Wednesday, June 28, 2006

For the record: Brazil vs Ghana

Editor's note: By the time next World Cup comes along, this minute-by-minute account will be a really interesting read!
Second round: Brazil v Ghana
Brazil 3 - Ghana 0 Ronaldo 5', Adriano 44', Ze Roberto 86'
By Paul Doyle in Guardian Tuesday June 27, 2006
The word on the street in Accra Full-time:
It's all over, it ended with Brazil performing party tricks around Ghana's box, but that didn't relfect the previous 85 minutes, in which Ghana gave as good as they got - except when it came to finishing: Ghana were wasteful, Brazil ruthless.
91 mins: They're turning onthe magic now: Ricardinho just played Cafu through with a sublime back-heel. Kingston saved bravely again.
90 mins: Appiah bursts through the middle and has a great chance to nab a consolation goal. But he spanked it over the bar.
89 mins: Sensational move from Brazil, zinging the ball around the box before Juninho clips it through to the overlapping Cafu, who attempts to chip it over the keeper. But Kingston makes another tremendous stop. 4-0 would have been exceedingly harsh on Ghana.
88 mins: Who would have thought it? Ronaldo's still full of running! He sprinted on to a neat Ricardinho ball and unleashed a pile driver from 12 yards. Excellent one-handed save by Kingston.
87 mins: Roberto Carlos shoots from inside his own half. It was not a worth a try.
86mins: Brazil 3-0 Ghana Not a bad way to run down the clock! Having dinked theball around casually for a minute or two, Brazil suddenly pulled out the killer long ball, Ricardinho looping it over the top for Ze Roberto, who took it around the keeper and rolled it into the empty net. Deadly simplicity.
84 mins: Brazil are being booed intensely by the crowd as they knock the ball sideways,clearly just running down the clock.
82 mins: Ricardinho trundles on for Kaka.
81 mins: Ah yes, the obligatory red card. Gyan clashes with Juan in the box, then goes to ground and bays for a penalty. It was never a foul and was a pathetic attempt to claim otherwise. The striker ends what has been an impressive tournament for him by stupidly picking up a second booking.
79mins: Useful cross from Juninho, which Pappoe almost heads beyond his own keeper. Fine save by Kingston!
77 mins: Mensah releases Gyan with a fine pass, and the forward is clear through. Will he sky it? No, he's drilled low and on target. But Dida saves.
75 mins: Appiah carefully directs another shot into the fourth tier.
72 mins: Yet again, Ghana work themselves into a threatening position only to be undone by hasty crossing/shooting. I put that slash there because I'm not sure what Pappoe was trying to do a few seconds ago.
70 mins: Kingston charges out of his box to head the ball clear as Ze Roberto tried to latch ontoa hopeful punt from the back. Yes, Brazil have been doing a lot of that this afternoon.
66 mins: Pantsil raids down the right, skins Roberto Carlos, then loses his compsoure and sends his cross into the stands.
65 mins: Wonderful exchange between Appiah and Gyan, before the former slips it through to Amoah. His low shot is well saved by Dida, who gets up smartly to parry the rebound to.
61 mins: A rare foray forward from Brazil. Ronaldo's buster is blocked by Mensah.
59 mins: Ghana substitution: Derek Boateng replaces Addo.
58 mins: Ghana continue to dominate possession. A teasing Pantsil cross forces Juan to concede a corner. Muntari swings it in, and Pantsil rises totally unmarked to head wide from eight years.
Adriano is replaced by the quite brilliant Juninho - now there's a man who could get into any side in the world: and should start for Brazil every time. However, he's not a striker, which suggests Brazil are switching from 4-4-2 to a more cagey 4-5-1. A tribute to Ghana and no mistake.
55 mins: The first bit of wizardry from Ronaldino. The ever-smiling genius bamboozled the defender before dinking a lovely ball through to Roberto Carlos, who blasted straight at the keeper from 10 yards.
52 mins: Gyan and Amoach combine again before knocking it wide to Draman. But instead of cross, the winger opts to shoot. You know where it landed, don't you?
49 mins: More slinky interplay between Amoah and Gyan. But it leads to yet another wayward shot.
48 mins: Gyan collects a yellow for booting the ball into the crowd in protest at a decision going against him.
47 mins: Ghana continue to attack with style. Gyan's charge is halted by Cafu's hand. Naturally, the ref waves 'play on'.
46 mins: Brazil have made a change during the break, hauling off Emerson to replace him with Gilberto Silva. Wonder if the players "kicked up a stink"?
Half-time: The referee blows for half-time but it's barely audible above the sustained booing from a crowd who are rightly infuriated by the second goal.
44 mins: Brazil 2-0 Ghana Injustice! Lucio charged forward and fed Cafu down the right. He centred to Adriano, who tapped it home from a clearly offside position! Another scandalous decision in this increasingly farcical World Cup.
42 mins: Juan becomes the second Brazilian in the book. He clattered into Addo, conceding a free 25 yards out. Appiah lines it up ... and curls it just over.
40 mins: Muntari, who's having a stormer, wins another corner for Ghana. He whips it in himself and Mensah meets it on the full just three yards out! He steers it downwards ... but it bounces of Dida's foot and out! The keeper knew nothing about it and Ghana are denied by wretched luck!
37 mins: Another yellow for Ghana, Eric Addo copping a card for scything down Adriano. Roberto Carlos steps up to take it. Ronaldinho wisely pushes him away. Then smacks itmiles over the bar himself. It's what Roberto would have wanted.
33 mins: The equaliser is coming, I tell you! Emerson goofed on the right, and Pantsil swings the ball into the Amoah, who twists past Lucio superbly, but scoops his shot over the bar. He stumbled before shooting, after Lucio made contact with an outstretched leg: if he'd gone down there, it would have been a definite penalty. Not that that's something you can guarantee at this World Cup.
28 mins: After more splendid approach work from Ghana, Amoah wallops the ball straight at Dida. This is spirited stuff from the Africans, who, contrary to earlier impressions, are certainly not out of this game. They'll have to watch the card count, mind: Pantsil has just become their third player booked after tripping Kaka as the Brazilian was about to launch a counter-attack. 25 mins: Muntari dances past the static Brazilian defence, but fails to secure the reward is run deserved by blazing high and wide.
23 mins: Heroic tackle by Eric Addo, almost Essien-esque. He brought an abrupt endto Kaka's gallop towards goal.
22 mins: Ghana are mounting a mini-revival here, and could have equalized if Appiah's sweet pass into the box had been, well, a little sweeter: Gyan stretched but missed it by an inch. Moments later, picked out Amoah, who was left unmarked by the slack Brazilian defender. The striker fired narrowly wide from 15 yards.
19 mins: Decent bit of pressure from Ghana, which comes to an end when Amoah tees up Gyan, whose first touch is shoddy and subsequent shot even worse.
17 mins: Muntari takes a tumble by the touchline, some 25 yards from the Brazilian goal, and earns a free-kick. He'll take it himself. Midfielder workhorse Ronaldinho boots it clear, but only as far as Draman, who wellies it goalwards. Dida tips it over for a corner.
15 mins: Roberto Carlos delivers an exquisite 50-yard pass to Cafu on the far side. The 89-year-old full-back takes it in his stride and hurtles into the box but the keeper rushes off the line to snuff out the danger. Probably not for long, though, Brazil are rampant. If Ghana don't get it together soon, this could turn into an unsightly slaughter.
13 mins: Kaka sends Adriano scampering through on goal. The defence is again at sea. The striker skips past the keeper but lets the ball run a little too far ahead of him so dives. The referee isn't fooled and awards a fully-deserved yellow card.
10 mins: Muntari booked for chopping down Lucio.
8 mins: Well, Ghana are trying to re-compose themselves after that hammer blow and are zipping the ball around competently. Just then,Amoah bangs it into touch when under no pressure.
5 mins: Brazil 1-0 Ghana Oh dear. As the Ghanaian defence charges out to the half-way line in a misguided attempt to play offside, Kaka slips a fine ball through to Ronaldo, and thebig-boned striker rounded the goalkeeper and slotted it home, becoming the most prolific goalscorer in World Cup history in the process. Hats off.
3 mins: Ghanaian fans exult as their team raids forward for the first time.
Matthew Amoah crosses from the right, but too long for Gyan in the middle. Still, atleast they don't look overawed.
2 mins: Brazil scorch forward from the off, and Kaka picks out Ronaldo (it would be hard to miss him) in the box. He's clean through on goal ... but the linesman's flags for offside. Replays shows the decision was abominable. One of this World Cup's defining patterns continues then. 1 mins: Brazil kick off, Ronaldo knocking it to Adriano two centimetres away. Found his man well. The beautiful game in full effect.
3:56pm: The teams saunter out and dutifully line up for their respective national anthems. The Brazil one is first. Surely you all know it by now? A breezy number that lulls and jumps along and, most importantly, is short.
Then comes the Ghana track, a sterner affair that nonetheless hints at fun towards the end.
OK, so Ghana were swashbuckingly brilliant when battering the Czech Republic and then proved they've steel to go with their sense of adventure by overpowering the brutal USA ... but they couldn't really dump out Brazil, could they?
Reigning champions, been-at-the-last-three-finals, magic-quartet-boasting Brazil? The bookies sure don't think so: the Seleçao(ooooooh!) are 1-4 on for a win, while you can get up to 12-1 on the Black Stars.
What's more, the straight-talking, wonky-shooting Roberto Carlos doesn't think so either. "Name me one country that has won more World Cups than us?" bellowed the not very thoughtful Little Buddha in the build-up to this game. "How many have Ghana won? None. I cannot conceive even for one second of them beating us. We will progress and then we'll beat Spain, who are going to knockout France. Then we'll take on Germany or Argentina, and we'll beat them too."
For whatever my opinion's worth (nothing I guess, otherwise this would be a pay-per-readservice), it is this: the return of Asamoah Gyan and the excellent Sulley Muntari, combined with the class of Stephen Appiah, will give the Ghanaians more offensive power than any of the sides Brazil have faced so far. They will score.
But Brazil have just too much talent and will score more. 4-2 to the SouthAmericans.
Team talk: 1. Let there be no mistake: PSV's Eric Addo is a fairly rotten replacement for the majestic Michael Essien, who, if Jose Mourinho has been watching any of this tournament rather than spending the entire summer gazing in the mirror (which I'm not ruling out), will be assigned a much more driving role at Chelsea next season. It is patently absurd that such a supremely influential player should be reduced to the role of water-carrier for the over-rated Frank Lampard. Don't you agree? Thanks.
2. Interesting to see that Emerson has returned to the Brazilian line-up at the expense of Gilberto Silaa, despite the Carlos Alberto Parreira's comments (picked up Brazilian journalists, but later denied by the manager) that, "I really like Gilberto, but if I leave Emerson out, the lads kick up stink."
Will these little divisions start to tear the Brazilians apart if Ghana take the lead?
Teams: Brazil:1-Dida; 2-Cafu, 3-Lucio, 4-Juan, 6-Roberto Carlos; 5-Emerson, 11-Ze Roberto, 8-Kaka,10-Ronaldinho; 9-Ronaldo, 7-Adriano
Ghana: 22-Richard Kingston; 15-JohnPaintsil, 6-Emmanuel Pappoe, 5-John Mensah, 7-Shilla Illiasu; 18-Eric Addo,10-Stephen Appiah, 23-Haminu Dramani, 11-Sulley Muntari; 14-Matthew Amoah,3-Asamoah Gyan
Referee: Lubos Michel (Slovakia)

Black stars shining bright

Editor's note: Here is a report that chronicles the mood in Accra, Ghana's capital after Black Stars exited from the World Cup.
By Sarah Left in Guardin blog
You might think Ghanaians would be feeling crushed at this point.
But around 10 angry, spitting, headshaking minutes after the final whistle, a horn-honking, flag-waving, hand-clapping parade started down one of Accra's main streets.
This was not the huge, joyful party of last Thursday, when Ghana fought their way into the final 16. This was a much smaller affair fuelled by a beautiful, defiant pride.
And a good dose of anger. As I walked from a bar in the trendy drinking district of Osu and up the main street to an internet cafe, Ghanaian fans called out, "Journalist! Journalist! Come write this down. That was OFFSIDE!"
The angry fans meant not just the second goal, but all three. There was detailed discussion of Ronaldo's position before he nailed home a goal in the fifth minute. Ghanaians feel cheated by Slovakian referee Lubos Michel, who I hope wasn't planning a holiday anywhere on the African continent in the near future.
There is plenty of blame to go around. Yesterday the country's bestselling newspaper, the Daily Graphic, warned that Ghana's opponents "may resort to weaken Ghana's Black Stars before the kick-off by unleashing beautiful Brazilian women sex workers around the Stars' camp at night."
Inside Duncan's bar, a group of three riled, yet characteristically cordial, Ghanaians summed it up: "The whites don't like the blacks." (I'll point out here that I'm of a deathly pale persuasion myself, and they were not directing any of their ire my way. Frankly they seemed ready to buy me a beer and explain the offside rule to me.)
"The referee was biased against us. The yellow cards prevented the Black Stars from coming up with their game plan. If they attack, the referee would give them a card," said Soloman Laar. "And that red card [against Asamoah Gyan, for diving] was questionable. They were protecting the Brazilians," added Henry Brown.
Outside the bar, a severely disappointed Kodjo Odum seethed: "Always whites put the African under. If we are able to get on top, they will stop you."
But his friend, Sylvester Kyei-Gyamfi, intervened with a clear-headed assessment: "It's cool. It was very okay. Some of the decisions taken by the referee weren't in favour of us. But in terms of performance, if you look at the statistics, we played better than Brazil. And I know that next time we will do better."
And that's where the pride comes in, because everyone, from the near-naked man in pink ladies' knickers bodypainted with "Brazil go home" to the market woman selling pineapples on the high street, agreed that their boys had played well, had done their best, and had represented the country and the continent with style and skill.
In the only previous Ghana v Brazil match-up, a 1996 friendly, the Brazilians thrashed the Ghanaians 8-2. Today's performance was a world away from that debacle, and with seemingly the whole of Accra's citizens wrapped in flag capes, flag hats, flag miniskirts and flag facepaint, the country feels pretty good about itself.
The Daily Graphic today led with Ghanaian poet Atukwei Okai's ode to the Black Stars, a hymn praising the team and its importance to Africa. He lauded coach Ratomir Dujkovic as
"a divine wizard and heavenly witch/
A Serbian soothsayer sent from above"."
Storming Captain Stephen Appiah/
like an assegail wielding millennium Masai, will appear/
And swing into the eye of the suffocating soccer sandstorm," the poem continued.
When the Black Stars come home, they will be greeted as heroes, returning to a country at least temporarily rejuvenated by their successes.
Under the circumstances, they couldn't have hoped for a better outcome.

Ghana's rebels throw away a historic chance

By John Cheeran
In the end Ghana’s mutiny against the Kings of football was crushed.
What would have been a revolution in the football world, an African side unseating the reigning world champions, ended in heartbreak for the rebels of the game.
You can blame it only on Ghana.
Black Stars terrorized Brazil and exposed them thoroughly but forgot to score the goals. Goals are the most thing in a football match.
Ghana, though conceding a goal to Brazil as early as in the fifth minute when Ronaldo tapped the ball in, were brushing with history but they did not understand.
It was a one in lifetime opportunity for guys like Stephen Appaiah and Muntari but after slicing through the Brazilian defence and reducing the likes of Ronaldinhos into dummies, they failed to nail home that last deadly move beyond the goalkeeper.
The three goals that Brazil struck tonight were as result of the side’s great reputation and greater slice of luck.
And it is heartbreaking to admit that Ghana defenders were tactically naive paving the way for Brazilian goals on all three occasions. The early goal did not upset Ghana. It only invigorated them. They attacked and attacked and the Brazilian defenders were leaves caught in a summer storm.
And a scandalous decision from the referee spoiled it. Just before the half-time Brazil, the Kings of the football, stole a goal from their poor African brothers. Where was your Corinthian spirit, Ronaldinho?
Let me quote from the Guardian’s minute-by minute by account of the match.
“44 mins: Brazil 2-0 Ghana Injustice!
Lucio charged forward and fed Cafu down the right. He centered to Adriano, who tapped it home from a clearly offside position! Another scandalous decision in this increasingly farcical World Cup.”
It is highly surprising that a poor decision such as this killed Ghana’s chances to outscore in this encounter. A 2-0 lead going into the half-time helped Brazil approach the second half with more composure and then it was always going to be an uphill task for Ghana.
But fight they did in glorious fashion.
Scoreboard is an ass, at least in this match.

All about Africa's Brazil...

By Marcela Mora y Araujo in Guardian blog
The whole of Africa is behind Ghana this afternoon.
Ghana symbolises the success story of Africa, at least in terms of its breakthrough into football's global elite. Brazil are the supreme undisputable giants and this is the clash of the tournament: the underdog against the superpower.
The match promises to be exciting on the pitch and very interesting in terms of the subjects it raises off the ball.
If Ghana hadn't made it this far most of Africa would probably be rooting for Brazil. The many and varied layers of links between these two countries surpasses anything I could have imagined.
Take Carlos Alberto Parreira for starters. He was a young PE trainer who had studied English when he went to Ghana and landed his first job as a football coach. He was in his early twenties then and remembers days of "camping in army tents".
That role qualified him to step up to assistant coach of Brazil when the dictatorship there decided to remove the communist manager João Saldanha and appoint Zagallo instead, prior to the 1970 World Cup.
Ghanaians say their football was shaped by Brazil. It could be argued that Parreira's career was shaped and moulded by Ghana. Football was brought to Ghana by the English, but it was Parreira's reign that initiated the modern era of the game. What the English first took to Ghana was imperial trade nous - first cocoa and then cocoaworkers. In those days Ghana was known as the Gold Coast, and the bulk of the slaves "exported" across the Atlantic went to Brazil, where slave trading was legitimate until 1888.
Until the late 1800s the slave population of Brazilexceeded the free. This has had an enormous influence on Brazilian culture: music, dance, rituals that combine the two have their roots in African traditions.
Brazil is the most African country outside Africa. What has this got to do with football? As the thousands of comments - angry, informed, fascinating, passionate - posted on Guardian blogs since the beginning of the tournament show, football has much to do with nationalism, identity, cultural inclinations, patriotism and the weight of history and tradition.
Pele visited Ghana in the 70s and it was he who proclaimed that one day an African country would win the World Cup. His visit to war-torn Nigeria nearly 40 years ago led the two sides to declare a ceasefire - at least for the duration of the game.
Some years ago I met Nii Lamptey, the Ghanaian footballer who as a teenager was hailed as the new Pele. His story, harrowing and full of drama, is not unlike that of hundreds of footballers the world over, particularly African ones.
Lamptey's dream of becoming Pele was smashed by the harsh realities of the laws governing the transfer of minors to European clubs, the immigration laws and work permits that affect foreign footballers, the bizarre requirements of international matches played in order to qualify for the above, the strains of foreignness and cultural otherness which make an individual vulnerable and unable to cope with adversity.
If Nii was the new Pele his native Ghana has been hailed as the "Brazil of Africa". A few days ago I was asked for an opinion: "How come Brazilians and Argentinians are so good at possession?"
I reeled out my stock answer: most players in both countries come from poor backgrounds where groups of children with no toys can derive hours of entertainment from playing with a ball or bundle of rags.
Good weather and hours of daylight mean they do this often and the fact that many are sharing the ball means each makes the most of his turn. Possession is the chance for self expression, the individual child's turn to enjoy. It is the object of the game.
Surely, I was asked, that would be the same in Africa then? Of course it is. And in the tower blocks of Liverpool as well as the Gaza strip. Brazil (and Argentina) have a history ofsuccess based on the ability to combine this individual desire to play with the ball with a long tradition of exposure to European professional football.
Real success does not lie in raw talent alone, but in the ability to combine it with competitive efficiency. For almost as long as Fifa has existed, Brazil has occupied a prominent role in the organisation of world football.
The World Cup, Fifa's biggest business venture, has stirred up the debate on the role of football and international relations to such an extent that it has even been suggested that Fifa should replace the UN.
Imagine a world where Joao Havelange sat in Kofi Anan's chair. I know. Best not. Eyes on the ball then. That's what will be writing history today.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

New Hitchcocks in Indian cricket

By John Cheeran
Indian cricketers certainly have a streak of Alfred Hitchcock in them.
This team, whenever they are away from the pitch, should attempt in authoring scripts that leave you exhausted and exhilarated.
Or bloody well cursing the authors for putting them through these agonies such as in St. Kitts. Indian cricketers prefer to dance with defeat. They almost did at St Kitts thanks to the fourth day morning collapse engineered by skipper Rahul Dravid and other middle order worthies such as Mohammad Kaif and Yuvraj Singh.
If not for Brian Lara’s foolish decision not to enforce the follow on, India would have been in bigger trouble. I would not know about the deteriorating nature of the pitch from this distance but to their credit, Indian batsmen did live up to the challenge in the second innings.
If only Virender Sehwag stayed for one more hour at the wicket, India would have won this Test. Losing Sehwag immediately after the lunch, Indian chase began to lose the tempo.
There certainly was hope with VVS Laxman in cracking form. Laxman played some wonderful strokes but on a day when he had to stay there a little while longer he too had some urgent business to attend elsewhere.
Skipper Dravid soldiered on at the other end as only he could, ensuring that all the good work in he first two Tests is not frittered away at St. Kitts.
So that so, scores remain 0-0 in the Test series. This is already extra time folks!

Nike takes on adidas!

Editor's note: Here is a commentary that explains the business battle in football.
Just read it!

By Seth Stevenson in
Listen to this story on NPR's Day to Day. The Spot: A burly, bearded man with an accent sits at a video-editingconsole. He cues up some old footage of a little kid playing soccer.
Then he intercuts this with modern-day scenes of the kid all grown up, still playing soccer. Kid and man both execute some astonishing moves, bewildering their opponents and scoring goals at will.
"So my advice to you," says the beardedman, "is never grow up, my friends." As the spot ends, we see the words "Joga Bonito" and a Nike swoosh.
When Brazil and Germany faced off in the 2002 World Cup final, it was not simply an important soccer match. It was an epic clash of logos.
The German national team sported the three-stripemark of Adidas, while the Brazilians were clad in the Nike swoosh. When Brazilwon 2-0, their victory was celebrated just as fervently in Beaverton, Ore.-hometo Nike world headquarters-as it was in São Paulo and Rio.
The 2006 World Cup kicks off on June 9, and both brands are already girding themselves for another battle. The German-based Adidas will have home-turf advantage (the World Cup final will be held in Berlin) and has been locking up television sponsorships.
Nike has long led Adidas in overall market share (both in the United States and worldwide), but soccer is a holdout category in which Adidas maintains an edge.
Nike hopes this "Joga Bonito" campaign will put an end to that.
I'm excited to see Nike turning its full attention to soccer. In the 1990s, a Nikemarketing executive once explained to me, the company took a halfhearted approach to the sport.
Then, during the 2002 World Cup, it made its first concerted attack on the Adidas hegemony. Still, I felt the Nike soccer ads that year were mediocre, and even a bit confusing: They featured soccer matches set,for no evident reason, within the bowels of a giant ocean tanker. The spots were filmed on grim, industrial sets. The look was murky, the marketing message murkier. This time, the message is front and center, and the sunshine bright: "Joga Bonito."
The phrase is Portuguese for "play beautiful," and it's a double-edged dig at Adidas.
It reminds us 1) that the world champion Brazilians are a Nike squad, and 2) that Brazil plays a creative, dazzling style of soccer that makes the more conservative, bruising teams (ahem, Germany) seem passionless by comparison.
My favorite spot in the new campaign is the one featuring recent footage of Brazilian star Ronaldinho juxtaposed with scenes of Ronaldinho as a kid. The grown-up Ronaldinho pulls off one move-rolling his foot around the ball in midair and then darting off in a new direction-that's so breathtaking I've been watching the clip over and over.
The soundtrack, all wood winds and hand claps, perfectly embodies the spot's title: "Joy."
And the dusted-off scenes of the child Ronaldinho are great fun (even though the ploy is a recycled one: A previous Nike ad showed a teeny Tiger Woods playing the British Open through the magic of video effects).
I do have one concern about the "Joga Bonito" campaign: Is it an effective way to sell soccer in the States? These ads will air all over the globe and will no doubt be a hit wherever they play ... except, perhaps, here in America.
First of all, the spots feature French soccer legend Eric Cantona (who is totally unknown to U.S. viewers-though so is Ronaldinho, to some extent) as their host, dressing all Euro-like and speaking with a heavy French accent.
What's more, none of the players featured so far (Ronaldinho, England's Wayne Rooney, France's Thierry Henry) are American-though this is mostly because America has no superstars.
But most important, the lighthearted "Joga Bonito" ethos seems to run contrary to Nike's usual message: Go for broke; take no prisoners; sweat and tears; Just Do It. Nike's "Awake" ad Take, for instance, the recent Nike ad titled "Awake"-my favorite ad of the year so far.
It has all the hallmarks of a great Nike spot: superstar athletes (Tom Brady, Alex Rodriguez), a killer song (AC/DC's "Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution"), and some brilliant editing (watch how the cuts accelerate as the drumbeat kicks into overdrive).
But there's also an overarching message here that's smack in the middle of Nike's wheelhouse. The ad suggests that success takes hard work, dedication, and waking up early to punch the clock. It's not about "joy" and "playing beautiful"-it's about Brady studying game film before dawn, and A-Rod doing sit-ups in the gym.
That's the core of Nike's brand. Perhaps soccer is a sport with a wholly different mood, requiring a wholly different approach. But I wonder if Nike might have been better off with a set of U.S.-specific ads, showing American soccer players giving their all and muddying their uniforms. Joga Feio? (That's Portuguese for "play ugly"-I think.)
Grade: A-. Hugely entertaining spots-so much so that I'll forgive any branding missteps. By the way, alongside this campaign (and in partnership with Google), Nike is launching, which is a sort of MySpacefor soccer enthusiasts. Given all the media attention MySpace has received lately, anointing it the future of all human interfacing, I predict that, very soon, no major ad campaign will be without an accompanying "interactive community."
Soon after that, we'll get deathly bored with interactive communities and move on to something else.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Believe, believe you infidels in Argentina!

By John Cheeran
Believe, believe you infidels in Argentina.
Argentina are here to stay in the World Cup.
And, Germany better get ready for a bitter heartbreak in Berlin..
Diego Maradona’s worthy heirs proved they are made of champion stuff when they showed the exit doors to a rampaging Mexico after 120 minutes of thrill-a-second football in the 2006 World Cup.
The pre-quarterfinal between Argentina and Mexico was by far the best match this World Cup has witnessed. It was a clash between similar styles.
Mexico were fiery in their forays in the first half and that rattled Argentina to begin with. A goal in their favour in the fourth minute only added to the Mexican resolve to pull off an upset.
One big factor that helped Mexico yesterday in Leipzig was that they were the underdogs before the match began. They were not expected to win this match against their illustrious opponents and twice champions Argentina.
All that changed when the match began.
But to coach Jose Pekerman’s credit Argentina players never lost their cool. Riquelme and his mates played their usual game without any hint of panic that resulted in a speedy equalizer in the 12th minute off a corner kick from Riquelme that bounced off a Mexican defender and Hernan Crespo’s outstretched feet.
The second half was dominated by Argentina and they were denied a classy goal in the last minutes of full-time.
In stoppage time, Argentina's three substitutes combined for Lionel Messi to tap the ball into the net, only for the referee's assistant to raise his flag for offside, wrongly.
As the extra-time began it was pretty much evident that only Argentina can win this match.
Then came that wonder goal in the 98th minute from the boots Maxi Rodriguez who blasted a volley from the right edge of the Mexican penalty box and the ball landed in the left-most corner of the net.
It was an extra ordinary goal in an extra ordinary match.
And no doubt this Argentina team will be better off for this cliffhanger against their Latin rivals. There could not be a better preparation for Crespo, Saviola, Sorin and Messi as they get ready to slay Germany in quarterfinals in Berlin.
All aspects of Argentine game were fully tested and if there were any doubts about their willingness to win this World Cup, none remains now.
Believe, believe you infidels in Argentina.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Why Asians struggle in world football?

By John Cheeran
The performance of Asian teams in the World Cup has been what it was expected to be. No progress beyond first round.
South Korea, Japan, co-hosts of the 2002 World Cup, did well to qualify for the championship but their astounding performance in the last edition, they could not repeat in Germany.
There is a chasm between first world and third world.
But one has to admit that South Korea and Japan are the Asian success stories and in many respects brush shoulders with the first world. Still they have fallen short of the stage that matters in the football festival.
Dragging the third world aspect into this debate will not be legitimate. African nations, by far behind Asian nations in Human Development Index, have done impressively in the past though this time around even their representation has narrowed down to Ghana who are running into Brazil in pre-quarterfinals.
Look at the teams that represented Asia in Germany. South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Iran. These nations are by no means struggling financially. In fact these are among the richest nations among the world though Iran and Saudi Arabia are beset by unique cultural tendencies.
These nations have the infrastructure, they have the services of foreign coaches (Brazilian Zico handled the Japanese campaign while Dick Advocate took care of South Korea) and their players are well taken care of.
I believe these footballers had only one worry in their lives – how to play better football. Still they could not come up shocking, inspired effort that would have taken them into pre-quarterfinals.
Nations such as India should take heart from this situation. It is not our poverty that hinders our progress in world football. We don’t have eleven good footballers. Accept it.
Wealthier nations such as South Korea, Japan and Saudi Arabia, despite ensuring that their footballers get the very best in every aspect, could not progress beyond the first stage. That indicates to a paucity of footballing genius in the Asian continent.
Football is very physical game; and at the highest level, the game is now not played for 90 minutes; 120 minutes. And, then, the shootout.
In the age of extra time Asian players struggle to live through the ninety minutes. Fitness and build are very crucial aspects to succeed in football; if African nations have outdone Asia it is precisely because they enjoy the advantage in fitness and build.
Yes, skill matters. Asians do have the skill but they lag behind in controlling the pace of the game.
May be, there will come a time when Sony and LG can assemble super efficient men who can take on the might of the first world. Till such time India should watch and applaud the very best, every four years.

Valdano relives Maradona's Hand of God

Editor's note: Former Argentine striker and Real Madrid football director recalls the Hand of God against England

By Jorge Valdano (in Guardian)
Twenty years ago today (June 22) the hand of God smote England
I was a spectator on the pitch when Maradona performed miracles.
My entire qualification for writing this column is that on that day, at that time, I was there. And I must say that I was bored stiff because we couldn't get a grip on the match.
When we wanted to play fast we were inaccurate, when we wanted to be accurate we were tedious. Eleven functionaries on each side trying not to make a mistake. On a day like that nobody expects a visit from history, but in that office full of bureaucrats there was one crazy man capable of anything. A crazy Argentinian, to boot.
It is important to consider the natureof that person because, from that day on, Maradona and Argentina became synonymous. We are talking about a country with a clearly extravagant relationship with football, a country which made a deity of a footballer with a decidedly extravagant relationship with football. And that afternoon, which began so boringly, Maradona made extravagant through football and through Argentinian character.
It all began with a long slalom, which was Maradona's natural way of running with a ball. Just before he reached the area, he foundonly opposition legs in his way and, seeing no way forward, knocked the ball upto me and looked for the return. The problem I had playing with Diego as a team-mate was that he turned you into a spectator and, when he passed you the ball, it took a moment to remember that you were like him -- a footballer.
Well,perhaps not like him, but a footballer none the less. The fact is that when Iwoke up, I shook a leg to try to play the one-two but did it so unskilfully that the ball was knocked forward by my marker.
Looking at it in perspective, it was a smart move on my part because if I had touched it Maradona would have been offside. The fact is that nobody recognised my singular contribution, partly because I fell to the ground so clumsily that it embarrasses me to remember.
Fortunately, the eyes of the people were not on me. Because from the ground myself, and the rest of the world, from wherever they were, saw that ball rise in slow motion and then begin to come down on the edge of the six-yard box where Peter Shilton and Maradona went to challenge for it in the air.
There something happened which I couldn't understand but which was called a goal and had to be celebrated as wildly as such an unpleasant match, a World Cup, England deserved. Maradona ran and celebrated without much conviction, as if his cry contained a doubt within. Strange goal, strange cry -- I still didn't understand much until I got to the huddle and found out why.
From my position I suspected that Diego could not have reached up there with his head but at no point did I see his hand, nor God's. Any ethical scruples?
Twenty years on we can have them, but at that moment we only felt joy, relief, perhaps a forced sense of justice. It was England, let's not forget, and the Malvinas were fresh in the memory. In the days before the game I said that we had "a good opportunity to confound the idiots" but that was just playing the intellectual.
When emotions come into the equation, nearly all of us are idiots. Also we shouldn't forget that we were Argentinians, representatives of a country that rationalises with the word "exuberance" what in other places is called cheating.
The office was now turned upside down but the crazy man had only just begun. Shortly afterwards he received a very difficult ball in the middle of the pitch with his back to goal. He turned, took off and got into a series of tight scrapes from which he escaped perfectly. I was accompanying him level with the far post as if I were atelevision camera tracking him. Diego assures me that he meant to pass to me several times but there was always some obstacle that forced him to change plans. Just as well.
I was dazzled and I thought it was impossible (it still seems that way to me) that in the middle of all those problems he would have had me in mind. If he had passed me the ball as it seems Plan A called for, I would have grabbed it in my hand and applauded.
Can you imagine? But let's not deceive ourselves, I am convinced that Diego was never going to release that ball. Throughout those 10 seconds and 10 touches, he changed his mind hundreds of times because that's how the mind of genius in action works.
That celebration that put intelligence, the body and the ball in tune was an act of genius -- but also in the most profound way, in footballing terms, of being Argentinian. What Maradona was doing was making Argentinians' football dream a reality: we love the ball more than the game and, for that reason, the dribble more than the pass.
When the ball went into the net I knew, in that instant, we were present at a moment of great significance: Maradona had just put on Pele's crown. Aware of the historical moment in which I was living, I did something that humanity has still not recognised.
I, ladies and gentlemen, took the ball out of the net where Maradona had put it. The focus, fortunately, was still elsewhere. In fact, 20 years on, the ball keeps going into the net time and again in the memories ofthose who love football ... and there was me thinking I'd taken it out.

Saving the St. Kitts Test!

By John Cheeran
Will India lose the third Test in St Kitts against West Indies?
There are doubts expressed by majority of the cricket watchers that India are likely to collapse and follow on and lose this one, after dominating the action in the first two Tests.
That, if so happens, would be nothing short of a tragedy.
Such sentiment cannot be cast aside when India let West Indies score 312 for the loss of opener Chris Gayle only.
But there, however, are enough indications that a lifeless track would not offer anything for bowlers. So Indian bowlers should not be entirely denigrated for their poor display. It would be only fair to expect that West Indian bowlers too will be denied by this pitch.
On the second day, after a fruitless morning session India took four more wickets to put some hurdles in the West Indies' progress.
At 420 for five, West Indies are in strong position but everything, that is the outcome of the Test, will depend on the quality of Indian first innings. Meanwhile, sending back Brian Lara cheaply was a gain for a harried India.
Why I think India will save this Test is that despite the wide spread criticism, skipper Rahul Dravid and coach Greg Chappell have stuck to their four-bowler policy, without sacrificing an extra batsman, in this case VVS Laxman.
On tracks such as St. Kitts, whether it is four bowlers or five bowlers do not make much of a difference. And during the first two days Indian spinners have been clobbered by Gayle and Ramnaresh Sarwan.
Harbhajan's bowling was totally ineffective and that should have come as a disappointment to those who were clamouring for the off-spinner's inclusion in the Test side.
The task before India is now pretty much clear. Play their first innings to perfection on the slow but weary wicket.
With cloudy conditions prevailing at St Kitts (already first and second days have had rain interruptions) nursing any thoughts of victory would be foolish. Big hundreds from Dravid and Laxman should do the trick for India.
I'm hesitant to join the pack who predict an Indian batting collapse. If Indian batsmen cannot handle a bit of West Indian hustling in the beginning, they should hang their heads in shame and search for career options.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Imagine the game, the Brazil way

Editor's note:
John Carlin is a senior writer for El País and the author most recently of "White Angels: Beckham, Real Madrid and the New Football. He wrote this piece for Play, The New York Times Sports Magazine.

By John Carlin
You look at Ronaldinho, the world's most talented and lethal soccer player, and what you see is the smiling epitome of Brazil's culture of pleasure. You look at John Terry and you have a deeper understanding of how it was that a small island nation once conquered half the known world. Terry - the captain of the English Premier League champions, Chelsea, and pillar of his national team's defense -has the height, the bulk and the air of cold command of the red-coated British sergeant who in days of empire instilled terror in his troops and enemy forces alike.
When the two went head-to-head in a game earlier this year, it was more than a clash between two different ways of playing soccer, of approaching life; it was the proverbial case, or so it seemed, of the unstoppable force meetingthe immovable object.
It happened in March, at a critical moment in last season's clash of European titans, Ronaldinho's Barcelona against Chelsea, in the round of 16 in the Champions League tournament, club soccer's biggest competition. The score was 0-0, and 12 minutes were left in the game.
Ronaldinho received the ball in the center of midfield, 15 yards from the Chelsea penalty area. Around him were four Chelsea defenders. Ronaldinho left one of them for dead and avoided two more. The fourth, the last man standing between him and glory, was John Terry. Ronaldinho's response was to do what he does better than anybody else: the unthinkable. Having mesmerized the Chelsea ranks with the speed of his feet and the swerve of his dancing hips, he met brute force with brute force - and won.
He shouldered the English Goliath - perfectly fairly - to the ground. And it was from this abject vantage that London's finest looked on,a picture of defeat, as the samba-loving Brazilian whipped the ball low and true, past the Chelsea goalkeeper and into the net. That electric sequence of events - barely four seconds elapsed between Ronaldinho's receiving and dispatching of the ball - captured, for the watching millions, one of soccer's great truisms: the English invented the game, but the Brazilians perfected it.
They found the game brick and left it marble. They patented what has become known the world over as jogo bonito, the beautiful game, a style of soccer that combines exuberance with success and that Ronaldinho, more than any other player alive, embodies. People respect winners, they admire them, but they don't always love them.
The bright, canary-yellow shirt of the Brazilian national team - the canarinho shirt, they fondly call it in Brazil - elicits feelings in soccer fans everywhere that unite reverence for Brazil's unquestioned supremacy (it has won the World Cup, held every four years, five times in the last half century) with an affection, a warm sense of personal ownership, that transcends the sport's inherent tribalism. Every neutral fan following this month's World Cup will wantBrazil to win, and every soccer-lover with a national stake in the competition will have Brazil as his second team.
Soccer is the world's biggest religion, cutting across race, faith, geography, ideology and gender like no other global phenomenon. Brazil is the religion's favorite church. Why the love?
Some of it comes from the fact that Brazil is a country without enemies. That a defeat at home to Uruguay in the World Cup final in 1950 still ranks, in all seriousness, as one of the greatest tragedies in Brazilian history bespeaks a nation without much of a war-making tradition. Brazilians prefer a rip-roaring carnival.
More important, perhaps, is the appearance of racial harmony that Brazil's national team projects. Some players are black, some are white, but usually they are a blend of the two, the shades and shapes representing the range of types that come from the Amazon basin, from West Africa and from the European countries that have contributed so much to the genetic cocktail: Portugal, Italy and Germany.
The first superstar of Brazilian soccer was the green-eyed,curly-haired Arthur Friedenreich, who scored the winning goal in a celebrated 1-0 victory over Uruguay in 1919. Racial stereotypes - blacks are more graceful, say, or whites more tenacious - break down. Ask any Brazilian who, in terms of pure skill, was the greatest Brazilian player ever, and chances are he'll be torn between the competing claims of the brown-skinned Garrincha and the blond Zico.
All this would be of merely anecdotal interest, however, were the Brazilians not so darn good. For the first six decades after the arrival in 1894 of soccer's first evangelist in Brazil, a handlebar-mustachioed British gent by the name of Charles Miller, Brazilian soccer made few waves beyond Latin American shores. But then, in 1958, when the World Cup was held in Sweden, Brazil's impact on the competition was seismic.
Thanks to grainy black-and-white images still replayed on TV today, the aftershocks of a goal scored in the final by a 17-year-old named Pelé, a spindly unknown, continue to deliver their timeless thrill. What Pelé did no one had ever seen before. Wearing the clumpy boots of the era, he flicked the heavy leather ball used in those days over the head of a towering Swedish defender, spun around him, got to the ball before it touched the ground and drilled it, on the volley, into the net.
Brazil also won the next World Cup, held in Chile. This time Pelé was out injured most of the tournament and Garrincha was the star of the show. The Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano says of Garrincha, in a lyrical little book titled "Soccer in Sun and Shadow," that "in the entire history of football no one made more people happy."
Partly deformed from birth by polio (one leg was shorter than the other and both were bent like bows), he possessed such genius with a ball at his feet that each game he played became, as Galeano writes, "a circus ... a party."
Clown and juggler at the same time, he entrenched the myth- so much a part of the Brazilian legend - that in his country people play soccer less for victory than for fun. Brazil's apotheosis, and Pelé's, came in the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. The consensus is absolute among soccer's intelligentsia that this was the greatest team ever to grace the game.
Some debate lingers as to who was the greater player, Pelé or Diego Maradona (who would win the World Cup with - or rather, for - Argentina in 1986, also in Mexico).
But no one questions the pre-eminence- the peerless combination of flamboyance and effectiveness - of that 1970 Brazil team, with its supporting stars like Jairzinho, Rivelino, Gérson and Tostão. A lean period followed: it would be 24 years before Brazil won theWorld Cup again. But such was the power of the spell cast by that triple-winning Pelé team that the legend not only remained alive but, as legends do, flourished.
It didn't matter how strong or weak they looked on paper, no team ever got the pulse racing the way the canary-shirted Brazilians did. Then in 1994, led by Romário, Brazil resumed its dominance by winning the World Cup in the United States. Brazil lost in the final against France in Paris in 1998, but then won again in Yokohama in 2002 as the unstoppable onslaught of "the three R's" - Rivaldo, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho - swept all before them.
This time around Brazil is again the favorite to win, on rational as well as sentimental grounds. A 4-1 crushing of Argentina (a two-time World Cup winner and always among the favorites) in a tournament in Germany last summer has lent force to an idea that has been building since 2002: that Brazil would not only win again, but do so in a fashion not seen since 1970.
Ronaldo, the game's most admired striker in recent years and three times the winner of the FIFA World Player ofthe Year award (voted on by all the national-team coaches and captains), is back. So is Cafu, the captain, and Roberto Carlos, the most offensive-minded left back in the history of the game and the one with the most thunderous shot.
Three new young superstars have emerged: Adriano, a bull of a man up front with the touch of a ballerina; Kaká, a midfielder who glides over the grass like Gene Kelly; and the young Robinho, small and doe-like but reckoned by many in Brazilto be a Pelé in the making.
And, most exciting of all, this year's team has Ronaldinho, the reigning two-time winner of World Player of the Year and winnerof the no-less-prestigious European Footballer of the Year prize last November. In May, he led Barcelona to its second consecutive La Liga title in Spain and to European victory in the Champions League.
Whatever happens at this World Cup (and there are some who worry about the aging legs of Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos and Cafu), Ronaldo de Assis Moreira, an attacking midfielder known to everyone as Ronaldinho, has already done more than enough not only to keep the Brazilian legend alive but also to breathe new life into it. Not so much because of what he has achieved (an enormous amount for a player who just turned 26), but because of the manner in which he has done it.
Like Pelé, he scores sublime goals, and lots of them; he is arguably the world's best and most penetrating passer, the master of the assist; he may be unequaled in the dominion he exerts over the ball. On top of all that, he plays with a big smile on his face, even when he misses a shot. Whereas so many professionals in every sport seem to carry the world's worries on their faces as they play, Ronaldinho radiates the fun of a carefree 8-year-old boy.
Which happens to be how old he was when his father suffered a heart attack in a swimming pool and drowned. After that shock,which he has never forgotten (following every goal he scores, he looks up to heaven and points a finger that says, "For you, Dad"), Ronaldinho might be excused were he introverted or morose. Yet he seems the exact opposite.
He is courteous, too - one of those "After you," "No, after you" types - and seems to have few of the airs and graces one might expect of a regular superstar, to say nothing of the most globally celebrated sportsman alive.
He does not strut so much as shuffle, and when asked to describe that goal during which he sent John Terry tumbling to the ground, he gracefully makes excuses for the Englishman. "I had the good fortune to be coming at him having built up some speed, while he was moving from a standing position," he says, "so I had a big advantage."
While proudly Brazilian - "I just love the way we play the game!" -Ronaldinho acknowledges a debt to Europe, whose faster, more aggressive style ofplay has obliged him to become a more complete, "much stronger" athlete physically. (And a lot richer: Brazil is a dynamic and sensual country, but also a poor one - in Europe, players can earn 5 or 10 times more money than they can in Brazil.)
Still, Brazil provides an edge, in Ronaldinho's view, in the extra degree of obsessiveness with which soccer permeates national life. "It doesn't matter where you go in Brazil, it doesn't matter where you look, there are people playing football. All day and all night, children with children, fathers with their sons, grandfathers with their grandchildren, adults with adults, women or men - everybody, everywhere. And if they're not playing with a ball, they'll be playing with a soft-drink can."
Yet there does seem to be some essential characteristic, something more than mere quantity, that distinguishes Brazilian soccer from that played by everyone else. Juca Kfouri, a leading TV and newspaper commentator in Brazil, likes to compare Brazilian soccer with the English original. The latter, he says, "is more tactical, more disciplined, more rigidly adhering to the rules the coach imposes. In Brazil, methods exist in order to be dismantled. That is why, when Brazil and England have played, Brazil almost always wins by scoring goals that are not out of the book, goals that come as a complete surprise."
Tostão, who played with Pelé on Brazil's team in 1970 (beating England along the way), is a huge fan of Ronaldinho, and he agrees with Kfouri that what sets Brazilian soccer above the rest is what he calls its"daring" imagination.
"Globalization has obviously impacted on soccer, too," says Tostão, who is now Brazil's most respected sports newspaper columnist. "Strategy and tactics are practically the same the world over. In that sense, soccer has become more like basketball. Even in terms of sheer skill, the difference is not all that great between one country and another. And good technique can be taught. Look at a player like Zidane," he explains, referringto Zinédine Zidane, the midfielder for Real Madrid and the French national team. He has as much ability on the ball as any Brazilian. That is why, Tostào says, the difference lies in the mind.
"Brazilian soccer has more of the imponderable about it. There is more variation in the Brazilian game than in the Europeanone. Brazilian players have more of the magic of invention."
The English team captain, David Beckham, Tostão suggests, has the skill to do what a Brazilian player might, but he doesn't because he is trapped in his English cultural mind-set. He cannot tap into what Tostão says is "the imaginative unconscious of Brazilian football, transmitted down from one generation to the next."
That collective unconscious is what Ronaldinho perhaps refers to, without quite articulating it that way, when he addresses the conundrum of how it is that all of the top Brazilians play in Europe yet somehow contrive to function as a teamwhen they put on the canarinho shirt.
"We left Brazil young but remained there till we were at least 15, usually more," he says.
"So we all served the same apprenticeship, and when we meet in the national team, there is an ease of understanding. Also, to be in the Brazil team you have to play football of very high quality, and when you play with people so good, the game becomes easy and things work out naturally."
(Ronaldinho is determined, however, as is Tostão, to dispel the myth that Brazilian players are so naturally gifted that victory comes easily to them, no sweat or discipline required.
"It's an absolute myth," Tostão says. "We play a collective game, as disciplined as anybody else's."
Ronaldinho says: "We prepare for a game a lot more than people imagine. People think that we run out on the pitch, all laughter and joy, and then it's goal,goal, goal. No.")
Ronaldinho may get close to the secret of Brazilian soccer - the alliance of discipline and skill with superior imagination - when he explains his role with the team.
"When I train," he says, "one of the things I concentrate on is creating a mental picture of how best to deliver that ball to a teammate, preferably leaving him alone in front of the rival goalkeeper. So what I do, always before a game - always, every night and every day - is try and think up things, imagine plays, which no one else will have thought of, and to do soalways bearing in mind the particular strengths of each teammate to whom I am passing the ball. When I construct those plays in my mind, I take into account whether one teammate likes to receive the ball at his feet or ahead of him, if he's good with his head and how he prefers to head the ball, if he's stronger on his right or his left foot. That's my job. That is what I do. I imagine the game."
Ronaldinho imagines the game so well that something is happening in the world of soccer that would have seemed unthinkable 10, 5 or even 2 years ago. People are beginning to wonder whether Ronaldinho may be worthy of mention in the same breath as the holy twosome of Pelé and Maradona.
"The big polemic is already on here in Brazil," Kfouri says, "and older guys of my generation, we resist making that comparison, naturally. But you know what? There is no way ofavoiding it - Ronaldinho is reinventing football. He is the most creative, most entertaining player we've seen anywhere in years."
Maradona himself said much the same thing in an interview with the Spanish daily Sport. "It's impressive how Ronaldinho can combine both technique and speed," the Argentine said. "It's only possible because he has a privileged mind. He's such a quick thinker. He knows what he's going to do before the ball gets to him. ... He's a show on his own."
Indeed, he's such a one-man show that, Kfouri points out, Tostão caused a great flutter in the soccer world when he asked in a recent column in Brazil's biggest newspaper, Folha de S. Paulo, whether Ronaldinho might be placed on the highest pedestal of all.
It was a momentous thought, and mildly shocking, coming from a man who had had the good fortune to play in the Brazil forward line 36years ago alongside the player known ever since in Brazil as O Rei - the King.
"Yes," Tostão admits, "I have raised this question. I have made the point that in 2002 Ronaldinho was as important a player as any in the Brazil team, and yet today he is more of a footballer than he was then. Look, I played with Pelé. Pelé has always been the greatest for me. And I believe Ronaldinho is still beneath him, but - " But that goal against Chelsea? That triumph of Brazilian poetry over English prose? Wouldn't Pelé have been proud of that? "
Yes. But it's not just the goals Ronaldinho scores.
It's those passes he lays on a plate for his teammates. He knocked a great Milan team out in the semifinal of the Champions League that way, delivering a magically weighted assist. His passing is as decisive as his goals are.
"Yes," Tostão continues, pensive, hesitant, flirting with a heresy, "it is possible. Who knows? A year from now, we could be saying that Ronaldinho is as good as Pelé was."

Brazil aren't interested in playing pretty

Editor's note:
Yesterday Brazil completed their group engagements with a 4-1 win over Japan. At half-time score was 1-1. And it was Japan who took the lead. For a while the celebrated Brazilians were a bit ragged. There was never a chance of Brazil not winning the match but still..
They were reduced to another team, just looking for an equaliser and win.
Read another take now.

By Marcela Mora y Araujo in Guardian blog
The myth of the beautiful game is hogwash.
Like everyone else this team just wants to win. In Brazilian Portuguese, what has become universally acknowledged as the definition of the Brazilian style, aided by one of the most recognised sportwear brands, is the slogan Jogo Bonito.
By and large in England one hears this rendered as "beautiful game".
I would posit that this is incorrect. "Beauty"would be equivalent to "beleza", a word that peppers Brazilian music and poetry as well as football. "Bonito" is more like "pretty", or "aesthetically pleasing". Jogo Bonito is therefore henceforth "pretty play".
What a load of balls - or as we say in Spanish, "las pelotas". After Brazil's massively over-hyped World Cup debut on Tuesday, we were treated to the shocked disappointment of the punditry circuit. Brazil let us down. They were not whatwe expected them to be.
Ronaldo, whose weight has generated unspeakably large volumes of press comment, was not only fat but "shameful". It was almost as if spectators should be entitled to demand their money back. What a fiasco. The samba boys ripped us off.
The fact is that even though it's a distinct possibility that Brazil were not up to scratch, the level of expectation placed on that team is unlikely ever to be satisfied. And instead of shocked horror, I feel totally vindicated.
Coach Parreira said after the game: "The result was magnificent. We could have played better." In that order. Results first. This guy is a pro. Croatia had many chances and put up a good fight. From Brazil we saw what we usually see in competitive professional football, particularly when it comes to Brazil in recent years.
Don't get me wrong. I don't want to dismiss their footballing supremacy. Even though I'm Argentinian (now I tell you) several hundred of my best friends are Brazilian, etc etc. But it is undeniably the case that in 2002 the final was an ironic clash between young German players who displayed a certain amount of skill and gusto against a ruthlessly efficient Brazil full of experienced warriors. Their antics throughout the tournament were so at odds with "pretty" notions of keepy uppy that some of the players were even fined for it.
Have players from other countries been fined hard cash for handling the ball, time wasting, dangerous hacking or diving? I will have to look into that. The point is, the marketing of Brazilian football as "pretty" has blinded us to the fact that current generations of Brazilian players areabove all professional competitors. Even the song chosen by the image makers to accompany the myth, the famous Mais que nada - More than Anything - contains a line, clearly audible in some cuts of the various adverts, which says "get outof my way because I need to get through."
The subliminal message of Brazil's footballing history is to win at all costs.
Nobody knows this more than the players themselves. A few years ago I interviewed Gilberto Silva, Arsenal's defensive midfielder, for a tick-sponsored magazine project. The remit was to get him to say "In Brazil winning is not enough, it's playing beautifully that counts."
This to a guy who is possibly the least stereotypically Brazilian efficient marker in the Premiership. Naturally, he was reluctant.
As a member ofa squad who lifted the coveted trophy without a single samba move throughout the 2002 tournament he was keen to point out that winning the World Cup for a fifth time was all the country had expected. Nobody cared how they did it.
"No, no, no, no, no" Gilberto told me time and again. It was almost as if he was saying something like "we enjoy dribbling with the back of our necks on the beach but when it comes to the real deal we like to win."
I won't go into the mysterious editing that took place before the interview appeared in print because it will only upset you. Suffice to say Gilberto's account was not what the tick wished to promote.
I once remarked to Ronaldo how sad he looked after the 1998 final. "We'd just lost 3-0 in a World Cup final!" he barked back. Whatever else had gone on it is obvious his sadness was due to not winning rather than not "playing pretty". There is plenty of beleza in Brazil, in their music, in their poetry, in their art, in their dressmaking, in their films, in their footballwriting and even - at times - in their football.
I remember being there in 1986,when France knocked them out of the tournament. That was a nation in mourning if ever I've seen one. You think they would have been disappointed if the squad had managed a victory by any means, fair or foul? Wrong again.
On Tuesday night they got three points. That's all they need at this stage. As long as they step onto the pitch ensuring their rivals remain full of fear, and manage even a single moment of lethal power which gives them the points - Kaka's goal was plenty genius for one match - we will see hundreds of thousands of Brazilians proudly waving the green and yellow from Hyde Park to Ipanema.
What Brazilians love is to win. And in this they are not alone.
Play pretty? What a load of balls.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

In praise of Argentina

By Marcela Mora y Araujo in Guardian, London
And on the sixteenth day of the sixth month of the sixth year - they scored six.
I've seen the whole game three times now. I've never seen anything like it.
As my friend Klaus wrote: "This surpasses the 6-0 against Peru, and the 4-1 against Hungary in '82 when Maradona and Kempes joined forces, AND the 4-0 against Greece in '94, to name but a few of our World Cup goalfests."
I've got that sense of watching something unfold in the knowledge that it is already becominga memory - one of those "where were you when ..." moments. It's as if the earth had started spinning in a different direction. Like any great work of art, the excellence is in the details. Crespo's delicate back heel pass to Cambiasso for the second goal. Carlos Tévez' Maradonic finish to the fourth (there was adouble nutmeg there: the ball goes through the opponent's legs, and the opponent goes through Tévez' legs).
Messi passing to Crespo - Crespo scores. He looks for Messi and points to him: "It was you: you gave me that." They hug. The sixthgoal, Crespo to Messi, Messi scores. He looks for Crespo. Points his finger at him: "It was you: you gave me that". They hug again.
Crespo kisses Messi. Two generations help other, play with each other ...
It was Menotti and Bilardo, it was individual talent in a team framework. It was Tévez coming on as a yang to Saviola's yin, and Cambiasso starting on the bench so they would all know that the bench is part of the team too.
It was touch, touch, touch - caress, control,seek possession, remain in possession, if you can't keep the ball pass it to a team-mate. Look around, you've got so many on your side.
José Pekerman is without a doubt a genius from another planet. The players were the artists embroidering the canvas but as I'm sure any experienced crochet knitter would confirm, such a weave does not come by accident.
The mind-boggling thing is that Pekerman designed it. But I would like to also pay a little personal homage to the central cog of that majestic machine: Juan Román Riquelme.
I tried to count how many of the 24 passes that led to Cambiasso's goal involved him. I couldn't, but it was several. Riquelme was the axis, constant and steady like the beat of Tula's drum, calmly setting the pace, playing like only he can.
And what's very interesting about Riquelme is that while some people love him he is not everybody's cup of tea. A few years ago my cousin went to a Barcelona game and reported back the following dialogue with another man watching the same game:
MAN: Riquelme's shit. Every time he gets the ball he hogs it for at least five minutes.
COUSIN: Riquelme's great! Every time he gets the ball he keeps possession for at least five minutes.
In the fast-paced, long-ball competitive pitches of European professional football what Riquelme does is counterintuitive. But in the open spaces of Don Torcuato, where he still plays regularly whenever he's back home, that's the point of playing.
Riquelme doesn't lose much sleep over any of this. For him football is the same alwaysand everywhere. He plays the way he plays and if you don't like it, that's not his problem. He's loyal to his neighbourhood friends, the Boca strip and the ball.
He's genuine, unpretentious and truly gifted. And it is to Pekerman's credit that he has understood him and his timing, and is able to make the most of the monumental contribution Riquelme is capable of making to any team.
When he was not included in the final squad for 2002 I asked Pekerman why this was.He shook his head gently and said something about the boy having too many problems. I couldn't believe that Pekerman, a man whose technical staff include nutritionists, psychologists and social workers, wouldn't find a way round this.
But then, earlier this year, Riquelme told me the same thing more clearly: "I'm a realist. My mind wasn't on the game at the time. I was hardly playing for Boca. I wasn't up to the World Cup. I had too many problems."
I feel I'm beginning to understand Pekerman's sense of timing. He is able to sketch a plan over time - not over the course of a single tournament even but over several generations. I think he famously once left Aimar on the bench during a Youth World Cup final, just to teach him that sometimes you have to sit it out. Can you imagine how much richer Aimar will be for this if he starts in the 2006 World Cup Final?
But I'm getting ahead of myself here. We have had a wonderful moment added to our football history and that can never be taken away. But after yesterday's homage to Menotti's philosophy a little Bilardista caution is in order.
There is another game to focus on now, and the most dangerous thing at this stage would be to believe in the unbeatability of the team. Gordon Strachan made a point which could well be true: "That's the last time in this tournament they're going to get the chance to do that. Nobody's going to give them the space again."
In a sense, that doesn't matter. I feel privileged enough that the masterpiece was constructed at all, in my lifetime. It's happened now, it exists.
We can all get back to the World Cup.

Holland according to Argentina

Editor's note:
Marcela Mora y Araujo, Argentine journalist based in London writes in the Guardian blog.
She was born in Argentina and, in 1978, was one of the 25million who played the World Cup.
She celebrated in the streets after the final.
By 1982, having recently moved to England, the World Cup was watched on TV, mostly alone. In 1986 she was travelling in Brazil, hoping to get to Mexico, but plans changed somewhere between Canoa Quebrada and Porto Seguro.
She celebrated in the streets of Rio (very quietly) after the final. 1990 saw her back on hometurf, although she did board a Varig flight half way through Argentina v Italy.
The pilot announced the result. In 1994 she was working as a producer for the World Service, and in 1998 she was in the dugout filming for FIFA's offcial film. 2002 was spent writing from home, where a young son took up more than half of her attention span.
Still, she was published regularly in Japan, Israel, Holland, Mexico and - of course - England and Argentina. The 2006 World Cup is her first in cyberspace.
Now read her.

Holland according to Argentina
June 21, 2006
What Argentina knew about Dutch football in 1978 was the bitter taste of defeat at the hands of the masterful Johan Cruyff back in 1974. Holland had knocked Argentina out of the tournament in Germany with an indisputable 4-0 victory, and according to Brian Glanville's historical overview, "heavy rain in the second half was the saviour of Argentina, who would have probably lost more heavily".
Although considered one of the biggest embarrassments in our footballing history it was a humiliation we accept because of the admiration evinced by "La Naranja Mecánica"- the "Clockwork Orange".
Even though Holland didn't go on to lift the trophy,most Argentinians agree they were the best team in that tournament, and one ofthe best ever. By 1978, La Naranja Mecánica was less in evidence and Cruyff had decided not to travel to Argentina.
Commentator Victor Hugo Morales once told me that he felt the Dutch had not come fully prepared: "They had come with their wives, very few days before the start of the championship, had only got together to come over here, almost like a tourist trip. And suddenly they were playing a World Cup final, facing a team which was highly motivated, cheered on by thousands of fervent fans in an act of profound nationalism".
Morales is not alone in spotting that the Dutch squad lacked the passionate delivery they had displayed in 1974. Nevertheless, the 1978 World Cup Final between Argentina and Holland has since been subject to much scrutiny.
There are always two ways of looking at World Cup final, or any football match for that matter. One is to focus simply on the events on the pitch. The other is to attempt to take in allthe events surrounding the match and see if we can reach any conclusions as to how these may have affected the match narrative.
In terms of the 1978 final both of these viewpoints lead to spectacularly good stories. Off the pitch, the military government in Argentina had mounted an unprecedented propaganda campaign.
The World Cup had brought Argentina technological innovations such as colour TV, and the presence of the world media on such a scale was new to us. The local media were by and large complicit in the government's portrayal of the national reality, and although most people didn't know the extent of the political underhandedness we were very aware of the dictatorial repression that was the norm in daily life.
The people's love of football was genuine, but its manipulation by the government and the media was an outrage. One of the most shocking incidents for me was the publication by El Grafico, the country's oldest and most established sports magazine, of what they claimed was a handwritten letter from the Dutch captain Ruud Krol to his daughter, saying things like: "Don't worry about my safety, soldiers whose rifles shoot flowers protect me".
The letter was a fabrication.
These small acts of grotesque manipulation are the main tools of a totalitarian regime: the detailed manufacture of a subliminal sense of national pride. Somehow, in the subconscious of thousands of football fans, the seed was sown that the Dutch footballers thought we were a great nation. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Tens of thousands of political activists and innocent people had been jailed without trial and tortured by the military. Their whereabouts was unknown and the mothers of those who had been "disappeared" would march every Thursday around a square in front of the Pink House, the presidential palace. TheArgentinian press rarely reported this - presumably some feared they would meet the same fate, while others had decided to toe the government line.
It was the Dutch press who broke the story, interviewing the mothers and portraying a little of the horror of what was going on. Nowadays, we complain at the number of journalists who linger at the World Cup desperately seeking something towrite about when the games aren't on.
But had Holland not still been in the tournament, the plight of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo might still be unknown. Argentina owes a huge debt of gratitude to Holland for the inadvertent introduction of the notion of a democratic free press.
On the pitch Argentina's players were politically untarnished, and for the duration of the tournament they had been protected and groomed by coach César Menotti to focus only on football.
They believed, rightly, that they were playing for the people - fortheir fathers, their brothers, their neighbours, their friends. The final against Holland is nevertheless also shrouded in controversy, right from the start when legend has it that Argentina delayed kick-off to provoke a psychological impact on the Dutch.
Osvaldo Ardiles told me recently the truth about the delayed start: "We had to exchange a little banner with the opposition, and when I went to shake Van de Kerkhof's hand I felt something hard on his arm. It wasn't exactly a cast but it was harder than a bandage. So I mentioned it to [team-mate Daniel] Passarella, which with hindsight I wish I hadn't done, because of the fuss that ensued."
Eventually, after Menotti hadtold his men "we are 90 minutes away from glory", the match kicked off. Juan Sasturain, an Argentinian novelist and football lover, says: "The match was played out like a horror film, a suspense thriller. In our memory what stands out is the euphoria of Mario Kempes' second goal in extra time - and that verygoal is full of suspense.
It's a never ending bit of playmaking. But the moment of most tension is that silence, two minutes before full time, when that ball comes along, silent, long ... reaches Rensenbrink, he touches it, Fillol doesn't get it, Olguín doesn't get it, one second, two seconds, the ball hits the post. Between euphoria and infinite sadness there was a distance of 2 or 3cm. That'sthe distance between heaven and hell".
The hearts of a nation stopped when Rensenbrink's shot hit the post. History recounts that Argentina lifted the cup. The nation rejoiced - the Dutch must have felt very much on away turf. The next encounter, in 1998, was different in every way. Both countries were againplaying on neutral ground. It was Holland who had a single genius - Bergkamp -and Argentina who probably felt too big for their boots having defeated England.
But again, the narrative spelt out on the pitch has all the ingredients of good drama. Ariel Ortega, a humble boy from the north of Argentina, lost his cool and resorted to the form of violence of the back streets: the headbutt, for which hewas sent off.
Could Argentina have won the game if this hadn't been so? I doubt it.
Holland had their own superhero, a master artist able to weave a line drawing of delicate precision. Bergkamp's goal has made its mark in the history books right up there with one, and only one other. Need I say more?

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

It was a disgraceful act, admits Daily Telegraph

Editor's note:
Rarely, very rarely the English media admit their own team's shortcomings and dishonesty. The Daily Telegraph argues for some timely reforms in football in the aftermath of Peter Crouch's Hair of God goal against Trinidadd and Tobago. Read the Daily Telegraph story.

Battle against cheats requires real deterrent
By Bob Wilson, The Daily Telegraph, London
Ever since Diego Maradona's infamous 'Hand of God' went unpunished and set Argentina on the way to knocking out England at the 1986 World Cup, footballers across the globe have been quite happy to bend or breakthe rules in order to advance their team's cause.
The furore that surrounded little Diego's 'cheating' continues to this day, especially in England, since it was Bobby Robson's team on the receiving end and England had to pack their bags for home as Argentina went on to become world champions.
Strange, then, that the equally disgraceful act administered by the hand of Peter Crouch on Trinidad and Tobago's Brent Sancho, which allowed him to head England into the lead on Thursday with time running out, has received minimal coverage.
Crouch clearly grabbed Sancho's dreadlocks, turning the defender's head by the action, and leaving him with an easy nod beyond Shaka Hislop.
Understandably, it has left a sour taste in the mouths of the Trinidad and Tobago squad.
So is cheating ever acceptable, and where are we in this technological age with regard to the 'fairplay' diktat so widely publicised by Fifa, Uefa, the Football Association and every other footballing authority?
There have been signs of improvement in refereeing standards during this tournament. Clearly the officials have been told to punish with a caution any sign of shirt-pulling, tugging and diving.
Equally, the players appear to have been informed of the intention to punish even the slightest suggestion of a two-footed tackle. Although the diktat does not appear to apply to hair-pulling, players are less prone to grabbing opponents than they were in 1998 in France, and 2002 in Japan and South Korea.
Only out of desperation are they reverting to the old methods and, yes, at 0-0 with just seven minutes to go, England and Crouch were desperate.
Although shirt-pulling is now less prevalent, I still think players should be punished retrospectively when caught on camera: one caution point each time an offence occurs, three points representing a one-game ban.
Without this threat, players will never stop taking a chance. In the case of Crouch and similar offenders, where a goal has resulted with the referee failing to spot the infringement thegoal should stand, but the offender should receive an automatic three points and instant ban.
Then there is the sensitive subject of 'simulation'.
Players of all32 competing nations are still guilty of rolling over and over in an attempt to get an opponent booked, and referees haven't a chance of correctly calling right from wrong. Within seconds, 99 per cent of the 'injured' players are back on their feet and running freely.
This is cheating and, while I am not advocating a return to the days of Ron Harris, Norman Hunter, Nobby Stiles and Peter Storey,who tackled with real venom, at least in those days the offended parties were real men who got up and got on with it.
Thankfully, all two-footed tackles warrant a red card, even if the ball is won. That's because careers are in jeopardy.
The dismissal of Pablo Mastroeni of the USA on Saturday night was a good example. Despite the three red cards, I thought the Uruguayan referee had a good game.
Football has always been a physical encounter in which acceptable bodily contact attempts to counter pure skill. This tournament seems to be awareof the thin line between right and wrong.
All we need now is for those brave people who blow whistles and wave flags to accept that it is time for them to incorporate technology, at least retrospectively, to continue to clean up the game and provide it with an even bigger audience than it already has.

Hair of God in World Cup!

Editor’s note:
When Diego Maradona scored his Hand of God goal against England, there was a furore.
But when England cheats where are our commentators and experts?
Though the World Cup is in ful swing, not many is aware of the Hair of the God goal scored by England’s Peter Crouch.
Surprisingly I read about the Hair of God in New York Times’ World Cup blogs.
Now read the NYT piece.

The Hair of God
In case you haven't seen the evidence of Peter Crouch's flagrant, well, cheating as he scored England's first goal late in the 2-0 game against Trinidad and Tobago on Thursday, here it is, thanks to German television.
And here too, though the ESPNannouncers don't notice it and attribute T&T defender Brent Sancho's inability to jump with Crouch to fatigue rather than to Crouch yanking down on his dreadlocks.
As Sancho said after the game: '''He was definitely pulling me back and definitely over my back. Then again, we're tiny Trinidad and Tobago. There's no way the referee is going to blow that whistle.''
After 20 years of complaining about the Hand of God goal, it now seems that England are guilty of something perhaps every bit as dishonest.And that isn't helping them with fans around the world, who have begun to perceive England as a boring team, and now one that is cynical as well.
Crouch was already coming in for plenty of stick from abroad, being called things like the "two-meter asparagus" as newspapers heaped opprobrium on the England team, but Crouch has begun to hear it from home too.Well, not exactly from home.
Most of the English papers have downplayed Crouch's dreadlock-pull of God. The Scottish papers certainly haven't, mind you, but only a handful of English papers have piped up to express their outrage at the national team having won a game in this manner - most notably The Telegraph, in which a writer called for a system of punishment for players caught postgame by video in the manner of Crouch.

What makes Maradona tick?

By John Cheeran
What makes Diego Maradona tick?
What makes Maradona such a favourite among football fans?
When Fifa conducted a global poll to determine the footballer of the century, Maradona pushed Pele into second place.
Surely despite his cocaine escapades, Maradona remains a huge favourite; a prince of rebellion.
Maradona is not a saint; none of us are. So that is why the Argentine legend can say with a straight face, without batting an eyelid that it was the hand of the God that pushed the ball into the net way past a jumping English goalkeeper Peter Shilton during the Mexico 1986 World Cup quarterfinals.
If, as Maradona would have us believe, it indeed was the hand of God, then who must be the football's God?
Pele will not be happy with the most likely answer.
Some of the catchy moments during the live telecasts from Germany have been when the images of Maradona, wearing a replica jersey of the 1986 World Cup winning Argentina team, and cheering his successors from the stands, appeared.
It was not just Maradona in the stands; his first wife Claudia was too with him.
Clearly, Maradona is the cheerleader No.1 for Argentina.
Which other World Cup winner, and one who is still hailed as the greatest ever, would be seen cheering for his nation from the stands while the World Cup is on?
Only Maradona can break the conventions, break the mould and be with the people.
Pele, the most beautiful Black man, sold his soul to commercial interests.
While Pele exhorts for MasterCard, Maradona exhorts for Argentina and in general for Latin America.
Maradona stands for the marginalized; for the dispossessed. At least he seems to be closer to them from the plebeian stands he has chosen to occupy than whom the Fifa favours.
No wonder then Maradona is appropriated by people who have no heroes.
In West Bengal and Kerala, and wherever football is loved in the vast Indian sub-continent, Maradona is loved and worshipped.
Maradona is not just a footballer; he is not just a hero; he is a man just like you and me.
Now he is standing next to you; cheering, cursing and crying.
Celebrate football with him. Live football with him.
Let the scores be settled. Let there be no sudden deaths!

Everytime I steal, it goes without notice!

By John Cheeran
A majority of Indians prefer to read The Times of India everyday.
So The Timesof India must be a good, decent newspaper. After all readers are leaders.
On Tuesday, June 20, I read an anchor piece on the business pages of TOI, Mumbai edition.
The piece was headlined "An elegy to the death of a mad market."
It had a terrific intro. Let me quote it. "Something in you dies when a friend does well." But who says it, is it the bylinewallah or someone else?
Originality and honesty are not the virtues that journalists care to keep.
Gore Vidal's famous lines are stolen for the intro and the readers are left to marvel at Times writer's brilliant piece of effort.
In fact since the intro was so arresting I could not read further.
Not for nothing Austrian writer Karl Kraus said about journalists: " Journalist: a person without any ideas but with an ability to express them; a writer whose skill is improved by a deadline: the more time he has, the worse he writes."
May be I just want to prove that how right was Vidal.
In an age when novelists steal whole chapters and columnists lift columns wordfor word, a stolen intro is a good act.
Long live the freedom to steal, long live The Times of India.

Spin and other turns in West Indies

By John Cheeran
There never has been a dull moment in Indian cricket since Greg Chappell took over as national team coach.
Recently against England at home, when skipper Rahul Dravid and coach Chappell included five bowlers in search of a Test win, the move was criticised.
The move weakened the Indian batting, the argument was put forward.
And the Indian batting meltdown in the Mumabi Test led to Andrew Flintoff's England levelling the Test series. So in the immediate Test series in West Indies, far from home, it did not comeas a surprise to me that Dravid opted for six batsmen giving VVS Laxman a chance to revive his career.
That has paved the way for the criticism that India has erred in choosing only four bowlers. What adds credence to that criticism is the fact that India nearly won the Tests in Antigua and St. Lucia.
India fell short by one West Indian wicket in Antigua,while at St Lucia after the complete washout of fourth day's play visitors needed three more rival wickets in second innings.
True, India could have done wonders with one more bowler during the West Indiessecond innings in both the Tests.
Critics have pointed out that veteran leg spinner Anil Kumble missed supporte at the other end as off spinner Harbhajan Singh was rested by the team management. It was left to Virender Sehwag to turn the ball and snare some crucial west Indian wickets.
There is no denying the fact that Harbhajan, for that matter, any extra specialist bowler could have added to West Indies' woes.
But, pray, how come the same rag-tag Indian bowling attack managed to prise out rival batsmen in their first innings both at Antigua and St. Lucia?
There was no fifth bowler or Harbhajan Singh to assist Irfan Pathan, Anil Kumble, Sreesanth, Munaf Patel and VRV Singh. Only Sehwag.
So what's the big deal wise men such as Sunil Gavaskar making about the missing fifth bowler?The point is, anyone, even Gavaskar can be wise after the event.
If India and Dravid missed one bowler during the Test series it is AjitAgarkar who did such a wonderful job during the one-day series. Team management should have insisted on Agarkar staying instead of VRV Singh.
That would have made thedifference even on the slow, low wickets in Antigua and St. Luica. And now in the wake of Gavaskar's syndicated controversy comes Harbhajan's revelation.
"I actually was only half-fit for the second Test. Still it was agame in which we distinguished ourselves and but for rain would have surely ended up as winners," Harbhajan has said. Harbhajan, also, brushed aside suggestions that he would have run through the West Indies batting on pitches that seem to suit his bowling.
Alright, and as India approaches the third Test the pressure will be on the management to include one more bowler.
If eventually Harbhajan gets the nod, who knows, wicket may be favouring fast bowlers. In that case, what benefits India can reap?Among all these, one thing is certain.
For India to put pressure on West Indies they will have to put huge runs on the board in the first innings. The rest will follow its own course.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Shashi Tharoor, a man whose time has come

By John Cheeran
Yes, Shashi Tharoor belongs to the smart set.
All along Tharoor has been considered too sophisticated to inherit the raw earthiness of a being Malayali, a gift from his beloved parents.
Tharoor, however, is now looked upon as a Malayali whose time has come in the wide, wild world.
Shashi's parents, Chandran and Lily, are Malayalis and in the past, his mother has often stressed that ethnic point. Tharoor is in news now as India has fielded him as their candidate for the post of United Nations Secretary General.
Tharoor's life has been a strange combination of a writer and a bureaucrat. Apparently Tharoor loves the certainties of a ordered life as a bureaucrat rather than the bulls and bears of a Writer Inc., a la Paulo Coelho.
Tharoor has written three novels, but in an age of a great success for Indians writing in English, he has not tasted enough glory.
I should admit that I have ready only his first novel, The Great Indian Novel, a truly remarkable satire. May be the fact that Shashi is regarded as a light weight in comparison to Amitava Goshs, Vikram Seths and Arundhati Roys, might have contributed to even in my failure to chase and read his other novels, Show Business and Riot.
But all the same the secret of Shashi's success has been his fidelity to facts as well as his loyalty to fiction.
The man who was once described by the media as Kofi Annan's eyes and ears is a great articulator and his forays into journalism too are remarkable. For that matter, which other Indian English writer has written a biography of the peerless Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru? Only Tharoor has done it and only he could have done it among those creative souls.
Tharoor, having been associated with the UN since 1989, is an insider in this battle with in the United Nations.
Will India and Tharoor be able to garner enough votes to win the contest?
Tharoor has grown into the candidate's role with ease and finesse. Last I heard him saying in New Delhi that he too has some qualifications to seize the job. That is a confident Indian's surefootedness. A quality that was last seen in another Malayali, V.K. Krishna Menon, who was India's representative to the UN and a former Union Defence Minister and in short supply ever since.
As someone who has played crucial roles in resolving global crises one after another, Tharoor is likely to bring in all his negotiator's talents to the table now. The fact that Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka and South Korea are putting up their own candidates should work in Shashi's favour.
The more candidates there are, the more chances for votes getting split.
If Tharoor wins, it would be a moment of joy and pride for all Indians. Therewould be a deep sense of achievement in Kerala, where his parents were born.
Shashi himself was born in London. Perhaps a gentle hint of his cosmopolitan future. He was educated in Bombay, Calcutta, Delhi (BA in History, St. Stephen'sCollege), and the United States (he got his PhD at the age of 22 from the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy at Tufts University).
Beyond pride, beyond joy, beyond that deep sense of achievement how shall it matter?
The post of UN Secretary General is equivalent to being a head constable in an Indian police station. The real power lies else where. Head constable has to obey his political masters.
The head constable of global police will have to obey the orders from the Permanent Five, with veto power. But who knows, Tharoor can make a real difference to the global political order. After all, India is on the ascent, as they say. Can Tharoor be far behind?

Riquelme, football's philosopher from Argentina

Editor's note: Argentina is creating waves in this early phase of 2006 World Cup football.
Coach Jose Pekerman has built the Argentina side around Juan Roman Riquelme.
Riquelme, Argentina's playmaker, sometimes seems to be playing a game beyond his peers.
He is modern football's philosopher in action.
As the World Cup throws up more twists and turns here is a story that delves into that moody Argentine's mindscape.

By Jason Cowley/The Observer, London
Very occasionally a player emerges in world football who, in style and method,defies categorisation. He is the player who invents his own idiom, plays in a manner and at a tempo that is entirely his own.
One thinks of the young Franz Beckenbauer who, as a counterattacking libero, showed again and again how a defender could be the most creative player in the team.
At this World Cup we have Juan Roman Riquelme of Argentina, the outstanding player of the tournamentso far, and the one stylistically most unlike any other here in Germany. Tall, slim, long-legged and often morose in appearance, Riquelme, who plays for Villarreal in Spain, operates in midfield, just behind two central strikers.
That, at least, is his nominal position, but in truth he goes wherever he wantsas he seeks to create space and possibilities for those around him. In many ways, he is the closest thing football has to a quarterback, the most influential and glamorous position in American sport. The quarterback is the creator, the player who invents the game as he goes along.
If it means passing back or sideways, in order to progress, so be it. Because what Riquelme has, above all else, is patience, the very quality Leo Beenhakker, the veteran Dutch coach of Trinidad & Tobago, says England, so hurried and committed to the longball, palpably lack.
As well as patience, Riquelme's great gift is one of decision-making, of knowing when to 'call the play', and of knowing intuitively what will and won't work and why.
As such, he is the fulcrum of what may be thebest Argentina side since the Maradona-led World Cup winners of 1986, the playermost cherished and, some think, most indulged by the coach Jose Pekerman.
Why is Riquelme indulged?
Because he seldom tackles, rarely hurries back to defend, even when he loses the ball, and can be wildly inconsistent. Above all, he seems to move at his own languid pace. He knows what he wants to do and how to do it, and everyone else will just have to go along with him.
If he plays well Argentina play well, and two days ago, beneath the closed roof of the magnificent Stadium AufSchalke in Gelsenkirchen, Riquelme offered those of us fortunate enough to be there a masterclass in how to move and pass and thus dictate a game.
The players of Serbia & Montenegro, thrashed 6-0, could do little but look on in baffled fascination as Riquelme, the Fifa man of the match even though he did not score, destroyed them with the brilliant simplicity of his passing and movement.
Argentina's second goal, scored by Esteban Cambiasso after a sequence of 24 passes, was the best of the competition, a symphony of collaboration - 'the most beautiful goal', according to Hernan Crespo.
And, because of the intricacy and languor of its build-up, the epitome of everything that the 56-year old Pekerman, appointed in autumn 2004, is striving to achieveas a coach dedicated to a slower, less direct, more classically South American game.
It is often said in Argentina that, because he rarely smiles on the pitch and is reserved and undemonstrative off it, Riquelme plays without joy. This is quite wrong. When, for instance, that second goal went in against Serbia and his team-mates rushed to embrace the scorer, Riquelme, alone, turned towards the bench, to coach Pekerman, and opened his arms wide in a kind of private rapture,as if to say: 'Yes, this is how the game can and should be played.'
Here, for sure, was joy enough. Yet Riquelme is often criticised in Argentina.
His performance in their first game, in which he provided the passes that led to both Argentina goals against Ivory Coast, was widely celebrated in Europe but received with some scepticism at home. He is too slow and unaccommodating, it was said, and plays only at his own pace.
He will not adapt; if the team cannotbe built around him, he retreats and withdraws.
'A friend of mine calls Riquelme the tollbooth,' says Jorge Valdano, a member of Argentina's WorldCup-winning team of 1986 and now a self-styled philosopher of football.
'When the ball reaches him it has to stop. The rhythm and direction of play will depend, to a great degree, on Riquelme's level of inspiration. And Riquelme is not always inspired.'
To which Pekerman counters: 'Some say that Riquelme is slow. But he's not slow when he's in possession. It's the ball that should do the running, not the player.'
On the train to Gelsenkirchen a group of journalists from Argentina were, as expected, divided over Riquelme. 'It's all aquestion of style,' said Ferrarini Guido of Diario Hoy.
'For me, Riquelme is too slow, too mournful even. I prefer someone quick, with happiness and with flair, like [Pablo] Aimar or [Lionel] Messi. But Pekerman sees only Riquelme. He is like a son to him.'
Born on 24 June 1978 in Don Torcuato, Buenos Aires, Juan Roman Riquelme grew up in a family of 10 in hardened poverty. But he is not, as some suggest, a semi-literate child of the villas miserias, the equivalent in Buenos Aires to the favelas of Brazil.
His was not a slum childhood. Nor is he of Amerindian extraction, though some suggest he is. 'That's the romantic cliche, isn't it, that Riquelme is the illiterate street kid, with an Indianfamily background?' says the London-based Argentine journalist Marcela Mora YAraujo.
'Yes, his background is very poor and very tough. But he went to school and he once told me how fortunate he felt to have grown up with enough open spaces around him in which to play football 'from dawn to dusk', as he put it. His family is very important to him and he still speaks of Don Torcuato as home.'
Riquelme, like Maradona before him, played for both Argentinos Juniors and then Boca Juniors, the club he supported and for which he dreamed above all others of playing as a young boy. When he was at Boca, and because he wears the No 10, he was called 'the new Maradona'.
What else would they call him? But the two players - in style, physique and personality - could not be more unalike, even if in their individuality and flair it can seem at times as if they are playing a different game from everyone else - their own game, without obvious peers.
In 2002, Riquelme, who is married with two children, joined Barcelona for a reported £10m. This was a difficult time in his life.
Shortly before leaving Buenos Aires his brother, Cristian, was kidnapped, as have been the family members of several notable South American footballers, most recently the mother of Brazil's Robinho. Riquelme negotiated with his brother's kidnappers and paid the ransom for his release. This, he has said, was why he left his beloved Boca, though this may be disingenuous, because he was also in dispute with the club over his contract.
The move was a failure. Barca's then coach Louis van Gaal spoke of how Riquelme was a 'political signing' from within theclub, not his, and he treated the new arrival with indifference. On the rare occasions Riquelme played, it was usually out of position on one of the flanks.For the first time in his career, Riquelme's confidence withered.
As a player, he needs to feel wanted, as Pekerman, for whom Riquelme excelled as a member ofthe 1997 World Youth Cup-winning team, makes him feel wanted. 'He needs to havethe whole team built around him,' says Guido.
In 2003, the year after he was left out of the Argentina squad for the World Cup in South Korea and Japan, Riquelme joined Villarreal - he speaks of being 'rescued' - a small-town Spanishclub with a wealthy and ambitious president.
This was the start of his comeback. He began to relax again, surrounded as he was by fellow Latin and South Americans, including Juan Pablo Sorin, the captain of Argentina. The intensity and expectation were lower than at Barcelona. He felt wanted again and soon he was once more the fulcrum of the team.
Last season, improbably, Riquelme inspired Villarreal to the semi-finals of the Champions League, where they wereknocked out 1-0 on aggregate by Arsenal, having dominated the second leg in Spain. Riquelme missed an 89th-minute penalty which, had he scored, would have taken the game into extra-time and probably taken Villarreal, because they werethe better side on the night and the momentum was theirs, on to the final in Paris.
Rarely can a player have appeared more fretful than Riquelme as he prepared to take that penalty. It was almost as if he already knew what would happen next. He spat repeatedly; he could not stop looking at the ground, andthen up he ran... and missed. Or rather, the diving Jens Lehmann saved his weakshot. Is it only in retrospect that he looked like a condemned man?
Inevitably, in Argentina, this led once more to anguish about his temperament and his suitability for the national team. All that is in the past, and now, as Riquelme looks up, with Argentina moving so confidently into the last 16, he must see before him the possibility of greater glory. Certainly, he is the tournament's most influential player so far, and its most original, the footballer-as-quarterback.
He may not run extravagantly with the ball like Ronaldinho, or move and dribble as Kaka can, and he will never score a wonder goal of the kind patented by Maradona. But as he has shown here, and Pekerman has long understood, Juan Roman Riquelme can control the tempo of a game like no one else. In so doing he can lead his hugely accomplished and motivated team to the greatest prize of all.
John Cheeran at Blogged