Thursday, April 28, 2011

What Jose Will Never Admit

1. Porto beat Manchester United in 2004 after United had a perfectly legitimate goal ruled offside.
2. Jorge Andrade being sent off for allegedly kicking the ball at a Porto player in the semis.
3. His accusations toward Anders Frisk caused the referee to retire after angry Chelsea fans made death threats.
4. Ricardo Carvalho pulled down Victor Valdes as John Terry headed the ball into the Barcelona goal in the second leg at Stamford Bridge in 2005.
5. Chelsea prepared a sandpit for Barcelona in the first leg at Stamford Bridge in 2006.
6. Asier Del Horno should have been booked for a studs up challenge on Lionel Messi before he was shown a direct red for kicking the ball onto him after the referee had already blown the whistle.
6. Chelsea got a penalty in the second leg even though there was no foul on John Terry.
7. Michael Ballack should've been booked for a foul on Thierry Henry in the first leg of the semi-final in 2009.
8. The aforementioned foul was in the penalty area and would have resulted in a penalty and Barcelona most likely going into the second leg with a lead.
9. Eric Abidal was wrongly sent off in that game after Anelka tripped on himself.
10.Diego Milito's goal in the first leg of the semi-final in 2010 was offside.
11.Thiago Motta elbowed Sergio Busquets. Even if Busquets hadn't made a meal of it, that was a red.
12.Barcelona had a goal ruled out because Toure was deemed to have handled the ball, even though he had no time to avoid it.
13.Pepe should have been sent off in the Copa Del Rey final.
14.Sergio Ramos got booked for elbowing Lionel Messi.

Edit: I had got the first one wrong. Porto's goal at Old Trafford was fine, it was United who had a goal disallowed even though Scholes was atleast a metre onside. Props to Rohan the United supporter for pointing it out.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The World Doesn't Move to the Beat of Just One Drum

It's amazing how there appears to be an unwritten code that demands footballers to get on with it despite being kicked around. Apparently it's a bigger crime to stay on the ground when you're fouled than it is to commit the foul in the first place. So who cares if your most precious asset, your legs, are constantly stamped on and/or poked at by elite athletes even though it's the ball that they need to be kicking? I mean what's the big deal if an Eduardo or a Ramsey breaks his leg? Who cares if a player misses multiple months due to an injury? They knew what they were getting into, isn't it?

Sure, everybody knows football at the highest level can be a very risky game where you're one bad tackle away from having your career ended. But why hold it against players when they do everything they can to ensure it doesn't happen to them? I dislike the exaggerated reaction to fouls as any other person, but it can never come close to a malicious foul even if that foul didn't result in a serious injury. One of them can influence the course of a tie, the other can influence the course of a tie and a player's career. People would do well to maintain a sense of perspective in such cases.

It is in this context that I would like to view last night's game between Real Madrid and Barcelona. Anyone who knows a thing or two about football should have seen it coming. There was no way in hell Real were going to allow an open game, even though it might just have been in their favour to be more aggressive on the ball rather than on the opposition players. Barcelona were missing all three of their left backs and had to slot in a semi-fit Carles Puyol to play in that position. It also meant they were without their first-choice centre back, and Diego Milito was also injured. As a result, they had to play a defensive midfielder in that position. They were also missing Andres Iniesta, who just happens to be one of the best creative midfielders in world football.

Why then would you put out a side at home to just sit back and absorb whatever Barcelona throw at you, especially when you have spent hundreds of millions on players who are supposed to score goals for a living? Lassana Diarra was penalised twice in the first half hour for tackling from behind and not getting a piece of the ball. He was pushing the limit all game and on another night he might have been booked. But when you as the opposition player see the referee not do anything about such tackles, why wouldn't you protest? If kicking players is a legitimate tactic to intimidate them, surely making the most of such challenges and pressurising the referee is just as fine? Unlike Rugby or American Football where contact is essential, it is only incidental in football. Don't tell that to most of the fans though, who think kicking players is an absolutely legitimate tactic.

Ofcourse the flip side to this argument is that players like Alves and Busquets made the most of the fouls committed on them. But does it change the fact that those fouls were committed? Pepe's studs up tackle on Alves is the kind that ruins careers. I remember UEFA banning Michael Essien for two games for a similar tackle on Jamie Carragher in 2006, and I bet people would be quick to point out that those two games happened to be against Barcelona.

I could say a lot about Mourinho and his one-eyed view of incidents, but I'll leave that for another post. For now, I'm going to enjoy this piece of brilliance from Messi and I hope that whoever I marry lets me name my first-born Lionel.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

O Captain, My Captain! Give me my Humble Pie!!!

They used to ask who wrote Ian Botham's scripts. I think it's time people asked that question about Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Those who think it's disrespectful to question Dhoni's tactics miss the point: We all want him to lead the side to victory. Just because we disagree with some of his decisions doesn't mean we don't want him to be captain. Conversely, just because we agree with some of his decisions doesn't mean we'd blindly back him on everything.

I thought the decision to play a third seamer in the last two games was the wrong one. Dhoni admitted to making that mistake in the semis and I'm glad he can do that inspite of the intense scrutiny he's put under. Playing Sreesanth ahead of Ashwin was wrong too, but it didn't cost us a win. On another day it might. On the other hand, it was the right thing for Dhoni to bat at 5 with 3 offspinners in the Lankan side. As good as Yuvraj has been, he's never been comfortable against them. The required rate was very much under control and it made a lot of sense to save him for bowlers he could hammer all over the Wankhede. It would've been the right decision even if Dhoni had gotten out.

I think Dhoni understands this, and as long as we're civil about expressing our opinion it's alright. It was nice to see him not take the bait Ravi Shastri dangled in front of him. He knew he hadn't batted well in the World Cup so far and wanted to prove a point to himself. He's a much bigger man than Shastri and all those bitter "experts" will ever be. Let's not talk about how sick it makes us when we see a cricketer endorse a brand right after he's been dismissed. These guys have a much shorter career span than so many of us and we should let them decide their priorities. Question their tactics, but please don't question their motives without concrete evidence because these guys have worked so much harder than any of us to be where they are.

Anyone I talk cricket with knows I did not think India would win this World Cup before the start of the tournament. It wasn't because of the weight of expectations or anything, I just thought a lineup that hadn't played together for the past year or so, out of form middle order batsmen and a bowling attack that sold itself short in its quest for wickets could win three knockout games in a row.

As it turns out, it took the side a while to realise Kohli's place shouldn't be messed around with. The brilliant allround performance of Yuvraj was obviously the biggest boost for the side, one not even his biggest supporters would have expected. Everyone knew he had the ability to pace his innings in ODIs but no one expected him to bowl 10 overs and take 2 wickets almost every game. The bowling was just about good, but Zaheer provided the leadership it desperately needed and Yuvraj took away the headache of the fifth bowler. It is amazing that of the many "experts" on TV & in the media, none of them has picked up on Zaheer's knuckleball. Sometimes it helps to expand your horizons. Kudos to whoever got Zaheer to try that delivery.

The addition of Raina gave the side a leader in the fielding department. It is difficult to quantify the impact of fielding, but if ever there was a case for recognising a player's "intangibles", Raina is a prime example. I remember an incident from the game against Pakistan when a throw came in and Nehra wasn't aware of it. The ball would've hit him but Raina stepped in to take the blow. It's the sort of thing TV cameras never pick up, but the men on the field do. It would be wrong to not touch on his lower order batting in the two knockout games. The team was right in trying Pathan at the start of the World Cup, and it was also right in going back to their finisher when Pathan couldn't deliver. It's not a knock on Pathan, he should be (And I bet he is) proud to be part of a World Cup winning side.

Last but not least, a big Thank You to Gary Kirsten. You have sacrificed over 3 years of family life to turn us into a proper team. You have done it without being overbearing, without going behind the players' backs, and with a lot of dignity even when things didn't go the way India wanted them to. I hope you enjoyed working in our land and achieve great success in whatever project you take up. I wish you would have stayed longer but nothing comes before family and nation. Just don't join the Mumbai Manhooses. They're Evil :)