Sunday, November 14, 2010

Pun intended

Joel Monaghan really screwed the pooch with his Mad Monday behaviour. This isn’t a metaphorical statement. It isn’t symbolic of yet another league player’s disgraceful behaviour under the influence of alcohol. It isn’t a figurative description of his fall from grace. He really did screw the pooch.

For those of you living under a rock for the past couple weeks, the Canberra Raiders star quit the club (jumped before he was pushed) after photos of him simulating a sex act with a dog were circulated online.

Now I haven’t seen the offending photo (thank God). But its presence in cyberspace does bring up six very interesting questions, including:

1. Does Mad Monday have any relevance anymore, in light of the fact that league continues to be blighted by alcohol fuelled embarrassments?
2. Were any other Raiders involved?
3. Who was the genius who took the photo and then posted it online?
4. Did the canine consent? Is this a case of mere bestiality, or is it aggravated sexual assault
5. Was the canine male or female? A very important question as it raises the possibility that Joel might have been receiving rather than giving
6. Was Willie Mason anywhere near the nation’s capital when this happened?

Seriously though, what is with league players and alcohol? Is there a gene missing in top line players that ensures after a few beers they lose all sense of moral conduct and personal dignity? I know every sport has a few bad apples. Problem with league is the barrel is well and truly full and the bad apples are rotting on the sidewalk. I’m not asking professional sportsmen to be beacon of purity. Just zip it up when Lassie walks into the room. Is that too much to ask?

Other irregular beats, palpitations, minor and major infarctions:

FOUR NATIONS: Congrats to the sheep shaggers on winning another international league title. Huge thumbs down to the Australian selectors for not including Todd Carney in the team for the final. How can the most valuable player of the season, and international player of the year no less, not be part of the best 17 players you can roll out? I’m not even going to bother with questioning the Lote Tuqiri inclusion. Disaster. All in all a horrible tournament that proves that league is not an international game. It can fall in the pecking order somewhere between lawn bowls and synchronised swimming as an international sport.

THE ASHES: Really looking forward to the Ashes this summer (if that’s what you call this gawd awful weather). Looks like the Pom’s will be able to acclimatise well with all of this rain. Both teams have enough quality and frailty, that it should be an intriguing series. Australia’s middle order can crumble like a cookie, Mitchell Johnson might argue with his mum again, Michael Clarke wants to be promoted from Pup to Top Dog and the search is still on for a spinner who can bowl wicket taking, economical overs while smoking, guzzling beer, eating pizza and sending lewd text messages. On the other side England’s top order is shaky, Paul Collingwood is still their answer to Steve Waugh, Kevin Pieterson is coming off career worst form, the quicks have never bowled well Down Under, and lets face it...they are England. Anything can happen!

F1: I can’t believe neither Mark Webber nor Fernando Alonso took out the drivers’ championship. Guttered for both of them. For Mark because he’s an Aussie (although his connection with the Canberra Raiders now brings up serious questions about his integrity). For Alonso because his performance in coming within a whisker of the title was simply breathtakingly, brilliant driving. The Red Bull’s had the over advantage over all other manufacturers on almost every circuit. The McLaren’s had the best straight line speed. Alonso tanked the first half of the season. Yet he produced some of the best racing since the great Ayrton Senna in the second half of the season. Congratulations to Sebastian Vettel. No F1 championship in undeserved (unless you’re Damon Hill). Enjoy the spoils. With Alonso now settled in at Ferrari, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button keen to make up lost ground, and Vettel and Webber still in the Red Bulls, next year promises to be another cracker.

INGLIS: A few points on the Greg Inglis saga. First, the Brisbane Broncos are to blame for accepting a handshake commitment. In professional sports nowadays a signed contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on...just ask Sonny Bill Williams. To argue that the club had a commitment from Inglis based on a handshake is a joke. On the flip side, it does prove that Inglis is a first class pr#ck. Never trust a New South Welshman who calls himself a Queenslander. Furthermore, it brings more questions about the salary cap into light. How the hell can Souths fit this guy under the cap, when only a few months ago they said they were maxed out? Also, it’s going to be a real treat to see if Greg is as good as everyone says he is. Playing in the centres when you’ve got Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk calling the shots, while Billy Slater is lurking around the fringe of the ruck is a completely different ball game to leading an inexperienced and highly overrated South Sydney backline. Finally, it’s probably brought Darren Lockyer one season closer to retirement. With Inglis playing on his outside he could look to continue to pull the strings at the Broncos for a few more years. Well that horse has now well and truly bolted (another intended pun).

ROONEY: Just a few weeks ago Wayne Rooney declared his intent to leave Manchester United, citing a lack of ambition by the club. In a rage I began writing a blog along the lines of: “F#ck off back to Merseyside you fat, bald, big eared, chav, granny shagging, Shrek look-a-like, mother f#cker!” Before I could finish my column, Rooney changed his mind and decided to recommit to the greatest club in the world in perhaps the most bizarre turnaround in the history of football. There is no question that Rooney is a phenomenal talent. He single handedly brought United within a pubic hair of a fourth consecutive Premier League title last season. Yet his disastrous showing at the World Cup, followed by his flip flop over his future at the club, really bring his frame of mind, motivation and commitment into question.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

From Flop to Top

STOP PRESS: Just a very quick note to send my heartfelt commiserations to Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester City fans on their clubs early exits from the Carling Cup
It’s been a long while since my last posting. Much has happened in the sporting world over the past couple of months including:

• The World Cup, which has come and sadly gone – overall not as exciting as Germany 06...but I still miss it
• LeBron James has made his Decision, taking his talents to South Beach, Florida
• The Parramatta Eels have tanked another NRL season (I’m still waiting for the Dragons to self asphyxiate)
• Spain are on their way to becoming the number one sporting nation in the world. Football world champions, Tour De France champion (Alberto Contador), French Open, US Open and Wimbledon champion (Rafa Nadal), guaranteed Moto GP champion (either Jorge Lorenzo or Dani Pedrosa will take out the title), potentially – although unlikely – F1 champions (Fernando Alonso), current European basketball champions, and arguably the best football club team in the world in Barcelona. Not a bad record that!!! Where do I sign up for Spanish citizenship?
• The United State has restored order in world basketball by winning the World Championships for the first time since 1994
• The Pakistani cricket team has been exposed as being a bunch of corrupt, cheating b#stards – no surprise there
• The Commonwealth Games in Delhi look like being a complete disaster – again, no surprises (especially if you’ve had any exposure to the bureaucracy that is the sub-continent)
• The AFL is looking forward to yet another all Melbourne final when Collingwood face up against St. Kilda
• And most recently Serbia defeated the Czech Republic to move into their first Davis Cup Final. Napred Srbija!!!

Despite all of these wonderful Infarkt related sporting moments I haven’t been inspired to put the proverbial pen to paper. That was until Dimitar Berbatov became the first Manchester United player to score a hat trick against Liverpool (aka the Scumbags from Scouser-Land) in 64 years while leading Man U to a thoroughly deserved 3-2 victory over their most bitter rivals.


Dimitar Berbatov might be one of the most polarising figures in the history of Manchester United Football Club. There are fans who will swear blind that he’s a useless, lazy sod who spends most of his time on the field drifting in and out of consciousness. Others, me included, feel that he’s one of the most naturally gifted footballers currently playing the great game, and despite his perceive lack of urgency and languid style, has the capacity for real genius. The truth probably lies somewhere between these two polar extremes, with his performances doing nothing to dissuade either camp from pressing their beliefs.


After delivering successive 23 goal (along with double digit assists) seasons for Spurs, Berba joined Man U for a club record £30.75 million in 2008. Much was expected from the player who was dubbed by no less than Arsene Wenger in his debut Premier League season as the new Thierry Henry (this is meant to be a compliment). Unfortunately Berba’s high price tag was not matched by high energy performances. In the fiery cauldron of Old Trafford, where aggression, passion and enthusiasm inspire the Stretford End as much as a back heel or step over, Berba cut a solitary figure. He was the antithesis of recent crowd favourites such as Bryan Robson, Sparky Hughes, Roy Keane, David Beckham, Gabriel Heinze, Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez. Even the misfiring Diego Forlan was admired and applauded for his perpetual motion, despite his inability to hit the back of the net (note – the fact that Forlan is now one of the most lethal goal scorers in the game is a ridiculous joke. Murphy and his stupid laws can go f#ck themselves).
In a very short period of time Carlos Tevez became an Old Trafford hero. While he managed to score the occasional spectacular goal, it was his limitless energy, and capacity to chase without the ball at his feet, that won over the Red Devil fans. Personally I thought (and still think) that he’s vastly overrated. While I appreciate his commitment and passion, he plays like a bulldog on speed. His tactic of running though defenders works one in every ten tries. That leaves 90% of the time that he loses possession in good attacking areas because he just kicks the ball forward and tries to burrow his way into a gap (it’s a fact…I made it up). He lacks vision, his passing is limited, and his shot – while extremely powerful – is horribly inaccurate. I will take Rooney, Berba, Forlan, Pancev, Messi, Villa, Torres, and Tome Divljak over Tevez any day of the week…twice on Sunday’s. Plus, he has to be one of the ugliest men to play the beautiful game.

I digress.

Despite his phenomenal first touch and vision, Berba’s lack of goal return, coupled with his oily slicked hair, dropped shoulders, half closed eyes and jogging style (similar to that of a basketballer called 'The Juggernaut') made him an easy target for criticism. While Carlos Tevez was being ‘forced’ out of the club, Berba was being protected by Sir Alex, without delivering on his reputation or price tag. This did nothing to win him any fans.

By the end of his second season, even Sir Alex of Ferguson seemed to have lost faith, benching Berba for some of the clubs biggest games at the back end of the season. With Wayne Rooney leading the line single handed on most nights, rumours abound that Berba would be swiftly move out of the Theatre of Dreams.

Berba seemed consigned to follow in the footsteps of a plethora of footballing giants from the Balkans, such as Il Genio Dejan Savicevic. A phenomenally talented player, but without the required ticker and consistency to translate that into something more meaningful than the occasional party trick or wow moment. Like his amazing goal in the European Cup final in 1994


On the flip side to Berba’s lack of hustle, bustle and (supposedly) heart are those moments when you see that he can do something with the ball at his feet that only a handful of others on the planet can replicate.

Physically Berbatov is the prototypical footballer. A towering and powerful physique coupled with deceptive quickness, he has all the physical attributes to strike fear into the most hardened of central defenders. He can play deep in the box and act as a target man, holding the ball up while support players arrive. Or he can drop into midfield and play as the link man, with a gift for a defence splitting pass that few midfielders can claim.

Then there is his first touch. There a few footballers right now who have the same ability to stop the ball on a dime, while running at pace, regardless of what angle the ball is coming from. Watch this move that had the poor West Ham defender reaching for a pie and chips from the front row of the crowd: Simply breathtaking.
These are the moments that have fans gasping for more, and believing that despite Cantona’s aura, Rooney’s power, Ronaldo’s trickery, Giggs’ chest hair, and Keane’s ability to inflict serious bodily harm on anyone...Berbatov might be the best footballer of the Sir Alex era.

Check out this compilation of goals from his Spurs days. The top four are spectacular. Each goal is different in execution, and shows that Berba has the full range of skills in his arsenal.


After finishing the 2009/10 season under a cloud of disappointing performances and deserved criticism, it was widely anticipated that Sir Alex had enough of waiting for the real Berbatov to announce himself, and would cut his losses and ship the Bulgar out. Whether he couldn’t find a buyer, or more likely, didn’t have the funds for an adequate replacement, he decided to keep him on. And in an (albeit) very short period of time, Berba has repaid him tenfold.

Berbatov’s hot start to the season to date reads as follows:

• Scored United's first goal of pre-season on 16 July 2010, in a 3–1 friendly win over Celtic at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Canada
• On 8 August, he scored United's third goal in the 92nd minute of their 3–1 win over Chelsea in the 2010 Community Shield. After some sharp inter-play from Fletcher, Giggs and Nani, the Portuguese lifted the ball through for Berbatov who then lobbed it over the advancing Chelsea goalkeeper, Hilário
• Just eight days later Berbatov scored his and United's first league goal of the season, netting in the 33rd minute of their 3–0 home victory over Newcastle United in their opening fixture of the new campaign
• On 29 August, Berbatov scored his 3rd goal in just 4 games against West Ham United
• On 11 September, Berbatov scored his 3rd Premier League goal (and 4th overall) of the season in a 3–3 draw against Everton

This string of good form culminated in a phenomenal performance on the night of the 19 September, when he scored his first hat-trick in United colours leading the way in a 3–2 win against arch nemesis Liverpool. The three goals have brought his goal tally to 6 in the Premier League for the season. And these weren’t just tap-ins or poachers goals. Berba showed the full range of power, purpose and poise - beating markers to powerful headers, bullying defenders, holding the ball up, bringing midfielders into play, and delighting fans worldwide with an early candidate for goal of the season. Few would have attempted such a bicycle kick. Fewer still could have executed it with such precision.

His performances to date should have convinced even the most ardent critic that he has finally turned the corner, and is ready to lead United to further glory.

Glory, glory Man United.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Fallout

The Decision has been made. The King has abdicated his throne in the Kingdom of Cleveland, Ohio to become a Prince in Miami, Florida.

After listening to The Decision live via the World Wide Web (which I thought was just a passing fad, but it looks like it’s caught on!!!), I’ve got 20 questions to ask all associated parties.

Here goes:

1. Will Dwyane Wade wear his championship ring to every practice to remind LeBron who the real alpha-dog is?
2. Has demand for psychotherapy in Cleveland increased exponentially over the past four hours?
3. Would Jordan, Magic, Bird, Zeke or Kobe ever have considered leaving the franchise they helped build to join forces with another superstar who plays a similar position in search for championship glory?
4. Speaking of similar positions, have a superstar 2 and 3 combo ever co-existed when both of them need the ball to drive to the basket and neither is a particularly great three point shooter?
5. How long before CB4 starts complaining about a lack of touches on the offensive end?
6. Is Kobe sitting at home right now plotting how he can:
a. not only equal Jordan with 6 titles, but;
b. also put LeBron and Wade in their place at the same time?
7. Are the Knicks the dumbest franchise in history after spending the past two years tanking to get LeBron, but only ended up with an improved version of David Lee (Amare Stoudamire) if he had a bad knee, chip on his shoulder and worse contract?
8. How many losses before Pat Riley decides he’s a better fit at head coach of the Heat?
9. Did Dan Gilbert have his Open Letter to Cavs fans drafted and ready to post online, or was this typed up after The Decision followed by a couple shots of Jack Daniels?
10. Is using Delonte West - a depressed drug-taking motorbike-riding-with-a-shotgun-and-two-hand-guns-while-drunk point guard - to sell season tickets a massive cry for help?
11. How many washed up veterans searching for a championship are going to be inspired to take massive pay cuts for the chance to play with the New Big Three in the South Beach sunshine?
12. Have alcohol sales in Ohio risen so much that they are now actively contributing to boosting the local economy?
13. Will putting The Answer in a Heat uniform create the most dysfunctional 1, 2 & 3 tandem in basketball history?
14. Did the following message really appear in a local Cleveland newspaper before The Decision? Mansion For Sale. Location – Akron. Owner relocating to sunnier climates. Never to return.
15. Has Cleveland officially taken over every cursed city/country in the sporting world to become the undisputed number one place where you just don’t want to be a sports fan?
16. What does it say about the standing of Dwyane Wade in the NBA that James pulled up stumps to join his team, as opposed to Wade leaving Miami?
17. Is new Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov currently using all of his shady ex-KGB contacts to plot the downfall of LeBron?
18. Will Donald Sterling ever take the hint that he’s the only thing holding the Clippers back?
19. Does he even care?
20. Were the Cabramatta Ethnic Cleansers ever in the mix?

LeBron James, The Decision and Turning Heel

For those of you who aren't clued into the American sports scene, today is the day LeBron James, a.k.a King James, makes his long awaited decision about which team he'll be joining for the next season.

It's no exaggeration to say that this single moment has been the most anticipated story in the National Basketball Association (NBA) for the past three years. NBA Finals, All Star Games, MVP announcements, NBA drafts etc. have all be dwarfed by the constant speculation about LeBron's destination. This could change the NBA landscape for years to come.

Will he:

Stay with the Cavs and be loyal to his hometown Akron, where he's lived and played basketball his whole life?

Move to sunny Miami and join fellow superstar Dwyane Wade and All Star Chris Bosh to create a new basketball trinity?

Join the Chicago Bulls and attempt to continue the legacy that Michael Jordan began?

Sign with the Knicks, and bring glory to basketball Mecca?

Decision, decisions.

Since there hasn't been enough hype and media coverage about where James is headed, he's decided to run an hour long program on ESPN today, called The Decision, where he will announce his, you guessed it, decision.'s not just a catchy name.

No-one seems to know which way LeBron is leaning, with news reports, tweets, idle gossip and Internet chatter claiming that he's 100% signing with the Cavs, Knicks, Heat, and Cabramatta Ethnic Cleansers, all at the same time. It really could go either way.

This is how I'd like it to play out:

Imagine throughout the one hour long James wankfest on ESPN that he’s continually hinting that he'll be staying in Cleveland. He's talking about his childhood in Akron, recalling glory days in high school, reminiscing with his crew and generally creating a feel-good Cleveland vibe. With five minutes to go he announces that he's ready to sign a new contract, and calls in Cavs owner Dan Gilbert and his team onto the set.

While he's telling them why he wants to stay in Cleveland, he unbuttons his shirt. Underneath is a Cavs t-shirt and everyone is cheering and back slapping. Dan Gilbert pulls the new contract our of his coat pocket and is ready to hand it over while his secretary uncorks some champagne and starts pouring. The city of Cleveland...probably the entire state of ready for the largest collective orgasm in the history of mankind.

Then as James reaches for the pen we hear glass shatter, and Mark Cuban storms onto the set. Jim Ross is screaming “Oh No…it’s Dallas Maverick's owner Mark Cuban. What is he doing here?”. At the same time James tears off his Cavs shirt and reveals he’s wearing a Mavs singlet!!! Dan Gilbert looks on in horror as James starts swinging punches, knocking him to the floor. Cuban then drops a few elbows to finish the job, before they team up to throw all other Cavs officials off the set. James stares into the camera wide-eyed and flexes his biceps while Cuban gives the one-fingered salute and screams “That’s the bottom line, because Mark Cuban said so!”.

This is closely followed by the largest mass suicide in the history of mankind.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Australia versus Serbia - in tweets

To make my life easier, I decided to commentate this mornings Serbia vs. Australia match with tweets. I figured it would be easier than having to write a fully blown review of the match...especially if I was emotionally racked by a result that left both teams checking in their luggage.

As fate decreed an Australian 2-1 win eliminated both teams from the competition.

Here's my take on a very entertaining match that provided a number of Infarkt moments, in tweets.


NOTE: Start reading from the bottom of the page and work your way up

Just looked at the nxt round match-ups. Germany v England!!! Awesome. Ghana v USA...whatever. about 3 hours ago via web

Stay tuned to Infarkt for more World Cup coverage: about 3 hours ago via web

Time to get ready for work. Thanks for the energy drink Shurak. I'll need it about 3 hours ago via web

That f#cken sucks!!! about 3 hours ago via web

SRB coach remonstrating with officials about 3 hours ago via web
hana through on goal difference about 3 hours ago via web

Germany has beaten Ghana 1-0. GER 6 points, Ghana 4 points, AUS 4 points, SRB 3 points about 3 hours ago via web

Carney interception. Keeper saves. That's the game about 3 hours ago via web

Panta misses a sitter!!! about 3 hours ago via web

Half min to go about 4 hours ago via web

This is INFARKT!!! about 4 hours ago via web

Aussies on counter...Stojkovic slides in about 4 hours ago via web

Chippers with important clearance about 4 hours ago via web

Into stoppage time about 4 hours ago via web

Tosic blazes over about 4 hours ago via web

Vidic claiming handball. Not his own this time. Corner SRB about 4 hours ago via web

SRB corner. Maybe last throw of dice about 4 hours ago via web

Nice shot of fat balding Serb criticizing team...that could be me a couple years from now!!! about 4 hours ago via web

Match point Isner..... Ace number 95! Mahut holds for 59-59. PLAY IS SUSPENDED!!! WOW about 4 hours ago via web

Getting back, Ghana only scored with 2 penalties in 270 mins of football to date. They don't deserve to go through about 4 hours ago via web

GOAL...offside. Brilliant passing. Not be b. Replay confirms a good call. Aussies creaking about 4 hours ago via web

Another long range shot. Schwarz holds this one about 4 hours ago via web

Keeper spills a long shot and Panta cleans up. Did the jambalaya move in mid air??? about 4 hours ago via web

Worth mentioning that Ghana has only scored from two ...hold the phone. GOAL SRB. Pantelic. 2-1. Game on!!! about 4 hours ago via web

8 mins to go plus stoppage. Scores stay as are and both going back home about 4 hours ago via web

SUB AUS - Garcia for Wilkshire's groin. Put some ice on it Luke about 4 hours ago via web

80 mins gone and Wilkshire holding his groin about 4 hours ago via web

Serbs building pressure, Aus on counter about 4 hours ago via web

59-58 @ Wimbledon about 4 hours ago via web

SUB SRB - Lazovic for Kuzmanovic about 4 hours ago via web

Desperate shot by Lukovic about 4 hours ago via web

With Germany beating's down to goal difference. AUS need a couple more about 4 hours ago via web

GOAL...Hollman great strike. The Socceroos starting to believe about 4 hours ago via web

Couple of corners for SRB. Building pressure. Well cleared about 4 hours ago via web

Things getting tense. More words b/w Vidic and Cahill about 4 hours ago via web

Mahut 58-57 in tennis!!! about 4 hours ago via web

Cahill so dangerous in the air about 4 hours ago via web

GOAL - Cahill scores. AUS 1 SRB 0. Just as Germany takes the lead as well about 4 hours ago via web

Both coaches have declared their attacking intent. A draw helps no one about 4 hours ago via web

Kuzmanovic heads over. 67 mins gone about 4 hours ago via web

SUB SRB - Panta for Ziga about 4 hours ago via web

Emerton yellow card. Ninkovic academy award about 4 hours ago via web

SUB AUS - Valeri off, Hollman on / Bresc off, Chippers on about 4 hours ago via web

Serbs starting to lose possession far too easily about 4 hours ago via web

Bresciano great shot, keeper saves, dangerous rebound cleared. Good spell for Socceroos about 4 hours ago via web

Vidic is a gun. For mine Kennedy is easy target for him. Small, quick player will cause him more problems about 4 hours ago via web

Germany Ghana update - nil all. Not good for either SRB or AUS about 4 hours ago via web

Jovanovic great run...even better tackle. Jovanovic looks around in disgust. Get up u big girl!!! about 4 hours ago via web

Poor cross about 4 hours ago via web

Nice ball in. SRB clears danger. Out to Krasic about 4 hours ago via web

Yellow for Ninkovic. Late sliding tackle. Dangerous free kick for AUS. Keeper pushes out for a corner about 4 hours ago via web

SMS from Slade asking for moment of clarity. I'm wearing a red jersey right now, so the cevos have beaten the chikos in my heart about 4 hours ago via web

Nice work by Jovanovic, but he runs the ball out. He and Krasic hold the key for SRB about 4 hours ago via web

Carney nice shot from outside box, goes wide. 55 mins gone about 4 hours ago via web

4 SRB, too much emphasis on Zigic as target man about 4 hours ago via web

This game really needs a goal to spice things up about 4 hours ago via web

55 - 55 about 4 hours ago via web

Krasic loses possession. Bresciano...great tackle Vidic...Zigic blazes over crossbar about 4 hours ago via web

Tennis update - Isner v Mahut. 54-54 5th set about 4 hours ago via web

Long ball to no-one...both teams lack cohesion about 5 hours ago via web

Yellow for Wilkshire after great piece of trickery about 4 hours ago via web

Zigic clears in his own box about 4 hours ago via web

Stern words between Vidic & Cahill. Neither will give an inch about 4 hours ago via web

Am back on deck now about 4 hours ago via web

Missed first half AUS v SRB rocking child #2 to sleep! about 4 hours ago via web

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

How the mighty have fallen

The first footballing giant has fallen at the 2010 World Cup, with a long queue of others ready to follow. The French, after a pathetic campaign resulting in zero wins from three games, are heading back to Paris. A revolutionary horde waits. Despite their ongoing issues with team chemistry during qualifying, I honestly thought their talent and depth would be enough to get them through a challenging, but by no means frightening, group. Instead they produced a brainfart of epic proportions. Viva Les Bleus!!! Their golden generation has past their used by date, with heroes from the 1998 World Cup and 2000 European Championship winning teams ready to be retired to make way for fresher legs. Coach Domenech should also step aside, lest he be treated in a similar manner as the Marquis De Sade - incarcerated for 32 years of his life in an insane asylum.

Congratulations to Uruguay and Mexico on qualifying for the second round ...remember that I tipped Uruguay as a semi final sleeper (you heard it here first). As predicted in ‘An Idiot’s Guide to the World Cup – Part 1’ both Argentina and South Korea have also progressed to the final 16. Nice to know I can get them right sometimes.

Two groups completed, one past champion eliminated, and no European or African teams in round two. A sign of things to come? Let’s take a look at some of the more intriguing storylines for the remainder of the group phase.

1. Who wants to be a champion? After a fairly low profile start to the tournament, a mix of insipid displays (see Italy & England) and inspiring performances (see Switzerland & New Zealand) have left some very big names teetering on a knifes edge. With France already racking up their frequent flyer points, Italy, England and Germany could well follow in their footsteps. Let’s break this down further:

a. Italy. Two draws (how very Italian) built on very dreary defensive football sees the Italians facing Slovakia needing a win to progress. Another dull draw simply will not be enough. Italy has both the players and the pedigree, but what they seriously lack is form. Should Slovakia decide to sit back and spoil the contest, an Italian forward line that created nothing against New Zealand, will be looking for divine inspiration.
b. England. Their plight mirrors that of the Italians. A Grade C performance against the under-rated USA was followed by an F minus versus Algeria. Two draws, no cohesion on the field and less cohesion off it. Should England produce another abject performance in their final group match against the surprising will well and truly be their final match. Slovenia is definitely beatable, but they also have the capacity to upset. After all, they did knock out Guus Hiddink’s highly fancied Russian’s in qualification. The rabid English tabloids are on stand by. Should England lose, Capello will be featured as the devil incarnate with poster boys Rooney, Gerrard, Lampard and Terry derided as bumbling fools. On the other hand, an England win and (according to the Sun and Mirror) they will be cup favourites again.
c. Germany. After steamrolling through Australia 4-0 in their first game, it looked as though this would be another walk in the park for Ze Germans. Then the Serbs rocked up and stole their mojo. Now Germany faces Ghana knowing a win will guarantee progression, a draw could be enough and a loss will result in a collapse of embarrassing proportions. The Ghanaians’ will be motivated to top the group, so a win is by no means certain. And if Serbia continues their improvement by dispatching Australia, a draw won’t do either. Interesting times. On a more political note, looking at the 2010 German World Cup team and it’s fair to say that Germany well and truly lost the last world war. A team featuring Khaderi, Ozil, Podolski, Klose, Tasci, Cacau, Marin, Gomez etc. would have Mein Fuehrer rolling in his grave.

2. Crossing paths. Switzerland’s amazing 1-0 victory over Spain leaves the Spanish needing only a draw against Chile to qualify. However, sitting in second place will pit them against either Brazil or Portugal (the former most likely) in the second round. One of these three giants faces early elimination, with the mouth watering prospect of a Spain versus Brazil round of 16 clash a distinct possibility. It’s very likely that one of the pre tournament favourites will be watching from a distance a week from now...on high definition 3D no doubt.

3. The definition of Infarkt. Anyone who sat through the Serbia v. Germany match would have been entertained by a spectacle that defined Infarkt (at least in sporting terms). The game had more pendulum swings than...I was going to say a swinging pendulum, but that’s too know what I mean. From multiple yellow cards, to the Klose sending off, to Serbia’s goal, to Khaderi smashing the crossbar, to Germany’s ten men overrunning the Serbs the entire second half, to Vidic’s handball giving away (another) penalty, to Podolski’s poor spot kick and Stojkovic’s save, to the 7ft 6 inch giant Zigic missing a point blank header when marked by the vertically challenged Lahm...this game had it all. Anyone with a vested interest in this game would have experienced major and minor infarctions throughout the 90 minutes.

4. Memo. Speaking of giving away another penalty, The Dark Knight sent me the following SMS after Vidic’s brain explosion: URGENT MEMO. To all Serbian players. Touching the ball with your hand in the penalty area is not good, it’s bad. Please tell the bloke to your left and right.

5. Before you blow. Those damned vuvuzela’s have been making more noise (boom, tish) than the action on the park. Before you wet your lips to let out another annoying spurt of wasp like sound, think about what the vuvuzela was originally used for.

6. Don’t forget the hype: For the past six months all Australian eyes have been on Harry Kewell’s groin. Not because of his underwear line at Politix, but to monitor his readiness for South Africa. Considered Australia’s attacking X-factor, it has been widely considered that if Kewell isn’t on the plane, then the Socceroos will be returning home with little more than a recipe for Boerewors (a traditional South Africa sausage, very tasty. Click here for a recipe). Kewell was declared fit to play, got on the plane, and was subsequently kept wrapped in cotton wool during Australia’s lead up games. Against Germany he again rode the pine, as Coach Verbeek made some mystifying decisions around his tactics and starting line-up. Kewell was finally selected to face Ghana, and spent most of the opening 15 minutes trying to imitate Geoff Toovey (FYI – a Google search ‘Geoff Toovey whinger’ returned over 8,000 results). Then Kewell was sent off. Was it deliberate handball? Who knows. At the end of the day, when you’re on the goal line you do your best to block the ball. If any part of your hand is used to save a certain goal, then a penalty and handball have to result. I digress. What has interested me most about Kewell’s World Cup saga has been the tit-for-tat with Sydney Morning Herald writer Michael Cockerill (see below). Highly entertaining stuff, and nice to see these professionals not get personal. I can’t see these guys sending each other Christmas cards in December, well Bernie might...then charge it back to Harry as a consultancy fee.

Sticks and stone...but names will never hurt me
Cockerill calls out Kewell
Kewell calls out Cockerill
Cockerill responds
Mandic responds
Cockerill, Kewell and Mandic in wild sex romp...just kidding

7. Torn apart. 4.30 am, AEST. Australia versus Serbia. Cahill versus Krasic. The homeland versus the motherland. Chiko Rolls versus Cevapcici. VB (Victoria Bitter) versus PB (Plum Brandy). Jimmy Barnes versus Bora Corba. Advance Australia Fair versus Boze Pravde. Thongs versus Opanke. Gallipoli versus Kosovo. Mark 'Chopper' Read versus Zeljko Raznatovic 'Arkan'. This match has it all. I’m more confused than a 12 year old boy at Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch. Should I be excited or terrified??? I’ll tell you now...there’ll be a few VB’s and PB’s tomorrow morning, which will either add to my confusion or perhaps create a moment of clarity.

8. How many Irishmen does it take to change a light bulb? Because the sporting world doesn’t stop just because a World Cup is being played (although maybe it should) I’m going to throw in my two cents worth with relation to the Andrew Johns, Timana Tahu soap opera.

While I don't begrudge Tahu for standing up for his beliefs, and applaud him for having the courage to take a stand...I do believe this whole racism in the NRL issue has been blown way out of proportion.

Would ‘T’ have walked out if, at a team bonding session, they were watching a Chris Rock stand up comedy video? Inappropriate, stereotypical and racist dialogue would be booming out of the TV, but I'm sure all players, Tahu included, would be laughing their arses off. Some examples of Rock's humour include:

• But when you hear "Barack Obama", you picture a brother with a spear, just standing over a dead lion.
• What is up with Jermaine Jackson? Is it just me or is he the greasiest nigga you ever seen? Just greasy motherfucker looking like he sprayed Armoral on his face!

What if one of the players was playing rap on their iPod, and Tahu heard the word n#gger used in a song over and over again. Would he walk out on the team then because one of the players thought this was entertaining?

While I'm not condoning what Andrew Johns said, his words should be taken into context. From what the media has reported he used offensive language when talking about a number of indigenous players (the best one's mind you) on the Queensland team. He was also self deprecating, referring to himself as ‘white trash from Cessnock’ (aren’t they all???). This suggests he was trying to be humorous (he obviously failed), and was also trying to create an 'us' against them' mentality...which is what Origin is all about.

What also irks me about this issue is that Johns is a former drug user. What sort of a role model is that to start off with? It’s ok to admit you used to get high, but please don’t use offensive language about skin colour.

The way the media jumps on the bandwagon to stir up a story is fascinating, and it suggests that the concept of State of Origin alone isn't strong enough to carry a story. Pulling in the Anthony Mundine's of the world to make comment only inflames the situation. Mundine used to claim that racism in league is rife, and his non selection for representative teams was an example of this. To this I reply that you just weren’t good enough bro. The fact that names including Beetson, Meninga, Daley, Thurston, Inglis, Hayne, Thaiday, Civoniceva, Idris, Tonga are all associated with State of Origin blows your theory out of the sky.

Hypothetical: If John's got up and told an Irish joke...would Luke O'Donnell be right to walk out on the team???

Friday, June 11, 2010

IGTTWC - Part 2

I've just finished eating a Mexicana pizza from Dominos (free plug), I'm on my second beer, have poured my first plum brandy (to keep warm), and am patiently awaiting the opening ceremony. What better time to complete Part 2 of the Idiot’s Guide to the World Cup.

Group E

Under the radar: The Dutch usually enter every World Cup with a wave of expectation that declares this will finally be their year. This is the first time in my memory that the Oranje have entered the tournament without great expectations. Which is strange because they are no less talented than squads from 2006, 2002, 1998, 1994 or 1990.
Player to watch: Robin van Persie. A supremely talented footballer, his only Achilles heal seems to be that he’s injury prone (pardon the pun). When fully fit he has the potential to take over any game with his vision and eye for goal. On the wing, or as the primary striker, he has all the skills to unlock the tightest of defenses.
Form guide: The Dutch arrive in South Africa on the back of a 100% qualifying record. Ominous form for a team that has talent to burn. Watch this space.

Dad's Army: Some might call them experienced, others may call them veterans. I'll stick with old bastards. Dennis Rommedahl, Jesper Gronkjaer and Jon Dahl Tomasson are still the keys to the Danes chances. Might as well roll out the Laudrup brothers while they're at it.
Player to watch: Nicklas Bendtner. A typical product of the Arsenal school of footballing excellence. Prissy, egotistical, talented, and bloody annoying.
Nothing of interest: I honestly have nothing of interest to note, other than the fact that I still think it's bullsh#t that Denmark won the European Championship in 1992 after not even qualifying. You can thank the United Nations for that one, cheeky buggers.

Now this is cool: Cameroon's nickname is Les Lions Indomptables (The Indomitable Lions). Much better than the Socceroos.
Player to watch: Samuel Eto'o. One of the world's most lethal strikers, Cameroon's shot at qualifying for round two rests on his lean shoulders. 43 goals in 96 internationals is a phenomenal return, and puts him in good stead to make a run at the Golden Boot award.
Flying the flag: There are high hopes for the African contingent at this World Cup. I rate Cameroon as the best bet for a local team to be playing into week two of the tournament. They've got a gun striker, good World Cup pedigree, and a decent draw.

Poor form: Like their Asian counterparts South Korea, Japan are now a World Cup fixture. However their form in the lead up is shaky. A run of loses led Coach Okado to ask the football federation if they wanted to retain his services. Only in Japan would the coach actually ask his superiors if they still wanted him in the job!!!
Player to watch: Shunsuke Nakamura. The Yokohama F. Marinos midfielder has 97 caps and is one of Japan's most experienced campaigners. He's recovered from injury to take his place in the squad. His teammates will look to him for guidance.
Overly optimistic: After nearly resigning due to poor form, Coach Okado declared that the Japanese were ready to book their place in the final four of the World Cup. I think someone spiked his green tea.

VERDICT: Although this group lacks big footballing names, it's a group of death. The Dutch should go through, but any one of the other teams is a legitimate chance. I'm going for the Lions of Cameroon to unite the African continent.

Group F

Uninspiring: As usual the Italian team is built from the rearguard. Keeper Buffon and captain Cannavaro will marshal perhaps the stingiest defense in the tournament. However, the Italians have always produced an attacking player who is a game changer. In recent years Baggio, Totti, Zola and Del Piero have played that role. This year the cupboard looks bare.
Player to watch: Alberto Gilardino. Four goals from six is rare form for an Italian striker. If he can replicate that during the tournament, the Italians might be heralding the second coming of Paolo Rossi.
You win with defense: Italy, the defending champions, hold the record for the most consecutive games without conceding a goal (5 in 1990) and most minutes without conceding a goal (517, also in 1990). Cannavaro, following in the footsteps of greats such as Baresi and Maldini, will be looking to repeat his performance from 2006 and lead his team to glory.

New Zealand
Ka Mate Ka Mate: The most ridiculous decision to date is FIFA's edict banning New Zealand from performing the much famed Haka in their pre match ritual. For mine, nothing would be funnier than watch a bunch of skinny arse Kiwis in their white uniforms looking to intimidate their European and Latino rivals with a Maori war dance.'ve robbed us of high comedy.
Player to watch: Shane Smeltz. The A-League leading scorer will look to lead the Kiwi charge.
Socceroos aren't that bad: The Kiwis are called the All Whites. What the f#ck??? That's hilarious, and marginally racist. Love it. Here's hoping the Kiwis keep the chilly bun full of puss and kuck beck for some fun times.

Injecting some flair: Paraguay have long been the black sheep of the Latino football world, building their teams on discipline and tactics above individual flair and attacking instincts. This crop, while not pushing forward at every occasion, will play a far more free flowing style than previous generations.
Player to watch: Roque Santa Cruz. Poor form in the Premier League, but he is a proven striker with power in the air and on the ground. He'll be hoping he can add to his collection of 21 international goals.
All Stars: In France 1998, Paraguay's central defending duo (Carlos Gamarra and Celso Ayala) and goalkeeper José Luis Chilavert were selected for the all-star World Cup team.

First time: Since the fall of communism, the number of countries in Europe has almost doubled. Slovakia, one of the new nations post Iron Curtain, make their first World Cup appearance in South Africa.
Player to watch: Marek Hamsik. The 19 year old is a star in the making, and could well be hit of the World Cup. It's unlikely that Slovakia will progress to stage 2, but Hamsik will still have a chance to impress.
Nothing more to add: I'm running out of ideas, and the opening ceremony isn't offering me any inspiration. My wife thinks it looks second rate and sooo 90's.

VERDICT: Italy and Paraguay. Shut the gates

Group G

Best known for: Joga Bonito. The Brazilians approach football with a passion that is unmatched anywhere in the world. And their philosophy of Joga Bonito (play beautifully) is inspiring.
Player to watch: Kaka. Before moving to Real Madrid, Kaka was a member of football's modern day trinity (together with Ronaldo and Messi). However his form in La Liga was less than spectacular. While not a direct attacker like Messi or Ronaldo, Kaka has unparalleled vision, and has the ability to really pull the strings.
Water carrier: As a player, Coach Dunga was called a water carrier by his critics back home, meaning he plays like a grafter and is not an exponent of Joga Bonito. And this is the way he coaches. This Brazil is built in Dunga's image. He doesn't shy from making tough decisions, as evidenced by his call to exclude Ronaldinho. Rightly so in my opinion.

Ivory Coast
Toure de Force: The Toure brothers (Yaya and Kolo) make up a fine defensive shield, and will provide The Elephants with strength at the back.
Player to watch: Didier Drogba. Will he play? If not, the Ivory Coast will really struggle to find the back of the net.
Déjà vu: It really must feel that way for The Elephants. After matching up against Argentina and Holland in 2006, now they are drawn against Brazil and Portugal. Despite being the strongest African nation at the Cup, they are destined for another early exit.

Motivation: Portugal has obvious talent, but have struggled to find the motivation, inspiration, dedication and determination when entering major championships. Coach Queiroz has done nothing to lead me to believe this tournament will be any different.
Player to watch: Cristiano Ronaldo. Just a pubic hair behind Messi in the race to be the best in the world. But rarely has he reproduced his club form for country. If he wants to be the best, he'll need to fire now.
Goals?: A solid backline and midfield. But where will the goals come from? With Ronaldo struggling to find form in the qualifiers, the Portuguese lack imagination and penetration in the final third.

North Korea
Upset of upsets: In 1966 North Korea defeated Italy 1-0, which still ranks as one of the greatest upsets of all time. I put that one in for my workmate Cam.
Player to watch: I've got no idea.
Sport and politics: The two Korea's faced off in qualifying. Their first meeting was originally planned to be held in Pyongyang on March 26, 2008. The North Korean government decided that the South's national anthem would not be played, nor would the DPRK allow the South's national flag to be displayed at the game. The match was moved to China.

VERDICT: Brazil and Portugal to power their way through this group

Group H

No longer chokers: Since winning the European Championship two years ago, Spain has gotten rid of the choker moniker, and are most pundits favourites this time round.
Player to watch: Take your pick, there is talent to burn across the entire squad. I'll say David Villa, who's scoring record for his country is phenomenal with 33 goals in 52 games.
Balance and depth: Three keepers who would be first choice in most teams (Casillas, Valdes and Reina); a solid defensive with prodigy Pique and old head Puyol leading the way; a midfield with Fabregas, Xavi, Iniesta, Alonso; Torres, Villa, Silva up front. Spain really do have weapons everywhere.

No disrespect to Chile, Honduras or Switzerland...but it's past 11.00 pm and I want to sit down, have a third beer and settle in for a big night of football. Neither of them is a chance to win, so I don't want to bother with any more details.

VERDICT: Spain is a can’t miss bet to win the group. I’ll tip Switzerland as well, only because I think they’re far more organised than Chile and won’t give up easily

That's it from me. Enjoy the Cup.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

An Idiots Guide to the World Cup (part 1)

With the World Cup countdown into the hours now, it's time for me to put together my preview on the who's who and what's what in South Africa. I had originally hoped to write an in-depth analysis of each team, group, star player, referees dog and linesman's whistle. Unfortunately time isn’t my I figure you've already read it all in some overpriced special edition magazine with a glossy cover and plastic sleeve. So instead I bring to you my whirlwind, cut-price World Cup preview. In other words, An Idiots Guide to the World Cup.

Without further ado...

Group A

South Africa
: Bafana Bafana, which literally translates to 'The Boys'. I find this funny, as you'd think it would translate to 'Boys, Boys'. One of the cooler nicknames on the international scene...unlike the Socceroos.
Player to watch: Steven Pienaar. This is one hard Toffee. A strong forceful midfielder, his performances in an injury depleted Everton in the English Premier League will give the host nation great hope they can avoid becoming the first hosts to be eliminated from the first round.
Ride the lightning: South Africa has a high repository of natural metals underground. What does this have to do with football? Lightning, attracted to the metals in the earth, has often been known to strike a footballer or two e.g.

: Mexico has participated in 13 World Cups, a phenomenal record. It probably also explains why they hold the record for most total losses with 22 (11 wins and 12 draws). I've got a feeling they'll be adding to the 'L' column and keeping that record for a while yet.
Player to watch: Rafael Marquez. A strong and imposing defender, Marquez will have to draw on all of his skill and experience to ensure the Mexican backline isn't breached too often (you can take that any way you want).
Thirty years of hell: Not content with holding the record for most losses, the Burritos also hold the record for most consecutive loses (1930 - 1958), most consecutive matches conceding at least two goals (1930 - 1958) and most consecutive matches conceding at least three goals (1930 - 1950). Methinks Mexico went through a dark period from the 30's to the 50's.

Reputation: For a team that has won two World Cups (1930 & 1950), Uruguay very rarely enters the debate regarding footballing powerhouses. Perennial losers Holland, along with Spain, France and England are always mentioned before the South Americans.
Player to watch: Diego Forlan. As a Manchester United fan, it was painful watching him bust his gut for the Red Devils, yet squander chance after chance for most of his EPL career. Since moving to Spain though, he has become of the deadliest strikers on the continent, winning the European Golden Boot twice. Definitely worth a lazy tener for top scorer. Diego...woah ohh ohh. Diego...woah ohh ooh. He came from Uruguay, and made the Scousers cry
Chances: I rate Uruguay as a legitimate semi final dark horse. They've got a balanced outfit from the back to the forward line and are well known for their grit and determination - key when entering such a knock out tournament. But unlike teams from the past few Cups, they won't be afraid to come forward and play football.

To cheat or not to cheat: I don't think anyone, especially the Irish, has forgotten how Thierry Henry's handball helped 'Les Bleus' board the plane for South Africa. But that's history now. And Henry will have many more chances to poke the ball with his hand while he's sitting on bench watching football.
Player to watch: Despite France's issues in qualifying, they boast a world class array of talent throughout their squad. It's a shame that Coach Raymond Domenech seems to have no idea how to put a team together. While it's obvious and easy to pick a Nicholas Anelka, Franck Ribery or Henry, I'll put on my Man United colours and say that Patrice Evra is the man to watch. If he can get forward and create the overlap on the wing, it will create space for the attackers to potentially run amok.
Unpredictable: Let's face it; the French are a total mess. A collection of mercurial personalities together with a mad professor for a coach. However, there can be no denying their talent. If they can put it together out!

VERDICT: Definitely Uruguay and France through to the second round. No doubt about it

Group B

Hand of God: After years on under-achievement, Argentina's football federation bit the bullet and introduced the walking deity Diego Maradona as the new head coach. It is quite possible that no sportsman, in fact no man, is loved in his own country as much as Diego is adored. Despite all of his issues and indiscretions, he is idolised. However, he's not a great coach. Or even a good coach. The Argies struggled to qualify, even though they have arguably the best player in the world in Leo Messi, and a support cast that is the envy of almost every footballing nation. Maradona is fortunate that Argentina lie in a fairly easy group, with Nigeria, Greece and South Korea standing in their way. This should give his charges enough time to play themselves into form and scare the sh#t out of their second round opponents.
Player to watch: It has to be Leo Messi, who this season stamped his claim to being the world's best player. His form for Barcelona was beyond dynamic. If his season's form were to be translated to a computer game, he'd be set on 'Professional' level with his opponents listed as 'Amateurs'.
Send them off: Although the Latinos are well known for their flair and flamboyance, the Argy Bargies hold a few undesirable records in World Cup history including: only player sent off from the bench (the lovable Claudio Caniggia versus Sweden in 2002); most sending’s off in a final; most cautions all time for a team; most sending offs all time for a team and the longest player suspension (the aforementioned Maradona - 15 months for doping).

Ebony and Ivory: Nigeria's coach is Swedish!!! Try spotting him at the team meeting.
Player to watch: For the past two decades the Nigerians have been blessed with some very talented footballers. In my opinion the well is running dry. John Obi Mikel has withdrawn due to injury. I think his back is sore after carrying the sack full’s of cash that Roman A is paying him. So I'm going old school with this one and call out Nwankwo Kanu. Firstly because he's got to be about 53 years old now, and secondly, because I just love his first name.
What's in a name?: It's not just Kanu that has me in stitches...I'm also a big fan of Danny Shittu!!! Maybe he's an omen for how the team will perform.

I still can't believe
: Greece won the European Championship in 2004. A team so limited in almost every element of football won a major championship. It defies belief, and proves that the Sporting God's do have a sense of humour. Look for the God's to ensure that order is restored in South Africa and the Slovakia's wrap it up and are taken away early.
Player to watch: Theofanis Gekas. 20 goals in 47 games for the national team, including 10 in their World Cup qualifying campaign. He knows how to find the back of the net.
Prediction: If Greece wins a game, watch for the daily news networks to show hilarious footage of a bunch of excitable Hellenic's in Brighton-La-Sands and Melbourne jumping up and down like a bunch of yahoos.

South Korea
Perennial participants: This is now familiar territory for the South Koreans, who are competing at their eighth World Cup.
Player to watch: Definitely Kim. That could be Kim Young-Kwang, Kim Dong-Jin, Kim Hyung-Il, Kim Nam-Il, Kim Jung-Woo, Kim Jae-Sung, Kim Bo-Kyung. Safe bet that at least one Kim is going to have a good tournament.
Total football: After three consecutive Dutchmen (Advocaat, Hiddink and Verbeek) at the helm, South Korea has a local coach again in Huh Jung-Moo. It's safe to say he's learnt a few things from his Orange masters, losing only 5 matches in his 39 in charge.

VERDICT: Argentina to go through and I like South Korea to join them

Group C

Best known for: A totally delusional belief that they are a world class team who can actually win every tournament they qualify for. While England has some real talent, with 1.5 world class players (more on that shortly), they are a far cry from the likes of Brazil, Italy, Germany and Argentina in football's pecking order.
Player to watch: Most would say Wayne Rooney, especially after his emergence as a world beater for both club and country this season. However, I know what Rooney will offer. The X-factor for England is Steven Gerrard. He is the half a world class player I alluded to earlier. There is no questioning his talent. But his form this season has been patchy at best. If he can replicate his club form of a couple of seasons ago in this tournament, England could make the semi finals.
Safe bet: Whether they make the second round, quarter final, semi final or...dare I say it...the final, it's a safe bet that England will lose in a penalty shoot out. Even Fabio Capello can't coach against that one.

Surprise, surprise
: Although football runs a distance fifth behind baseball, American football, basketball and ice hockey in the domestic pecking order, USA are currently ranked 12th in the FIFA rankings (albeit they are a joke), and are competing in their ninth Cup competition (including the last five in a row).
Player to watch: Landon Donovan. 123 caps. 42 goals. Immeasurable experience. Excellent form with Everton this season. If the Stars and Stripes are any hope of shaking things up, Donovan has to pull the strings.
Interesting fact: The youngest player to captain a team in the World Cup is America's Tony Meola (in 1990) at 21 years and 109 days old.

Struggling: The team isn't struggling. I'm struggling. Do I really know anything about Algeria as a footballing nation? Not really. I'll let you Google something.
Player to watch: Has to be Yazid Mansouri. He's their captain and most capped player with 67 caps. That's got to count for something. Right?
Still struggling: I guess I could let you know that their nickname is Les Fennecs (the Desert Foxes). It's still better than Socceroos!!!

Surprise package
: Beat out Poland and the Czech Republic to finish second in their qualifying group, and then proceeded to outplay Russia over two legs in the knockout stage.
Player to watch: Milivoje Novakovic. 16 goals in 38 games in the drab green of the Slovene national team. And I'm not going to mention the fact that his name would indicate he should be representing another former Yugoslav republic that's present in the tournament.
Chances: In what has to be one of the easiest groups in the Cup, Slovenia has a legitimate chance to qualify for the second round. Assuming Slovenia and USA both lose to England and beat could amount to a showdown between the two teams for the second spot. And with Slovenia's impressive qualifying form, I rate them a good chance.

VERDICT: England must still be jumping with joy that they scored three crappy opponents. Slovenia through as well

Group D

Best known for
: Being the dark horse. Not a single major tournament goes by without the footballing fraternity calling Serbia (formerly Serbia and Montenegro, formerly Yugoslavia) a dark horse for the tournament. No-one has ever questioned the quality of talent produced by this Balkan powerhouse. Names like Stojkovic, Sekularac, Dzajic, Petrovic, and Savicevic are well respected. The current crop, led by Nemanja Vidic and Dejan Stankovic, are no less talented. It's just a question of their mentality...which is more fragile than the Greek economy.
Player to watch: Vidic. The rock at the heart of Manchester United's defense is also the rock that the Serbs build their team around. Serbia entered the 2006 World Cup on the back of the best defensive record in qualifying. Vidic withdrew through injury, and the Serbs proceeded to capitulate (there's that mental frailty). Vidic is the key man to a confident Serb outfit.
First timers: Despite an impressive World Cup record (twice semi finalist and three time quarter finalist) under the guise of Yugoslavia, this is Serbia's first ever appearance as an independent nation. I'm hoping now that the millstones that are Brotherhood & Unity and Montenegro have been removed, Serbia is ready to strike. NAPRED SRBIJA!!!

Gary Lineker: The England great once famously said "Soccer is a game for 22 people that run around, play the ball...and in the end Germany always wins". That about sums it up.
Player to watch: Bastian Schweinsteiger. And not just because he's got 'pork' in his surname. A running machine with a powerful shot, he can be the key to creating the space needed for Miroslav Klose and Philipp Lahm to stamp their authority.
Penalties please: The Germans feature in 6 World Cup records featuring penalty shoot-outs, including: Most shoot-out wins and most successful penalty kicks all time for a team. The moral of the story is...don't take them to penalties. Unlike their English counterparts, these guys don't buckle under pressure.

Time for a change: I appreciate tradition, but also feel sometimes a change is a good thing. As far as the Socceroos name is concerned, I'm voting for the latter. What are the other options? Maybe p#ss off both Aussie Rules and the Rugby League and call them the Footyroos!!! Just kidding.
Player to watch: Harry Kewell or Tim Cahill? I can't separate them. Both are required to excel if Australia is to repeat their performance from 2006 and exit the group stage. However with Kewell underdone and Cahill under an injury cloud, the forecast is bleak.
He's no Guus: All credit to Pim Verbeek for leading the qualifying campaign and successfully taking Australia back to the World Cup. I just don't think he's got the tactical nuance to follow in Guus Hiddink's footsteps and get the team to the next round. Hiddink has no fear of switching tactics between games, or even mid-game when required. And he held no fear of telling the team to push forward and look for the win. While I appreciate Pim's perspective that our striking options are limited...there is plenty of attacking potency in Kewell, Cahill, Bresciano, Emerton etc. It's the World Cup Pim. Time to put your balls on the line.

Put a fork in them: I was legitimately scared of Ghana leading into the Cup. Then Michael Essien pulled out with injury. That's their campaign down the toilet. Game over, good night, thanks for coming, hope you enjoyed the show.
Player to watch: With Essien out, the burden will fall on the experienced shoulders of Stephen Appiah to lead the Black Stars.
Useless fact: Ghana is the youngest team in the World Cup at an average age of 24 years and 9 months.

VERDICT: Australia can't repeat 2006 success. Germany and Serbia to progress

Part 2 of the Idiot's Guide, featuring Group's E - H to follow shortly.

Monday, May 17, 2010

When will the NSW selectors learn?

Shocked, dismayed, annoyed, perplexed, amazed, frustrated...these are the feelings that all NSW fans should be feeling this morning after it was revealed last night that Kurt Gidley would remain as incumbent fullback for State of Origin I, keeping 2009 Dally M Player of the Year Jarryd Hayne on the wing.

Hayne (leaving aside my obvious Parramatta bias) is far and away a stronger, faster and more explosive player than Gidley, and has the power and performance to be a game breaker from a roving role at the back. He is a strong defender, safe under the high ball, can add an extra dimension to the Blues kicking game and, with the ball in his hands, has proven to be one of the hardest players in the league to tackle. On the wing he'll merely drift in and out of the game, without any real opportunity to stamp his authority and dictate play. If I was a cane toad I'd be laughing until I wet my pants (which Queenslanders often do) after hearing that NSW has shunted their best attacking weapon out to the sideline.

Unfortunately this type of decision making by NSW selectors is par for the course. In the 1980's, when NSW was struggling to contain the QLD juggernaut, the selectors would consistently move Brett Kenny into the centres as a way of accommodating other players. QLD Origin great Gene Miles has been quoted as saying that every time Kenny was picked in the centres they were confident of a victory such was their respect for his abilities. As a centre they felt they could better contain his effectiveness. And the results speak for themselves. Kenny dominated Origin for NSW; outplaying the much vaunted King Wally Lewis 8 times out of the 12 games they faced each other at 5/8. The five games where Kenny starting in the centres resulted in five Origin defeats for NSW. You do the math.

I’m sure the current crop of XXXX drinkers from the Sunshine State feels the same way about Hayne as Miles did about Kenny. On the wing they can better isolate him, cut off his ball supply and keep him contained.

This is not a shot at Gidley, who is a classy player and should play a major part in this series. His ideal role (IMHO) is playing from the bench, due to his obvious versatility. Gidley can cover almost any position in the backline, as well as play from dummy half. His toughness and experience is a real asset, which could be called upon late in each half to target tiring Maroon forwards, in a similar way that Craig Wing made his bones at representative level.

With Hayne at fullback and Gidley on the bench, I drop Jamal Idris, who I don't think has any part to play as a bench player. He is an undoubted talent, and will likely be a fixture in the side in years to come. But I cannot fathom how the selectors would opt for a specialist centre on the bench. The theory goes that Idris moving into the centres will allow Hayne to move to fullback with Timana Tahu on the wing and Gidley either in the halves or to hooker. WOW. Picking a centre on the bench to allow Hayne to play at fullback? Here's a thought (on the house) - why not pick him at fullback to start off with!!! Then you don't have to reshuffle the entire backline mid game to accommodate players.

My other winger would have been Michael Jennings, who is one of those rare natural talents with speed to burn. His form is exceptional, with last weekends hat-trick of tries an example of the damage he can inflict with his pace. He and Tahu could interchange throughout the game to mix things up a bit, and keep the frogs…sorry, toads, guessing.

I also can't believe that Paul Gallen has failed to figure in the line-up. This is exactly the sort of hard man that is purpose built for S.O.O. He is an ugly, bare-knuckled, street fighter type who has the power to both intimidate and hurt the opposition. If he was born north of the border I guarantee he would have been the first forward on the team sheet. He's our version of Mick Crocker...except we've decided not to pick him. I understand there is a plethora of back rowers all with their hands up - Watmough, Creagh, Waterhouse, Hindmarsh (don't get me started!!!), Lewis, Stewart, O'Donnell, Laffranchi, Mason (just kidding) - but surely the toughest of them all should have found himself with a sky-blue jumper Wednesday week. After all, this is meant to be the toughest arena of footy on the planet.

On the positive side I applaud the selectors for sticking with Brett Kimmorley and Michael Ennis in the 7 and 9 jerseys. Despite my past (very vocal) criticisms of Noddy, his experience and form puts him ahead of the other halfback options...albeit the cupboard is quite bare at the moment. Ennis is another one of those ‘built for Origin’ types. Robbie Farah might have a deeper bag of tricks, but there are still question marks over his toughness. Ennis will not back down from the challenge. And I like the selection of Jamie Lyon at 5/8. I know it isn't his preferred position, but he's one of the competitions form players, and should enjoy running off Noddy's flat passes. Plus he won't be exposed defensively against the big Maroon backs i.e. Greg Inglis.

Whilst we're on the topic of halves, I can't ignore the fact that Mark Geyer, on the Sunday Roast a couple of weeks ago, mentioned (with a straight face mind you) that Brett Finch would be his starting halfback in Origin I. To quote the immortal Fatty Vautin, give yourself an uppercut son. What planet is big MG on??? Finch isn't fit to scrape the lint off the team jumper, much less pull one on come game time. Methinks the big fella copped one high shot too many in his glory days.

My NSW team for Origin I

B. Morris
Kimmorley (c)

Bench: White, Lewis, Creagh, Gidley


UP: MARK WEBBER. Two wins on the trot. Leading the F1 Drivers Championship (by virtue of the most race wins). The best performing car on the grid. He is now a legitimate contender for the title. Go you good thing.

DOWN: CHANNEL 9. I can only imagine the conversation between executives at Nine when the draw for the NRL Heritage Round was announced:

Mindless Exec 1: “The next NRL round promotes traditional team rivalries.”

Mindless Exec 2: “Sounds good. What are the options for the free to air feature game on Sunday?”

Mindless Exec 1: “We’ve got Manly versus Parramatta. They shaped footy in the early 80’s with consecutive grand finals. Plus there’s the added sub-plot that they were the clubs most affected by the recent Melbourne Storm salary cap drama. We’ve also got Cronulla versus Penrith, who have never shared any sort of tribal rivalry, and never figure to do so in the future.”

Mindless Exec 2: “Mmm…Sharks versus Panthers eh? Sounds pretty cool. Who do you think would win in a fight between a shark and a panther?”

Mindless Exec 1: “Tough call. If it was on dry land I figure the panther has the edge. In the water I tip the shark.”

Mindless Exec 2: “Good call. Let’s go with that game.”

Mindless Exec 1: “Great idea! Now let’s go grab an overpriced latte and open sandwich with sundried tomato and charge it back to the company!”

UP: JAMES COURTNEY. Nice to see the Blue Oval delivering back to back wins in the V8’s. Courtney, for so long derided amongst his peers because of his flash image, is now delivering with results. Leading the driver’s championship, he has definitely thrown the gauntlet down to Team Vodafone.

UP: EVIL RUSSELL. Did you watch the last episode of Survivor: Heroes versus Villains? This guy should be a CIA interrogator. He bullied, lied, cajoled and intimidated until he broke one of the competitors (Danielle) at tribal council. She was in tears be the time he finished. Honorable mention for Rupert and his fake hidden immunity idol. Didn’t think the big man had the grey matter to pull off a move like that. I still think the dark horse to take out the million is Sandra.

DOWN: MICHAEL CLARKE. Very talented cricketer. Most likely the future Test captain. But he’s got no place in the Twenty 20 team. Which leads me to the next point…

DOWN: TWENTY 20. Congratulations to England on winning the World Cup. Great effort by the Caribbean Islands for hosting, by all reports, a successful tournament. But is this form of cricket even relevant?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Knock them off their f#cken perch

Before Sir Alex Ferguson was knighted and became S.A.F, he was just another red faced Scotsman looking to p#ss off the establishment. In this case, the establishment was represented by the intimidating form of Liverpool FC, who for such a long period of time in the late 70's and throughout the 80’s dominated not only English, but also European football. That is until 1985 and the Heysel Stadium Disaster, when Scouser fans decided to bull-rush Juventus fans, killing 39 Juve supporters, injuring 600 more, and changing the footballing landscape forever. That's neither here nor there. I digress.

Appointed in 1986, S.A.F made it his obsession to reignite the Manchester United glory years, and in doing so, vowed to "knock Liverpool of their f#cken perch." At the time, such an ambitious statement was considered beyond optimistic. To say Man U was going through a lean period is an understatement. Blighted by poor training habits, a culture of binge drinking, and very tight purse strings, the Red Devils had failed to deceive for far too long.

At the point of taking over the reigns at Old Trafford, Liverpool had just collected their 16th League title. Two more were to follow in 1988 and 1990, giving the Reds a (then record) haul of 18 domestic titles. Without doubt the most successful league club in English football. Manchester United, and their 7 league titles, could only look on with envy.

And so S.A.F set to work. He eradicated the club's drinking culture (probably by consuming the booze before the players got their greedy mitts to it). Ejected the dead weight (see
Paul McGrath). Brought in some fan favourites (see Sparky Hughes). And in a moment of (divine) inspiration, secured the services of Eric the King.

The rest, as they say, is history.

In presiding over the most dominant dynasty in English football history, S.A.F has taken the Red Devils to the cusp becoming the most successful club in English football. Eleven league titles ensure the Red Devils sit side by side with their arch nemesis in the battle for footballing supremacy. Just as Moses led the Israelites to the Promised Land (insert obligatory political statement about Israel's appalling record of human rights violations in modern times), so too has S.A.F led the Manchester United faithful to their land of milk and honey.

The final hurdle awaits this weekend in the closing round of the Premier League. Chelsea, Roman's Mercenaries, only need win at home against lowly Wigan to keep Man U on the same perch as Liverpool. However, should Wigan battle for a draw, or by some miracle a win, then Manchester United can steal the crown with a win versus Sunderland...and be crowned Champions of England for a record 19th time.

Do we dare dream of such a result? Do we ever! Let's knock them off their f#cken perch!!!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Sleeping with the enemy

BREAKING NEWS – Talk about Infarkt!!! Melbourne Storm Stripped of 3 premierships for salary cap breach. This is heart attack material without doubt. When I saw the headline my eyes lit up like a Bulldogs player in a spa at Coffs Harbour.

I’ve interrupted my blog post below to reflect upon the breaking news that the Mexicans from the Melbourne Storm have been doing it (Bull)doggie style and cheating on the salary cap in the NRL. Their systematic abuse of the system, which allowed them to retain the services of an immensely talented squad including marquee players Cameron Smith, Billy Slater, Greg Inglis and Cooper Cronk, was exposed today by the NRL salary cap auditors.

SIDE NOTE – Whilst the auditors are on the case, I suggest they investigate all employees at News Limited, including a gentleman who I’ll name Chip, because they’re obviously accomplices in this whole sordid affair.

The punishment dished out is perhaps the most severe in professional sports. The Storm has been stripped of two premierships and three minor premierships, hit with a fine of $1.5 million, and had all of their current competition points from this season deducted. On top of that, they cannot accrue any competition points for the remainder of 2010, consigning them to the wooden spoon. To call this stance hardline is severely understating things, but did the NRL have any other choice? After the precedent set with the Bulldogs when their rorting of the cap was uncovered in 2002, the NRL had no other option but to strike a hammer blow that would reverberate throughout the competition. One would think that this punishment would ensure that no other teams are tempted to follow suit and cook the books to gain a competitive advantage.

Today’s news leaves two issues that need to be resolved asap...first, what is the future of the salary cap, and two, what should the history books reflect as far as the 2007 and 2009 Premierships are concerned?

Although I understand why the salary cap is in place, and agree that it has created a level playing field in the competition, it is a severe restrain of trade that either:

a) Forces players to consider the English Super League as an alternative
b) Opens the door for Rugby Union to poach players and offer them greater $$$
c) Tempts clubs into entertaining ‘creative accounting procedures’ to retain players

It is plainly obvious that NRL superstars are chasing dollars that the salary cap just doesn’t allow them to earn. What I would suggest would be following a similar model as the National Basketball League in the USA. Although a salary cap is in place, teams are allowed to spend in excess of the cap limit. However, their punishment is a luxury tax, whereby clubs are required to pay a tax, matching dollar for dollar what they’ve exceed the cap by, back to the league. The tax is then re-distributed to the other clubs.

Under this system, Melbourne would be able to pay the $1.7 million over the cap to their players, but would then need to fork out an extra $1.7 million in luxury tax. Would Melbourne have been able to keep their players under this system? Perhaps, perhaps not. At least the other clubs would have gained financial benefit. Sounds reasonable to me. If a club is in a position of financial strength they certainly shouldn’t be punished for it. The game has for too long accepted clubs that struggle for support and are in financial disarray (see: South Sydney Rabbitohs before for R. Crowe bailout).

As far as the history books are concerned, the records should reflect that Manly are the Premiers for 2007, and Parramatta for 2009, with an asterisk to qualify under what conditions the Premiership was attained. Although this might sound like a biased opinion from an Eels fan, believe me when I say the last thing I want is Manly to be credited with a title. Rather, a precedent has been set in the past when cheating champions have been caught out. Ben Johnson’s performance in the 100 metre sprint at the 1998 Olympic Games in Seoul springs to mind. And more recently in the Serie A 2005-06 season, when Juventus was stripped of their Scudetto for match fixing and Inter Milan were awarded the title.

On that note, congratulations to all my fellow Eels (and begrudgingly to the Manly faithful)...Let the records reflect we finally broke a very long drought!!! Now, enjoy the rest of my blog below.


It’s been a long time between blogs. My last posting was late January (a not too well received blog about how women’s tennis is pathetic)...Since then I’ve had to add another baby capsule into the back seat of the practical and family orientated Toyota Camry we drive. Nine weeks later, sleep deprived and looking to add an extension at the back of the home to create some more space for the rugrats, and it’s definitely time to get back to what I do best (or at least partially better than make a killer omelette)...crapping on about sports.
With that in mind, and considering so much has happening since the Australian Open, I’ve decided to take a snapshot of some of the major issues (IMO) that have surfaced so far in 2010.

1. You did what?!?! – I know this isn’t sports related, but did anyone watch Survivor, Heroes versus Villains, on Tuesday night? What in the world was JT thinking when he decided it was a good idea to give Russell the immunity idol? My God, if that’s not the dumbest move in reality TV history then the Pope isn’t Catholic. This guy is nicknamed Evil Russell, and you just gave him the one thing that can stop him from getting voted out. Are you serious? The quote Ace Rothstein, “is he just another dumb f#cken white man or what?” Honestly. They should change the name of the Heroes to the Dumb Asses, and all of them should be voted out en masse at the next tribal council for being so stupid. If Russell was on fire you dead set would p#ss on him, that’s how dangerous a player he is. And this country bumpkin, redneck, hick decides it’s a good idea to keep him alive. WOW. To say I’m flabbergasted is a serious understatement. Go Russell. I hope you pick them all off one by one, but leave JT till last. The jury should have to vote unanimously on the decided show and laugh their collective arses off in his face.

2. Sleeping with the enemy – I feel like I’m about to jump into bed with my neighbours ugly, smelly grandmother. That’s right folks...I’m about to cheer for Liverpool FC in the English Premier League in the hope that the dirty rotten Scousers can take points of Chelsea and hand Manchester United their 19th league title (breaking Liverpool’s historical hold on English league dominance). How ironic would that be?

Four weeks ago I thought United would take the trophy in a canter. Then disaster struck and we found ourselves four points off the lead following insipid performances against Roman’s Mafia and Blackburn Rovers. But last weekend threw up another twist in a crazy season, when the Ginger Ninja Paul Scholes broke Sky Blue hearts (quote Nelson Munce: “Ah Ha!”) and the Hebrew Gods blessed Tottenham Hotspur against their London rivals Chelsea. Now there’s only one point in it with three games to play, and Liverpool can play a huge role in the outcome when they face the leaders on 2nd May. LI-VER-POOL, LIVERPOOL, LIVERPOOL!!!

3. It’s about time too – I know I’m going to draw the ire of some of my fellow members of the Blue & Gold army, but I’m sure I’m not the only devoted Eel who breathed a sign of relief when Parramatta captain Nathan Cayless announced he was going to retire from the NRL at the end of the season. I know he’s been a loyal servant to the club, and he’s broken the record for most games captaining the same team, but for such a long time he has punched above his weight as a prop. Although this is inspirational to his teammates, Cayless hasn’t delivered a dominating front row performance in years. Nathan’s retirement will allow the Eels to lead with Fui Fui Moi Moi and Justin Poore (who has been a disappointment to date, but has potential) and to further develop Tim Mannah, who has the size and ability to become one of the premier front rowers in the competition for years to come. Plus the extra cap space is welcome. Thanks for the memories Nathan.

4. A game of two halves – still on the Eels, how does one go about explaining their dreadful first half performances this season? To date the celebrated back line of Hayne, Tahu, Inu, Reddy, Grothe, Burt and Mortimer has managed to score just 18 points in six first halves.

Vs. St George 6 – 12
Vs. Manly 0 – 14
Vs. Wests 0 – 8
Vs. Cronulla 0 – 0
Vs. Canberra 10 – 18
Vs. Souths 2 – 8

That’s 240 minutes of football!!! It’s no wonder the team has a losing record. When you give your opponents a head start in every game you play, you’re bound to be under the pump. Daniel Anderson needs to look at serving up some Jaeger Bombs before the team runs onto the field to get the energy levels up before kick off, otherwise this trend in going to consign 2010 as yet another disappointing season for the Eels.

5. No way Jose!!! – After watching Inter Milan dismantle Barcelona in the first League of their European Champions semi final, I am now unequivocally in support of Jose Mourinho to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson at the helm of Manchester United. Inter were always going to be competitive...but watching his tactical mastery bring about a 3 – 1 result against arguably the best team in Europe (for the past few seasons mind you) was a joy to watch. Jose has the ego, confidence, tactical nuance, wardrobe, experience, youth and charisma, to not only replace Fergie, but potentially deliver a new dynasty at Old Trafford. A message to the Glazers (other than ‘f#ck off back to America you Yankee b#stards’) the chequebook and get Jose on board now, before it’s too late.