Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Ghost and The Butler

The Ghost:
How does he do it? He floats around the football field. He glides where others walk. He lurks just out of eyesight. He stalks his prey with the intimacy of a shadow. He feels the defenses’ edges and weak points with his unblinking gaze. He materializes when he so desires; never too soon, never too late. Defenders reach for his shirt but grasp at nothing. Studs tackle thin air. Some praise Ozil as a “thinking” player. However, Ozil is not playing chess: he’s playing hide and go seek. And he’s playing by his own rules of physics.
The Butler:
 His role with England is also deceptively vital. There is a filibustering quality to his guided hustle, granting a sense of control that is essential for a manager who appears to have decided that if this cautious England are to win games here they must above all avoid conceding the first goal. Milner is key to maintaining parity in those fraught opening minutes, which in three matches so far have been notable for the oddly captivating spectacle of his ever-scurrying legs.The role of the dependable serf, the royal butler, is a familiar one in the history of England managerdom. Alf Ramsey united his dressing room by defending Nobby Stiles after his dreadful tackle on the France midfielder Jacques Simon at the 1966 World Cup. Sven-Goran Eriksson had his Heskey-curious side, but perhaps Sven's Milner was instead Nick Barmby, another shrewd Mr Fix-it midfielder with an air of pachyderm obedience, and an emblem of the good times before the stasis of late-Sven midfield celebrity-gorge. Graham Taylor is remembered for his improbables, the revolving door of one-night stands and pressed men during a period when England's whole world seemed to turn a shade of Andy Sinton. This was Taylor's problem. He never found his Milner.Happily, Hodgson already has: Milner is his Milner.
The above two paragraphs are from two fascinating blog links (that I got through twitter) in the last couple of days. The first one about Mesut Ozil is by Futfanatico and the link is here. The next one about James Milner is by Barney Ronay and the link is here. You cannot get two more contrasting players. And for the time being, both seem to represent the contrasting nature of their national teams.
PS: These two pieces were so good that I wanted to bookmark them here.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

My Thoughts on the Euro 2012 Group Stage

I have watched quite a lot of the 24 group stage matches. Watched the hightlights and goals of the rest. These are my quick, unstructured reactions about each of the 16 teams.

Group A
1) Czech Republic: Not quite sure what they do well. Quite compact in midfield. Not seen enough out of Rosicky - hope he gets fit and does well in the quarters and beyond. Petr Cech had a howler #Ripleys.
2) Greece: Think they are lucky to be through. Then again, damn resilient. Rather well organised and deceptively strong across the pitch. Solid.
3) Russia: So much talent. They were cruising through before they did a South Africa. Dzagoev is the most exciting Alan since Donald. Arshavin showed in glimpses, why we all love so much. Pity, they are not going to be going forward.
4) Poland: Lewandowski is some player. As is Kuba. And despite the howler Bhocheck is still my favourite player. Chin up - big fella.

Group B
1) Germany: No signs of Gotze yet ! Still probably the best team in the tournament so far. Incredible to see Podolski get a 100 caps before he joins us. Gomez is better than I thought. Schweinsteiger is superb. As is Hummels.
2) Portugal: Excellent individual defenders. If Ronaldo is on fire, they can beat anyone. Tough team.
3) Denmark: Two words for you : Nicklas Bendtner ! Pants up or down - he was awesome in more ways than you can imagine. Krohn Dehli is an interesting player. Rather good central defensive pair in Agger and Kjaer too. Was expecting a lot more from the kid Ericson.
4) The Netherlands: WTF ? If only they had Arteta....Shit happens and it did. Now come back Robin and sign the damn contract.
PS: Has there been a more selfish player than Robben ? Like ever ?

Group C
1) Spain: Tiki-taka. Pass-pass. Sigh. Torres is slowly getting back to form. Sigh. Cesc as a False 9. Interesting. Liked it when they played a sort of 4-6-0 in the first match. Will probably win the damn thing again.
2) Italy: 3-5-2 ! Interesting. De Rossi as a Centre back is interesting. Can just watch Pirlo for 90 minutes if it was possible. Legend. Buffon = Yet another Legend. Good to see Di Natalie get some time as well. So much liking for them from me (an Old Anti-Azurri) - something is not quite right.
3) Croatia: Got to know that there is another mad Mario around: Mandzukic. Quite handy. Modric - slightly disappointing. Good team, just fell short.
4) Republic of Ireland: Best fans ever ! No comments about the team.

Group D
1) England: Wow - Woy Hodgson and his banks of 4 have made this team a tough nut to crack. Slightly lucky but generally plucky. Gerrard excellent. Wellbeck will be some player one day. As will The Ox.
2) France: More pleasing to the eye than some of the last few Les Blues editions. Shit central defensive pairing though - can't believe they haven't played Kos till date. Interesting midfield. Benzema is a class forward despite not scoring goals.
3) Ukraine: Had their epic moments with the Sheva inspired victory. Not seen much - but I get it that they have some exciting youngsters coming through as well.
4) Sweden: Zlatan Ibrahimovic XI. Whatay goal against the French. Pity - got knocked out so soon. Seb Larsson can deliver a ball - man !

Favourite Goal: A tie between Ibra's volley against France and Pirlo's freekick against Croatia.
Moment to remember: The match getting suspended due to rain, thunder and lightning ! First time ever for me
Best thing: No goalless draws !
Apacalypse Now !
PS: For a more statistics based view, read this.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Of Anticipation and Memories

I am an excited football fan right now, as I await the start of the Euro 2012. Mahek Vyas, one of the great sports fans that I know on twitter - tweeted a while back expressing his surprise at people getting excited about a football match between Poland and Greece. And as always he is right, just that I am approaching it slightly differently.
Every two years, football fans come together to witness the World Cup and the Euros - the two big international tournaments. And on opening match day, I keep going back in time, nostalgic about past tournaments. It was 1990, when as a little kid - I started watching Argentina play Cameron, sometime in the middle of the night. I was in Kolkata then, at my maternal grandfather's place and looking back - that match is perhaps one of my most cherished memories of the little time that I spent with him. I remember going into the match knowing only 1 player - Maradona - all of Kolkata was talking just about him. I remember coming out of it - a fan of The Indomitable Lions.
I remember 2002 as Senegal stunned "my Les Blues" team sans Zidane. The likes of Papa Bouba Diouf and co suddenly became household names as I felt the bitter blow of a crushing defeat suffered by my beloved France - a blow they did not recover for quite some time.
2004 and it was Portugal time as I backed one of my favourite footballers - Luis Figo and his "golden generation" to finally set the record straight. But the tournament started (and ended) with a shock defeat for the hosts as plucky Greece went on to record a stunning victory under Otto Rehaggel.
A couple of years ago - as I was desperately looking to return to my house and following the match on twitter - as my timeline went Tshabalala as the World Cup arrived in Africa. It was an incredible moment.
And these are just some of the more striking opening match memories.As I look back, these football tournaments (or for that matter - the cricket world cups) provide interesting check posts of my own life. I look back with great fondness of matches watched with both my grandfathers and father; of watching them with my younger brother as he initiated his love with the game; of debates and discussions with my friends in school and college. I remember the madness surrounding Brazil and Argentina back in Kolkata, of the football fever in my company down in Mangalore as we organised events to celebrate the great occasion. And now with twitter and all that, sports viewing is a totally different experience. I had an absolutely great time following the football on the internet as the likes of Zonal Marking and Run of Play made football viewing an absolutely enriching experience. Add to that, the wonderful folks that one gets to know on twitter and it is terrific.
 I find the World Cup and the Euros as wonderful occasions for football watching. And while I am a regular club football watcher, there are the twin joys of watching your favorites in action in a different setting, while also getting to watch unknown names emerge as new stars.Watching international football is less stressful as well, as I do not necessarily lose sleep about defeats and all that :) I am not caught up in the tribalism of club rivalries and can relax and watch with no pressure ! So let the games begin, let the goals flow in - I am as excited as I was 22 years ago that midnight in Kolkata when I saw this!

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