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Mayweather Jr. vs. Mosley: Pre-fight analysis

April 29, 2010 4 comments

Image is the property of Golden Boy Promotions Inc.

This Saturday at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, arguably the best boxer in the world Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather Jr. faces off against former pound-for-pound king, ‘Sugar’ Shane Mosley. Most people had been hoping for Mayweather vs. Pacquiao but after that fell through due to a row over drug testing, Sugar Shane stepped in to the breach and we now have an intriguing match-up on our hands. Sport report breaks it down.

Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather Jr. 40(25) – 0

The Grand Rapids native comes from a boxing family. His father once fought Sugar Ray Leonard and his uncle, and now trainer, Roger Mayweather was a two weight world champion, but Floyd Jr. is the true star of the family.

Little Floyd, as he is known in family circles, is a supremely gifted athlete and perhaps one of the most naturally gifted boxers ever. HBO’s Jim Lampley has called him the best fighter since Sugar Ray Leonard and with the possible exception of Roy Jones Jr., it is hard to disagree. Many have accused the five weight world champion of ducking difficult fighters, an accusation he flatly refutes and wins over the likes of Juan Manuel Marquez, Ricky Hatton, Oscar de la Hoya, Zab Judah, Sharmba Mitchell, Arturo Gatti, José Luis Castillo (twice) and the late Diego Corrales suggest he is justified in his denial. Mayweather is now in the twilight of his career and so Saturday’s fight with Mosley is crucial. If the money man wins, a fight with Manny Pacquiao and a $30 million payday must surely await.

Strengths

Plenty. Floyd Mayweather Jr. is a defensive master. Many have likened him to a puzzle you just cannot solve and it is his defensive skills that have allowed him to remain unbeaten at the highest level. He fights out of a so-called Philly Shell defence, using the left hand to block and the right side of his body to roll punches. It has been extremely effective for him and Compubox numbers show that he is incredibly difficult to hit.

He has very fast hands and is also fleet of foot but his biggest strength is his brain. It is akin to a boxing computer, constantly analysing his opponent and finding a way to win. Whilst not a big puncher, his power is underrated, 25 of his wins have come by KO after all.

Excellent conditioning. Floyd is a gym rat and always turns up in supreme shape.

Weaknesses

It is difficult to find any obvious weakness in Floyd but if one looks closely, one can see that he is only human. He is a very much a back-foot footer who likes to pot-shot and so has struggled somewhat when faced with relentless pressure. Castillo used this in their first fight and came close to beating him and De la Hoya may have won had he been able to sustain the pressure he applied in the early rounds of their 2007 battle. This may be down to a physical weakness of Floyd’s: bad hands. It is no secret that he has bad hands and there is a suspicion that as a result, he is unable to fight for three minutes of every round.

Although Floyd has very fast hands, he has at times struggled against people who have the same ability in this department. Zab Judah looked to be quicker than him and in the first four rounds in particular, he seemed to have difficulty and was caught with straight lefts out of Judah’s southpaw stance.

He is perhaps still a little undersized at welterweight, particularly compared to Mosley.

‘Sugar’ Shane Mosley 46(39) – 5(0)

The 38 year old from Pomona has enjoyed an illustrious career which has seen him win world titles at three different weights. Nobody can accuse Mosley of ducking anybody as he has taken on all comers. He boasts wins over Ricardo Mayorga, Antonio Margarito, Jesse James Leija, Fernando Vargas (twice) and Oscar de la Hoya (twice). He has however, been on the losing end in big fights against Miguel Cotto, Ronald ‘Winky’ Wright (twice) and the late Vernon Forrest (twice). At 38 years of age, Mosley really is now in the last chance saloon.

Strengths

Shane is extremely experienced having performed at the highest level for over a decade. He will not be drawn in to doing anything stupid by Mayweather’s pre-fight mind games and as we all know, the mental battle is often more important than the physical one in boxing. He will not be overawed by the occasion.

As well as mental strength, Mosley has physical ability. As his record of 39 KOs suggests, he is a big puncher and let’s not forget, he has knocked out Fernando Vargas who is a genuine light-middleweight. Like Mayweather, Mosley has fast hands, although his speed has been dulled somewhat by age and he is extremely versatile. Unlike Mayweather, Mosley is more comfortable boxing on the front foot throwing punches in bunches but he is a skilled boxer who can turn counter-puncher should the occasion call for it. He has out boxed boxers and out slugged sluggers and it is in this department that he has an advantage over Mayweather.

Weaknesses

Much easier to hit than Floyd and this could prove crucial against one of the sport’s most accurate punchers. Whilst Mayweather probably lacks the power to knock Mosley clean out, he could wear him down or force a cuts stoppage if he connects enough.

Much has been made of Mosley’s age going in to the fight but of greater concern is the nature of some of the fights he has been in. He has been involved in blood and thunder wars with Cotto and de la Hoya and has taken sound beatings at the hands of Winky Wright and Vernon Forrest. These things take their toll eventually.

No coincidence that the three fighters to beat Mosley have all had very good jabs. He struggles to get to fighters who use a solid jab to fend him off and to set up the big shots and this is something Mayweather will no doubt look to exploit.

His recent form has not been great. For a start, he has now been inactive for almost sixteen months and although he completely dominated Margarito before stopping him in the ninth, his performances prior to that fight were far from ideal preparation for a fighter of Floyd Mayweather’s calibre. He toiled against Nicaraguan wild man Ricardo Mayorga before finding a last second KO punch and lost to Miguel Cotto previous to that. They say every great champion has one last great fight in him, maybe Margarito was Mosley’s.

Final Verdict

Make no mistake about it, Mosley is most definitely a live opponent here and will no doubt pose some problems for Mayweather. This is the best fight Mayweather could have taken after the Pacquiao fight fell through but one that he will expect to win.

I expect Mayweather to have some problems early on as Shane looks to employ the power boxing that took him to the top of the pound-for-pound tree, but I do feel Mosley will be unable to sustain such a ferocious work rate for twelve rounds. Just as he always does, Mayweather will use his slick defence and supreme boxing brain to find a way to win on points.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. to win by Unanimous Decision

Fight to watch on the undercard: Daniel Ponce de León vs. Cornelius Lock

Categories: Boxing

Barcelona 1 -0 Internazionale (Internazionale wins 3-2 on aggregate)

April 28, 2010 4 comments

Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan booked their place in the Champions League final despite losing 1-0 to Barcelona at the Camp Nou.

The first major talking point came before kick-off when the team sheets came in. Upon looking at the Barcelona line-up, one would have thought that they were going to start in a 3-4-3 formation as Gabriel Milito was brought in at the expense of Maxwell. Inter initially remained unchanged from the first leg but seven minutes before kick-off, Mourinho was seen furiously imparting instructions to Cristian Chivu. What was happening? We quickly learnt that Chivu was to start instead of Goran Pandev and the official reason was that the Macedonian international had picked up an injury in the warm-up. He was not seen receiving any treatment and so the conspiracy theorists speculated that it was a reaction to Guardiola’s starting eleven.

As soon as the match kicked off, it became apparent that the whole issue was a non-starter as Barcelona lined up in their usual 4-3-3 formation with Milito at left-back. The first effort on goal came after just three minutes when Maicon allowed Pedro to cut inside and fire a right-footed effort wide of the post. Inter looked content to defend the 18 yard line and let the defending champions try to break them down. The first yellow card came ten minutes in when Thiago Motta fouled fellow Brazilian Dani Alves. From the resulting free-kick, there was all sorts of argy bargy which left Zlatan Ibrahimovic with a ripped shirt. Two minutes later, Lionel Messi pushed Maicon in to the advertising hoardings. It seemed innocuous but Maicon stayed down for two minutes in an attempt to waste time, something which was a running theme throughout the match.

The first real effort of note did not come until the 23rd minute when Alves surged up the right and played a ball in to Pedro on the penalty spot. The young Spaniard caught his half-volley well enough but it went a good two yards past Julio César’s left-hand post. Inter were offering little in an attacking sense with Diego Milito ploughing a lone furrow up front. They did however, mount their first attack in the 25th minute but Samuel Eto’o failed to control the ball when in space and the chance went begging.

The game’s big moment came in the 28th minute when referee Frank De Bleeckere showed Inter’s Thiago Motta a red card after a clash with Sergio Busquets. The Brazilian appeared to try and fend off Busquets with his hand but caught him on the chin with his palm. The Spaniard went down theatrically and his histrionics had the desired effect. A straight red looked harsh but Motta had already been booked and there was a strong case for a second yellow card so the outcome may have been the same anyway. Whatever the case, it made Inter’s job much more difficult.

Mourinho reacted by moving Chivu in to central midfield alongside Esteban Cambiasso and if Inter had little attacking ambition before, they now had none at all. Lionel Messi had been anonymous in the opening half an hour but the Argentine wizard produced a moment of magic in the 33rd minute and nearly gave Barcelona the lead. He cut in from the right and worked the space for the shot on his favoured left foot. It was heading for the bottom corner but Julio César produced a truly world class save to deny Messi his ninth goal of the Champions League campaign. Five minutes before half-time, Walter Samuel produced a top-class block to deny Ibrahimovic and the Swede was off target on the stroke of half-time with a free-kick. The two teams went in at the break level at 0-0 and whilst Barcelona had all of the possession and a one man advantage, they were struggling to penetrate Inter’s disciplined defence.

Guardiola, sensing the tie was slipping away, brought on Maxwell at half-time for Gabriel Milito but Inter were extremely comfortable defending for the first fifteen minutes of the second period. Barcelona were simply not moving the ball quickly enough and their ball retention and patient build-up only gave Inter plenty of time to organise two solid banks of four. Messi did weave his way in to the box on the hour mark but he was easily crowded out. Barcelona’s usual approach was being thwarted by Inter’s Berlin Wall defence and the Camp Nou faithful started to become restless. There did not seem to be a plan B from the defending champions and they were reduced to long range efforts.

Inter were now less than twenty minutes away from the final and did everything they could to waste time, much to the frustration of the home supporters. Their mood was not helped when Bojan failed to convert a free header from seven yards out after a pinpoint cross from Lionel Messi. One felt it was not going to be Barcelona’s night. With ten minutes to go and their hopes of retaining their title hanging by a thread, Barcelona decided to employ Gerard Piqué as an auxiliary striker and it paid off in a big way within four minutes. Xavi found the centre back in the area and any striker in world football would have been proud of what followed. He sold Ivan Cordoba a dummy and forced Julio César to go to ground before performing a Cruyff turn and slotting in to an empty net. The fact that Piqué had looked more of an attacking threat than any of Barcelona’s attacking stars spoke volumes and one wondered why Guardiola had not made such a move earlier, particularly as Inter barely entered the home side’s half in the second half.  Mourinho sensed a grandstand finish from the Catalans and so looked to sure up, removing Samuel Eto’o for McDonald Mariga. It had taken 84 minutes, but there was now a sense of urgency about Barcelona’s play. Lionel Messi shot straight at Julio César and the dream final in Madrid was fading from view. In the second minute of stoppage time, Barcelona thought they had scored the goal to send them to the final. The ball ricocheted off Seydou Keita and in to the path of Bojan who fired in to the top corner, but the Belgian referee had already blown for handball against Keita. It looked harsh as he was stood a yard from Samuel when the ball struck him, but if Barcelona had their luck in last year’s semi-final against Chelsea, Inter had theirs now.  

A jubilant Jose Mourinho runs on to the Camp Nou pitch to celebrate Inter Milan reaching the Champions League final (This image is the property of Reuters)

The final whistle went shortly afterwards and Inter Milan were in their first European Cup final since 1972. Mourinho’s men had offered nothing as an attacking force in this second leg, but had instead put on a first class demonstration of catenaccio, a style of football coincidentally pioneered by the last Inter manager to win the European Cup, Helenio Herrera. Mourinho is a polemical figure, but whatever your view on the Portuguese, there can be no doubt that he has been tactically inch perfect over the two legs, nullifying the threat of Lionel Messi and his band of merry men. Barcelona’s much vaunted attack simply failed to score the necessary goals and we will now have to wait at least another year to see if anyone can successfully defend the European Cup.

Categories: Football

Olympique Lyonnais 0-3 Bayern Munich (Bayern Munich win 4-0 on aggregate)

April 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Bayern Munich tonight booked their place in next month’s Champions League final thanks to a straightforward 3-0 win in France over a hapless Lyon side.

The Germans could have been 1-0 up within the first two minutes but Thomas Müller spurned a golden opportunity from 12 yards after Ivica Olic had dispossessed Cris and played the ball back to the young German. They then had another excellent opportunity to go 2-0 up on aggregate when Bastian Schweinsteiger found himself with a clear sight of goal, but the German international could only pull his shot across goal from a tight angle. Lyon were yet to get going and there was only one team that looked like scoring.

Twenty minutes in, Maxime Gonalons picked up a yellow card for a cynical foul on Mark van Bommel that would have ruled him out of the final. Any hopes Lyon had of playing in Madrid on May 22nd were dealt a huge blow in the 26th minute. Hamit Altintop attacked up the Bayern left and found Thomas Müller who entered the penalty area. Jean-Alain Boumsong and Anthony Réveillère made a complete hash of challenging the Bayern midfielder and ended up looking more like Laurel and Hardy as Müller ghosted past and squared to Olic who tapped in from a few yards out.

Lyon now had it all to do but were looking very blunt in the final third. They did however, have an excellent chance to equalise and get themselves back in the tie on the half hour mark, but an unmarked Michel Bastos could only direct a cushioned volley two yards past the post. Bayern were looking dangerous on the break and nearly doubled their advantage five minutes before half-time. Hamit Altintop broke at pace drawing defenders toward him. This left Robben free on the left and Altintop fed the Dutchman only for the referee to wrongly call it offside. Had Robben been allowed to continue his burst, he had a man surging in to the box unmarked and awaiting a low ball in. It was a huge let off for the French side who went in 1-0 down at the break.

Louis van Gaal decided to haul off Daniel van Buyten at half time for Martin Demichelis who had been an injury doubt going in to the game. Claude Puel had no choice but to make an attacking move and brought on striker Bafétimbi Gomis for left-back Aly Cissokho. The French striker had the chance to make an impact after only five minutes but ballooned a volley over from close range. One sensed that if Lyon were going to find any way back in to this tie, they would need to make the most of such chances.  As Lyon pushed forward, they left gaps for Bayern to exploit and they nearly went 2-0 ahead in the 53rd minute. Arjen Robben, who was wearing red boots like almost everybody else in this match, outpaced Boumsong with ease down the Bayern right and played a ball to Schweinsteiger on the edge of the box. He unleashed a ferocious volley that just cleared Lloris’s crossbar. Four minutes later, Robben forced a save from Lloris and from the resulting corner, Ivica Olic completely missed the ball when it looked to be a routine headed chance.

Lyon had been poor up to this point and their task was made even more difficult on the hour mark. Cris was booked for a challenge on Olic and refused to leave it at that. He sarcastically clapped Massimo Busacca’s decision and the Swiss referee promptly produced a second yellow card. Bayern were perhaps lucky to maintain their full complement just a minute later as Altintop, who had been booked in the first half, went in for a 50-50 challenge with Jean Makoun and appeared to catch the Cameroonian in the groin. A dismal night for Lyon got worse six minutes later when Olic fired in his second after a neat reverse pass from Altintop sent him clean through. Robben had a left-footed strike turned away by Lloris five minutes later before Olic was denied a hat-trick by a last-ditch tackle from Makoun.

Lyon were offering nothing and had the look of a beaten side. Louis van Gaal sensed the tie was in the bag and so chose to rest Robben by replacing him with Miroslav Klose. Unlike last week, Robben was all smiles as he came off the field safe in the knowledge he will be returning to Madrid to play in the Champions League final. A minute later, Olic completed a deserved hat-trick. Philipp Lahm streaked away down the right and picked out the Croat, who made no mistake heading home from close range. With the tie decided, the game coasted to its conclusion, although Hamit Altintop should have made it 4-0 in injury time.

Busacca blew his whistle to put Lyon and their fans out of their misery. There can be no doubt that Bayern were the better team over the two legs and so deserve their place in the final, their first since 2001. Claude Puel will however be wondering why the quality and fight his Lyon side showed against Real Madrid and Bordeaux deserted them but he can have no complaints as his side was well beaten.

Van Gaal and his men now have the chance of landing an unprecedented treble of the Bundesliga, DFB Pokal and Champions League and they will no doubt be interested spectators as defending champions Barcelona take on Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan tomorrow night in Spain. The question is Bayern Munich vs ?

Categories: Football

ICC World T20 Poll

April 27, 2010 Leave a comment

 

Categories: Cricket

European Football Weekend Round-Up

April 26, 2010 2 comments

This weekend gone was not only a fascinating weekend in the Premiership but also across the continent as title races, relegation battles and the push for Europe all intensified. Sport Report rounds up the best of the action.

France

Marseille maintained their five point lead at the top of Ligue 1 thanks to a 1-0 home win over lowly St Etienne. Mathieu Valbuena’s sixth minute strike was enough to give l’OM all three points and move them a step closer to their 10th league title. Second placed Auxerre did all they could to keep up the pressure at the top with a routine 3-0 win away to Toulouse but time is running out for them to catch Marseille.

Lille leapfrogged Montpellier into third after they beat Le Mans 2-1 and the side from the south of France could only muster a 0-0 draw against Nancy. Bordeaux’s poor run of form continued as Kevin Gameiro’s strike consigned them to defeat at Lorient. Laurent Blanc’s men are now in serious danger of missing out on European football next season. Lyon did not play and so have a game in hand on fourth place Montpellier. A draw will be enough to put Claude Puel’s side in to a Europa league spot.

At the bottom of Le Championnat Grenoble have already been relegated and with only four games remaining, the situation looks bleak for Boulogne and Le Mans who are nine and eight points away from safety respectively.

Results

Le Mans 1-2 Lille

Lens 1-1 Valenciennes

Lorient 1-0 Bordeaux

Nancy 0-0 Montpellier

Nice 2-1 Grenoble

Olympique de Marseille 1-0 St Etienne

Paris St Germain 1-1 Rennes

Sochaux 0-3 Boulogne

Toulouse 0-3 Auxerre

Germany

The title race is hotting up in the Bundesliga following Bayern Munich’s failure to beat Borussia Mönchengladbach. The Rekordmeister could only draw 1-1 and it could have been worse for them were it not for Miroslav Klose’s second half equaliser. Whilst Bayern were struggling against Michael Frontzeck’s men, Schalke were toiling in the German capital. Heiko Westermann’s 87th minute goal gave the Die Königsblauen three vital points which put them level with Bayern at the top. Bayern however, remain top by virtue of their superior goal difference.

In the race for the third Champions League spot, Werder Bremen retained the initiative after a last minute Thorsten Frings penalty sunk Cologne. Bayer Leverkusen remain level on points with Bremen and have reduced the goal difference deficit after a straight forward 3-0 win over relegation threatened Hannover and Borussia Dortmund kept themselves in the mix thanks to a hat-trick from Lucas Barrios which gave them a hard-fought 3-2 win against Nuremberg.

At the other end of the table, the situation is grim for Hertha Berlin who need to win both of their remaining games to have any chance of staying in the top flight. With games away at Leverkusen and at home to Bayern Munich left, they may be fearing the worst. The remaining two spots are much less clear cut. It looks to be a straight battle for survival between Hannover (27 pts), Bochum (28 pts), Nuremberg (28 pts) and Freiburg (31 pts), although the latter’s 1-0 win against Wolfsburg may well prove to be enough to keep them up.

As a side note, Hamburg have today dismissed manager Bruno Labbadia following Sunday’s 5-1 defeat at the hands of Hoffenheim.

Results

Bayer Leverkusen 3-0 Hannover

VFL Bochum 0-2 VFB Stuttgart

Borussia Mönchengladbach 1-1 Bayern Munich

Freiburg 1-0 VFL Wolfsburg

Hertha BSC 0-1 Schalke 04

TSG Hoffenheim 5-1 HSV

Mainz 3-3 Eintracht Frankfurt

Nuremberg 2-3 Borussia Dortmund

Werder Bremen 1-0 FC Cologne

Italy

Inter played on Saturday and moved to the top of Serie A with a 3-1 win over Atalanta at the San Siro. Goals from Milito, Mariga and Chivu piled the pressure on Claudio Ranieri’s Roma who played Sampdoria in Sunday’s evening kick off. A win would have taken the Giallorossi top and things started well with Francesco Totti putting them one up with only fourteen minutes gone. Giampaolo Pazzini’s second half brace however, gave Sampdoria the win and dealt Roma’s title chances a potentially fatal blow.

Despite losing 3-1 to Palermo, AC Milan remain four points clear in third and so look set to clinch a Champions League spot. Roma conquerors Sampdoria are in fourth (Champions League place) two points ahead of Palermo and six clear of Juventus.

Down in the lower reaches of the league, Bologna’s 2-1 win against Parma consigned Livorno to relegation despite a 3-1 win at home to Catania. Siena are as good as down as they need to win all three remaining games, hope other results go their way and for a thirteen goal swing in their favour. Atalanta occupy the final relegation spot, five points off safety with three games remaining and so look set to join Siena and Livorno in Serie B next season.

Results

AS Roma 1-2 Sampdoria

Bologna 2-1 Parma

Fiorentina 0-2 Chievo

Genoa 1-2 Lazio

Internazionale 3-1 Atalanta

Juventus 3-0 Bari

Livorno 3-1 Catania

Napoli 0-0 Cagliari

Palermo 3-1 AC Milan

Udinese 4-1 Siena

Spain

Defending champions Barcelona maintained their one point advantage over Real Madrid at the top of La Liga courtesy of a 3-1 win over Xerez at the Camp Nou. Suarez, Henry and Ibrahimovic got the goals in what was an ill-tempered affair that saw Xerez pick up no fewer than nine yellow cards and finish the game with nine men. Real Madrid laboured to a 2-1 win over ten-man Real Zaragoza to keep the pressure right on Pep Guardiola’s team. Raul gave Real the lead five minutes in to the second half and just two minutes later, Zaragoza were reduced to ten men when Contini saw red. It was however the ten men who got the next goal when Colunga rounded Iker Casillas and slotted home. Kakà spared the Galacticos blushes when he fired in after a clever reverse pass from 80 million man Cristiano Ronaldo.

Valencia strengthened their claim for a Champions League place with a 1-0 win over Deportivo La Coruña and their efforts were aided by Mallorca’s inability to secure all three points at lowly Málaga. Villarreal and Sevilla continue to occupy the Europa League spots although the latter’s 4-3 defeat at the hands of Getafe has given Getafe real hope of European football next year.

At the bottom end of the table, Xerez are now seven points off safety and look to be down. Valladolid and Tenerife occupy the other relegation places but are only two points behind Málaga and Real Zaragoza so it is all to play for.

Results

Almeria 0-1 Espanyol

Atletico Madrid 3-1 Tenerife

Barcelona 3-1 Xerez

Getafe 4-3 Sevilla

Mallorca 1-1 Málaga

Racing Santander 1-2 Villarreal

Real Zaragoza 1-2 Real Madrid

Sporting Gijon 0-2 Valladolid

Valencia 1-0 Deportivo La Coruña

Categories: Football

Barclays Premier League Weekend Round-Up

April 26, 2010 2 comments

Coming hard on the heels of an absorbing weekend in the Barclays Premier League last week, this weekend has been another fascinating round of matches and has seen yet more twists and turns in the title race, the pursuit of fourth place and the relegation battle.

The Title Race

Last weekend, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur were best friends after United beat Tottenham’s rivals for fourth place, Manchester City, and then Harry Redknapp’s men returned the favour later the same day by beating Chelsea 2-1 at White Hart Lane. This weekend however, the two faced off in Saturday’s lunchtime kick off in a game which both sides needed to win. The big news before kick off came from the Manchester United camp as it was announced that they would be without their talisman and top scorer Wayne Rooney. The pressure was on former Spurs striker Dimitar Berbatov to fill the Englishman’s boots.

The fact that the stakes were high was very evident in an extremely cagey first half which BBC Sport’s Phil McNulty described as ‘a carefully assembled monument to tedium.’ Tottenham offered next to nothing in an attacking sense except for a long range effort from Roman Pavlyuchenko which went straight at Edwin van der Sar and United were little better. The home side did however, exert some pressure around 30 minutes in as Dimitar Berbatov was denied from seven yards out by a terrific Ledley King tackle and Luis Antonio Valencia struck a low shot in to the arms of Gomes after good work by Rafael. After 45 minutes of nothing football the half-time whistle went and although Sir Alex Ferguson could be happy with how his side kept the ball, he would surely have to demand more urgency from his side.

As the second half kicked off, Patrice Evra appeared to be struggling physically. He eventually crouched down on the pitch and vomited but Evra is made of stern stuff and has been a constant for United in what has been a long season. He was not about to give up. His determination paid dividends in the 58th minute when he won his side a penalty. Berbatov raced up the left hand side and flicked a clever pass in to the path of the Frenchman who took a touch before being flattened by Benoit Assou-Ekotto’s rash challenge. Ryan Giggs stepped up in front of the Stretford End and coolly despatched the penalty past Gomes who guessed correctly but could not reach Giggs’s inch perfect strike.

The tension around Old Trafford was released but was back just 12 minutes later. Gareth Bale won a corner on the Spurs left. He ran over to take it himself and picked out Ledley King who evaded Michael Carrick’s poor attempts to defend the corner to head in to the bottom right-hand corner. Rafael was responsible for guarding that post but left his station and must take some of the blame and Edwin van der Sar made sure he knew it.

The title chasers needed to kick on and went in search of a winner. Ferguson replaced Rafael with Federico Macheda in an attacking move and it paid off in dramatic fashion. With just 9 minutes remaining, Nani surged up the right wing leaving Bale in his wake, found Macheda and continued his run in to the box. Macheda played a clever angled pass to the Portuguese winger who produced a sublime finish, chipping nonchalantly over Gomes’s head.

Nani has been an increasingly influential figure for Manchester United this season (This image is the property of SkySports.com

Nani had played an increasingly influential role in the game and it was he who won a penalty four minutes from time as he got in front of Wilson Palacios who could only bring him down from behind. Ryan Giggs again stepped up and slotted the penalty past an outstretched Gomes and in to the bottom corner. The game was now over and United had taken 3 points against the league’s in form team to go top of the table. The pressure was now on Chelsea.

Chelsea welcomed Stoke City to Stamford Bridge in the knowledge that anything less than a win would hand the initiative in the title race to Manchester United and they welcomed back Ashley Cole after a prolonged absence through injury.

In truth, there was only ever one team in the match, with Stoke offering precious little and the only surprise was that it took the Blues until the 24th minute to break the deadlock. Ashley Cole had gone close to scoring his 4th of the season a few minutes earlier but had been denied by Thomas Sorensen. There was however, little the Dane could do when Salomon Kalou stooped to head in Drogba’s cross to put the home team 1-0 up. Seven minutes later, Kalou scored his and Chelsea’s second. Frank Lampard’s shot was saved but the Ivorian followed up to score. Stoke were unhappy with his challenge as Thomas Sorensen was injured as Kalou slid in but referee Steve Bennett did not signal a foul and the goal stood. Chelsea rubber stamped the win on the stroke of half-time when Bennett awarded a controversial penalty. There was no doubt that Robert Huth tangled with Kalou but the foul appeared to occur outside the box. Kalou stayed on his feet and then went down in the box. Frank Lampard was not concerned with the details and stepped up to fire the penalty past substitute goalkeeper Asmir Begovic.

Chelsea seemed to take the foot off the pedal at the beginning of the second half but opened up with 20 minutes to go. Kalou scored his first Premier League hat-trick, firing high in to the net after Begovic saved his first effort before Florent Malouda produced the miss of the season, and quite possibly the century, when he failed to convert a Nicolas Anelka cross from a yard out.

Hat-Trick hero Salomon Kalou is congratulated by Michael Ballack (This image is the property of SkySports.com)

They did get a fifth nine minutes from time when substitute Sam Hutchinson produced a superb cross to pick out Frank Lampard who impudently flicked the ball in to the net with the outside of his right foot. Daniel Sturridge added a sixth 5 minutes later before Florent Malouda’s close range effort completed the rout.

With the victory at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea have regained top spot and sent out the message that they will not surrender their advantage easily. United may now need their arch rivals on Merseyside to help them win the league. Whether such a favour is forthcoming, we will see.

The race for fourth

Fourth place has become so important as it gives the team who finishes there the opportunity to qualify for the lucrative Champions League. This season has seen the most intriguing battle ever for this spot with four teams all in with a chance of securing the much coveted spot.

Going in to this weekend, Spurs were in the driving seat. They were sitting pretty in fourth on 64 points, two ahead of Manchester City. Tottenham’s defeat to City’s cross town rivals earlier in the day meant that a win against Arsenal at the Emirates would hand the initiative back to City. You would not have thought so as they played out a bore draw with Wenger’s men in which the major talking point was Emmanuel Adebayor’s questionable hair-do. City have reduced the gap to Spurs to one point but will be disappointed with their performance. The match against Tottenham at the City of Manchester stadium on May 5th could well decide who finishes fourth.

One team that has other ideas is Aston Villa. They took on Birmingham in the Second City derby in a Sunday lunchtime kick off. For large periods of the game, Villa were outplayed by Alex McLeish’s side and owe a huge debt of gratitude to Brad Friedel for keeping them in the game. The American stopper produced a string of saves to deny Birmingham before referee Martin Atkinson awarded Martin O’Neill’s side a penalty seven minutes from time. Gabriel Agbonlahor raced away in typical fashion and entered the penalty area before Roger Johnson appeared to time his tackle to perfection and put the ball out for a corner. Atkinson was not up with play, probably because of Agbonlahor’s searing pace, so one has to wonder what kind of view he had of the incident. He felt confident enough though to award the penalty which James Milner blasted in to the roof of the net. It was enough to net Villa the three points and put them right back in the race for Champions League football.

Despite his ‘guarantee’ earlier in the season, Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool remain outsiders in the race for fourth. They had what looked liked an easy game on paper away at Burnley, who would be relegated if they lost, but without star player Fernando Torres, the Reds struggled to get going in a dour first period. They got a lucky break seven minutes in to the second half when Steven Gerrard’s long range effort took a wicked deflection which wrong footed Brian Jensen in the Burnley goal. If his first was lucky, Gerrard’s second was brilliant as he curled a right-footed scorcher in to Jensen’s top corner to double Liverpool’s lead. Maxi Rodriguez added a third fifteen minutes from time and Ryan Babel put the icing on the cake in stoppage time. The three points won at Turf Moor mean that Liverpool are now just one point behind Manchester City and two behind Aston Villa and Tottenham. With Chelsea to come next at Anfield, they are far from guaranteed six points from their remaining two games but with Manchester City having to play Aston Villa and Tottenham, they may just fancy their chances in creeping in the back door.

Relegation Battle

This weekend has turned out to be the defining weekend at the bottom of the table. Portsmouth are of course already relegated and West Ham picked up a valuable three points at home to Wigan thanks to Scott Parker’s rocket. This combined with Hull’s own defeat at home to Sunderland, has effectively relegated Iain Dowie’s men. Pedants may argue that they do not yet have an R next to their name but they now need to win their remaining games, hope that West Ham lose theirs and that there is a 24 goal swing in their favour. They can plan for the Championship.

Burnley needed to avoid defeat against Liverpool but were hammered 4-0 and so now join Portsmouth as a relegated side. It will be interesting to see if they stick with Brian Laws next season.

For full Barclays Premier League Table visit:

http://www.premierleague.com/page/LeagueTables/0,,12306,00.html

Categories: Football

DLF Indian Premier League Final Match Report

April 25, 2010 Leave a comment

The world’s biggest and most glamorous cricket tournament reached its conclusion today as Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s Chennai Super Kings took on Sachin Tendulkar and the Mumbai Indians at the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai.

A much anticipated match between arguably the best bowling attack in the competition (Mumbai) and the best batting side (Chennai) was preceded by a closing ceremony with enough razzmatazz to put the Super Bowl to shame. Lasers flashed all around the stadium and hovercraft floated above the playing surface. Bollywood beauty Bipasha Basu performed a dance that looked more suited to Beyonce and Indian music legend and two-time Grammy award winner A R Rahman gave a rendition of his global smash hit Jai Ho. Once all that was over and done with, the cricket could begin.

The big talking point going in to the game was whether or not Sachin Tendulkar would play after injuring his hand in the semi-final. Shortly before play was due to begin, it was announced that he was to play and so he contested the toss with Dhoni. Many felt the toss would be crucial for a match being played on a track with a tendency to deteriorate as the game progresses and so it was Dhoni who drew first blood as he correctly called heads. As expected, he chose to bat first. Tendulkar seemed unperturbed and said to Ravi Shastri that he felt the Indians would win as long as they played well.

The final started in a somewhat subdued manner with the first two overs producing few runs. In the third, the match sparked in to life as Harbhajan Singh had a strong appeal for lbw against Matthew Hayden turned down by umpire Rudi Koertzen. Replays showed it looked to be hitting middle and off but the South African did not raise the finger. If this was the injury, the insult came off the next ball as Hayden smashed a six over long off. Hayden survived another lbw appeal in the following over, this time off the bowling of Zaheer Khan, but this looked like a more optimistic appeal as it seemed to be going over the stumps. Hayden and Murali Vijay continued to score, albeit at a leisurely rate and at the end of the powerplay overs, the Super Kings were 40-0.

Mumbai were bowling well, containing the Chennai batsmen without looking like taking a wicket. All of that changed in the 8th over as Dilhara Fernando bowled a good slow ball which Murali Vijay could only hit straight to a boundary rider, Saurabh Tiwary. Hayden fell in the next over as he edged Kieron Pollard to wicket-keeper Ambati Rayudu, bringing his unusually sedate innings to an end for just 17 runs off 31 balls. The loss of these two wickets halted any momentum that Chennai had built up and at the half-way stage of their innings they were 58-2.

The slow scoring continued in to the 12th over and feeling the pressure to score quick runs, Subramaniam Badrinath decided to cut loose. He was, however, only successful in hitting a Fernando delivery straight in to the hands of Lasith Malinga at fine leg. With Chennai now three wickets down and in need of some runs, up stepped Captain Marvel, MS Dhoni. One sensed at this point that the partnership between the two men now at the crease, Dhoni and Suresh Raina, would make or break Chennai’s innings and so it proved.

Dhoni vigilantly saw off the first three deliveries he faced before showing his intent on the fourth as he hammered a quite remarkable one-handed shot in to the stands for six. It resembled a baseball shot more than a cricket one but Dhoni is anything but orthodox. His arrival at the crease seemed to give the Super Kings a shot in the arm and he, in tandem with the impressive Raina, steadied the ship and continued to score runs through a combination of good placement and quick running. Then, in the 15th over, came a pivotal moment in the match. Raina attempted to slog Khan over Cow Corner but only succeeded in skying it. Surely somebody would catch it? Maybe not. There was a complete lack of communication between Fernando and Abhishek Nayar who both seemed to leave it to each other and the ball landed between the two of them. Khan was apoplectic and his mood was not improved by the fact that Raina proceeded to plunder 17 runs from the remainder of the over. In the following over, Raina had another huge let-off and this time it was Khan himself who was the culprit as he failed to take the catch off the bowling of Kieron Pollard. Again it proved costly as the next ball disappeared for 6, as did one a couple of deliveries later. By the end of the 16th over, Raina had moved on to 44 from just 22 deliveries. Mumbai appeared to be pressing the self-destruct button but in the 18th over, they did manage to remove the dangerous Dhoni (c Fernando b Khan) who had quietly amassed 22 off just 15 balls. This brought Albie Morkel to the crease and Chennai continued to score freely, reaching 150 with 7 balls remaining. Although Morkel was run out in the final over, Chennai still managed 11 runs from it to finish on 168-5 with Raina finishing unbeaten on 57 from just 35 balls. Interestingly, 110 runs came off the final 10 overs, suggesting that the wicket was not deteriorating as much as expected. 168 looked a good score as many experts believed par to be around 150. Mumbai now had it all to do.

Mumbai’s innings got off to a poor start as Ashwin bowled a maiden in the first over. Poor then turned to disastrous as Shikhar Dhawan edged a Doug Bollinger delivery to Dhoni behind the stumps leaving the Indians on 1-1. This brought Abhishek Nayar to the crease and he and Tendulkar knew that they had to score runs but also that they could not afford to lose another quick wicket. Things nearly got even worse for Mumbai as Tendulkar was nearly run out when Anirudha shied at the stumps but narrowly missed. Replays showed that a direct hit would have had Tendulkar heading back to the pavilion. Chennai were showing plenty of intensity in the field and there was another narrow escape for Mumbai as Muralidaran’s throw at the stumps just missed with Nayar well short of the crease.

Sensing the required run out was starting to get out of control, Tendulkar looked to hit boundaries and hit back to back fours in the 6th over, the second of which was a glorious textbook cover drive. Despite these boundaries, the Indians had only managed 33 runs off the powerplay overs. If Chennai had been pedestrian in the first 6 overs, Mumbai were virtually standing still.

Nayar then decided that it was time to cut loose and hit consecutive sixes in the ninth but just as he looked to have played himself in, he tried for one run too many and was promptly run out after smart work by Dhoni. Mumbai were now struggling at 67-2 after 11.2 overs and so many were surprised when Harbhajan Singh came to the crease. His stay did not last long as just 4 balls later, he was given out lbw by Koertzen off the bowling off Raina. It looked a tad high and replays confirmed this, but to be fair to the South African umpire it was marginal. Harbhajan’s dismissal brought Ambati Rayudu to the crease and the plan seemed to be for him to hit out whilst Tendulkar anchored the innings. The two seemed to be building a useful partnership when disaster struck in the 15th over. Having just hit a beautiful four on the leg side off Shadab Jakati, Tendulkar holed out to Murali Vijay on the boundary at long off. The Little Master had played with painkilling injections and stitches in his hand. His knock of 48 off 45 deliveries was, under the circumstances, highly respectable but he will be disappointed with the manner of his dismissal as he pulled out of the shot at the last second which caused it to land right in the palms of Vijay’s hands.

The big question now was whether the big hitting Trinidadian Kieron Pollard would come in. With the best strike rate in the IPL and Mumbai in desperate need of some quick runs to keep their championship hopes alive, surely he would be the perfect man to bring in? The Indians’ coaching staff evidently disagreed and opted for Saurabh Tiwary instead. He only lasted two balls after a sensational low diving catch on the run by Suresh Raina off the bowling of Jakati. Everybody awaited the arrival of Pollard. They instead got JP Duminy who, like Tiwary, failed to make an impact, falling victim to Muralidaran for just 6.

Now Pollard came to the crease and the fireworks started. Mumbai needed runs quickly and Pollard was not about to disappoint. A wild swipe off the first delivery he faced saw a thick top edge fly over Dhoni’s head and run away for four and this was followed by a huge 6 which was later measured at 107 metres. The boundaries continued to flow and in no time at all, Pollard had smashed 22 off just 6 balls, begging the question of why he had not been sent in to bat earlier. Off the penultimate ball of the penultimate over, Pollard went for a second run that was never there. Instead of running Pollard out, Rayudu unselfishly sacrificed himself by ensuring that Pollard made the ground first but it was ultimately in vain as Pollard drilled the next ball to Matthew Hayden who was the straightest mid-off you will ever see, standing almost directly behind the bowler. Pollard’s cameo brought 27 runs off just 10 deliveries and one cannot help but wonder what might have been had Mumbai sent him in to bat earlier. The Indians’ chances of winning went with Pollard and they were unable to get anywhere near Chennai’s total, eventually finishing on 146-9.

Mumbai may have been the best team throughout the tournament but they paid the price for dropped catches today. The match winning innings came from Suresh Raina who was dropped twice and made the most of his good fortune, hitting 57 off just 35 deliveries. Chennai were losing finalists in 2008 but deserved winners today and they will no doubt enjoy their hard-fought victory.

For full match scorecard visit iplt20.com

Categories: Cricket