Archive for February, 2012

Liverpool icon Steven Gerrard lifts the Carling Cup, the club's first major trophy in six years (Reuters)

Liverpool’s long wait for a trophy is over following a 3-2 penalty shoot-out triumph over a battling Cardiff City, after the game finished 2-2 following extra time.

After the first three takers – Steven Gerrard and Charlie Adam for Liverpool, and Cardiff’s Kenny Miller – had missed, Don Cowie gave Cardiff the advantage. Dirk Kuyt hit back for Liverpool, and after Rudy Gestede struck the post, Stewart Downing put Liverpool ahead. Peter Whittingham levelled the scores, but with Glen Johnson having beaten Tom Heaton, Anthony Gerrard missed the crucial kick.

It was a devastating end for Cardiff’s cup adventure. The Welsh side punched above their weight throughout the game and pushed Liverpool until the final whistle.

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A Joe Mason goal has put underdogs Cardiff City ahead 1-0 at half time of the 2012 Carling Cup final at Wembley, putting in jeopardy favourites Liverpool’s hopes of ending their seven-year trophy drought.

Liverpool had controlled the early stages without really offering a consistent threat. Glen Johnson cracked a long-range drive off the bar inside two minutes; an Andy Carroll flick-on briefly set Luis Suarez away before he was tracked down by the impressive Mark Hudson.

Then, after a Carroll header had failed to test Tom Heaton, the pace of the Cardiff break caught the red defence off guard. After the initial cross from Kevin McNaughton was cleared back to him, a neat pass from the industrious Kenny Miller found Mason unmarked at the back post, and the winger kept his cool to slot a low shot underneath Pepe Reina.

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Walking down Wembley Way as we enter the final hour of anticipation, you can’t fail to notice the electric atmosphere among both sets of fans.

Today’s match, of course, is massive for both clubs.

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When boxers become brawlers

Dereck Chisora (left) squares up to David Haye in front of the latter’s manager, Adam Booth. Chisora and Booth emerged bloodied from the ensuing brawl

Boxing has its many detractors at the best of times. Throughout the history of organised boxing there have been those who have argued against encouraging the brutality of a sport which sees the vast majority of its participants retire battered, bruised, scarred and, to varying degrees (more often than one would like to think), brain-damaged.

Boxing’s defendants see it as one of the oldest and most noble sports of our civilisation, being as it is a direct descendant of ancient Greek and Roman pass-times. They stress not the dangers, but the rewards on offer for those who possess the most courage, the fastest feet and the heaviest hands.

What no-one in boxing encourages, though, is slapping your opponent, spitting water onto his brother, or gate-crashing a press conference before assaulting someone with a tripod.

Welcome, then, to the sordid world of Dereck Chisora and David Haye.

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FA selection has been exposed once again

One of the finest managers of his generation, even Fabio Capello was not up to the challenge of leading England to glory (PA)

Now that Fabio Capello has done the only honourable thing and stuck by his beliefs in resigning from the England managerial post, our national pride and glory is left whistling in the wind as, once more, the nation reluctantly and unconfidently puts its hopes and dreams in the hands of the Football Association to find a suitable man to lead England to Euro 2012 glory. Nothing less will be enough – it never is in this bizarre, parallel universe the media deports us all to every time the cream of the nation’s talent takes the pitch in the service of the Three Lions.

I have very little faith in the FA’s ability to get this decision right. The last four managers they have selected have all had their failings. Kevin Keegan was, when all is said and done, an emotional choice rather than a logical one. Sven-Goran Eriksson, while mostly successful on the pitch, was hounded out by his inability to keep out of the tabloids (Ulrika Jonsson, fake sheikhs, repeated courting of club interest). Steve McClaren… well, let’s not. At least he stayed dry.

And then there’s Fabio.

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Fabio Capello had all the credentials to be the man to "sort out" England, but the national side remains in disarray.

Uncle Fabio. Mr. Bo Selecta himself. The expensive answer to England’s diamante-adorned dreams. He brought with him a wealth of experience, the obligatory slightly broken English, the reputation that the FA always seems to pride over suitability for the role, and an iron fist with which he was going to bring England’s preening, pampered, overpaid children into line. On the face of it, Capello’s reign has been somewhat of a disaster. He failed, unequivocally and unarguably, at the World Cup in South Africa. He didn’t address the egotism that pervades the England dressing room like the hideously expensive perfume their trophy wives and girlfriends splash all over themselves. He didn’t get rid of the big names that have let England down on so many occasions in the past. So what did Fabio Capello actually bring to England? Continue reading

Feel the Lin-sanity

Second-year point guard Jeremy Lin is America's most talked-about sensation

By now, everyone in America – basketball fan or otherwise – has heard of the sensational story of Jeremy Lin. The news is spreading around the world so fast that this article (which I have been planning for a couple days) has been brought forward at the request of my younger brother, who lives in Southend and has limited interest in basketball.

Call it what you will (and people have). Lin-sanity. Lin-telligence. Lin-pressive. The Lin Dynasty. Shao-Lin. There are endless ways, it seems, of building Lin’s surname into a nickname, but the emerging New York Knicks point guard has everyone talking about far more than his name right now.

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Super Bowl-ed over by Giants’ resurgence

New York's quarterback Eli Manning was named MVP after his stunning performance saw the Giants home.

As a Super Bowl virgin, I had little idea of what to expect from Sunday night’s clash between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots in Indianapolis. With friends in close proximity rooting for the Patriots, and not really knowing what was happening, I sat down in front of the giant screen with a (mercifully non-American) lager in my hand with an open mind. And what a fantastic spectacle I was treated to. American sport is an orgy of excess, advertising and theatre. The Super Bowl itself is indicative of the showy, ostentatious nature of the society of the United States. And what a society it is.

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End of the line for Equatorial Guinea

Fousseny Kamissoko, here shadowing Gervinho,
has enhanced his reputation with strong performances
at the Africa Cup of Nations. (AP)

Last night’s second Africa Cup of Nations quarter-final in Malabo was arguably the most heavily unbalanced match the tournament is likely to witness. Playing for the right to join surprise package Zambia in the final four following their 3-0 dispatch of Sudan earlier in the day, co-hosts Equatorial Guinea eventually went down by the same scoreline to tournament favourites Ivory Coast – but the score failed to tell the full story of the game.

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Calcutta Cup conclusions

Somehow, I maintained enough interest to sit through the entirety of the Calcutta Cup earlier. It was a match punctuated by mistakes rather than moments of brilliance; by aimless punts rather than placed kicks. The Scots, by the unanimous agreement of the BBC pundits present, lost the match more than the English won it. Here are a few observations:

1) This looked very much like the first game of a tournament

Debutant Owen Farrell kicked eight of England's 13 points

Both sides were extremely sloppy. Scotland’s second penalty, from which they briefly took the lead at 6-3, was conceded by Chris Ashton attacking away from the rest of the English line following a scrum, running straight into half the Scottish pack, then refusing to a) go to ground or b) release the ball. Scotland, on the other hand, wasted numerous opportunities to get into try-scoring positions with poor passing and, on one occasion, spectacular tunnel vision by Ross Rennie.

Both English debutant Owen “Son of Andy” Farrell and the veteran Dan Parks missed kicks, and some of the territory kicking – especially by Scotland – was terrible. Both sides have plenty to tidy up on before next weekend.

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