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Spotlight on…Juan Manuel Mata

April 24, 2011 Leave a comment

Juan Mata in action for Spain

For the latest instalment of the ‘Spotlight on…’ series, Sport Report journeys to Spain and takes a look at Spain and Valencia’s highly-rated and much sought-after midfielder Juan Manuel Mata.

Juan Mata is no stranger to fans of Spanish football and the Champions League. Since joining Valencia in 2007, the diminutive winger has impressed fans, managers and scouts alike. Originally a product of Real Madrid’s academy, Mata joined Valencia and soon found a regular starting place due to Vicente’s repeated injury problems. Mata’s interplay with fellow talented Spaniards David Silva and David Villa and exciting, crowd-pleasing style immediately made him a fan favourite. At the end of his first season at the Mestalla, he was voted Player of the Season by both the fans and his fellow players. He scored in the Copa del Rey final as Valencia beat Getafe 3-1 and finished the season with an impressive tally of nine goals.

The 2008-2009 season started well, with a particularly noteworthy performance against Deportivo in which he scored once and amassed three assists. He continued to impress and ended the season with 14 goals, a total he matched the following season. His virtuoso performances led to inevitable links with bigger clubs and did not escape the attention of Spanish national coach Vicente del Bosque who called him up for Spain’s friendly against Chile in November 2008. Mata did not feature in that match but soon made his international debut in a World Cup qualifier against Turkey when he replaced David Villa. He was a member of Spain’s squad for the Confederations Cup in 2009 and was a World Cup winner last year inSouth Africa, although he only made one substitute appearance (vs Honduras).

Mata has carried his excellent form for Valencia in to the current season, playing a key role in the club’s attempts to cement third place in La Liga behind Barcelona and Real Madrid. He has also started to play a bigger part at international level and recently scored in a Euro 2012 qualifier against Lithuania.

Mata’s main attributes lie in his two-footedness, his eye for goal, composed finishing, pace and excellent decision making ability when on the ball. He continues to be linked with a host of big clubs on an almost daily basis and given Valencia’s precarious financial situation, it is surely only a matter of time until he leaves the Mestalla and if reports in the English press are to be believed, he may very well follow in the footsteps of former Valencia teammate David Silva and walk the petrodollar-lined path to the City of Manchester Stadium. Liverpool, Chelsea, Barcelona and even a return to Real Madrid have all been mentioned.

Fans of Mata and Valencia will have to wait to see what happens but with his ability, he will no doubt be a major influence wherever he goes and will play a key role for Spain as they look to remain at the top of the tree for years to come.

Juan Manuel Mata

Name: Juan Manuel Mata Garcia

Place of Birth: Burgos, Spain

Nationality: Spanish

Date of Birth: 28th April 1988

Career League Appearances: 123

Career League Goals: 32

Total Career Appearances: 168

Total Career Goals: 45

International Caps: 11

International Goals: 4

Key Attributes: skilful, two-footed, excellent dribbler, goal threat from wide

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Categories: Football

Spotlight on…Yaroslav Rakitskiy

April 19, 2011 Leave a comment

For the latest instalment of the ‘Spotlight on…’ series, Sport Report stays in the Ukraine and runs the rule over another Shakhtar Donetsk player, defender Yaroslav Rakitskiy.

Defenders are often unheralded and do not receive the attention afforded their attacking counterparts. A mean defence has however, been key to Shakhtar Donetsk’s success this season and one reason for this has been the emergence of 21 year old Ukrainian centre back Yaroslav Rakitskiy. Granted, Shakhtar did concede six goals over two games to Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona, but one can hardly judge a defence on what happens against Messi, Villa and co. A look at the club’s domestic defensive record reveals a picture of excellence: ten goals conceded in 25 games with Rakitskiy playing an increasingly important role.

The youngster initially broke into the Shakhtar side last season and impressed as he made 37 appearances in all competitions, including eight in the Europa League. His performances earned him a call-up to the Ukrainian national team in October 2009, when he made his debut before scoring five days later in a World Cup qualifier against Andorra. He has continued in the same vein this season and cemented his place in the senior national side.

Yaroslav Rakitskiy challenges Arsenal's Theo Walcott (This image is the property of Getty Images)

Much like fellow Shakhtar player Douglas Costa, he has benefitted from the club’s run in the Europa League and Champions League. These runs have given Rakitskiy greater exposure and fans, managers and scouts are becoming increasingly familiar with him. Rakitskiy has not received the same kind of attention as more attacking players such as Costa, but there have been whispers of a move to Premier League giants Arsenal, with Arsene Wenger keen to bolster his defence. The Arsenal manager was reportedly impressed when the sides met earlier this season and he fits the criteria of a defensive player who can benefit the Gunners for years to come. Rakitskiy may, however, want to take a look at the career of his club and international teammate Dmytro Chygrynskiy who moved to Barcelona in August 2009 for £22 million. He failed to settle in Spain and returned to the Donbass Arena.

The 21 year old is a modern, footballing centre back who is technically very capable, can pass accurately and has a hammer of a left foot. He is an excellent reader of the game, something which is seen in his ability to spot danger early and stamp it out and his clean tackling is similar to that of Rio Ferdinand. Furthermore, he has the ability to play centre back or left back and this versatility will only serve him well in the future.

Time will tell if Rakitskiy makes a move to a more glamorous, big name club. It should be stressed that with Shakhtar being owned by Ukrainian billionaire Rinat Akhmetov, winning things domestically and improving in Europe, a move is not a necessity. Should he wish, he could stay at Shakhtar and try and help them become a force for years to come. Whatever he may choose to do, he certainly has the talent to make sure he enjoys a fruitful career.

Yaroslav Rakitskiy

Name: Yaroslav Volodymyrovych Rakitskiy

Place of Birth: Pershotravensk, Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, Soviet Union (now Ukraine)

Nationality: Ukrainian

Date of Birth: 3rd August 1989

Career League Appearances: 41

Career League Goals: 1

Total Career Appearances: 65

Total Career Goals: 4

International Caps: 10

International Goals: 3

Key Attributes: reads the game very well, passing ability, versatile

Categories: Football

Spotlight on…Douglas Costa

April 17, 2011 Leave a comment

For the latest instalment of the ‘Spotlight on…’ series, Sport Report goes east to the Ukraine and takes a look at one of the many Brazilians plying their trade in Donetsk, Douglas Costa.

In a way, Douglas Costa is similar to the subject of a previous Spotlight On… piece, Neymar. Many people may not have seen the young Brazilian play but most will be familiar with the name thanks to a string of newspaper reports linking him with some of European football’s leading clubs. Such reports abounded in 2009 after the attacking midfielder helped Brazil’s under-20 side win the South American Youth Championship with Manchester United being particularly heavily linked with the player. It therefore came as something of a surprise when Costa moved to Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk in January 2010 for a cut price fee believed to be in the region of €6 million.

The Brazilian struggled to make an immediate impact as he found his feet in a new country and adapted to a different style of football, but he did finish his first season at the club with a league winner’s medal and five goals in 15 games. This season, his second at the club, Costa has kicked on and played an integral role in Shakhtar’s run to the Champions League quarter-finals and to what looks like another Ukrainian league title (Shakhtar are 14 points clear with only five games remaining). The pacey midfielder has added consistency to moments of supreme virtuosity in his second season in the Ukraine and his return of seven goals and ten assists in all competitions is not to be sniffed at.

Shakhtar’s involvement in European club football’s elite competition has provided the 20 year old with the perfect platform to showcase his bountiful talents. His goal against Roma in the first knockout round perhaps best illustrated what Costa is all about as he surged down the right wing, beat the defender with a drop of his right shoulder, before cutting in on his favoured left foot and curling in a precise 20 yard shot past a helpless Doni. As well as an eye for goal, the youngster has shown he is blessed with excellent vision and technical ability, something which can be seen in his set-piece delivery. Shakhtar manager Mircea Lucescu described him as ‘very rapid’ and praised his work ethic in training. Costa is able to play on either wing but his ability to time late runs in to the box is reminiscent of Paul Scholes in his pomp and makes him more dangerous as an attacking central midfielder. He is thriving in Lucescu’s attacking system and his impressive form has not gone unnoticed by clubs in Europe’s top leagues.

Douglas Costa in action for Shakhtar Donetsk (This image is the property of AFP/Getty Images)

Long-time admirers Manchester United have been monitoring the player since he was brought to their attention as a 16 year old and are now reportedly ready to act on their interest having seen he can handle the demands of the Champions League. Costa was a guest of the club at their recent match versus Bolton Wanderers, something which has only served to intensify the speculation. Sir Alex Ferguson could use a creative force in the centre of the park with Paul Scholes seriously considering retirement and so reports that the club are readying an offer of around €15 million may not be too far off the mark. Napoli are also showing interest, but Lucescu has said he would only sell him to the Italian club if Edinson Cavani is part of the deal, which is unlikely. Old Trafford seems a more realistic destination with the player reputedly keen on a move to the Premier League.

It remains to be seen whether any such move will materialise but if Douglas Costa continues to perform in the way he is at present, a move to one of Europe’s big clubs and a first senior Brazil cap cannot be too far away.

Douglas Costa

Name: Douglas Costa de Souza

Place of Birth: Sapucaia do Sul,Brazil

Nationality: Brazilian

Date of Birth: 14th September 1990

Career League Appearances: 62

Career League Goals: 11

Total Career Appearances: 79

Total Career Goals: 14

International Caps: 0

International Goals: 0

Key Attributes: pace, superb vision, excellent dribbler with a trick to beat a defender,       technically very sound                                                                   

Categories: Football

Who will win The Masters?

April 5, 2011 1 comment

This Thursday (7th April) sees the start of the 2011 Masters in Augusta, Georgia. Golf’s glamour event boasts a who’s who of golf in its winners list including Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Gary Player and Arnold Palmer.

Sport Report wants to know who you think will be wearing the famous Green Jacket on Sunday evening.

Categories: Golf

Spotlight on… Alexis Sánchez

April 4, 2011 Leave a comment

In the latest instalment of the ‘Spotlight on…’ series, Sport Report takes a look at Udinese and Chile’s flying winger Alexis Sánchez.

When one thinks of football’s superstar players, the name of Alexis Sánchez does not immediately spring to mind. However, if his performances for Udinese and Chile are anything to go by, this will change in the very near future.

Sánchez first came to attention on the global stage at last year’s World Cup in South Africa as he helped Chile reach the second round where they were comfortably beaten by Brazil, but he has been known to fans of South American and Italian football for sometime. Sánchez has been a much hyped player since impressing as he came through the ranks of Club de Deportes Cobreloa, for whom he made his debut aged just 16. In April 2006, despite the fact he was only 17, Udinese agreed a fee (reportedly $3,000,000) for his services, but he did not immediately move to Serie A as the Italian club opted to instead give him loan spells at Colo Colo and River Plate. The young winger impressed at both clubs before eventually joining up with Udinese in 2008.

Alexis Sánchez in action for Chile

His time at Udinese has been fruitful as he has scored 21 goals in 106 appearances and formed an excellent partnership with Italian hit-man Antonio Di Natale. This season (2010/2011) has seen the young Chilean enjoy his best form to date as he has found the net 12 times and amassed five assists in 26 Serie A appearances. Although known as a winger who combines blistering pace and mesmeric dribbling to beat opposition defenders, Sánchez is also a more-than-able striker and has adopted this position with increasing regularity this season, hence his increased goal productivity. His natural attributes of pace and dribbling ability, coupled with the fact he can play out wide or as a striker, have led to comparisons with Real Madrid and Portugal superstar Cristiano Ronaldo. It should however be noted that at 5 foot 6 inches tall, the Chilean does not possess Ronaldo’s physical presence. Comparisons with arguably the world’s best player are obviously unfair at this stage, but there is no doubt that Sánchez is developing into a special player in his own right.

The Udinese man’s talent and performances have not gone unnoticed and a whole host of top clubs have been linked with his signature. Galatasaray reportedly launched a €20,000,000 bid last summer which the Italian club rejected out of hand. Furthermore, Udinese Chairman Franco Soldati revealed three weeks ago that they had received a €35,000,000 bid from an unnamed club. More realistic destinations are the Bernabeu and Old Trafford with the Spanish giants linked with him every other week. Wherever he ends up plying his trade in the future, he will put smiles on faces and bums on seats.

Name: Alexis Alejandro Sánchez 

Place of Birth: Tocopilla, Chile

Nationality: Chilean

Date of Birth: 19th December 1988

Career League Appearances: 194

Career League Goals: 38

Total Career Appearances: 235

Total Career Goals: 43

International Caps: 34

International Goals: 12

Key attributes: searing pace, ability to dribble at speed, eye for goal

Categories: Football

ICC World Cup 2011 Team of the Tournament

April 3, 2011 6 comments

It seems like an eternity since cricket’s showpiece event started back on February 19th, but yesterday Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s six brought down the curtain on the tournament and sparked scenes of wild celebration in Mumbai as India became the first team to win the World Cup on home soil. The six week long competition had some spectacular highs: Kevin O’Brien’s sensational century against England, Ross Taylor’s heroics in the last five overs against Pakistan, Kemar Roach’s hat-trick and Sachin Tendulkar’s 99th international 100 to name but a few. It also had its fair share of lows with Canada and Kenya looking completely out of their depth, angry Bangladeshi fans attacking (mistakenly) the West Indies’ team bus and a controversial coin toss in the final, but one thing that is not in question is the quality of the cricket we have been treated to in Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh. Sport Report has picked its team of the tournament. Do you agree with our selection?

Opening Batsman: Tillakaratne Dilshan (Sri Lanka)

Dilshan cemented his reputation as one of the leading batsmen in limited overs cricket. He finished as the World Cup’s leading run scorer with 500 runs, including two centuries. He hit the competition’s third highest individual score when he amassed 144 against Zimbabwe and his unbeaten century against England in the quarter-final oozed class. Dilshan also contributed with the ball taking eight wickets at a very economical 4.06 runs per over (RPO), including a superb caught and bowled in the final to dismiss Virat Kohli. He added six catches for good measure as he showed he is a supreme all-round cricketer.

Opening Batsmen: Sachin Tendulkar (India)

The Little Master now has the medal he has been waiting nearly 20 years for, owing in no small part to his own efforts with the bat. He did not manage the fairytale ending of his 100th 100 in his hometown of Mumbai in the final, but he did finish as the tournament’s second highest run scorer with 482 at an average of 53.55. Furthermore he scored them quickly as his strike rate of 90.2 testifies. May have failed with the bat in the final (although his straight drive for four was the shot of the match), but he delivered in other pressure situations. He hit an imperious century against England in Bangalore and hit a lucky but very important 85 in the semi-final against Pakistan. Fully deserves his winner’s medal.

Number Three Batsman: Jonathan Trott (England)

England were a model of inconsistency in this World Cup, losing to the likes of Ireland and Bangladesh, but defeating South Africa and drawing with India. Trott went against the grain and was consistently solid with the bat as he scored five half centuries in seven innings.  He is not the most dynamic batsman in world cricket but his strike rate of 80.84 is perfectly acceptable, especially given he was often asked to come in, steady the ship and look to bat through. He failed to score a century but only three players exceeded Trott’s World Cup total of 422 runs.

Number Four Batsman and Wicket Keeper: Kumar Sangakkara (Sri Lanka)

Simply put, Sangakkara is currently one of the sport’s elite performers. He scores runs, captains the side brilliantly and somehow manages to keep wicket at the same time. He did all of these things during the tournament as he picked up a runner’s up medal for the second World Cup in a row. He will be disappointed he did not score more in the final as he edged a delivery he would despatch for a boundary 99 times out of 100, giving Mahendra Singh Dhoni an easy catch. However, he finished the World Cup behind only Dilshan and Tendulkar with 465 runs and with the tournament’s best average (93.3). He captained his side with great imagination, particularly with regards to bowling changes and his work behind the stumps was also top drawer as he took ten catches and made four stumpings.

Number Five Batsman: AB de Villiers (South Africa)

South Africa once again underachieved in a major ICC tournament thanks to an astonishing collapse in the quarter-final against New Zealand, but the same cannot be said of AB de Villiers. The 27 year-old is quite possibly the best cricketer in the world at the moment and he lived up to this billing despite carrying injuries which meant he did not keep wicket as planned. AB hit two centuries and one 50 as he racked up 353 runs in five innings at a fantastic average of 88.25. He also scored them in double quick time with a phenomenal strike rate of 108.28. de Villiers showed why he is regarded by many as the best fielder in the world but was unfortunately not able to help South Africa shake the tag of chokers.

All-Rounder: Yuvraj Singh (India)

Many questioned Yuvraj’s inclusion in the squad before the tournament due to his recent struggle for form and fitness. A little over six weeks later, the man from Chandigarh is the toast of India. Yuvraj was named as the official Player of the Tournament and few can argue with the decision. Yuvi scored 362 runs in eight innings at an average of 90.5 and saw India home along with Mahendra Singh Dhoni in yesterday’s final. As if this were not enough, he also finished as the tournament’s fifth highest wicket taker with 15 wickets, including the crucial scalp of Sri Lankan captain Kumar Sangakkara in the final. He received four Man of the Match awards during the World Cup and is an automatic choice in this team.

All-Rounder: Shahid Afridi (Pakistan)

‘Boom Boom’ did not deliver with the bat but was exceptional with the ball as he finished with 21 wickets to put him joint top of the wicket takers list, including a best of 5/16. Not only was he a threat in terms of taking wickets, but he also put the brakes on opposition attacks with a miserly economy rate of 3.62. Afridi was excellent in the field with five catches and one run out and proved he is a shrewd choice as Pakistan captain as he has united a side notorious for infighting and off-field drama.

Bowler: Umar Gul (Pakistan)

In the absence of the suspended Mohammed Aamer and Mohammed Asif, the job of Pakistan’s premier seam bowler has fallen on the broad shoulders of Umar Gul and he has not disappointed. He had a nightmare semi-final as Virender Sehwag smashed him to all parts of the Punjab but that should not overshadow an otherwise successful World Cup in which Gul took 14 wickets at an economy rate of 4.49 to provide Shahid Afridi with excellent support.

Bowler: Zaheer Khan (India)

Zaheer was a major factor in India’s World Cup victory as he took 21 wickets to tie Shahid Afridi for the tournament’s leading wicket taker. Zaheer performed well throughout the competition and was economical at 4.83 an over. He bowled three consecutive maiden overs in the final which helped him dismiss Upul Tharanga for just two. Bowling is not India’s strong suit but in Zaheer they undoubtedly have one of the world’s elite seam bowlers.

Bowler: Tim Southee (New Zealand)

New Zealand were the surprise package of this World Cup, reaching the semi-final where they were finally seen off by Dilshan, Sangakkara and co. Southee was one of the Kiwis’ leading lights and took 3/57 in the semi-final as New Zealand tried to defend a low total of 217. He finished the tournament with a highly impressive 18 wickets (3rd highest) at a solid economy rate of 4.31. Southee is only 22 years old and so it seems New Zealand have a star of the future in their ranks.

Bowler: Lasith Malinga (Sri Lanka)

Malinga’s ability to rip through attacks in limited overs cricket has been well-documented for a long time and he did not disappoint as he reached a second final in succession. He missed the first two games and carried injuries throughout the tournament, but that did not stop Sri Lanka’s strike bowler having a World Cup to remember. Malinga bowled his trademark yorkers and took 13 wickets, including those of key Indian batsmen Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar in the final. Will be 31 by the time the next World Cup comes around and has already stated that he will not play. Let’s hope he changes his mind.

Categories: Cricket