When Passion and Will Beat Skill

27/10/2009

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Obviously Liverpool fans will disagree with me, they wouldn’t be fans if they didn’t, but the Liverpool first 11 is no where near as good as the Chelsea, Man Utd and Arsenal first 11’s. They’d compete with the City and Spurs 11 though. And that’s why Liverpool won’t win the league this season – they aren’t good enough.

 

However on any given day, on once off occasions, derby games, cup ties and backs to the wall stuff, good enough doesn’t always win – the team that wants it most does, the team with more passion and will on the day wins. That’s what happened this past Sunday.

 

Liverpool, having gone on a 4 game losing streak, were looking at there worst run in over 50 years if they had lost to United. Rafa may have got his tactics and team selections wrong on a number of occasions so far this season, but the team he put out on Sunday was the right one. They not only wanted a win more, they needed one. The chances are that, media speculation aside, Rafa would not have lost his job had Liverpool lost again, however with the turmoil that is the Liverpool board room, you couldn’t count that out. The players played for their manager that day, but more so they played for their club and its fans.

 

The much maligned Lucas is a great example of this. The Brazilian midfielder gets more stick and criticism from his own fans then he does elsewhere. Many can’t fathom why Rafa keeps picking him. His general displays suggest he isn’t good enough to play for Liverpool, but then again you don’t win a Brazilian player of the year award without knowing how to play. He’s constant fouling saw him lucky to escape unpunished by a referee who let the occasion get the better of him, but his break up play, passing, positioning and bossing of the midfield shone through. He stood out against more talented players like Scholes and Carrick, and Mascherano beside him. With summer signing Alberto Aquilani nearing fitness Lucas playing time may be limited in the coming months, but on this day he stood above others.

 

Like Lucas, Jamie Carragher has come in for criticism this season. His form has been shaky and not up to his usual standards, but when his team needed him the most, he delivered. Like Lucas he got away with a few key fouls that could have changed things, but again, like Lucas, there was no denying the passion, will and want to win in Carragher.

 

United simply were beaten by a team that wanted it more on the day. That’s not saying United didn’t want the win, of course they did, but with Liverpool having their backs to the wall and being written off by all, one team just played with more will.

 

In Gerrard and Torres Liverpool have two world class players, who on their day can be the best in the world, but they don’t have the players to compete with United, Chelsea and Arsenal for the title. But sometimes, on certain days, that doesn’t matter. Sunday was one of those days. Passion and will, commitment and want, sometimes overcome skill.

 

pic from teamtalk.com

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Time for Change

24/10/2009

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The Protea’s have announced their squads for the two ODI games against Zimbabwe, the two T20 games against England, and the first three ODI games against England. While not exactly making surprise selections, they have made some brave, proactive choices after South Africa’s failures in the Champions Trophy.

South Africa have been the most consistent, and perhaps the best, ODI team over the last few years, but their record in ODI series has not been transferred to ICC events. As the team looks to rectify this problem, and build towards the next T20 World Cup next year and the ICC World Cup in 2011. With this entire in mind the selectors have dropped stalwarts Makhaya Ntini and Herchelle Gibbs, while uncapped Heino Kuhn and Ryan McLaren get call ups, and Loots Bosman, Alviro Peterson, and Charl Langeveld earn recalls. Robin Peterson also misses out from the squad that did duty in the Champions Trophy.

The exclusion of Ntini is noteworthy but hardly surprising. The fast bowler has been in most Protea’s squads in recent times, but has not been part of the full strength ODI team, losing his place to the young talent Wayne Parnell. His ODI form has been on the decline in the last 18 months, and the man who was once the spearhead of the attack, and formed a formidable opening bowling partnership with Shaun Pollock, could be seeing his ODI career take a natural death. He is still however part of the Test plans.

The dropping of Gibbs is a little different. Gibbs has lost his Test place a year ago and now finds himself out of the ODI and T20 squads too. At 35 it will be hard for him to force his way back into the team, but he is still supremely fit, still one of the best fielders around, and if he develops consistency with his batting, he could still earn a recall. That’s been the problem with Gibbs – a lack of consistency. Flashes of his old brilliance have been punctuating low scores and the selectors would prefer it the other way around. His performance in the Champions League for the Cape Cobra’s sums up his form over the last couple of years. He scored 1 run in his first three innings before smashing a superb 42 in the semi final; where he gave his wicket away instead of going on to lead his team to a winning target.

Changes to the personnel aren’t the only ones the Protea’s have unveiled for the upcoming matches. With Gibbs missing out the thought would be that Hashim Amla or Alviro Peterson would open the batting with Smith. The selectors though have decided that Kallis will open, something he has been doing in T20 matches for both South Africa and Bangalore, with AB de Villiers and JP Duminy each moving up one place to 3 and 4. Peterson, an opening batsman, will then be asked to bat at 5. The inclusion of Peterson sends all the right messages to those in domestic cricket, as he has been rewarded for his run scoring with the Lions and with South Africa A. That natural progression is one that all local players need to see rewarded. Amla could come into the team anywhere from 1 to 5 if need be and Peterson could move to his natural opening birth if the Kallis move doesn’t work out. The changes do however give more responsibility to de Villiers and Duminy, and allowing them to come in a little earlier could be just what the batting line up needs.

Another interesting change is with Albie Morkel. The all rounder is set to be used as a pure batsman, coming in at number 6 and not 7 or 8 where he has been used for much of his international career. Many South African fans feel his big hitting has been wasted so low down the order, and his top score, and only international ODI 50, a 97 against Zimbabwe, was scored batting at 3. The move has been prompted by his dip in bowling form rather than recognising his batting. The pressure to bowl 10 overs will be taken off him and he will be free to concentrate on his batting. Batting at 6 will allow him more time to play himself in, something he needs, then the lower order afforded him, but it will be good to see the selectors allow him to float higher on occasion.

The bowling, badly undercooked in the Champions Trophy, has been strengthened with the recalling of Langeveld, a death bowling expert, as well as all rounder Ryan McLaren. With Dale Steyn the only bowler assured of a starting place, Langeveld and McLaren will battle with spin twins Botha and van der Merwe, Tsotsobe and Parnell for the remaining three places. The bowling options are good and varied and all should be given a chance in the two series.

The inclusion of Kuhn, the Titans opening batsman/keeper, for the T20 games against England, where he will make his international debut, gives an inkling into the selectors plans for a post Mark Boucher era for South Africa, with AB de Villiers deciding he wants to be purely a batsman and not the next Protea’s keeper.

South Africa A teams have also been named to play against England in 50 over and T20 warm up games. The A teams see squad players like Amla and Tsotsobe from the ODI squad, and Bosman and Abdulla from the T20 squad, chosen along with the new caps McLaren and Kuhn, players who have been part of the Protea’s squads and looking to play themselves back in, such as Morne Morkel, Ontong, Robin Peterson, and Thandi Tshabalala, and a good mix of young and form players knocking on the door of selection, such as Eagles players CJ de Villiers and Rilee Russouw. The A teams seem to be the players just outside the Protea’s squad, and that’s the way it should be, as a bridge to the full squad.

The full squads are: South Africa ODI squad: Graeme Smith (capt), Hashim Amla, Johan Botha, Mark Boucher, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Jacques Kallis, Charl Langeveld, Ryan McLaren, Albie Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Alviro Petersen, Dale Steyn, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Roelof van der Merwe

Twenty20 squad: Graeme Smith (capt), Yusuf Abdulla, Loots Bosman, Johan Botha, Mark Boucher (wk), AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Jacques Kallis, Heino Kuhn (wk), Charl Langeveld, Ryan McLaren, Albie Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Dale Steyn, Roelof van der Merwe

South Africa A 50-overs squad: Hashim Amla (capt), Henry Davids, CJ de Villiers, Dean Elgar, Heino Kuhn (wk), Ryan McLaren, Morne Morkel, Robin Peterson, Rilee Rossouw, Rusty Theron, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Vaughn van Jaarsveld

South Africa A 20-overs squad: Justin Ontong (capt), Yusuf Abdulla, Loots Bosman, Henry Davids, CJ de Villiers, Rory Kleinveldt, Heino Kuhn (wk), Morne Morkel, Rilee Rossouw, Rusty Theron, Thandi Tshabalala, Vaughn van Jaarsveld

pic from cricinfo.com


Finely!

22/10/2009

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The South African cricket management seem to finely be learning from repeated past mistakes and have arranged to play two ODI games against Zimbabwe on the eve of their T20/ODI/Test series against England. Better late than never.

The Protea’s have in the past, time and again, failed to arrange adequate preparations for past tough series and major championships. Recently, after beating Australia in Australia they went into the home series cold, buoyed by confidence at beating the Aussies for the first time in a Test series since readmission, they decided against match time to ready themselves for the home series. They promptly lost the first two Tests before winning the final dead rubber by an innings. That was the first time South Africa had gone into a Test series against Australia as favourites. Some think the favourites tag was their undoing, but a lack of match preparedness is more likely. Just before the T20 World Cup in England the Protea’s players had come off a successful limited over series against the Aussies and then the majority of the squad took part in the IPL. They arrived at the T20 World Cup in great shape and until they lost to Pakistan in the semi final, their only loss of the tournament, had looked like the best team on show by miles. They then had a break for a few months with no cricket at all, domestic or club, before the Champions Trophy, on home soil. South Africa’s limited over performances over the last couple of years had seen them rightly ranked as the world’s top ODI team, and they entered the Champions Trophy as favourites. While every other team had played some cricket in the weeks preceding the competition the Protea’s did not. They should have found some way of ensuring some competitive cricket was played to fine tune and fully condition the players. Training matches and fitness camps are great, but nothing beats competitive game time. Zimbabwe or Kenya would have served far better than nothing at all. Lessens from the Aussie home series weren’t learned. The Protea’s lost two of their three group games and were knocked out early. Their bowlers in particular looked undercooked, conceding over 300 in two of the three matches.

So finely some lessens have been heeded and a Zimbabwe team that is more competitive then the one that last played the Protea’s, in 2007, will serve as a warm up to Test the readiness of the Protea’s before them embark on a long series against England. Let’s hope that this is the way forward for the team and that past mistakes will never be repeated.

The Protea’s will play Zimbabwe on November 8 in Willomore Park, Benoni, and on the 10th in Pretoria.

pic from cricinfo.com


Santana’s Gone

20/10/2009

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Joel Santana has left and few tears will be shed. Depending on where you read it or watch it Santana was either sacked or resigned. Bafana fans will care little of which it was, just that he has final left, but the likely story is that if he wasn’t sacked then he resigned just before he was about to be fired. Bafana Bafana fans have had to put up with his ineptitude for 18 months and no finally, hopefully not too late, they have some relief.

Santana’s fans, there are very few of them, if any, point to the teams performance in the ConFed Cup, as evidence that the Brazilian was doing better then it seemed. That perhaps clouds the real slide that Bafana have endured under their now former coach. With so much attention now focused on the rapidly approaching World Cup many South Africans seem to have forgotten that Santana failed to get Bafana to qualify for the African Cup of Nations, the first time South Africa won’t be competing in the competition they won in 1996. With South Africa not needing to qualify for the World Cup, being hosts, they are desperately short of competitive matches and the AFCON would have been ideal as a pre World Cup warm up and competitive gauge. Instead Bafana search for friendly games with whoever is available.

Not only have Bafana lost 8 of their last 9 games, but they haven’t looked like winning any either. Santana said that he didn’t need to win friendly games. He missed the point. Friendly matches were all Bafana had to gauge where they were and how far they needed to go. They should have all be treated as much win competitive games. Maybe he felt that he didn’t need to win them but Bafana and the country needed to. Confidence by the fans has slipped and with defeat after defeat the players must be short of confidence too, no matter what they may say. Yes they were friendly games, but make no mistake; they needed to be treated as much more.

While I take little stock in the FIFA World Rankings, after last weeks embarrassing submission of them, for those who do look to them Bafana have slipped to 85th, their lowest ever ranking, and perhaps the obvious picture of where South Africa find themselves thanks to Santana’s tenure.

SAFA acted too slowly in not rectifying their failure in appointing Santana. The coach’s reluctance to learn English, meaning he could not communicate with his players, staff, his bosses or the media, should have been their first clue that things were not going to end well. The media suggests that the new man will be named on Friday, meaning SAFA are either acting quickly or have done so already. Either way, the new man will breathe fresh air into the flagging sails of the team and remove complacent wood from the sinking ship. Three men are said to be on SAFA’s list, Carlos Alberto Parreira, the man who was replaced by Santana, the front runner, and local coaches Gavin Hunt and Gordan Ingusend the others.

Should Carlos Alberto be reinstated, which seems the most likely, he will have the advantage of having been in the job before, with the World Cup rapidly approaching, and this will be an advantage. As for Hunt and Ingusend, while neither has international experience, both have enjoyed domestic success and as such have a proven understanding of South African football and players. If Carlos Alberto is not given the job then local is definitely better.

Bafana needs to get past the Santana era and get the country behind them for the World Cup. There’s less than 250 days until the World Cup – the time is now. There are no excuses left – Bafana must deliver now. The post Santana period should be interesting.


Playoff Draw

19/10/2009

The draw for the World Cup European qualification playoffs were made today in Zurich.

The four playoff games are: Ireland v France

Portugal v Bosnia Herzigivina

Greece v Ukraine

Russia v Slovenia

The ties are to be played on the 14th of November with the 2nd legs on the 18th


Rankings That Mean Nothing

18/10/2009

The latest FIFA world rankings were released in the last few days, coinciding with the end of the group stages of World Cup qualification, and to say that these rankings are hard to fathom is perhaps giving FIFA too much credit. Obviously FIFA are putting certain teams where they would like to see them and simply drawing the rest from a hat.

FIFA have shot themselves in the foot twice in a matter of weeks, first by announcing that they were to seed teams for the European playoffs, and now with the latest world rankings. The decision to seed teams for the playoffs, a decision taken with 2 games left in the qualification groups, was one motivated by greed, one taken to ensure that Portugal and France had an easy path as possible the World Cup once it became clear that out right qualification was out of their reach. So seeding the teams was a way to prevent Portugal and France meeting each other, or Greece and Russia, something that may have happened in an open draw, which was the draw that should have happened. FIFA made sure that didn’t happen.

So we move on to the latest FIFA rankings. The rankings were foremost to ensure that Portugal, France, Greece and Russia were the top seeded teams in the playoff draw, making a mockery of the hard work put in by Ireland, Bosnia, Slovenia and Ukraine, who all had to finish above teams seeded higher than them. Ireland made the playoffs from a group containing world champions Italy, Bulgaria and Montenegro, and did so unbeaten, a commendable effort. They were justifiably disgusted when FIFA decided to seed the draw, effectively shifting the goal posts. Bosnia Herzegovina is the surprise team in the draw, having qualified ahead of Belgium and Turkey and behind European champions Spain. So the little guys have been screwed by FIFA, who have spoon fed Portugal and France passage through to the World Cup. I’m sure I won’t be the only one rooting for the four 2nd seeded teams.

A look at the latest rankings will highlight just how meaningless they are. Yes, Brazil, Spain, Holland and Italy lead the way – there’s nothing wrong with that. Holland was the first European team to qualify for the World Cup and have been in great form in the last 18 months. Brazil, Spain and Italy are the reigning ConFed, European and World Champions. It would be hard for FIFA not to have them at the top, but their self serving ambitions means they had to be up there regardless of their titles. Argentina have been hugely disappointing in South American qualification and just squeaked through in the final game, taking the 4th and final automatic place. Yet they have moved up two places to 5th? Croatia failed to qualify finishing 3rd behind England and the Ukraine, yet they’ve moved up to 8th? France were expected to top their group but made hard work of qualification before eventually finishing 2nd and settling for a place in the playoffs – and they’ve moved up. Portugal have struggled the most from the big teams and were the 1st seeds in their group but were lucky to eventually finish 2nd and making the playoffs, having looked like missing out all together for much of the last 18 months, with terrible form and disappointing results. But not only have Portugal moved up but they have somehow managed to jump 7 places! The Czech Republic failed to even make the playoffs yet they’ve managed to move up the rankings. The biggest mystification is how Denmark, who finished top of a Portugal’s group, a group that also contained Sweden, and so managed automatic qualification, have dropped 11 places! Serbia, who topped Frances group, finds themselves down 7 places.

Africa and South America are not immune to FIFA’s magic hat and thumb sucking either. We’ve already mentioned Argentina’s rise, and in Africa Ghana were the first African team to qualify and have been hugely impressive in doing so. Guess what? Ghana has dropped 6 places to 38.

They say a league table never lies, and perhaps that’s true, but clearly a ranking table will always bring about discussion and arguments, but the merit of FIFA’s world rankings must be cast in serious doubt. Has there ever been a ranking that seems as meaningless and self serving?

to see the full rankings go to http://www.fifa.com/worldfootball/ranking/lastranking/gender=m/fullranking.html


This is Africa’s World Cup – Not Santana’s

12/10/2009

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There’s been enough said and written about getting behind our national team despite poor recent results. Not withstanding a brave showing against some of the worlds best during the Confederations Cup, Bafana Bafana’s “recent” poor form stretches years and is not a new development that some suggest. With less than 250 days left till the opening match of our World Cup the time is fast approaching, if we haven’t already past it, where decisions have to be made regarding Joel Santana. Love him or hate him at some point the entire country needs to put their feelings aside and collectively get behind Bafana Bafana. They need it and so do we.

Santana says he has a blue print for success and that Bafana Bafana are on course to get past the group stage, something that no host nation has failed to do and must be the least of our expectations, but I feel that he fails to see a fundamental point that he has not entered into his blue print – this World Cup is bigger then him. All World Cups are big events, the most important in the sport at any time, but this World Cup is the biggest of all time, because it’s Africa’s World Cup.

For so long Africa has been ignored and looked down upon by the football world, and now we have a chance to make up for the past indifference and show the world that we belong, that we should be taken seriously, that there is nothing that Europe, the America’s and Asia can do that we can’t. This won’t be a good, or even a great, World Cup, but will be the best World Cup. Not just the best that Africa can produce but the best the world has. In order for it to be just that we need a strong showing from our national time. For this to happen we don’t just need a well prepared, conditioned, and tactically aware team, but our best team. With all of our best players.

Here is where Santana may be missing the point. If this were any other team at any other time we’d have to agree with any choices he made for whatever reason. He is the coach and it is his team. But this is not any team at any moment in time; this is the host country in Africa’s World Cup. For reasons that are open to more conjecture than fact Nasief Morris and Benni McCarthy both seem to not be in Santana’s plans. Whatever has gone on behind the scenes needs to be sorted out quickly to bring these two back into the fold. Morris has been in superb form in La Liga but apparently being at the top of your game in one of the best leagues in the world is not good enough for Santana. Booth and Mokoena were solid in the ConFed Cup but Morris would walk into this team, and equally as important, depth is needed in the Bafana Squad. A top class player of Morris ability has got to be brought back into the team and Santana needs to take steps to make this happen sooner rather than later. The situation with Benni is not as clear cut. Benni does not have the best of reputations in South Africa because of his constant withdrawal from Bafana squads, seemingly only making himself available when he feels like playing. That is how the story has come across in South Africa and perhaps it is unfair on Benni, with the real reasons not coming out. An argument has been made of the long journeys that African players in Europe need to make in order to play in matches for their countries, and one can sympathise with Benni on his lack of enthusiasm in this regard, with the travelling taking a lot out of him physically and mentally and putting his club position for the following weekend in jeopardy. But the likes of Drogba and Essien don’t shy away from the responsibility of representing their countries, likewise the South American players. However as I have said before this World Cup is bigger than all of us and ill feelings have to be put aside for the best of the country and Africa, and this means getting Bafana Bafana past the group stages. What the past few games, stretching back to the ConFed Cup performances have shown is that Bafana can compete with the best in the world but lack the cutting edge in front of goal. The difference between Bafana and Spain, Brazil, Germany and Ireland has been chances taken. This was no more evident than against Ireland where Bafana enjoyed the majority of possession but failed to create any real chances. When these chances come they need to be taken. Bafana’s record goal scorer, Benni, is the man they need in the penalty area. Mphela and Parker have shown promise but they can not carry the burden of an entire continent on their shoulders. They need support. Benni needs to be recalled and needs to get fit and in shape to help his country out. Santana needs to swallow his pride for the betterment of the team, and to save his job. A Bafana team with a talented young keeper in Kune, a solid centre back pairing of Mokoena, Morris and Booth when needed, two stylish full backs in Gaxa and Masilela, controlled by a very exiting midfield of Pienaar, Modise and holding men like Mhlongo, Dikgacoi and Sibaya, creating chances for Benni, Parker and Mphela, is one that can do South Africa proud. They still have Tshabalala, van Heerden and others to call upon too. This Bafana squad is one that should be expected to do better than six loses in a row that should have been Santana’s wake up call. And they need to.

So we all need to get behind Bafana Bafana and ensure that they have our support and belief to carry them forward. Santana needs to come to the party to make us believe. This World Cup is the most important in football history and we need to ensure that Africa gets the respect and dignity that we deserve. For this we also need to support our African brothers who will be competing, be it Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt or Nigeria. No African country has made the semi finals of a World Cup. This time, on African soil we need Africa to be represented as best they can and hope that a strong showing gets more than the usual one team through to the next round. An African team in the semi finals or finals would be fitting for this World Cup. Let’s hope it’s Bafana Bafana, but if not, we’ll support any of the African teams that make it through. They need our faith and we need theirs.

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