friday's showdown in the town of his birth: "It adds a little edge to it for me. But I'm going to have to put the emotions of coming back here to one side. Everyone wants to play at Lord's and the SCG but for me, I always wanted to come and play back at Newlands and be part of a winning England side."
So South Africans - including coach Mickey Arthur who insists Trott wouldn't make his current top six batters - can now rearrange these words into a commonly used phrase: "Colours, mast, nailed, firmly, the, to."
Promoted to opener in place of Kent's Joe Denly, Warwickshire's Trott, whose father Ian coaches in Leatherhead, nails things down still further, insisting in his still-heavy Seffeffriken accent: "I'm really happy to be sitting here part of an England team which has just won in South Africa.
"It's just the same as when I walked out against Australia in that first Test match. I try not to get too wound up about it. I just try to bring my Warwickshire processes into playing for England. Just like all the other guys in the team, I'm always trying to better myself."
Let's just get the Trott story right. Yes, he went to Rondebosch High on the slopes of Table Mountain. Yes, he attended Stellenbosch University, home of the Afrikaner intellectual and yes, he captained South Africa's Under 19s.
But like so many others in South Africa, he grew up with the knowledge that his grandparents were solidly British. England were not necessarily the enemy. Remember Basil D'Oliveira, Tony Greig, Robin Smith and Allan Lamb had gone there before, not to mention Zola Budd and Gary Bailey, long before KP. It's tough to understand that if you haven't lived over there.
Trott's two early Twenty20s against the West Indies in 2007 didn't go too well but after averaging 90 in the County game last year, he was always going to be the next up once Pietersen had gone down with an Achilles problem and Ravi Bopara had failed one too many times.
Forget Mark Ramprakash and Marcus Trescothick, at 28, Trott had to be the future. Has been ever since he made his debut for the Warwickshire 2nd XI in 2002 and scored 245. A year later he scored 134 on his first team debut. And along the way he grabbed a seven-wicket haul with the seamers the South Africans failed to deal with last Sunday.
Trottsky is likely to be joined the fit-again Pietersen, Matt Prior and Andrew Strauss over the coming weeks. But, like the other three South African-born Englishmen, he has nailed those colours to the mast.
The man who came through the South African schoolboy ranks with currently injured Jacques Kallis, Protea's captain Graeme Smith, Herschelle Gibbs - recalled to the South African side today - and Ashwell Prince leaves no room for doubt: "I won't let any outside emotions affect my decision-making on the field. I'm looking forward to contributing to another win. For England."

Labels: allan lamb, , , ian botham, , , , robin smith, , tony greig, zola budd

Abandoned Henry: I nearly quit playing for France after hand Gaul

Thierry Henry says today he felt “abandoned” by the French Football Federation last week – and insists he nearly quit international football after his blatant handball put the Republic of Ireland out of the 2010 World Cup in Paris last Wednesday.
Henry, whose basketball-style left-handed dribble set up the crucial goal for William Gallas, admitted he handled the ball but insisted: “I am not the referee” as the furore over his apparently deliberately actions raged.
While over 200,000 joined a Facebook petition and arranged a protest march to have the game replayed, Henry twittered it was “the only fair solution” but added: “It’s out of my control.”
And throughout it all, France’s top scorer with 51 goals insists he received no help or advice from French football or FIFA, who both declined the invitation to replay the game, despite the sour taste left by the French play-off triumph.
Henry explained how he and his lawyer issued the statement on Friday in which he said that a replay of the second leg would be the "fair solution” just hours after world FIFA had given a categoric NO.
Barcelona’s former Arsenal favourite Henry, 32, told L’Equipe this morning: "After the game, and even for the next two days, I felt alone, truly alone. It was only after I sent my statement that people from the French federation appeared.
"Despite everything that has happened, the fact of feeling abandoned, I do not let go of (playing for) my country.”
And Henry admits: "Yes, I asked myself the question should I retire from international football
"Without the support of my family, I perhaps would not have made the same decision.
"But I will always fight to the end - even if what just happened will be engraved in history. You can always forgive but you cannot always forget."
As for his apparently guilt-free celebration after the goal, Henry confessed: "I should not have done it. But frankly, it was uncontrollable. After all that had happened... yes, I regret it. That's why right after I spoke with the Irish one by one."
So what, in the light of this do we "hand" it to Thierry for his selfless decision to keep playing for a discredited France in South Africa next year... or do we wonder why he didn't threaten to quit UNLESS the French agreed to a replay. That way, he may just have polished up that tarnished reputation a little.

Labels: , hand gaul, hand of God, , play off petition facebook, play-off, , ,

Trott the all-rounder? A revelation from Botham

IAN BOTHAM, who knows a thing or two about all-rounders, picked out Jonathan Trott’s performance in the thumping seven-wicket win over South Africa yesterday as “a revelation”
While the immediate headlines surrounded the performance of Paul Collingwood, who took two wickets, a superb catch and scored an undefeated 105 in his record 171st one-day international for England, Botham went straight to Trott’s performance with bat and ball in his post-match analysis.
The Sky Sports commentator and former England captain said: “You have to look carefully at what Trott (pictured) did out there. He scored 87 and bowled seven overs for nothing (21, the most economical England bowler). England are having to learn to live without Andrew Flintoff and Trott will help them do that.
“It’s been a real revelation for England. South Africa are struggling without their all-rounder Jacques Kallis (broken rib) but we have Trott, Paul Collingwood, Luke Wright and Tim Bresnan who can do both now.”
Botham appears genuinely optimistic about England’s chances after they eased past South Africa’s 250-9 with seven wickets and four overs to spare.
With South African captain Graeme Smith admitting: “There is a realisation we’re in for a long, hard summer of cricket,” Beefy argues: “We all want to see a vibrant and punchy England side going at it hammer and tongs with the opposition.
“The best one-day teams in the world are front runners - the Australians and the Indians. I think Andrew Strauss finally recognises that. He was conservative in the West Indies, but he has been captain for a year now and I expect to see him blossom in charge.”
Collingwood, who overtook Alec Stewart as his country's most capped player in the ODIs, said: "It was a big day for me on a personal note.We were quite comfortable in the end. It was a special performance by all the boys really."
But the Durham dynamo also picked out Trott after their 162-run third-wicket partnership. Trott opened for the first time, replacing Kent’s Joe Denly, and fell just 13 runs short of a maiden one-day ton.
Collingwood purred: "It was a top knock by Trotty. He really played the anchor role. "Credit to him, all the international innings he's played so far have been special ones and hopefully that continues. He’s taken his county game to the international level."
England captain Strauss, who dropped three catches and scored just 16 off a sluggish 26 balls, did the vital thing - winning the toss - and said: "Jonathan and Paul both played exceptionally well. We always felt we could chase down 250 but we needed to get stuck in and build a partnership.
The great disappointment yesterday? Adil Rashid, once more England's least economical bowler. The young Yorkshire spinner, hit for four sixes in the only over allowed him in last week’s crushing Twenty20 defeat on the same ground, bowled just three overs for 27, leaving the door open for Kent’s James Tredwell to make his debut in the third one-day international at Newlands in Cape Town on Friday.
Tredwell, England’s Under 19 captain back in 2002, took 95 wickets in all forms of the game last season and he can bat a bit as well, with two first class tons and a 16 fifties for Kent.
The only other thing England need to worry about on Friday? The captain’s hands. After dropping those three catches, Strauss said: "That was the one negative. My hands went missing somewhere. I'll have to do some practice before Newlands on Friday."

Labels: , , , , , , world cup

Hobbling Becks and Galaxy of stars lose in shoot-out

DAVID BECKHAM was forced to play 120 minutes with an ankle injury last night as LA Galaxy went down 5-4 on penalties in the MLS final after being held 1-1 by Real Salt Lake at Seattle.
The former England captain, scheduled to join AC Milan on loan next year in a bid to keep himself in Fabio Capello's thinking for the World Cup in South Africa next year, needed three painkilling injections on his bruised joint to make the glitzy showdown in front of 46,000 but he was clearly struggling - particularly in extra-time when he wandered up front to hobble about after the Galaxy had made their maximum three substitutions.
Beckham, who has also been suffering a "persistent cold" admits that, at 34, the "bones start to ache that bit more" and he looked like he could do with a break until the transfer window opens and he can return to Serie A action in January.
Still, Beckham was able to stick away the first penalty in the shoot-out only for the MLS's Most Valuable Player Landon Donovan to miss his first-ever spot-kick as the Galaxy threw it away.
Beckham and Donovan - at loggerheads early in the season after the American accused Becks of a lack of commitment - combined to produce the opening goal for Mike Magee four minutes before half-time.
But former Galaxy striker Robbie Findley levelled for Salt Lake in the 64th minute and, after seven minutes of injury time, the extra half-hour failed to separate the Galaxy's stars and the MLS's newest franchise.
Beckham, with his sticky-up Jedward hairstyle lampooned by the US commentators (see picture, they said "he loves to draw attention to himself", "he considers himself a fashionista off the pitch"), bravely stuck away his penalty in the shoot-out but Donovan, Jovan Kirovski and Edson Buddle all missed as it went to sudden-death and after £12m and three seasons, the former Manchester United and Real Madrid midfielder failed to join Trevor Steven (Everton, Marseille, Rangers) as a title winner in three different countries.
Beckham said: “It’s quite a few times I’ve lost on penalty shoot outs now. It was Russian roulette, not a nice way to lose, but we can be proud of ourselves for getting to this point. But that’s the way it is in soccer.”
And with rumours that he will buy his own MLS franchise next season, Beckham insisted: “I’ll definitely be back to win the MLS title.”
Donovan said: "What you don't see is that this guy has been hurt or sick for probably the last seven games but he just gets on with it."

Labels: , final, la galaxy, mls, penalties, real salt lake, seattle

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Nine? Nein! Nine! Be very afraid of Spurs and Jermain man

GOONERS everywhere be afraid. Be very afraid. Tottenham stuck nine, yes nine, past Wigan at White Hart Lane today. And Jermain Defoe, the little big guy who should play every England game alongside Wayne Rooney, stuck away five of them, including three in eight minutes, the second fastest hat-trick in the history of the Premiership.
Not since Manchester United put nine without reply past Ipswich in 1995 has the Premier League seen anything it. And Wigan... well, they've just never seen anything like it.
Remember, Roberto Martinez's side beat runaway leaders Chelsea 3-1 on 26 September. Incredible. I tend to put two quid a week on seven results as an accumulator, often at odds of 500-1... but this one scoreline was a 750-1 shot at Corals.
It was one of those rare results that come up on the teleprinter (aka the internet) with the score in words next to the number. Just so we know it's not a typing mistake.
There's no point trying to run you through it, this is a blog, not War and Peace. The goals went like this: Crouch 9, Defoe 51, Defoe 54, Defoe 58, Lennon 64, Defoe 69, Defoe 87, Kirkland (og) 88 and finally Kranjcar, four minutes into injury time.
Defoe (yes, he's the 5ft 6in one above, with Peter Crouch) said afterwards he was hoping "to score a few more" while Redknapp oozed "Jermain looked like that yesterday in training, he looks so sharp that I just thought if he can carry that into the game he's going to be a real handful today for their back four.
"All the strikers have been in great form. Robbie's (Keane) had a four this year, now Jermain's had five, Crouchy's had a three. So it's nice to have your strikers all scoring goals.
Martinez looked stunned, as well he should after an afternoon of chronically bad defending which will reduce Alan Hansen to a sloppy mess if he ever gets to review it. The Wigan boss groaned: "It was unacceptable and unexpected. The way we defended in key moments was not good enough.
"I am embarrassed as it's a result we don't want to be associated with. We need to move on quickly and give a good reaction in the next game.
"I've never been involved in a game like this. But the damage of this won't be carried into the next game."
Don't bet on it Roberto.
All this of course on a weekend when rivals Arsenal failed to score against Sunderland, who scored the only goal through Darren Bent. No prizes for guessing where he was before Defoe returned to White Hart Lane from Portsmouth to rejoin Redknapp - and left Bent surplus to requirements.
At the top, Chelsea crushed Wolves 4-0 and Manchester United were too much for Everton, with Darren Fletcher scoring a cracker in a 3-0 win. Liverpool dropped further off the top four and had to come from 2-1 down to draw 2-2 against Manchester City. On another goal-happy weekend, West Ham came back to draw 3-3 at Hull, Birmingham beat Fulham 1-0 and Aston Villa came from behind to draw 1-1 at Burnley.
Today's less one-sided games? Ricardo Fuller's first Premier League goal of the season was enough to see Stoke beat Portsmouth - without injured goalkeeper David James - and Blackburn beat Bolton 2-0 with goals from David Dunn and an own goal from Sam Ricketts. That makes 34 goals in 10 games, another corking weekend for goals in the Premier League. Unless you're Roberto Martinez.

Labels: 9-1, harry redknapp, Jermain Defoe, Peter crouch, robert martinez, Tottenham

Record-breaking Collingwood's clout of Africa

PAUL COLLINGWOOD take a bow. Two wickets and an undefeated century as he broke Alec Stewart's record of 170 England one-day international appearances - and South Africa crushed by seven wickets. What a day for the Man of the Match. Oh, and typically, a flying catch at backward point to dismiss danger man AB De Villiers for two.
The Durham dynamo (left, with me at The Oval earlier this year) ended with 2-24 off six overs with the ball as South Africa could only manage 250-9 off their 50 overs at Centurion. Then, with a little help from Jonathan Trott, 87, and Eoin Morgan, 27 off just 18 balls, Colly scored a magnificent 105 off 110 to see England home.
Home captain Graeme Smith, who gets more articulate by the day since his early, clumsy attempts at verbalising on his first tour in charge here back in 2005, was left admitting candidly: "I think the realisation has dawned that we're in for a long, hard summer of cricket against England.
"Credit to them, they bowled well and we were 30 runs short. I think we were a little soft with a few dismissals in the middle. I'd like to congratulate Paul Collingwood...and we will have to be at out best from now on."
How's that for a change of mood? Just a week ago, South Africa raced to a record Twenty20 victory at the same ground (curiously the hero of that game, Loots Bosman, was left out in the longer form of the game) and injury-hit England looked in all sorts of trouble despite somehow contriving to draw the two-match wham-bam series.
The 50 over game made the South Africans look impatient and under-prepared. Collingwood said: "To be fair this was a completely different track today. Last week was a quick track, the ball was coming onto the bat. I thought we bowled really well and I had great support from Trotty and Morgs.
"Jonathan just took was he does in county cricket and did it here. To be fair, his international innings so far have all been magnificent.
"It was a big day for me, but I thought the team were fantastic all the way through. I had a bad back last week but the medical staff did a great job and hopefully I'll be fine now."
As a Sunday cricketer lucky enough to have netted with Collingwood, and ghosted newspaper columns with him, you can rest assured a day like today couldn't happen to a finer fellow. A handy golfer and all-round sporting genius, Collingwood has often been lambasted for being something less than Andrew Flintoff as an all-rounder. If England are to live without Freddie, we have to start loving Colly more.
Lifted by a warm-up win against South Africa A in Potchefstroom, England were magnificent today, apart from a couple of dropped catches from captain Andrew Strauss, who also failed with the bat.
But as he picked up the magnificent R15,000 winners' cheque (that's about £1,000, which won't go far back home), Strauss was all smiles. He did all the captain had to today, winning the toss before play had even started. He said: "It was an imporant toss to win, I think the pitch flattened out a bit for us. But I was very happy with how we bowled. It was a professional performance. Paul and Jonathan played very well and hopefully we can take this forward. We aren't going to get carried away, but we're fairly happy with where we are at the moment."
With three more one-dayers to go - the first was rained off in Johannesburg on Friday - followed by the four Tests, we're all fairly happy Straussie. And as Collingwood said: "We'll just have to give the captain some catching practice."

Labels: , , , , , one-day international, , , test series

Saturday, 21 November 2009

The ultimate Cantona solution: I would have punched Thierry

AH yes, trust Eric Cantona to put the whole thing in perspective. What should the Irish have done when Eric's fellow Frenchman Thierry Henry committed his blatant handball to put the Republic out of the World Cup in Paris on Wednesday? Punched him!
In fact, the fiery Cantona can't understand why Aston Villa's Richard Dunne didn't do exactly that when he sat with Henry after the whistle had gone and the Irish were forced to accept they had been cheated out of next year's carnival in South Africa.
As a very ordinary but highly-motivated South Bucks church league defenderr, I find myself in agreement, especially since the French have this morning refused the polite, safe-facing option of a replay, despite overwhelming public pressure.
Manchester United legend Cantona, who famously kung-fu kicked a fan for being rude to him at Crystal Palace, said: "What shocked me most wasn't the handball. It was at the end of the match wshen, in front of the cameras, Henry went and sat down next to an Irish player (Dunne) to console him, even though he'd screwed them three minutes earlier.
"If I'd been Irish, he wouldn't have lasted three seconds."
Cantona wasn't much nicer to France coach Raymond Domenech. He said: "I think Domenech is the worst coach in French football since Louis XVI."
Given that the "Sunshine King" was guillotined when the revolution came in 1793, Cantona presumably feels heads should roll.
Cantona advises: "If it was up to me, I'd put Bordeaux coach Laurent Blanc (another former Manchester United Frenchman) in charge. First he wins the league with Bordeaux and then he wins the World Cup! I'm not the only one who thinks that."
Blimey, thanks Eric. All sorted then! Meanwhile the agony goes on for Irish supporters - and a world of football fans who have had enough of cheats prospering, going way back to Diego Maradona's disgusting Hand of God goal in 1986. At present, 342,014 of them have joined the petition on Facebook (adding some great virals, see above), and a march from Lansdowne Road to the French emabassy is scheduled as I write.
But do they listen, the people that runs football? First FIFA turned down the option of a replay, then the French shut the door this morning - despite Henry twittering last night he though a replay was "the fair choice, but it's out of my hands."
This morning Henry's twitter site is down after "dubious activity". Too honest perhaps, Thierry?

Labels: Eric Cantona, fifa, , , Raymond Domenech, ,

Friday, 20 November 2009

Replay? Now even Thierry agrees: It's only fair

IT took him nearly 44 hours, but at 3.49pm today, Thierry Henry finally admitted on Twitter: “It would be fair to replay the game, but its not my decision...”
And, yes, it may be a coincidence with another 20,456 following him, but that came less than an hour after I sent him the sycophantic: “@Thierry_Henry do you think there should be a replay? Everyone would have done what you did, but not many would apologise like that.”
You can check it, it's all there on nealcol on!
Ah, the wonders of modern technology. Probably just a coincidence. But whatever, it's the right thing to do for the once-heroic Henry whose reputation was tarnishing fast.
To recap: In the play-off second leg in Paris on Wednesday Henry’s blatant handball, missed by the Swedish officials, made the goal for William Gallas which put the Republic of Ireland out of next year’s World Cup in South Africa.
Today, the Mirror estimates the French will gain nearly £1billion from that single decision – and the people want the game replayed.
But with over 200,000 on Facebook petitioning for the cause – and planning a “peaceful, family march” from Lansdowne Road to the French embassy in Dublin tomorrow at 2pm – FIFA’s deeply unpopular Sepp Blatter has resolutely refused to bow to the pressure
That is, until Henry came out this afternoon with his twitter. Fair play to the bloke, I say. He admitted to Ireland’s Richard Dunne what he'd done straight after the game.
Then he told the press: “Yes, it was handball, but I am not the referee.” He laughed when somebody suggested he should have told the referee straight away... and in retrospect, he's right, Diego Maradona certainly didn't in that 1986 quarter-final (which should be replayed, though Diego's a bit fat now and God's hand is a little older)
And so to today, and the former Arsenal star, the former darling of North Bank, Highbury, accepted: "Naturally I feel embarrassed at the way that we won and feel extremely sorry for the Irish who definitely deserve to be in South Africa.
"There is nothing I can do apart from admit that the ball had contact with my hand leading up to our equalising goal and I feel very sorry for the Irish."
This bit's interesting. He explains: "I have said at the time and I will say again that yes I handled the ball. I am not a cheat and never have been. It was an instinctive reaction to a ball that was coming extremely fast in a crowded penalty area.
"As a footballer you do not have the luxury of the television to slow the pace of the ball down 100 times to be able to make a conscious decision. People are viewing a slow motion version of what happened and not what I or any other footballer faces in the game.
"If people look at it in full speed you will see that it was an instinctive reaction.
"It is impossible to be anything other than that. I have never denied that the ball was controlled with my hand. I told the Irish players, the referee and the media this after the game."
Interestingly, Henry's old boss Arsene Wenger agrees. He said: "Football accepts that a billion people see it, one guy doesn't see it, and yet it is the one who prevails. It cannot work.
"At the game, I saw the referee giving a goal knowing that something was wrong and that is really sad. In the end, he gave a goal already knowing that it wasn't a goal. We cannot accept that in our sport and you have to do something about it. The referee didn't see it, I can understand that, the linesman didn't see it, but they couldn't get any help.
"For the sense of justice it is quite embarrassing to see. I think even France is embarrassed. We didn't play well at all and we won the game and won the qualification with a goal that was not a goal."
This morning, Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson weighed in with: "The stance is that Fifa prefers human decision-making rather than technology decision-making and until they change their mind there is nothing you can do about it - you have to convince them, nobody else.
"It is not a matter of asking every player and manager in the world their opinion because they will all share the same one, as I do myself, that technology can play a part and can help referees in a situation like the other night."
So, if we accept Henry didn't cheat, just did what every desperate footballer would, then the onus turns to FIFA. They won't use technology to help referees, though it is available. It was the referee who was at fault rather than Henry, who was just doing his job.
FIFA have allowed replays when referees have made mistakes before. And they have to do so again. The people demand it. And nearly every French post on Facebook admits it's the only way to save face. Blatter has no choice. Play it again.

Labels: France., , ,

Why the All Blacks can't be too Shaw at Twickenham tomorrow

IF there's one man who can inspire England's lacklustre troops at Twickenham tomorrow, it's ageless Wasps lock Simon Shaw.
Did I say ageless? He's 36, barely two years younger than the under-pressure England manager Martin Johnson, who has recalled the Nairobi-born 6ft 8in giant for the last Autumn showdown against New Zealand tomorrow.
Some might see Shaw as Johnson's last throw of the dice. He's only just recovered from a fractured metatarsal and has played just two club games this season.
But there's a lot more going on beneath the surface; things to prove, a lifetime of frustration to put aside as Shaw wins his 53rd England cap since his 1996 debut against Italy - we all know it should be closer to three figures.
Under the previous England regime of Brian Ashton in Bath four years ago, Shaw showed me the gnarled hands, bent and broken like a jib-saw puzzle by years of line-out leaping and ruck rummaging. And while he did, he talked of how he was a better lock than World Cup-winning captain Johnson, who had not long retired at the time.
"I just didn't vocalise the way he did," Shaw grinned, "But I always felt I was a better player. But for years, nobody else did."
Clearly vocalising comes easier now, after helping England to a World Cup final in 2007 and starring on his debut for the Lions in South Africa last summer. He's released a book and gone public with his feelings... and after what he did to the Springboks, quite a few agree that, of the two giants, super Shaw may just have the edge over world-beater Johnson.
After defeat against Australia and a distinctly unimpressive 16-9 win over Argentina last week, Shaw now gets the chance to save Johnson's job.
He recognises the irony and shrugs off this week's controversial slamming of England's coaching set-up by his old Wasps pal Josh Lewsey.From beneath the second row forward's traditionally heavy brow, Shaw - who spent his formative years at beachside club Pirates in Dunedin a mere 17 years ago, growls: "I've never come across a bad New Zealand side. Never mind technical plans, we need to go at them with aggression and take them on from the kick-off. There is no point holding back and trying to contain All Blacks. If you do that, you'll be beaten.
"New Zealand bring a physicality but I'm comfortable with that. It's on a par with the Lions in South Africa this year.
"There's a lot of fire and energy in the squad, I sensed it as soon as I arrived. The boys have been criticised despite the fact they beat Argentina, so they are keen to play again."
In 2004, just after the Ben Kay/Martin Johnson partnership had won the World Cup for Clive Woodward's side, Shaw lasted just 10 minutes of the second tTest against the All Blacks at Eden Park (pictured) before he was sent off for putting a knee into the back of Keith Robinson.
There's plenty of baggage but Shaw says: "You can prove a lot of people wrong. There's no reason to shy away from it, it's the last game of the autumn series, it's the All Blacks.
"We need to be very aggressive and confrontational - take it to the All Blacks."
Shaw's old fashioned approach may even work against a bunch of New Zealanders who finished a distant second to an average Springbok side (beaten on their current European tour by Leicester and Saracens, not to mention France) in the Tri-Nations this year.
Shaw even admits he doesn't know "an awful lot" about Brad Thorn, who lines up and line-outs against him tomorrow.
He just says: "Any time you face the All Blacks it's going to be an incredibly hard game and you have to reach for your reserves and every ounce of energy to beat them.."
You can expect at least that from England's oldest player tomorrow. And an important hug with the manager if he pulls it off.

Labels: autumn tests, brian ashton, joe worsley, , new zealand, simon shaw

Becks backs Thierry... but there has to be a replay

AT last, somebody has risen up to defend the great Thierry Henry after his "Hand of Gaul" assist for France against Ireland on Wednesday night.
While the rest of the world - and over 194,000 people on Facebook - call for a replay after Ireland's cruel departure from the World Cup in South Africa next year, none other than former England captain David Beckham has seen fit to come out fighting for Thierry.
Despite the obvious intent shown by Henry, pictured left in one of the many viral pictures flying around the web, and his admission of a red card offence in the build-up to William Gallas's decisive goal, England's most-capped outfield player Becks insists: "I know Thierry as a player and a person. He's a good person and a great player. It's a shame to see Ireland go out because they have such great fans. These things happen in football.
"But I honestly didn't think Thierry meant it. I don't think he is a cheat.
"I've had a few headlines in the past which have not been nice. Who knows what I would have done in that situation when you're playing in a qualifier to go through to the World Cup?
"I've been involved in big games and reacted to certain things and looked back and thought I was wrong to do that."
Beckham also admits he turned down a return to the Premier League in his interview with Sky Sports. But it is the Henry verdict which will inflame opinions on a day when Shay Given has come out complaining: "We feel cheated by both Henry and the officials. It's disgusting."
And Sunderland chairman and former Republic of Ireland striker Niall Quinn described the goal as "the biggest injustice I have ever seen in sport".
Quinn added: "People talk about Maradona's Hand of God goal but I'd say Henry's handball was the biggest injustice I've ever seen in sport. Maybe I feel it more because I'm Irish.
"All that I believe in and all that I love about sport was shattered when I saw something like that. It's possibly the lowest I've felt at any sporting moment in my life."
Strong stuff, Thing is, FIFA remain unmoved by the calls for a replay, just as I predicted 24 hours ago. And whatever Beckham feels, that's wrong. The people have spoken, play it again Sepp. Let's all email FIFA, bombard the French FA, do what it takes despite their 10.15am announcement today that it CANNOT be replayed. There is a point to be made. There are precedents. Cheats, my mother told me, never prosper.

Labels: , , , , ,

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Latest on France v Ireland... the three options

Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen has called on Fifa, football's world governing body, to order a replay, saying he would raise the issue with French President Nicolas Sarkozy at a Brussels summit.
But France's Prime Minister Francois Fillon responded that the Irish government should not interfere in footballing decisions.
I'm on Sky News at 8.45am talking about this subject, please scroll through what I've written below and feel free to comment. If good points are made, I'll mention them on Sky tomorrow.
Facebook's petition for a replay has reached over 105,000 people, many of them French and backing the bid. There are over 100 pictures of Thierry Henry in various astonishing poses too... see left as a part of the ever-popular Jedward from X Factor. Some of them are not quite suitable for a family website!
The way I see it there are three options:
1: Ban Henry for intentional handball, a red card offence. First two matches of the World Cup finals?
2: Replay the game. They got the unscheduled third clash between Algeria v Egypt on in four days, why not this, when you consider Uzbekistan v Bahraine and Arsenal v Birmingham (FA Cup, after Kanu neglected to stop for an injury).
3: Issue a public apology to the Irish people and put France through, punish the Swedish officials by throwing them out of the World Cup.
I'm afraid the last option is the most likely. But wouldn't it be bloody wonderful if, for once, the cheats were taught a lesson and a replay was awarded, at a neutral venue, with a 0-0 scoreline? Next thing you know, England will get a replay against Argentina to make up for 1986!

Labels: diego maradona, , hand of God, , ,

Stormy start for England, and it's pretty soggy in the middle too

MICKEY ARTHUR, the South African coach who has seen his side lose their last five One-Day Internationals against England, chose to have another tilt at young Adil Rashid before today's rain-threatened opening 50-over clash at the Wanderers. With England suffering an injury crisis, Arthur will be hoping the ground - flooded by a typical early summer Highveld thunder storm yesterday - dries out in time for his side to pick up an early win in the five-match series. England have called up Kent's James Tredwell, 27, who took 95 wickets in all forms of the game last summer, to replace the stricken Graeme Swann, who has a side injury. But initially Rashid, 21, looks likely to be England's recognised slow bowler, despite figures of 0-44 against South Africa A at Potchefstroom earlier in the week and a disastrous over which went for four sixes in last Sunday's Twenty20 hammering. Arthur, whose side lost the last series 4-0 and were upset by England in the Champions Trophy at Centurion last month, said: "Rashid's the logical choice, but it will be interesting to see if Tredwell steps ahead of him. It would justify my saying that it doesn't look like England have faith in Rashid." Arthur expressed surprise when Rashid was taken off after just one over when he conceded those 25 runs at Centurion last week, leading to heated debate between the two sides who will do battle until the last day of the final Test, scheduled for the Wanderers on January 18 next year. Arthur, linked to the England job when Peter Moores left in January, added further spice by saying: "We will take some confidence from scoring at 12 an over against them last Sunday and the England bowlers would have had to go back, think about and analyse their performance. I know we would have after a day like that. "We played particularly well on Sunday, but England have played very well against us before that. They are still a work in progress, but they are a very good side and they can beat anyone on their day." England captain Andrew Strauss, who chose to sit out the two Twenty20 clashes, insists: "I don't think I've ever seen an England squad more motivated to do well. "Tredwell is definitely an option. He has deserved his chance, he has performed very well for Kent over a long period of time and is a very canny one-day operator. "But Rashid is improving all the time and the more exposure he gets the better. He needs to play too, but it's important that we get the right player for the game. Clearly, it's important that we have both options. "The 4-0 series win in England was a long time ago, in very different conditions. But we will take some confidence from beating them in a pressure situation out here in the Champions Trophy. "South Africa at home are hard to beat, they've shown that time and time again, but I like the way we've prepared and I like the brand of cricket we've played." Swann and Notts team-mate Stuart Broad (shoulder) are both definitely out of today's game while Paul Collingwood - aiming to make his record 171st ODI appearance to better Alec Stewart's record - and James Anderson face fitness tests today. Anderson lamented on twitter last night: "Rain washed out practice today. Looks bleak for tomorrow - ground underwater and not a great forecast."

Labels: adil rashid, , , , james tredwell, mickey arthur, twenty20, wanderers

Replay? Justice? It's not going to happen

SO the Irish, like most other right-minded football fans, want a replay. They feel Thierry Henry's blatant handball - understandable but unforgivable - robbed them of their place at the World Cup finals in South Africa next year.
As of now, the Republic of Ireland are out, beaten 2-1 in extra-time thanks to Henry's basketball-style move just wide of the right upright which resulted in a cross to make William Gallas's decisive header.
Henry can be clearly seen explaining afterwards that he had cheated as he sat with distraught Irishman Richard Dunne. He hasn't gone quite that far since, simply admitting: "I did handle the ball, but I am not the referee."
And as the clamour for justice mounts, the Republic's charming Italian manager Giovanni Trapattoni insists: "This situation has to give a chance to who is responsible to rethink. It can be repeated in the future and we have to stop it."
But he accepts: "When a referee decides a game has finished I know it is impossible to replay the game."
Even the Swedish press have blasted their trio of officials for failing to spot the greatest handball since Diego Maradona circa 1986. Aftonbladet said: "There are approximately 80 million Irishmen around the world. We guarantee they all feel pretty bad today.
"But I sincerely hope there are three Swedes that feel even worse.
"They are Martin Hansson and (referee's assistants) Stefan Wittberg and Fredrik Nilsson. There will be no World Cup for Ireland and I assume that Team Hansson has also forfeited its right to continue to take charge of major international matches.
"Anything else would be a further insult to the Irish nation."
A replay might ease the pressure on the three Swedes too, but Fifa have already released a statement saying: "The hand ball was recognised by the Fifa commissioner, the referee observer and the match officials, as well as by the player himself.
"There is precedent for the invalidation of such results. In 2005, the bureau of the Fifa World Cup organising committee reached a decision to invalidate the result of a World Cup qualification match between Uzbekistan and Bahrain on the basis of a 'technical error by the referee of the match'.
"But Law 5 of the Laws of the Game states that: The decisions of the referee regarding facts connected with play, including whether or not a goal is scored and the result of the match, are final.
"The referee may only change a decision on realising that it is incorrect or, at his discretion, on the advice of an assistant referee or the fourth official, provided that he has not restarted play or terminated the match."
So that's it. No replay unless you're Uzbeki or Bahraini.
The FAI hit back with a terse: "We hope Fifa and its disciplinary committee will, on behalf of football fans world-wide, act in a similar fashion so that the standards of fair play and integrity can be protected."
Trapattoni questioned their competence of the Swedish trio and still wants to know why Fifa seeded the play-off draw at late notice, making things, theoretically, easier for the French (at this point most people would mention UEFA president Michel Platini hails from just across the channel, but that would be very provocative), though they made heavy weather of it.
Trapattoni's final verdict: "All sports lose credibility with this situation - it affects the integrity of the game. For me it's bitter. There are many questions.
"There are many doubts that have to be eliminated. Out of the non-seeded teams we were the only ones to play the second game away - why?"
La Figaro quotes Henry saying this: "I know what it is you want me to say and I am not going to lie - there was hand.
"The ball hit my hand and I continued to play. The referee didn't blow his whistle and there was a goal. Obviously I would have preferred that things panned out differently but I am not the official. I do not think we have stolen qualification."
Sorry Thierry, you're wrong. In the digital age, which so much at stake, either you get banned for cheating... or the match gets replayed.
But we all know neither will happen. France are through, it's what the big guys wanted.

Labels: blatter, diego maradona, fifa, , platini, , , world cup

Hand of Gaul? Nope, Thierry's a cheat and he's admitted it

THIERRY HENRY'S public quote was short and to the point: "I will be honest, it was a handball. But I'm not the ref. I played it. The ref allowed it."
And so the process of trying to save a once sparkling reputation begins. Henry's blatant handball in Paris last night saw France grab an extra-time goal to put the Republic of Ireland out of next year's World Cup.
The headlines are lurid, the public want the former hero of Highbury to pay for one of the most obvious handballs ever missed by three officials (though there's always Diego's 1986 effort). Henry nearly caught the ball from Malouda's free-kick, before pushing the ball square for William Gallas to head home the vital goal. And everybody knew what he'd done.
Ireland's Richard Dunne said this morning: "Thierry told us we deserved to win. How is that supposed to make me feel? It makes me feel worse. He’s admitted he cheated. We should have won the game. He just said 'that's it'.
"He just said he handled it, he didn’t mean it. Looking at it, it’s quite obvious he did mean it. It’s there for everyone to see and they’re not going to change it now."
Another former Arsenal legend, Liam Brady, said: "It's a bad day for football," yet curiously Anfield great Ronnie Whelan said it was all part of the game, that anybody would have done what Henry did.
Elsewhere there are calls for a ban. The argument goes: If Eduardo can be punished (though he was exonerated on appeal) for diving against Celtic, how can Henry get away with THAT?
And of course they're right. Henry should be suspended from the first two games of next year's World Cup for his obviously deliberate actions. It's the least FIFA can do.

Labels: emirates football neal collins world cup, , liam brady, , richard dunne,

Monty snubbed, Tredwell gets the call

MONTY PANESAR has been cruelly overlooked by England after the withdrawal of the injured Graeme Swann from the first two one-day internationals against South Africa this morning.
Panesar, currently playing for the Highveld Lions, might have expected a call from coach Andy Flower given his presence just down the road from the team hotel in Sandton. But they turned to James Tredwell of distant Kent instead, ignoring the experience of Panesar, 27, who has played 39 Tests and 28 ODIs for England.
Just last week Luton's turbanator took six wickets on his domestic Super Sport championship debut for the Lions against the Cape Cobras at Newlands in Cape Town.
Tredwell, also 27, captained England's Under19s way back in 2002. He was included in an ODI squad last year but has never actually played an international and averages 33.78 for his 228 wickets taken over the last eight years at Canterbury. Panesar has taken 360 first wickets in the same number of summers, averaging 33.02.
Panesar told Sky Sports: "I've got to produce some performances out here. I need to work on taking responsibility for my whole game, not let anyone else be responsible for my thinking.
"It's a completely different environment out here, it will help me as a human being and hopefully put me in a better place when I play for the England team.
"The reason I've moved to Sussex from Northamptonshire is because Sussex have a family feel, I want to be part of that. From an England point of view, playing a key role for Sussex in all forms of the game will help me get back in the England team."
With Swann ruled out by his intercostal rib injury - he twittered earlier in the week he felt "as stiff than a Bangkok prison sentence" and was "getting too old for all this" - and Stuart Broad's shoulder still causing problems, England go into Friday's opening ODI at the Wanderers with an attack also weakened by ongoing injuries to James Anderson and Paul Collingwood, though both expect to be fit.
Yorkshire's young tweaker Adil Rashid, their only other real spinning option, is in shocking form having been hit for four sixes in his only Twenty20 over last Sunday and registered figures of 0-44 in the warm-up win over South Africa A in Potchestroom this week.

Labels: , highveld lions, james tredwell, monty panesar, neal collins world cup, sandton

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

The hand of God II? No, Thierry, it's your Waterloo, you're just a common cheat.

AT the last count, there were 4,459,547 people in the Republic of Ireland. France, on the other hand, boasts 62,048,473 garlic-eating surrenderers. That's what my grand-dad Poppa Sam from Dublin always said, anyway.
I've never minded the French. But there is an older generation who never forgave them. Said they put their hands up too quickly in the 1940s.
You could understand why last night when Thierry Henry all but caught the ball to provide William Gallas with the goal which put the Irish out of the World Cup. Arsenal fans might call Henry's actions the Hand of God II, but his demonic intervention will not be swiftly forgotten, just ask Diego Maradona. It's not clever. It's cheating. I'm sure he'll try to justify it, but sorry Thierry, there is no way this was an accident or a reflex, it was just WRONG.
Florent Malouda's free-kick was clearly going out of play late in the first period of extra-time when Henry used his left arm - not once but twice - to keep the ball in before playing in Gallas for the point-blank winner which made it 1-1 on the night. Oh, and the whole move looked suspiciously offside from the moment the free-kick was taken.
The last tango in Paris for controversial French boss Raymond Domenech should have been inspired by Robbie Keane's perfectly legitimate goal, set up when Kevin Kilbane freed Damien Duff with a lovely first-time pass. Duff's inch-perfect cut-back was comfortably stuck away by Spurs striker Keane to level the World Cup play-off after Nicolas Anelka scored the only goal at Croke Park, Dublin on Saturday.
When Anelka looked like doing it again eight minutes into extra-time, Shay Given came out and looked like he scythed the Chelsea man down. The Stade Francais crowd, apart from the 25,000 in green who had made the trip, universally saw it that way. Fortunately referee Martin Hansson reckoned minimal contact had been made. Goal-kick. Phew. And the unbooked Anelka barely complained. But any gratitude towards the Swedish ref was soon ruined by his failure to spot Henry's basketballing intervention minutes later. Digusting. Henry, you've lost a million admirers.
Oh, Portugal are through without the help of the injured Cristiano Ronaldo, they won 1-0 in Bosnia thanks to Raul Meireles to go through 2-0 on aggregate. Russia, with Andrey Arshavin's men down to nine, failed against Slovenia, going down 1-0 to go out on away goals in a 2-2 aggregate finish. Greece won 1-0 in the Ukraine to go through, so we've probably seen the last of Andrei Shevchenko.
Result of the night? That would be Algeria beating Egypt 1-0 in a hastily arranged play-off after the two North African giants finished level on all fronts at the top of their qualifying group. Antar Yahia got the only goal at the completely bonkers El Merreikh stadium in Khartoum, where 15,000 police were on duty. There were all-night parties in London's Finsbury Park as every Algerian celebrated reaching the finals for the first time since Mexico 86.
So how about the less warlike games outside of the World Cup qualifiers? David Villa scored twice as unbeatable Spain beat Austria 5-1 in Vienna. Lukas Podolski scored two as Germany - mourning the suicide of goalkeeper Robert Enke - drew 2-2 with Ivory Coast. Italy beat Sweden 1-0, the Netherlands and Paraguay drew 0-0.
Angola and Ghana also failed to create a goal, Italy saw off Sweden 1-0 and the mighty USA, seller of the most tickets for South Africa next year, went down 3-1 in Denmark. At Fulham's Craven Cottage, World Cup qualifiers South Korea were beaten 1-0 by Serbia.
And Brighton beat woeful Wycombe 2-0 to reach the FA Cup second round.

Labels: cheat, Paris, , Russia, , USA, Wycombe

Dream team or nightmare partnership?

LET'S get the two most important facts out of the way first. Today's news that F1 World Champion Jenson Button will join Lewis Hamilton at McLaren signals the first time a team has started a season with the last two world champs in the same colours.
And the last time two English World Champions were in the same team was at Lotus in 1968 when Graham Hill joined Jim Clark.
It really is a mouth-watering prospect, especially with the BBC now throwing their considerable weight behind terrestrial coverage - and the British Grand Prix apparently still in the balance.
Not everyone's happy of course. Former world champion Kimi Raikkonen will not race in F1 next year and former World Champion Jackie Stewart isn't sure it's the right thing for either driver.
But for now, let's hear Button on his amazing switch, which comes after Mercedes purchased Brawn GP and changed the name of the team, leaving Button out in the cold.
Button, 29, said that was a "difficult decision" though many suspect he had little choice. Button goes on: "Life is about challenges. Most important of all, it's about challenging yourself.
"I want to say that the 2009 season will always have a special place in my memory, and I'm absolutely sure that everybody at Brawn GP who worked so hard to achieve our world championship successes feels exactly the same way about it.
"Although I won the World Championship with Brawn GP last year, and I'll never forget that, I was always adamant that I wanted to continue to set myself fresh challenges.
"That's why I've decided to join McLaren. You can't help but be affected by this team's phenomenal history.
"McLaren is one of the greats of world sport, I've followed them since I was a small boy, and it feels unbelievable to finally be a part of it.
"When I visited the McLaren Technology Centre earlier this month, it wasn't simply the technical resources and the incredible standards of excellence that impressed me.
"No, I was equally struck by the ambition, the motivation and the winning spirit that flow through everybody there. And then there's the team's epic history: put it this way, the trophy cabinets seem to stretch for miles.
"Lewis is a wonderfully gifted driver who has earned the respect of every Formula 1 driver.
"I'm sure there's plenty that we can learn from each other, and I'm really looking forward to using our combined knowledge to push the team forward."
Sadly Ron Dennis wasn't the one talking for McLaren. Team principal Martin Whitmarsh said: "It has always been our policy to employ the two very best possible drivers.
"In Jenson and Lewis, we feel we not only have the fastest pairing on the 2010 grid but also the two most complete, professional and dedicated drivers in Formula One.
"I want to make clear that Jenson's decision to join us was in no way motivated by money. We'll be paying him no more than he could be getting elsewhere."
And Hamilton? "It's fantastic news that Jenson has decided to join McLaren - and I'm looking forward to working with him and our engineers to make sure we kick off the 2010 season with a car that's competitive enough to win the world championship
"I already know Jenson, and we get on very well together. We both really want our team to succeed. Although we'll be pushing each other hard, I'm sure we'll very quickly establish a great working relationship.
"He's an exceptional driver: very controlled and very smooth, and he has a real depth of knowledge and experience. I think we'll complement each other very well, and our collaboration will make the team stronger as a result. I believe we can pull together to make McLaren the best team on the grid."
Let's hope so, now that England have all their eggs in the McLaren basket. After a poor start to the 2009 season, McLaren came back strongly in the second half of the year, while Brawn, after dominating the first third of the season, slipped back.
It's a hell of a gamble, but bloody exciting... much more so than the concurrent announcement that Martin Johnson had slipped Simon Shaw back into the England team to play the All Blacks at Twickenham on Saturday.
Put your money on McLaren... and the All Blacks!

Labels: brawn, formula one, grand prix, jenson button, lewis hamilton, mclaren, silverstone

Time to end England's misery. Not.

TIME for a quick review of the last week for English sports fans before we begin to discuss this weekend's international showdowns.
On Saturday Martin Johnson's rugby union hopefuls produced what former World Cup-winner Matt Dawson described as "the worst half of rugby I have ever seen" as they scraped to a 16-9 win over Argentina at Twickenham. Soon afterwards, Fabio Capello's all-conquering World Cup group winners were given a severe reality check by Brazil in Doha, losing 1-0 when really, they were lucky to get nil.
And so to Sunday, with Andy Flower's cricketers treated to a record-breaking Twenty20 defeat by South Africa at Centurion and Tony Smith resigning after his side were soundly walloped by the Wallabies in the Four Nations final at an even-quieter-than-usual Old Trafford.
Not a great weekend then. Oh, perhaps we should mention that all four of our international bosses, particularly Johnson and Capello, were hit by injuries to 341 members of their squads.
And no doubt the excuses will be hauled out again this weekend, with England launching their five-match ODI campaign at the Wanderers with only 13 fit players and New Zealand arriving for the final Autumn International at Twickenham with Simon Shaw back in the squad at 35.
The cricketers did manage a win over South Africa A at Potchefstroom yesterday with Andrew Strauss, Matt Prior and Jonathan Trott all getting half centuries and yes, all three of them were born in South Africa. Alistair Cook pulled out with a sore back to add to the injury list which already features Paul Collingwood, Stuart Broad, James Anderson and Graeme Swann.
Adil Rashid? The man taken off after one over when he was hit for four sixes last Sunday, bowled eight overs and ended with 0-44.
Trott was wheeled out for the post-match quotes. He said: "I think it was a nicely measured innings from us. Andrew Strauss set it up nicely at the beginning and along with Joe Denly gave us a good start.
"I then came in and sort of got going. There was then a little period where the guys came in, getting themselves in and then getting themselves out unfortunately.
"But Matt Prior came in and played an awesome innings - I just batted around him and then Luke Wright came in and played his part, the way we know he can, and we got ourselves home."
I can't see England beating South Africa on Friday at the bull-ring... though I notice their rugby Springboks fell to a third successive defeat on tour, this time by a point to one of their colonies, Saracens, at Wembley.
If only England were playing the Boks on Saturday we might have a chance. The All Blacks, beaten by South Africa in the Tri-Nations, may be too much for England's depleted side, even with the resurgent Shaw.
It's going to be another tough weekend for England fans.

Labels: , , , denly, , , new zealand, Potchefstroom, rugby, saracens, wanderers

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

England down to 12 fit men on the bus, and the coach is struggling too

ENGLAND go into today’s warm-up against South Africa A at Potchefstroom with just 12 fit players on the team bus. And the team coach is struggling too.
Andy Flower, the Cape Town-born Zimbabwean batsman in charge of England’s ailing tourists, finds himself under fire from the home side despite having conjured a 1-1 draw from a two-match Twenty20 series dominated by the hosts.
Their coach, Mickey Arthur, covets the England job and has been quick to offer advice. Their captain Graeme Smith has twice battered England’s bowlers after slamming rival Andrew Strauss for snubbing the shortest form of the game and their best batsman, AB De Villiers, has also waded in on Alastair Cook’s decision to give young Yorkshire spinner Adil Rashid just one over in Sunday’s crushing 84-run defeat at Centurion.
With the first of five one-day internationals looming at the intimidating Wanderers bull-ring on Friday, Flower came out fighting today, just like he used to as a tiny but significant batsman for Essex.
He said: “Yes, I’ll be analysing the opposition, but I won't be commenting on them. All I would say is that I have gone through my career as a player, and I will continue to do so as a coach, in as modest a fashion as possible.
"I have been asked repeatedly about some of the comments from the opposition coach. Perhaps their status as No 1 is encouraging them to react differently. But I am very comfortable about where we are as a team and I concentrate all my energies on us as a team.”
As a tactic, it wasn’t a bad way to put the South African trio in their place for speaking out of turn. Flower defended the Rashid decision with some gusto. Rashid only played because senior spinner Graeme Swann was out with a side strain. Swann twittered: “I’m stiff as a board, perhaps I’m getting too old for this,” and Rashid found himself slapped for four sixes and 25 runs before stand-in skipper Cook - later fined for a slow over rate - saw fit to turn to the part-time tweaking of Kevin Pietersen and Joe Denly.
But Flower pointed out: “Adil bowled six balls to two batsmen who were absolutely set. It was a flat wicket, it wasn't turning and it was a small outfield and he got punished in those six balls.
"I know Adil. He's a 22-year-old leg-spinner finding his way. He's very skilful, he's going to be a very good all-rounder. He's been doing some excellent work with Mushtaq Ahmed, our bowling coach. I'm not overly concerned about what happened yesterday. We obviously deal with the individuals in an appropriate way, regardless of comments from the opposition."
Rashid is set to play at Potchefstroom tonight in a side deprived of Swann, Paul Collingwood (back), Stuart Broad (buttock) and their only form bowler, Jimmy Anderson (knee). Asked about his injury problems, Flower laughed: "I'll have to get my note book."
But South Africa’s master-batsman AB de Villiers, hardly needed behind the opening assault delivered by captain Graeme Smith and self-styled “Bazooka” Loots Bosman in the Twenty20s, delivered a veiled joked aimed at the England casualties. With news of England’s injuries leaking, he said: "The likes of Broad and Anderson, they have quite a few good bowlers here.
"But our batters are aware of that, and we've analysed them pretty well. We've also played a lot of games against them in the last two years, so we know all about them and we're going to have to play very well. It's a big challenge for our batters."
De Villiers isn’t to be trifled with. In six Tests leading up to England’s arrival in his country, he has scored a 746 runs at an average of 49,73 with a high of 174. And now he’s looking forward to doing Rashid’s fragile confidence more damage.
He said of the decision to give Rashid six balls on Sunday: "We were actually talking about it when (Joe) Denly came on to bowl.
"I was sitting next to Mickey (Arthur) in the dugout, and he said 'what's going on here. Rashid is a class bowler - why are they bringing on a guy like Denly?'
"That's not mind games. That's just chatting about the opposition. I just think it's bad for a guy's confidence, especially a youngster just coming in, when you bring in a guy like Denly.
"He (Rashid) could have taken a wicket at any time. He's got a lot of talent and he's going to get a lot of wickets in the future."
With Strauss back in charge after the Twenty20s, De Villiers – who will bat at three in the ODIs, said: "He's a class captain. He showed it in the Ashes.
"To handle the last Test match the way he did, he´s obviously very, very good, and it's going to be a great challenge between him and Graeme Smith.
"They're both very strong captains. I've played under Graeme for the last six years and I think he's the best captain in the world at the moment.
"What is going to make the difference between them is the performance - I believe the one who performs better will have a bigger effect on the team."
Asked if he remembered Kevin Pietersen’s ton when he made his debut for South Africa in Bloemfontein in January 2005, De Villiers said simply: "I don't remember much I just remember we won the series 4-1."

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Monday, 16 November 2009

Ready, unsteady, Cook

ALISTAIR COOK’S baptism of fire as England captain went from bad to worse as a record-breaking defeat at Centurion was followed by trenchant criticism from South Africa coach Mickey Arthur.
Essex opener Cook has long been considered a captain-in-waiting but the Gloucester-born 24-year-old could hardly have endured a tougher introduction than yesterday’s comprehensive 84-run thumping after regular Twenty20 captain Paul Collingwood pulled out with a bad back.
South Africa ran up a record 241-6 – the best ever Twenty20 international total on record if you discount games against Kenya – with the late-blossoming 32-year-old Loots Bosman smashing 94 and captain Graeme Smith contributing 88 in a first wicket stand worth 170 off just 13 overs.
In reply only Jonathan Trott (51) and Kevin Pietersen (29) approached significance in a response of 157-8, and Arthur was quick to point out their accents are suspiciously South African.
And even as Cook admitted “I don’t think it comes much tougher than that”, he found himself under fire from no-nonsense Arthur, a man who has talked of his ambition to coach England when his time with South Africa runs out.
Arthur said: “I was surprised England didn’t open with Morgan and Trott, with Pietersen at three. We talk about us perhaps being a little but unpredictable, I thought England were very predictable today.”
Cook responded: “There were thoughts of it, but we decided not to go with that. We got 200 the other day playing with that order, so we decided to stick with it.
“Unfortunately the big hits, we didn't hit them as cleanly as they did. In hindsight, we could have maybe changed it, but whether it would have changed the result I don't know, because 240 is a lot of runs.”
But Arthur wasn’t stopping there. After watching Cook withdraw Yorkshire spinner Adil Rashid when his only over had gone for 25 including four sixes, he added: “Giving Rashid only one over was criminal.
“When Trott and Pietersen were batting, there were 15 South Africans on the field with the umpires. Then an Irishman came in. We were searching for the Englishmen!”
Cook, fresh from Twenty overs of humiliation and 16 sixes in the field, opted to open himself with Joe Denly. Cook got 26 off 21, Kent’s Denly hit a run-a-ball 14 and both were back in the pavilion in the space of 9.3 overs with 65 on the board and the game was effectively over.
Still, England fans might point out a 1-1 series draw in the first of three chapters in South Africa is hardly a disaster.
Truth is, the rain won it by a single run for England in the opening Twenty20 clash at the Wanderers on Friday and yesterday’s debacle couldn’t have been more one-sided as the tourists head to the first of five one-day internationals on Friday at The Wanderers with a warm up in Potchefstroom to come against South Africa A tomorrow.
Cook, who hands over leadership to Andrew Strauss until January 18 next year when the final Test of this marathon safari is due to end in Johannesburg, added: “You try to keep your emotions as calm as you can but it was hard. Everyone was busting a gut to bowl to the plans but the margins were small and our skill levels weren’t good enough.
“Yes, I was getting a lot of advice but a lot of players wanted to try to help repair the damage. I had the final word. I will go to bed tonight disappointed but I enjoyed it because I had the honour of captaining my country.”

Sunday, 15 November 2009

England's heaviest Twenty20 defeat... but it's South Africa 1, England 1

ON the very day the new world rankings have come out showing South Africa at No1 ahead of Sri Lanka and India (Australia fourth, England fifth), here we are witnessing England and their big-hitting hosts draw the Twenty20 series 1-1 at Centurion.
Quite how we managed that, nobody really knows. The gulf between these two sides is huge... and we've still got five one-dayers and four Tests to play in South Africa before January 18, when the tour concludes in Johannesburg next year.
Still, a draw in the shortest form of the game is a welcome bonus. When the rain came down at The Wanderers on Friday, South Africa were going well but they were a run short of the required rate on the Duckworth Lewis method chasing a best-ever 202-6 from England.
Today there was only one side in it. The South African openers, Loots Bosman and captain Graeme Smith were simply magnificent. Bosman, the 32-year-old who has emerged out of nowhere (otherwise known as Kimberley, home of the Big Hole, see google)struck a magnificent 94 off 81 to add to his 58 off 42 in the opening clash.
Smith raced to 88 off 66 after his 41 off 38 in game one... and the South Africans had registered the highest Twenty20 score in history (unless you count games against Kenya), a mammoth 241-6. Smith and Bosman (let's hope they aren't stupidly tempted to give Loots a Test debut next month) put on 170 in 13 overs. With captain Paul Collingwood, spinner Graeme Swann and paceman Stuart Broad all injured, Adil Rashid's six balls went for 25 before he was removed from action, Sajid Mahmood was punished again and only Jimmy Anderson looked competent with the ball.
England's reply was always going to be difficult. But Joe Denly played on early and Alistair Cook's brave efforts to transform himself from Test opener to swashbuckling Twenty20 slogger were, frankly, laughable. Kevin Pietersen, making his comeback after his mid-Ashes Achilles operation, and Jonathan Trott, both with accents closer to Johannesburg than London, hit a few sixes. We had to wait until the arrival of Luke Wright from Grantham for our first British manafactured six on a day of incredible boundaries. Still, he did do it off his first ball, with some gusto.
It began to rain in mid-innnings, with England 54 runs behind the required D-L rate. It was that sort of day. Out-played, out-thought, out-muscled, England looked like they were playing for a draw in a very one-sided Saturday afternoon club game at one point.
They needed 96 off the last two overs, so you can't blame them. And at 93 off the final over, we were a laughing stock, with three wickets standing.
In the end, the winning margin was a record 84 runs.
In truth, this Twenty20 series was a humbling experience, it's just fortunate the tour opened with these two short, sharp, shocking chapters. And the fact we got away with a drawn series is little less than miraculous. As the games get long, the pain may become excruciating. But for now, we can proudly say, South Africa 1, England 1.
Elsewhere, the weekend of sport was hardly sparkling for England fans. The Brazilians had a comfortable afternoon against our injury-stricken footballers in atmosphere-free Doha and our rugby team hardly sparkled in a laboured 16-9 win over Argentina at Twickenham.
And Chelsea's Nicolas Anelka gave France a vital 1-0 win over the Republic of Ireland in their final game at Croke Park before the return to Lansdowne Road. The Irish will need a miracle in the return leg at Paris on Wednesday to get to the World Cup in South Africa next June.
The good news? South Africa's rugby Springboks, having already lost to Leicester on tour, were outclassed by France. The great sadness? Martin Johnson's final Autumn International next Saturday is against the All Blacks, not the World Cup-winning, TriNations-dominating Boks. Darn.

Labels: , emirates football neal collins world cup, , , loots bosman

Friday, 13 November 2009

South Africa 0, England 1. Thank you, Rain Gods.

AH the joy of a soaking great win for England to kick off the helter-skelter winter of war against South Africa. Did I say great? A one-run edge on Duckworth Lewis when the rain came down after 13 overs was just enough, with plenty of clues as to how the next nine games over 11 weeks between these two nations is going to go.
The Proteas needed 129 when the Rain Gods shouted a thundery "Game Over". They had 127-3. Ouch.
But this was a game which showed the world's top Test playing nation to expect a fight. This contest could keep us on the edge of our seats until the last day of the last Test back at the Wanderers on January 18 next year.
Middlesex's Irishman Eoin Morgan, currently a one-day specialist but surely destined for Test success in the future, produced a masterclass of improvisation and courageous hitting to put England in a winning position with a career-best 85 off 43 balls. Captain Paul Collingwood backed him up with an equally brave 57 off 32 and England got to 202-6 off their twenty overs.
Together they put on 93 in nine overs, slamming nine sixes with every shot in the book as England reached their highest ever Twenty20 total. Brilliant.
Loots Bosman, the late-blossoming opener (he's 32, from unfashionable Kimberley, look him up), got stuck in for the hosts with 58 off 31 balls and the Wanderers became the blood-thirsty bull-ring as South African captain Graeme Smith (41) joined him for a magnificent opening stand of 97 off eight-and-half overs which put England on the back foot.
We won't talk too much about the way England bowled early on (Tim Bresnan and Sajid Mahmood will be out in the nets the minute it dries out in the morning), but once Smith and Bosman were gone, England got their noses in front... and stayed there as the Highveld storm rolled in. England 1, South Africa 0. Collingwood, who took a magnificent catch to get rid of Bosman, the nearly-selected Test captain Andrew Strauss and coach Andy Flower will take that quite happily.
Smith, so critical of Strauss's reluctance to play the shortest form of the game yesterday, chose to focus on the imminent arrival of Kevin Pietersen to the fray afterwards.
He said: "Kevin brings a spice, an interesting facet to the tour. It's great to have him over here."
Do we believe him? Last time KP arrived to play his former homeland, the reception was very different. But Jonathan Trott, another ex-Japie, avoided confrontation and scored a quietly competent 33 to put England on their way tonight. With Pietersen nearly fit after his Achilles operation and claiming "I'm refreshed and ready to go", this could be quite a winter tour.
Collingwood purred: "We've shown we're a very good team when we play well. It was a great performance.
"The way Eoin Morgan played and executed his shots and the power hitting gave us a great total and we were putting them under pressure.
"We don't play a lot of international T20 so it's good to get experience."
Smith goes to Centurion on Sunday with a drawn Twenty20 series his best possible result but as he said: "It was a disappointing way to finish but a quality way to start the summer.
"Collingwood and Morgan took the game to us but we fought back nicely and there are lots of positives to take into Sunday.
"There's lots of cricket to be played this summer and if it's played like tonight then it's going to be exciting."

Labels: , cricket tour, , wanderers

Dodge ball for England could end Argie-bargie

MARTIN JOHNSON is ready to dodge the flak from last week’s opening Autumn Test defeat against Australia — by calling up the man known as Dodge.
Paul Hodgson, the 27-year-old London Irish scrum-half signed from Bristol in 2004, comes in for Harlequins No9 Danny Care, 22, with a reputation for quick passing and fast talking.
The lad who started his career aged seven at Sutton & Epsom RFC in 1989, wins his fifth cap against Argentina tomorrow saying: “It is something I do naturally — I don’t think there are many quiet scrum-halves around! While the ball is in the air, you can help with communication.
“We call it small talk. It helps the boys with the little details to make the system work. We want to play with momentum.
“It’s something I do for my Exiles, and I enjoy it and relish it. If I can take some of the thinking time off the forwards in front of me, it helps them out.
“It is easier now than when I was first in the England squad because you don’t mind shouting out commands.
“As a scrum-half, you are always trying to emphasise to everyone the finer points of how the team is trying to play.”
England team manager Johnson explained: “Paul is a bit more experienced than Danny. He is very, very good at getting the tempo in the game, which is what we want to do.
“He brings a lot on to the field in terms of communication and leadership. There is a “generalship” about the way he plays at London Irish.
“It will be more difficult this weekend because he is not playing in the comfort of his club environment but we have confidence in him. What he brings is a real maturity.”
Hodgson becomes Jonny Wilkinson’s 10th half-back partner, adding: “Jonny welcomes feedback. For him to be so approachable is fantastic and helps the players. I am rooming with him, so that helps as well.”
Wilkinson chips in: ‘There are not enough players like ‘Dodge’ who commentate on the game and it is the ideal approach.
“Talking like that keeps you on your toes and that is how Dodge plays. He is always ready for the next thing and it is because his mind is always working.
“As a 10, you need to know what your nine is thinking so I have never been in a situation where I have been put out by someone else talking at me. It can never happen enough.’
Mike Ford, the defence coach, admits: “For me, Paul is like an extra coach out there on the field defensively
“He is the best talker in the team in terms of telling players where to go and what to do. He never shuts up. His enthusiasm and the energy he brings in defence is fantastic.”
But perhaps the most important advice comes from World Cup-winning centre Will Greenwood who twittered: “England might change but unless they change their outlook and style it will end the same way.”
Follow nealcol on throughout the Autumn internationals.

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Seven hours on an economy flight... and Lamps is out for seven weeks

FURIOUS Chelsea officials are likely to ask the FA for nearly £1m in compensation after Frank Lampard was ruled out until Christmas — because he was bundled aboard a budget flight to Qatar.
The England midfielder spent seven hours cramped in economy seats to Doha for tomorrow’s friendly against Brazil — and a scan today could confirm those conditions caused the thigh injury which will put him out of action for seven weeks.
Lampard pulled up during a training session at Doha’s Al Saad ground yesterday and was promptly sent back to London — first class.
The Blues are reported to be furious and will now claim for Lampard’s £151,000-a-week wages, according to The Sun. That would cost around £900,000.
The FA flew the England squad on a charter plane designed for shorter flights, with seats that barely reclined and no sign of the flat beds usually reserved for such long journeys.
It is reported that several members of the squad complained of cramps and muscle pains after the flight.
Lampard did train in Doha but after warming up, he strained his left thigh during sprint runs.
A FA statement read: “We can confirm Frank Lampard picked up an injury while training and will be returning home. There will be no further call-ups.”
If Lampard’s injury proves as bad as feared, he will miss vital clashes with Arsenal and Manchester City over the coming weeks.
The move is a further blow for Chelsea, who have lost Jose Bosingwa for three months, while Ashley Cole and Didier Drogba are also struggling with injuries.
Meanwhile, Michael Essien, John Mikel Obi, Salomon Kalou and Drogba are all set to play in the Africa Cup of Nations during January.
England aren’t in a great position either. Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard, who has been troubled by a groin injury, did not travel to Doha first class or economy — though he did play in the 2-2 draw with Birmingham City on Monday.
Gerrard’s Liverpool team mate Glen Johnson also withdrew from Fabio Capello’s squad while midfielder David Beckham has play-offs with LA Galaxy.
That leaves England to put out a midfield without the experienced trio of Lampard, Gerrard or Beckham for the first time since Shaun Wright-Phillips, Michael Carrick, Gareth Barry and Stuart Downing were on duty in the 2-1 win against Germany in Berlin almost exactly a year ago.

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Grim Smith 1, Strauss 0... and Swannie's moustache

GRIM SMITH won the opening battle of the Boer War in Johannesburg yesterday, blasting England captain Andrew Strauss for not wanting to play in tonight’s Twenty20clash at the Wanderers.
Grim, spelt Graeme, may just have done his rivals a favour by calling Strauss’s non-playing role into question yesterday — England’s Johannesburg-born captain Strauss is now considering playing after opening bat Alistair Cook succumbed to a virus overnight.
Smith will no doubt take the credit for that. He’s that sort of bloke.
He has been in charge of the Proteas since the departure of the disgraced and now-departed Hansie Cronje five years ago. And he has come a long way since his first clash with England at the tender age of 22, when his record-breaking batting spoke louder than his clumsy words.
As the two nations go into a torrid schedule of 11 showdowns in 10 weeks, Smith — who has taken his team to No1 in the world rankings in both forms of the game — saw fit yesterday to have a go at Strauss’s decision to miss the two Twenty20 internationals this weekend and give the captain’s armband (if only cricketers had them) to Paul Collingwood.
Having scored 72 and 117 not out in England’s opening two tour wins, there are those who feel Strauss might have made the difference when England were all out for 89 and crushed by four wickets in a Twenty20 warm-up against South Africa A on Tuesday night.
Smith, who averages over 50 in Tests, said when asked about Strauss’s reluctance to play in the shortest form of the game: “It does surprise me. It’s very difficult to keep chopping and changing and I think it will be difficult for your coach Andy Flower to be working with a different captain with a different outlook.
“Who handles team meetings, who runs the show? Those are questions it’s difficult for me to answer but it must be an interesting dynamic within the side.
“He’s scoring runs, he has been successful in one-day cricket over a period of time, maybe it’s something he is reassessing in his own mind but it does surprise me that on a tour like this having started so well that he’s not playing a part.”
Smith won’t have it all his own way on this tour though. The last time the pair met, Strauss was the runaway winner.
It was a Champions Trophy qualifier at Centurion last month, an injured Smith needed a runner and the England captain said no.
Despite a Grim ton, South Africa were comperhensively beaten and the hosts crashed out of the competition.
Smith insists: “There are no personal hard feelings. It is going to be competitive. I guess we’re trying to work out at the moment how Andrew is going to go about things. He has been a very quiet individual whenever we have played against him, almost stuck in the background, a clean and tidy type of character.
“I think he is trying to be a lot sterner and tougher in his ways and maybe he thinks the England environment needs that. He is much more outspoken now, I guess the captaincy does that to you so it will be interesting to see how he goes this summer.”
On a less serious note comes news of Graeme Swann’s moustache, another stunning exclusive. You may need a magnifying glass and spectacles, but it IS there, stubbornly clinging on just above the top lip as England warmed up for tonight’s Twenty20 clash against South Africa in Johannesburg. Swann himself twittered last night: “Oh dear, my so-called ’tache is a disgrace. A semi-ginger, patchy disgrace! Still I must stick with it... at least until ordered to shave!” A less light-hearted twitter from Swannie this week reads: “‘This part of Joburg is safe as houses,’ said our liaison officer. Round the next corner? Bullet-ridden car, news crews, body bags!” Paceman Jimmy Anderson echoed that sentiment: “Just seen the aftermath of a shooting near the hotel. Cars full of bullet holes. Very scary.”

Labels: andy flower, england cricket, , , james anderson, , ,

Thursday, 12 November 2009

KP won't look Bok in anger

KEVIN PIETERSEN’S first task on arriving in South Africa? Offering a little advice to the other bloke in the England squad with that dodgy aksent, Jonathan Trott.
KP, off the crutches he used for weeks after the mid-Ashes operation on his right ankle, flew in late to join the tour in Johannesburg and said: “I’ve just caught up with Trottie and asked how everything’s been so far — he said it had been great.
“I had a long chat with Jonathan in the dressing room after the Ashes, talking about the little things I didn’t do when I first came into the England side that perhaps he could do — to try to stop him making the mistakes I made.”
Pietersen, 29, doesn’t like to be reminded of his attitude when he first appeared for England against his former homeland in a stormy series in 2005.
The unrepentant manner and the multi-coloured “skunk” hairstyle didn’t go down to well with the old guard at the ECB — and South African fans were only too happy to jump on the bandwagon, heckling the Pietermaritzburg-born batsman with some relish.
Both the hair and the mood are much quieter now as Pietersen recalls: “Don’t remind me. I was 24, still growing up and I was having a great time, fresh and buzzing. I hadn’t had many knocks along the way. In the last few years I’ve grown up, got married and am a lot more mature. This year has been like never before but it’s all part of development and learning.
“It’s been a fantastic ride and I want to jump back on now. I have identified the next four or five years to get back on that treadmill again.
“It’s been a horrible year but I can turn that around by playing some great cricket against South Africa. I love playing here. The wickets are good and it’s a fantastic country. It’s a recipe to make runs.”
And old foe Trott? “I’ve heard he’s been fantastic in the dressing room and there will be no problems between us.
“Yes, we were opponents growing up in South Africa but that’s because he played for Western Province and I played for Natal — they were big rivals.”
That rivalry will pale into insignificance at the Wanderers’ bull-ring on Friday night, venue of the first Twenty-20 international — and the opening clash of a battle between England and South Africa which will run until the end of the fourth Test, back in Johannesburg, in mid-January next year.
Pietersen won’t play on Friday “unless the injuries pile up” but he adds: “It was pretty hostile five years ago, but I’ve been back for the Twenty20 World Cup and the IPL and had fantastic receptions. Hopefully they respect the cricket I’ve played in the last five years.
“What happened to me at the Wanderers in 2005 will come up over the next couple of days and if Trotty wants to talk about it I’ll help in any way I can.
“But I won’t force myself on him. I’ve thought about how the crowds will be this time over here.
“All our efforts have to go on beating South Africa, not worrying what anyone else says. It doesn’t bother me how the South African crowds react.”
What might bother him is mischievous spinner Graeme Swann’s suggestion earlier in the week that Pietersen may struggle to break into a side which blasted through their opening games in some style.
But after the crashing defeat against South Africa A in Bloemfontein on Tuesday night, Pietersen grins: “I think the team looks like they’re really on fire out here.
“I’m very encouraged.”
NEAL COLLINS will be joining the England tour next month. Read his daily blog from South Africa and express your views on the tour simply by logging on to

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James Haskell. Party Pooper!

JAMES HASKELL is back in an England shirt — and laughing at the critics who wrote him off as an international has-been at 24 when he moved from Wasps to Stade Francais last summer.
Haskell starts at No8 against Argentina on Saturday while Leicester’s Jordan Crane, picked ahead of him for the now-traditional opening Autumn Test defeat against Australia last week, has been sent home.
Haskell remembers only too well the furore when, with Riki Flutey and Tom Palmer, he decided to leave Adams Park for France, where salary caps, unlike scrum caps, have yet to be invented.
Haskell, glaringly left out of England boss Martin Johnson’s 32-man elite squad this season, has forced his way back into a side decimated by injury and said: “Being away from my family and other things has helped me grow up as a person.
“What I’ve liked about France is that I am removed from everyone and all my focus is on the rugby.
“I have started afresh at Stade and I feel like an academy player again. I live with Ollie Phillips and my brother.
“We train, then come back and chill out. We do go out in parts of Paris, but it has turned out to be a very simple life and that’s what seems to work for me.
“Even though I thought, ‘Just knuckle down in France and there will be an opportunity’, certain people — I won’t mention any names — said, ‘You’re never going to play for England, have a good time in France’. So I did find it difficult and it did frustrate me.
“Some people said I would get lost in the Paris nightlife but I haven’t actually had many nights out.
“That whole culture of partying — that conflict between substance and flashiness — is totally removed at Stade. All we do is rugby.
“It can sound quite boring but for someone who has been a bit hectic and maybe let themselves be distracted, it means I am totally focused on the rugby now and I love it. It is very simple and I want it to stay that way.
“I have found myself a little bit as a player out there and I feel better about things.
“There was so much speculation and so many people said this move was all about money.
“I was playing with world-class players at Wasps but it is slightly different at Stade. I have found my role.
“Sometimes in England, you spend your whole time trying to be the best at everything — you are always trying to change your game. Now, I know what I am good at and I fit into that side quite well. When you are playing alongside guys like Parisse, Leguizamon and Simon Taylor, they do their job and I do mine.
“That’s what I want to do on Saturday. I’m not going to make any promises but I’m just going to go out and do what I do, and hopefully that will be good enough.”
Haskell twittered last night: "Very pleased to be back in the team. Thank you tweeps for you best wishes. Very happy for my best bud as well Paul Doran-Jones."

Labels: england wilkinson blackburn premier league twickenham johnson wenger owen brazil hull brown valuev nuremburg emirates football neal collins world cup, james haskell

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Haskell starts at Twickenham... as predicted

Yesterday I twittered James Haskell to tell him Lawrence Dallaglio is backing him to start for England against Argentina on Saturday at Twickenham. He turned things around when he came on for Leicester's Jordan Crane against Australia last week, full of energy and endeavour. Today, even better news... confirmation of his place in the first 15 despite leaving Wasps for Stade Francais in the summer.
Here's the story I wrote for the paper this morning:
YESTERDAY James Haskell was so miffed by the weather in not-so-sunny Surrey, he called for a radical move to summer rugby.
Today, he’ll be officially told he’s back in the England starting line-up for Saturday’s clash with Argentina at Twickenham, where the Windsor-born 6ft 4in loose forward will revel in the mud of a British autumn.
Through the mists of a winter’s morning at England’s Bagshot base yesterday, jameshaskell grumbled on www.twitter-com: “Raining and miserable at Pennyhill Park, but mood is good. Forwards and team session this morning.
“I vote we make rugby a summer sport, we would only have to compete with cricket. Bigger crowds, better games and more hospitality.”
Within hours twitters were flying and Haskell accepted: “Okay, taking some heat for my summer chat. Didn’t think about the hard grounds. But we live in England and the hardest it gets is medium soft.”
And, as news of his selection for Saturday began to permeate the England camp, that was soon followed by: “Keep it winter. Too many good arguments. Hard pitches are the main reason.”
And just to make things perfect for the No8 who moved from Wasps to Stade Francais last summer, his old Wellington College pal Paul Doran-Jones is in the squad too.
Best not to mention the pair of them were suspended over a video camera incident at one of Britain’s poshest public schools in 2003.
England boss Martin Johnson had little choice in calling up Gloucester’s Doran-Jones. With David Wilson and David Barnes forced out by injury, there are no other front-row options.
Bath veteran Duncan Bell and Tim Payne of Wasps will start at tight-head and loose-head with the versatile Doran-Jones as cover on both sides.
Northampton’s Dylan Hartley will start between them at hooker, with World Cup-winner Steve Thompson reverting to the bench.
Graham Rowntree, England’s scrum coach, said: “I like what I see in Paul. I’ve been watching him all season, I think he’s a true prospect for the future. He’s good at a lot of things and I give him my full backing.
“He’s good enough and that’s what we’ll tell him. Paul has a great attitude, he’s fitted in well since he’s been with us.”
Jordan Crane, replaced at No 8 by Haskell during the defeat against Australia last Saturday, has been told he can go back to train with Leicester this weekend.
And the full team? Probable: Monye (Harlequins); Cueto (Sale), Hipkiss (Leicester), Geraghty (Northampton), Banahan (Bath); Wilkinson (Toulon), Hodgson (London Irish); Payne (Wasps), Hartley (Northampton), Bell (Bath); Borthwick (Saracens, capt), Deacon; Croft (both Leicester), Haskell (Stade Francais), Moody (Leicester).
Replacements: Doran-Jones (Gloucester), Thompson (Brive), Lawes (Northampton), Worsley (Wasps), Care (Harlequins), Goode (Brive), Erinle (Biarritz).
England v Argentina,Saturday, live on Sky Sports 2, from 2pm
ELITE squad players sent back to clubs: D Strettle (Harlequins), B Foden (Northampton), M Tait (Sale Sharks), R Wigglesworth (Sale Sharks), S Armitage (London Irish), D Barnes (Bath), G Chuter (Leicester), J Crane (Leicester), B Kay (Leicester), D Wilson (Bath).

Labels: argentina, australia, james haskell, , , rugby, rugby union,

Just put this on page 51 of today's Lite

LITESPORT would like to apologise to any readers of yesterday’s cricket story on page 35 headlined: “Swann warns SA this is NOT same old England side”.
This newspaper was taken in by two early wins on the tour of South Africa which encouraged us to accept Graeme Swann’s argument which ran along the lines of: “What we’ve been trying for the last five years hasn’t really worked and we’ve done something about it.”
Last night’s humiliating Twenty20 defeat against South Africa A in Bloemfontein suggests this England team ARE, in fact, just as bad as all the other touring teams we send around the world for a good hammering at the hands of our former colonies. For that we apologise unreservedly.
England, without captain Andrew Strauss who avoids the shortest form of the game, were skittled for 89 in an innings that featured three comical run-outs. The second-string South Africans got there with four wickets to spare.
With the first of two Twenty20 internationals looming at the much more intimidating Wanderers Bull Ring in Johannesburg, stand-in captain Paul Collingwood said: “I’m hoping this was just a blip. I never like losing, but I think sometimes it is going to be a little bit of a reality check as well.
“We’ve started so well, it’s a really great atmosphere and there’s a lot of hard work going into it. I guess it’s just our decision-making in this form of the game that tonight has let us down.”
England’s injury list is worrying too. Swann left the field with a slight thigh problem, joining James Anderson (knee), Graham Onions (back) and Stuart Broad (shoulder) in the casualty department.
To see the relevant stories, go to

Labels: , bloemfontein, captain, , disaster, england, graham onions, humiliating, james anderson, , , , tour

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Hey big spenders! How do Spurs do it?

BACK page of my beloved but soon-to-die London Lite today ( had to be all about Spurs and their record profits. Last year, according to the accountants, they made over £33m, up from a meagre £3m last year.
But further analysis reveals chairman Daniel Levy has done more than just balance the books with Harry Redknapp over the past 12 months. Miraculously, given this set of results, my sums show they have actually spent almost £150m in 16 months, with Juande Ramos (Roman Pavlyuchenko, Luka Modric, Heurelho Gomes) doing the early buying before Harry came in and re-signed departed Spurs favourites Robbie Keane and Jermain Defoe plus, more recently, Sebastien Bassong, Niko Kranjcar and Peter Crouch.
Yes, while North London rivals Arsenal scrabble for scraps (okay, Andrey Arshavin (£16m) and Thomas Vermaelen (£10m) were good buys, but we've hardly seen a mega-spree from Arsene Wenger) Spurs have splashed out £150m since the summer before last - only mega-bucks Manchester City in the Premier League and, further afield, Real Madrid can beat that.
Spurs spent £119.3m in the year ending June 2009, but their books don't show the further £29.4m spent on Crouch, Bassong and Kranjcar, which puts quite a big dent in that record profit of £33.4m.
Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool? Not even close on the spending front. How the hell do Spurs do it, on smaller crowds with recession-hit backers... and they're redeveloping White Hart Lane, building a new training ground and... I dunno.
Look, here's the Lite quotes from Levy, make of them what you will in the light of their spending: "We have made significant progress in delivering on our long-term vision for the club. We have always had three key priorities and you will have heard them oft repeated - investment in the first team, a new training centre and an increased capacity, state-of-the-art new stadium.
"We have assembled what we believe to be one of the most talented squads we have had during our time in the Premier League, the ground is being turned and pitches laid for the new training centre at Bulls Cross in Enfield and we have submitted a planning application for a stunning new stadium on a site next to our existing stadium."
Levy is in talks over a new shirt sponsorship contract from next season, with the deal with Mansion set to expire at the end of the current campaign. God on the shirts next year perhaps? They'll need Him to maintain those spending levels!
Oh, and son Harry has just called from the car. England's cricketers, after that bright start to their tour in South Africa, went into game three in Bloemfontein today - their first Twenty20 of the safari against South Africa A - expecting another stonking win. I hear they were all out for 89. Gulp. South Africa's also-rans got there with 15 balls and four wickets to spare. And what did I say in the Lite today? I quoted Graeme Swann saying they'd be fine without captain Andrew Strauss, who doesn't get on with the shortest version of the game. He got 72 and 117 not out in those first two 50-over wins. Only Alistair Cook (22), Eoin Morgan (11) and Paul Collingwood (18) got double-figures today. Ouch. Check out Swanny and James Anderson on later. There may be belated fireworks!

Labels: , bloemfontein, , Daniel Levy, , james anderson, Jermain Defoe, , Spurs, White Hart Lane

Monday, 9 November 2009

The fan's gone dental!

SO how about that bloke sitting in the stands behind Sir Alex Ferguson yesterday... calmly brushing his teeth while Manchester United were undone by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
Nobody knows quite what to make of it, though I hear he was on BBC Five Live last night claiming "I'm a ladies' man," when they asked him who the hell would go to a football match armed with a toothbrush and shades in November.
Let's forget for a moment the unbelievable case of Sir Alex himself, apparently excused for calling the referee "ridiculous" for giving a quite understandable free-kick in the build-up to the only goal.
And let's concentrate instead, as talkSport did today, on the players who might appreciate the curious incident of the man with the toothbrush.
Some for instances:
From the 70s you've got:
Archie Gummell
Joe Jawdon
Teeth Newton
Frank McLeantock
From the 80s how about:
Ian Brush
Jan Molarby
David Plaque
Jeremy Floss
And from the 90s:
Dentist Berkamp
Fill Babb
And the current players?
Darren Dental
Enamel Adebayor
Filipi Incisor
Ruud van Bristlerooy
Robert Tuth
Alberto Aquafresh...
Talking about Liverpool stars, Rafa Benitez's men have just scored... got to go! Suggestions here please!

Labels: dentist, , teeth, tooth brush

Sunday, 8 November 2009

I guess that's why they call them the Blues

AS he walked off tonight, lamenting a 1-0 defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, Wayne Rooney mouthed quite clearly to the cameras: "Twelve men."
It may have felt that way, but the ref didn't look too bad from where I was.
And the problem is: I don't like Manchester United's Johnny Evans. There are dubious allegations in his past and for one so average, he has a huge mouth. Oh, and the studs he left in Didier Drogba's chest today were cunningly delivered for one so young. Give me John Terry any time. Hard, uncompromising, a true leader.
Yes, he was lucky to get away with the penalty shout in the first half, Valencia had the legs on him so Terry grabbed his shirt and pulled him down. But amid the bitchiness, the perpetual handbags, Terry stands tall.
And he got the goal that mattered at Stamford Bridge, extending Chelsea's lead over the champions just before the international break. Something for him to mention over breakfast to the goalless Wayne Rooney when they jet off to play Brazil this week. Poor lamb, with his street football series just getting underway.
Today's top-two showdown at The Bridge was no classic. After all those goals yesterday - averaging nearly five a game - we might have hoped for at least two when the best sides in the Premier League meet.
But the technical expertise was evident... and the commitment. It's still the best, hardest, most-watched, highest-paid, ridiculously addictive league in the world. Whether it's the skill, the talent... or just the increasingly vindictive nature of the game, the increasingly difficult decisions for referees, the constant fear of finding somebody else is better at play-acting than you are when you writhe around on the floor.
Didier Drogba looked like he was having death spasms when he was hit by Evans' studs, but he got the yellow card for his obvious pains. I love the bloke, he's twice as effective as Rooney and Owen put together... but is that necessary? Probably not. But then screaming obscenities into the microphone when Chelsea went out of the Champions League against Barcelona last season was strictly unnecessary too.
But he cares. The man from the Ivory Coast has had his ups and downs in England but his passion levels can't be questioned. He battled, dramatised and gave his all until his later substitution.
Point is Chelsea may be a little over-dramatic at times. They may use every trick in the book as they learn from the greats, Ranieri, Mourinho, Grant (?), Hiddink and Ancelotti. They may only survive because Roman Abramovich is recession-proof.
But with a spine of Petr Cech, John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba, they might just have the edge on Manchester United this season.

Labels: chelsea manchester united rooney drogba john terry wayne sir alex ferguson world cup stamforrd bridge old trafford neal collins ryan giggs football carlo ancelotti ashley cole

Nuremburg, Twickenham, Molineux and Jarman Park

SOME weekend. David Haye was magnificent against the 7ft 2in Russian giant Valuev... and despite one judge in Nuremburg scoring it even, the Londoner is the new world heavyweight champion of the woooooorld! Not bad for a man seven-stone lighter than his oppo!
Thing is, the IBF and WBO world champion Wladimir Klitschko says he didn't watch the fight, says he was out "performing magic with a friend. It's a hobby of mine." Is that a euphemism? And Haye's euphoria may be tempered by Klitschko saying: "We've had enough of Haye spending our money promoting him to fight us. The result from Nuremburg makes little difference to me. They can shout all they want. I have two defences of my titles next year and neither are against them."
At Molineux, Wolves faced giants too, in the shape of on-form Arsenal, on a run of 18 games unbeaten... thought they were actually unlucky with the 4-1 scoreline, though the third and fourth goals from the free-scoring Gunners were pretty special. Poor old Wolves, an own goal and a deflection left their fans bleak in the Black Country.
Twickenham was an even gloomier place to be on Saturday... even Jonny Wilkinson couldn't lift an England side carrying so many injuries, though it was Wilko, like old times, who scored all England's points. Wales did the normal against the All Blacks in Cardiff... level at half-time, out of it by the end.
Few will have seen the events of Jarman Park, Hemel Hempstead yesterday where Goldhill Baptist saw off Adeyfield to move into serious contention for the South Bucks Church League Third Division honours. But hey, it matters to some of us!
While England prepare for the second game of their African safari - having won the first against the Diamond Eagles in Bloemfontein where Jonathan Trott received hardly any abuse - South Africa are crushing Zimbabwe in Benoni.
My betting career is going downhill fast. The opening win of £3,167 from a two pound stake three weeks ago - my first ever bet on football after a lifetime of writing about the game - appears impossible to follow. I was on for £6,000 until Bolton imploded against Aston Villa and Portsmouth succumbed to Blackburn's second half revival.
The two big stories of the day? Michael Owen is NOT going to replace the injured Carlton Cole in England's squad to play Brazil and Phil Brown is headed OUT of the door at Hull. Both mistakes in my view. Owen is a big game hunter, Brown's character will be impossible to replace at Hull.
So what about this afternoon? Chelsea captain John Terry is all over the Mail on Sunday suggesting Manchester United are there for the taking without Rio Ferdinand and his mystery back injury. Terry says: "It's a good time to be playing United. This is our chance to pull away at the top and put ourselves five points clear."
He's right of course. I'll just pop down the bookies...

Labels: chelsea haye arsenal rio ferdinand england wilkinson blackburn premier league twickenham johnson wenger owen brazil hull brown valuev nuremburg emirates football neal collins world cup

Friday, 6 November 2009

SO this is where it starts... cutting my way through the form-filling, the jungle of questions... just so I can express my daily feelings... normally about sport, sometimes politics and always, the soap opera of life.
I'll be leaving for the England cricket tour in South Africa soon, where I will also be able to visit the various venues for the World Cup in 2010, which kicks off on June 11. England will know where they play when the draw is made in Cape Town on December 4... but for now, I have to fill the London Lite sports pages...