Friday, 9 July 2010

The Weakest Brazil at the World Cup Ever?

Isn't this the weakest Brazil team in the history of WC? Surely Fabiano scored 3 goals but he aint in top 8 strikers in the world. Fabiano is behind so many strikers including CR9, Messi, Rooney, Torres, David Villa, Tevez, Higguain and Drogba. That is already the top eight before I add more like Eto'o and Ibracadabra. 

Brazil have world cup pedigree that helps them get over world cup woes. When you ask word cup stalwarts about the best Brazillian team ever they will tell you of the Brazil of 82 having among others Vava, Socrates, Zico, Junior and Careca. When Italy's Paulo Rossi eliminated them in the quartersBrazil were the better ... See Moreside and hit the frame thrice despite losing 3-2. (Sorry not Vava that was during Garrincha (the little bird's time in the 60s)).

In 86 they took the same team and again failed short.

When they went 24years without the trophy in 94 they realised that taking stars to the world cup was not the answer to winning the cup. Players like Rai were left out while lesser knowns like Dunga where drafted into the tean FFWD 1 month later they ended a 2 decade long wait for the WC.

In 98 & 06 when they were heavily favoured to win the thing, they had star power more than a tean to win then the tourney. In 98 it was Romario, Edmundo the Animal, a young Ronaldo, Denilson the most exensive player on earth and Roberto Carlos. In 06 it was Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Kaka, Rivaldo, Adriano, et all. On both campaigns Brazil had the star names but never the teams and never won the world cups. Now Dunga seems to have a team and who knows?

But isn't it the weakest ever? Philosophically, you could argue that their weakest teams have always been when they have taken stars ahead of a functional team. This time they ve dropoed Ronaldinho, Pato and Adriano, who knows?

I am not saying they will win jack. Just admit if they are the weakest Brazilian team ever.

Ooops I forgot that they lost to a determined Hoalland team and they lack discipline too, two red cards in one tournament for Brazil? That should be a first!

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

The Vuvuzela and the Controversy

What's plastic, a metre long, brightly coloured and sounds like an elephant? It's the vuvuzela, the noise-making trumpet of South African football fans, and it's come to symbolise the sport in the country.

Forget about the contentious calls on the soccer pitch. It’s the fracas off the field that’s causing the most headaches.

The vuvuzela, the infamous plastic trumpet that makes a deafening sound variously compared to a herd of charging elephants or a hive of angry bees, has become a symbol of the first-ever World Cup in Africa – even though it has spurred an online rebellion from armchair fans around the globe.

But Sepp Blatter, the head of soccer’s governing body, had this to tweet Monday to those who want the instrument banned: “I have always said that Africa has a different rhythm, a different sound. I don’t see banning the music traditions of fans in their own country.”

During the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Hyundai and a local South African advertising agency called Jupiter Drawing Room created the largest working vuvuzela in the world — 114 feet (35 m) long — on an unfinished flyover road in Cape Town. The vuvuzela is powered by several air horns attached at the "mouthpiece" end, and it will be blown at the beginning of each of the World Cup matches.

Its a pity that the vuvuzela is being fought hard by so many people who are now feeling self-righteous about it that it is too noise and all that. It is only because the Vuvuzela is an African toy which is becoming a fad and many people are not happy to see somethign African being such a hit.

Vuvuzela is now a huge hit on twitter and during the World Cup posting have at times flooded twietter beyond capacity and largely due to the debate about the vuvuzela. Some sports like the NCAA in America has already banned it but the vuvuzela is going places.

In many countries people are buying it and tooting it. Tweeting about it is seen as cool and below are my two favourite vuvuzela tweets:

1. The new Linkin Park song is called CALA BOCA GALVAO. This song will have special
appearance by Lady Gaga dressed as a Vuvuzela.

2. BP reveals it will bring oil to surface ship via huge, 5k foot #vuvuzela - annoyingly toots its own horn.

After the Confederations Cup FIFA received complaints from multiple European broadcasters who wanted it banned for the 2010 FIFA World Cup because the sound drowns out the commentators. Prior to the event Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk and Spanish midfielder Xabi Alonso also called for a ban, the latter saying the horns make it hard for players to communicate and concentrate while adding nothing to the atmosphere

During the world cup, many competitors have criticised and complained about the noise caused by the vuvuzela horns, including France's Patrice Evra who blamed the horns for the team's poor performance. He also claimed that the sound of the vuvuzelas away from the stadiums hampered the ability of the players to get their rest. Other critics include Lionel Messi who complained that the sound of the vuvuzelas hampered communication among players on the pitch, and broadcasting companies, who complained that commentators' voices were being drowned out by the sound. Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo went on record to state that the sound of the vuvuzelas disturbed the teams' concentration.

However other commentators have defended the vuvuzela as being an integral and unique part of South African football culture and say it adds to the atmosphere of the game. BBC sports commentator Farayi Mungazi said the sound of the horn was the "recognised sound of football in South Africa" and is "absolutely essential for an authentic South African footballing experience". He also said there was no point in taking the world cup to Africa and then "trying to give it a European feel". The Daily Telegraph's chief sports reporter Paul Kelso described critics of the vuvuzela as 'killjoys' and said they should "stop moaning".

Friday, 28 November 2008

The Dearth of Kampombwa is leading to the decline of Zambian Football

Zambia losing 3-0 to Morocco may have come as a shock to some but expected to others. Those who expected it would say the Zambian game is not as good as it was say in 1993 when we narrowly lost to Morocco 1-0 in a game which made Gabonese referee Diramba famous and robbed Zambia of a deserved maiden appearance at the world cup in USA in 1994.

Whereas it is quite universally agreed that the Zambian game is on a downward spiral, reasons for this will differ from one observer to another.

One reason is that young Zambians are not taking to the game with love like before when people played the game at every street corner and indeed backyard. In the olden days, we heard of the "Kalukungu Stadiums" as kids played football in dusty patches. The ball of choice was a ball made of plastics from the rubbish bin and held together using strings or commonly refered to us "kampombwa". We shall get back to the issue of the "Kampombwa" later.

The second reason is that technique, tactics and other vital aspects of the game of football are not taught at the correct age due to lack of football academies and a cadre of well trained and equipment youth coaches.

There are some footballers, like Andrei Arshavin of Russia who are late bloomers and so show their best form as they age. Even Zidane looks like such a player. However, many players learn their skills early in life and start manifesting their best form by the time they hit 18 or so. Players like Sergio Aguero and Lionel Messi being good examples. It is the early teenage when players should learn vital skills.

Zambia lags behind because the players are not learning these technical skills early enough. We need to start early; Anybody emerging from the 5-11 age group has to be comfortable on the ball. And we are not talking of footballing age here by the real age of 5 to 11. If not done, by the time kids join academies, the skills they need later on in their careers have already been lost. We must start with the very young children and we must get the best coaches coaching these kids.

Apart from the skills, other aspects of the game such as the philosophy of the game should also be learned early. When kids are so young, it is not time to think about winning, to think only about winning as you do. They need to learn how to pass a ball, how to control a ball, how to control a game, how to cross, head and shoot. It is not important to tell the kids to win - they must be taught instead the skills that will help them to become winners. If winning is primary, they end up playing roughly and ugly just to win and this seriously affects their game in future.

Most of the time when football kids are young, they should be playing with a football. Give a ball to each kid to play with, look after and even sleep with! With the younger groups the philosophy is about fun and just letting youngsters play, we have to take away the pressure of results.

Kids play soccer because it is fun! Scoring is fun, dribbling and shooting are fun. Being outside with a bunch of other kids running around is fun!

If kids think something is fun, they will do it more. You have to struggle to get your kids to clean their room because it isn't enjoyable for them. Do you have to argue with them to play more video games? Or do you have to ask them twice to eat more candy or watch their favorite TV show? No, of course not. They like to do the things they enjoy.

The development of the youngest players involves ensuring that they love the game of soccer. I want them to love to dribble, love to shoot and love to chase that ball around the junior sized pitch. If they love the sport, then tactics and technique will come in their own time and can be introduced bit by bit.

One of the most exciting things in soccer is to see a skilled player perform a dynamic soccer move in a game situation. Cristiano Ronaldo blasting down the line with his lightning fast step over moves, Ronaldinho smoking a defender with his elastico and Zidane twirling past his opponent with the Marseille Roulette all cause the crowds to jump to their feet with a roar.

There are dozens of soccer moves that you can learn and perfect, but it is smart to start with some of the more basic technical skills as a foundation for everthing else you do in soccer such as scissors/Step Over, reverse scissors, pull back, chop, stop and go and many more.

Players must be competent in all facets of the sport if they are to be a successful soccer players. They need to work on their skills by perfecting fundamental kicking, passing, dribbling and shooting techniques. They need to master a variety of soccer moves so that they can break down opponents one on one. Good players can instantly kill the ball (any ball), get their heads up and move it on accurately with any legal part of the footballing anatomy. And then move intelligently to find space to do it all over again.The best soccer players that I have seen also work on their fitness, conditioning and soccer speed with the goal being to be as good an athlete as possible. And finally, smart soccer players have an understanding of the tactical side of soccer as well, knowing their role on the field for the formations their team runs.

Well, we all know that to get good at something, you have to practice at it. You need a lot of repetitions. If soccer isn't fun for the kids, then they won't want to play or go to practice. If they don't play, they won't get any better.

But how do kids in Zambia get to learn the skills early in life and have a chance to practice day in day out to became better? What did the kids of the 70s, 80s and 90s and earlier practise in ways different from these days.

The answer is they played "kampombwa" which kids of nowadays don't do that often. The "kampombwa" helped hone vital techiques and other vital skills which kids playing the full-sized football these days cannot benefit from.

Many of the skills and apects of the game mentioned above need very good coaches to teach. The lack of good coaches and indeed training for coaches is well documented and so will not be discussed here. In Zambia, the best coaches are in the Premier League and in Division one. However, we need the best coaches at the youth level and in the academies. In earlier days, it was not that we had better coaches teaching the game better. It is not about teaching players to play football. This is best done spontaneously, out in the street, the way it has always been done. Kampombwa. But for all the technological progress, today's generation lacks the same opportunities. The sad fact is that, though old fashioned street and wasteland football can still be found in Zambia, it has come under sustained attack. There is urban expansion and real estate speculation eating up the areas where previous generations used to play. Play packs and backyards have given way to construction as land becomes scarce.

What is needed right now is providing a space where the kids can play, spend time in a healthy and productive manner and hopefully turn into better people as a result.

Can we get back to the kampombwa days or can something be done to help us develop skills for Zambian players? Can we learn from such great footballing nations like Brazil?

Why does Brazil produce so many great players? Many people argue that futsal is the great Brazilian secret.

The term Futsal is the international term used for the game. It is derived from the Spanish or Portuguese word for "soccer", FUTbol or FUTebol, and the French or Spanish word for "indoor", SALon or SALa.It really took off in Brazil where the love of creative football is most manifest.

Pele, Zico, Socrates, Bebeto, Ronaldinho, Robinho, Rivaldo, Ronaldo and other Brazilian superstars developed their skill playing Futsal. Whereas many brazilian footballers start by playing Futsal before playing football, some, like Falcao, the world's best Futsal player, continue in the mini-game without going to the full game. Whereas the argument that Futsal helps Brazil be world beaters makes sense, the answer should be elsewhere because even before the days of Futsal were with us, Brazil always produced great players. In part, for the same reason that Australia is such a production line of wonderful cricketers and South Africa great rugby players. It is part of the cultural tradition. One generation inspires and sets the standard for the next. If Zambia is number 1 in Africa on FIFA rankings this year, children will grew up knowing they need to maintain that position for Zambia in Africa. As for Brazil, Leonidas inspired Zizinho, who inspired Pele, who inspired Zico, who inspired Ronaldo, who inspired Alexandre Pato, and so the dance goes on.

The important thing to remember is that this tradition was established long before the rise of futsal. And more than anywhere else, it was established in the streets and on the wastelands where boys honed their skills in endless games.

Football in South America was introduced by the British. It was then re-interpreted by the locals, the hard running musculinity of the English approach giving way to a more sinuous, balletic game, ideal for the guy with the low centre of gravity. This re-interpretation led to international triumphs and recognition for a region starved of both.

Yes Futsal greatly attributes to getting better players in Brazil but there are other reasons Zambia can learn from. Trying to attribute the success of this process to futsal alone seems to me to be hopelessly naïve.

One other big reason is that millions of players and trained every year as football becomes a global game and means for poor Brazilians to make milions of dollars. Lots of little clubs have been set up all over Brazil in recent years. They compete at youth level only, have top facilities but are not trying to win titles or attract supporters. They are hoping to groom players to be sold to Europe. Promising players - like coffee - are a commodity to be sold to the First World.

This is taking place on an industrial scale like never before. An immensely strong cultural tradition, a huge population, millions willing to take the risk of becoming players, others with money prepared to invest in them - it's no wonder that Brazil is a conveyor belt of footballing talent.

In Zambia, producing players is almost an accident. We have not developed serious soccer academies that churn out good honed players despite seeing benefits of academies. Manchester has been known to produce great players from youngsters such as the class of '92 which had Beckham, Scholes, Giggs, the Nevilles, Butt etc. Ivory Coast has produced many good players due to academies like the one at Asec Mimosas. But in Zambia we are not taking this root seriously.

Even though we can teach techniques via Futsal like Brazil, we are yet to have enough futsal picthes in Zambia to seriously use this route. Futsal is played between two teams of five players, including the goalkeeper. The Futsal court is not separated by walls, instead the court is lined. The Futsal ball is smaller than a standard soccer ball. The emphasis is on ball control and passing in small spaces, as well as improvising and technique. Futsal introduces kids to a smaller Futsal ball which is easier to control. Part of the success of the sport is due to the fact that it can be played in a small space - anything from a sports hall to a tennis court, a car park to a side street. A futsal pitch can be squeezed in almost anywhere. Though the official surface is a gym floor or wooden floor, any surface can be used. Futsal is gaining popularity because of the fast pace and the fact that goals are frequent and can be scored in a variety of ways and techniques which is motivating for the players and entertaining for the fans.

For the first time in Zambia, we watched The Futsal World Cup on DSTV. Brazil have regained their crown as world champions of Futsal. It went to penalties in the final against Spain, but even if the result had gone the other way the tournament would still have been a triumph for Brazil - the squads of some of the other leading nations were full of naturalised Brazilians. There is no doubt that Brazil is the leading country of futsal.

In Zambia, we have a Futsal league, registered by FAZ and sponsored by Parmalat. It has a division 1 and Premier with interest for expansion being there. The fact that the league is only for Lusaka teams and the players are mostly adults who have since stopped playing football, for instance, I founded a Futsal team called Blackboys Sports which players in the second tier and is comprised of players who work and so have no time to play football, It means that in the current set-up we cannot use Futsal to develop the technique of our young players but may do so in the future.

But it is clear that the kids playing in the futsal teams in Zambia have better control, technique and other skills that those we see in the academies and lower rungs of the football leagues. With the 2011 All Africa Games coming up, Zambia has included Futsal on the list oif the games to be competed against and with Zambia having taken part
in the African Championships in Libya this year (2008), there will be need to take the sport to other parts of the country and for investment into equipment and pitches to be made. This all therefore means we still have a long way to go better Futsal can be utilised as a path for developing our football and for to return our dizzy heights of 1994 when we were the best footballing nation in Africa and among the best 20 countries in the world.

The only viable alternative is "Kampombwa" on the streets and in the backyard. We cannot yet afford to build pitches for Futsal in communities and in schools. The poorer kids and young men of Zambia often can not afford to buy a proper ball and make do with cheap, plastic balls or even tennis balls. But they play for hours, honing the skills that make footballers so good at the game. Short players can also become good enough in street football as the game where good balance, explosive speed and the ability to twist and turn quickly are ideally suited to the wiry and agile physique. In Kampombwa, like in Futsal, young players learn the art of total ball mastery, as well as moving the ball using the sole of their foot, the inside and outside, the heel and the ball of the foot to gain control and mastery of the ball, feints, moves, turn stops/starts to get away from your opponents. They also learn how to use their opponent's lack of balance against them by maneuvering the ball with quick turns and change of direction. Kampombwa will develop the players dribbling, foot speed, touch, field vision, shooting power, defensive stance, and overall of the ball movement through drills and one on one training. Eventually, kids also learn player formations as well. For kids, this is a great way to continue to develop their game and get touches on the ball. Remember, the main goal for the young soccer player is to have fun and get touches, touches & more touches.

But we cannot teach kampombwa that much. Even the making of the plastic ball was an art most kids learnt and cherished which also came spontaneously and was not deliberately taught. All we need is to provide the space for the game to take root like it did in the 70s, 80s and 90s.

It is interesting to note that the madalas leagues in Zambia are more vibrant that the kampombwa leagues. This is because the current madalas were kampombwa players when they were young in the 70s and 80s and their love for the sport, which comes spontaneously with playing in the streets and backyards in guaranteed. We allow and indeed entice kids to get dirty and play kampombwa.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Rachel Nachula wins Gold and Sets Commonwealth Record

Rachael Nachula, a young Zambian athlete has just set a new Commonwealth Youth Games record clocking 52.97 seconds in the 400 m women's race finals at Balewadi in Pune. As Rachel was setting this record and winning gold, her twin sister Rabecca got a bronze medal in the event and was only beaten to silver via a photo-finish by India's Machettira Raju Poovamma who came from behind in the last 100 meters to post a timing of 55.17 seconds. 18-year old Rachel Nachula becomes the first athlete to run below 54 seconds in the Commonwealth Youth Games. She bettered the earlier record of 54.46 seconds set by Kim Wall of England at the Edinburg 2000 Commonwealth Youth Games. The world record in the event is 47.60s set by Marita Koch of the German Democratic Republic on October 6, 1985 in Canberra, Australia.

What is immediately striking about Zambia's new find is the similar physique and background before athletics she shares with Mozambique's Maria Mutola; she is 1.64m tall and weighs 60kg and she and her twin sister used to play football in Lusaka, Zambia before they were encouraged to take athletics instead. "I have given up playing football because I do not see much of a future in women's football as compared to athletics. It is encouraging that I have been selected for the team to the World Youth Championships," said Rachel ahead of the games in India.

Zambian sisters Rachael Nachula and Rebecca Nachula, stocky and muscular, bounded down the track on the turn for home in the women’s 400m final and it all looked set for a history Zambian performance until the Indian, running in front of home fans moved up from fifth to second with a lung-bursting effort over the last 50 metres. Rabecca Nachula posted 55.20 which ensured she witnessed the Zambian flag being hoisted for her elder sister from the medal podium.

On the track, Rachael finished the semi-final heat one on first position clocking 54:74 seconds to qualify to the finals as top seed ahead. Rebecca, qualified to the finals after clocking 55:31 seconds to finish third in heat two behind Indian, Poovamma Raju Machettira (55:10) and England's Shelayna Oskan (54:90). Earlier in the first round, Rachael was number one in heat one with time of 56:23 seconds while Rebecca despite recording better time (55:88) than her sister, finished heat three in second position.

Background and Progress

I have never met Rachel personally though I have met other athletes like the Great Kalu, Carol Mokola, Tiger Boy Nkandu, the legendary Samuel Matete and even Esther Phiri who have put Zambia on the map. But her story is the stuff for the movies and so she is the first athlete I am blogging in details. Like a grade 1 singing the Zambian national anthem, “Stand and sing’o Zambia, ploud Humphrey . . . . “, I hereby sing her praises.

Rachael, of Green Buffaloes athletics club and on an International Olympics Committee (IOC) scholarship in the University of Pretoria's Hign Performance Centre in South Africa, has been fighting the odds all through her life.

The Zambian athlete has a personal best of 51.39s, clocked at the African Championships in Addis Ababa on May 2, 2008 when she took a bronze there. In the indoor version of the event, her personal best is 53.30s, set in Valencia, Spain in March 2008 during the 12th IAAF World Indoor Championships when she came 4th in the semi-fianl. She was in the national squad for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where she made it to the semi-finals of the 400m. She finished last in the event and posted 52.67s.

It has not been plain sailing but Rachel has achieved a lot in a short time of 3 years. A gentleman called Michael Lungu, based in Sudan, claims to have been the first coach to identify her from the inter-Schools competition held in Chongwe around 2004. This was part of the Zambia Amateur Athletics Association’s Talent Identification Programme. He later took her to the Police Team.

However, National Olympic Committee of Zambia Secretary Hezel Kennedy claims her career in athletics started with Outreach Community Club run by Hanson Mushili in Lusaka. If her initial steps are yet to be cleared, her racing credentials are not shroud in clouds of doubt.

Rachael Nachula announced her arrive in the world of athletics at the Southern Africa Regional Championships meet held at Harare, Zimbabwe, in July, 2005. She was perhaps the biggest revelation of the games.

Running barefoot, Rachael won the senior women's 400m (53.8) and 200m (24.0). She went on to anchor Zambia's 4x 400m relay where she held off the challenge from Piliza Leona to propel Zambia (3:47.3) to victory over Mozambique (3:47.6) and South Africa (3:51.3). Only 16 years (born on 14 Jan 1990), Rachael was competing in just her third athletics meet. Her first was the Zambian National Championships in Lusaka earlier on and the Southern Africa Youth Championships on 5th June where she set a championship record when she came first in the 200m with 24.49 seconds.

100m Performances

Nachula was in superb form at the 2008 Namibian Track and Field Grand Prix when she posted her personal best time in the 100 meters race with the time of 11.71 seconds adding to her new time in the 400 meters which saw her through to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

200m Performances

In July 2005, straight from Southern African Regional Championships, Rachel went on to compete in the 4th IAAF World Youth Championships in Marrakech, Morocco. She came out 7th in the semi final of the Girls 200m with a worse time of 24.79s.

The following year, in March 2006 during the 18th Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia, Rachael came out 5th in her heat in a time 24.38. This was her second personal best at the time. Later in the year in June, she was to run 24.49s in Pretoria, South Africa.

In June 2006, during the 11th IAAF World Junior Championships in Beijing (Chaoyang Sport Center), she ran a time of 24.51.

The following month in Windhoek, she improved her time to 23.89s.

Her personal best time in the 200m outdoor event came in Gaborone in May 2007 at the CAA Permit Meeting in Gaborone, Botswana when she won the final ahead of South Africa’s Estie Wittstock.

In February, 2008 in Pretoria, Rachel ran 23.52s.

In April 2008, Rachael during the t the Coca Cola Frankie Fredericks Invitational (Namibia Track and Field Grand Prix) championships held in Windhoek, ran the 200 meters in 23.53 seconds.

400m Performances

In 2005 Rachael Nachula ran 54.56 at an athletics meet in Windhoek, Namibia.

In 2006, she ran a time of 53.05s achieved in the semi-finals of the 11th IAAF World Junior Championships in Beijing (Chaoyang Sport Center) when she was 3rd.

In May 2007, at the CAA Permit Meeting in Gaborone, Botswana, Rachel Nachula (52.99s) came out second behind South Africa’s Estie Wittstock who ran a season’s best of 52.53sec to win the 400m. Earlier the two had reversed roles in the 200m with the Zambian (Rachael) coming up trumps.

In Stellenbosch, South Africa, in March 2008, during the Yellow Pages Senior National Championships, Zambian runner, Rachel Nachula, came out second in the 400ms and she clocked 52.97. This was an improvement on her national outdoor record by 0.02 seconds and it was a great achievement seeing there was a strong head wind.

The following month, in April 2008, Rachael Nachula qualified for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games after a stunning performance during the t the Coca Cola Frankie Fredericks Invitational (Namibia Track and Field Grand Prix) championships held in Windhoek. Rachel made it to Beijing after clocking 52.21 seconds in the women's 400 meters dash. Although she was not among the top finishers in the 400 meters, her time was good enough to land her in Beijing and become the third Zambian to qualify for the Games. This was also faster than the B standard of the Olympic Games in Beijing. Her performance meant that at the time, the 18-year-old also improved her personal best time and broke two Zambian records in the 400 meters sprint round the track. Nachula broke her Zambian junior and the senior records which stood at 53.05 seconds.

In July 2008, at the 12th edition of the IAAF World Junior Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland, Rachael suggested she could make history as a first ever Zambian medallist at the championships by leading the qualifiers in the opening round of the women's 400m. The stocky Nachula ran hard to take heat three in an impressive 52.65 to book her spot for following day’s semi-finals. In the final, she barely missed the medals when came out 4th with a time of 52.44. This was an improvement on her time 53.05s achieved in the semi-finals of the 11th IAAF World Junior Championships in Beijing (Chaoyang Sport Center) when she was 3rd in 2006.

During the Beijing games in the National Stadium, Rachel qualified to the semi-finals whilst posting her second best ever time of 51.62s in heat 7 of the 400m. Five African women made it into the last 16 of the women's 400m at the Beijing Olympics. Botwana's Amantle Montsho, Nigeria's Folashade Abugan and Ajoke Odumosu, Zambia's Rachael Nachula and Sudan's Nawar ElJack all progressed into the semis. Rachel progressed after claiming third spot in her heat.


In congratulating Rachael for her record and the gold medal (not the first of her career though the best honour so far), I leave you a quote one of her fans who said “viva mpanga ya mambwe kwikala yasichula”. And her video from youtube.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Herve Renard is to Blame for Zambia Under-20 Loss to Egypt

On, a blogger called Whisper had mentioned the best formation the Zambia Under 20 was supposed to use and I even agreed with him about it.

At 1:38 pm, October 10th, 2008, Whisper, on the story, 'Galactico' Fwayo joins U/20 Camp, commented and said:

"… I am worried that we might get overwhelmed using a 4-3-3 formation. The Egyptians are masters at counter attacking and with 4 very offensive minded players (Fwayo, Bomber, Thierry and Kola) our backline might be too exposed. In a 4-3-3 the midfield is very narrow and you have to rely on the the guys upfront dropping back and helping out. If they don't then our fullbacks might be facing 2 vs 1 situations all afternoon."

"I like the idea of Justin and Stophira anchoring the midfield . . ."

At 7:25 pm, October 10th, 2008 I responded and said

"Whisper, that is a great analysis and I am with you all the way."

Admin also did report that the technical bench led by Herve Renard and Oswald Mutapa Jr is believed to have made three changes from the team which held the Young Pharaohs of Egypt 3-3 on their own turf . . .

These two posts by Whisper and Admin just sum up everything. This is where it all went wrong and let me offer my opinion but you can always shoot me down.

1. Zambia U20 has a weak defence and its strength is in attack and so to depend on a defending strategy was myopic by the coaches. We were better off relying on our attackers to get us the all important goal than hope for the defence to hold water all afternoon. "Attack being the best way to defend" was not in Renard's book.

2. Making three unforced changes to a team I would call winning side (seeing that 3-3 in Cairo is almost a win) was unstrategic because it changed the balance of the team and also demanded a different approach. I know that mayuka, Kola and Fwayo are all vital players but the long and short of it is that the players who got us here and especially those who played in cairo should have started with the likes of Mayuka and Lungu wh missed should have been trampcards to
come in and change things at a later stage. Stick to a stable team and avoid shuffling the pack

3. Talking of shuffling the pack, what was Sunzu doing playing at the back? This was too decisive a match to experiment.

4. Did the word "possession" mean nothing to the coaching bench? Are you supposed to defend nby hitting the balls hard and into your opponents half and giving them a chance to build up everytime? We wind time by holding onto the ball, making lateral passes and getting free-kicks and not giving away free-kicks.

5. What kind of midfield cannot tackle? Midfileders were 'escorting the Egyptians' and only using their shoulders to try and muscle the ball away. Just tackle and get the ball clean especially when it is still far from the 18-yard area.

6. Whisper predicting of using 3 strikers and 3 midfielders was spot on. Zambia was overwhelmed in the midfield. We should have played two strikers and then bring on ne later in the game. Substituting Kola and Mayuka shows that the coach got it wrong in the first place and was trying to do what he should have done in the first place which Whisper and I were suggesting. We should have packed the midfield to avoid giving the young Pharoahs any initiative.

7. The technical bench was comfortably sitting on the bench even when things were going badly towards the end of the match. The keeper had kept Zambia in the match at one point he saved when faced with a striker who had beated the whole defence and was just pulling the trigger to beat the keeper. Luckily that shot was straight into the palms of the Keeper and by saying so I am not demeaning the work he did which was really tremendous.

8. Was Mayuka in the right frame of mind after all the talk?

I squarely place the blame on the bench and in this case, it is Renard I blame. He should have started with the stable team and fused in the new guys no matter how good they are and he should have gone for the all important goal.

Which brings me to my final point. We made it to the Under 20 World Cup with local coaches like Chicken George but FAZ was saying this assignment is so important the local coaches needed beefing up with the frenchmen. Does they realise that football in Zambia is mostly played in Bemba and to some extent Nyanja and that the local coaches and more likely to squeeze the juice out of these players better? So now having been eliminated from the cup what does FAZ say? It was better for the local coaches to go for it and fail. At least the lessons would have been learnt and the money paid as allowances would have fed Zambian families. Now the funds have to go to France on top of our loss. Shame.

Let us give our local coaches chance. PP was being lambasted but he is the last coach to get Zambia to win by 2 goals of more. South 3-1 and Sudan 2-0. Ever since, we either win 1-o, both cases lucky through a bolt from the blue (with all due respect to katman) and a penalty (with all due respect to katman's elder brother Soldier or Tsunami). The rest of the results are draws or losses. PP is now showing how good he is with a small team like Nkana (not small in stature seeing it is the most supported team in Zed like Celtic in RSA but small in terms of team and calibre of players). But I don't want PP back at national coach. Let Renard continue but local coaches should handle the junior teams.

God bless Zambia.

Weekend Soccer Analysis

Dirk Kuyt . . .! Best moment? Hull's Geovanni's goal was brilliant,
but it's got to be Dirk Kuyt's last-gasp winner to cap an unbelievable
comeback from Liverpool. Let me leave that for later.

Local Games . . .

In the Zambia local league, there were the Barclays Cup games but I am not going to look at them.

Bundesliga . . . .

Bayern Munich's Bundesliga woes continued on Saturday when they blew a
two-goal lead in a 3-3 home draw with VfL Bochum while promoted
Hoffenheim took over at the top. Bayern were leading 3-1 with seven
minutes to go through goals from Daniel van Buyten and Ze Roberto (2)
only to allow Bochum to stage a comeback with two bad defensive lapses
inside three minutes. The draw follows two successive Bundesliga
defeats and leaves Bayern 11th in the table with nine points from
seven matches in Juergen Klinsmann's first season in charge.

The only consolation for Klinsmann is other title challengers also
lost ground. Werder Bremen were thumped 4-1 at VfB Stuttgart while
Bayer Leverkusen lost 1-0 at home to Hertha Berlin.

Ex-UNZA. . . .

With Manchester United back to their free-flowing best at Blackburn,
Ba Mwenda didn't come and so we missed his goals having being on a
current rich vein of form and having scored the winner for ZRA when
ZRA played Caltex. Ex-UNZA drew with Club 5ive. It was a tough match
with Peter Mwiya doing two crucial tackles and Ole being denied a
penalty in the first half. Club Five, boasting the likes of Australia
Mweemba formerly on Nakambala, ex-international and now National
Assembly coach Alex Namazaba, Mwila Nchimunya, Julius and a host of
other players who have played for local league teams, were a tough
team to crack though Ex-UNZA should have scored through Sheva and Ole
who had the easiest chances in the first half.

Arsenal . . .

Sh*t happens I guess. That goal by Van Persie was a legitimate goal as
it didn't go out. But it was disallowed.

Roy Keane has made some inspired substitutions during his short time
in management to date but none more so than his decision to replace
Dwight Yorke with Leadbitter with just four minutes left on the clock.
Sunderland came up with a moment of brilliance as the young Sunderland
midfielder took possession just seconds after entering the field and
made inroads on Arsenal's back four, before firing a magnificent and
unstoppable shot from the edge of the box into the top corner from the
edge of the box that crashed in off the underside of the bar and
beyond Manuel Almunia. It was Hull City reloaded; Giovanni someone?
Its de ja vou all over again.

That seemed to have won it for Sunderland but there was still time for
a final twist as Fabregas managed to rise highest at the near post to
head in Van Persie's corner. 1-1 was the result at the Stadium of

"The bottom line for any of these top teams, they will tell you, part
of the game is breaking down the opposition." - Roy Keane. A wry
observation which is spot on. After results such as this Wenger has
often used the excuse of "they just kept 11 men behind the ball"...
It's time that Arsenal learn't how to play and win against such

But they derseved the one point if you rated the two teams equally
though as favourites, Arsenal could have easily lost and also
dersevingly so.

Arsenal should forget about winning the league,the ghost which used to
haunt liverpool in the league has gone now to arsenal,the best they
can do is the fourth position.

My nickname for Arsenal and Liverpool is usually '10 game fame' after
that they are gone. This maybe correct for Arsenal I am not sure yet
but Liverpool up to now are proving me wrong. Liverpool I guarantee
will start to go downhill very shortly.

I will talk of Liverpool another day though they look like a great
team this season. That 3-2 win against man City was great and deserves
credit. But how about this for a Liverpool joke?

Q: What do Liverpool do when they win the leauge?
A: Turn off the play station.

Liverpool . . .

It would be churlish to do anything other than congratulate Liverpool
for a truly memorable comeback at the City of Manchester Stadium,
after being 2-0 down at half-time against, let's face it, a team with
Champions League ambitions. Have Liverpool underlined their status as
genuine Premier League title challengers today?

I'm a Man United fan, but oh my word. Any team that is losing 2-0 at
half-time, only to win 3-2 deserves a whole lot of credit! Well done
Liverpool... proven you can play like champions! I know the Scousers
are our bitterest rivals but beating Man City just makes it
bitter-sweet for man Utd. Especially with Man City's big mouths.

This game also proved that Robinho, whilst not being useless, isn't
world-class. Obviously. Sheva will never agree but if he was, would he
let a 2-0 lead disappear while Torres shined? Robinho - who many of
you are telling me is world-class - lifts the ball over the bar from
three yards after a Shaun Wright-Phillips cross at one point in the
game. Gilt-edged. Reminds me of Kanu at West Brom Albion.

How can Robinho be mediocre? His name ends with "inho" and therefore
his legendary status is fully deserved and we should just turn off our
brains and accept this. Personally I think he's the most beautifully
elegant player I've seen since Iain Dowinho was destroying teams at
Southampton 15 years ago.

Hull City

I'm putting money on Hull ending Chelsea's unbeaten run at home - they
seem to enjoy London! They beat Tottenham after beating Arsenal. And
Giovanni must be the least liked Brazilian in London for scoring two
brilliant goals that meant doom for Arsenal and Spurs. The on-fire
Geovanni curls home a delicious free-kick from fully 30 yards into the
postage stamp top corner of Gomes's net. Spurs in disbelief, Hull in
dreamland - again.

"Are you Arsenal in disguise?" sung the Hull fans to their gutted
Tottenham counterparts after the goal. Is Geovanni on a free from man
City the best piece of business in the history of the Premier League?
Sure looks that way at the moment.

The result means If Tottenham, now have their worst start to a season
for 96 years. That's going all the way back to 1912, when something
fairly major happened that was later turned into a film, as I'm sure
you know. The Titanic . . .

Didier Zokora has been Spurs' best player for Spurs this season and
but he failed to get his first goal for the club in his 100th game.

Zaki and Wigan . . . .

With Zaki leading the top scorers chart with 5 goals and still
officially a player in the Egyptian league, I though it wise to
include Wigan. We do not speak about the lesser teams but considering
also that Wigan arrived unbeaten in their last four league games and
Boro with four defeats from as many outings in all competitions, it
was hardly surprising that the Latics made the brighter start but it
was Boro that won with an undeserved goal in the 89th minute.

With just one win from their previous six visits to Blackburn, United
were not expecting an easy ride and, for the opening 25 minutes at
least, they were not disappointed. In a game which United manager Sir
Alex Ferguson believed was his team's most impressive display of the
campaign so far, a lot happened.

Manchester United . . .

Reports suggest Blackburn boss Paul Ince was left apoplectic on the
touchline when Wes Brown, starting for the first time in the league
since United's defeat at Liverpool, headed in Rooney's short corner at
the far post in the 31st minute, convinced as he was that Nemanja
Vidic had impeded his goalkeeper Jason Brown. If United's first was
contentious, Rooney's second was picture-book perfect. A lightning
raid of the sort that has been missing this season, concluded with a
jet-heeled Cristiano Ronaldo leaving Martin Olsson for dead down the
right flank. A cut-back for Rooney left his team-mate with plenty to
do but a sumptuous clipped effort into the opposite corner saw Brown
clutching fresh air and cemented United's supremacy.

Thereafter and it was a case of Blackburn chasing shadows on a
afternoon when the master showed his pupil there is still plenty for
him to learn in the management game. Manchester missed a host of
hances as the keeper saved some and some either came off the post of
landed on the roof with the keeper beaten.

Chelsea . . .

League leaders and looking good for the title. On the evidence of this
display Chelsea, who were without several first-choice players, will
be hard to stop this season.

John Carew gave John Terry nightmares. Something Milan Baros would
only have done dressed as Fred. Premier League's best ever swap?

Anelka meanwhile is proving why he leads in being the most expensive
player in the world (cumulative cost of buying him) as he has already
scored 4 goals now.

La Liga . . .

In a game billed as a duel between two Argentina forwards Messi and
Sergio Aguero, the Atletico man saw hardly any of the ball and was
unsurprisingly withdrawn 12 minutes into the second half.

Rafa Marquez, Samuel Eto'o and Lionel Messi put the locals three up
inside eight minutes as the game got off to an explosive start.

Maxi Rodriguez pulled one back for Atletico five minutes later, but
Eto'o restored Barca's three-goal advantage shortly afterwards and
Eidur Gudjohnsen added a fifth for the home side short of the
half-hour mark. Thierry Henry wrapped up a brilliant Barcelona win
with his side's sixth after 73 minutes.

Valencia returned to the top of the Primera Division while Sevilla
moved up to third after thrashing Athletic Bilbao. A Manuel Fernandes
goal proved the difference as Valencia went top of the league on
Sunday night.

Madrid drew with Espanyol at home i.e. 2-2. In their last game, Raul
made history. Raul Gonzalez Blanco became only the seventh player in
history to score 200 league goals in Spain with a penalty that gave
Real Madrid a victory over Espanyol. But this time around, they didn't
win but it was Raul again scoring. He twice equalised for Madrid.

Serie A . . .

The man affectionately known as Ibracadabra, scored first through a
fabulous backheel before Adriano added from the spot. The Sweden
striker connected with Adriano's cross in mid-air and sent the ball
flying inside the near post after 25 minutes. Inter Milan, winning
2-1, moved level on points with Lazio at the summit of the Serie A
table as Jose Mourinho's side bounced back from their derby defeat.
Lazio drew 1-1 at home through substitute Simone Inzaghi's late
strike. The bit-part player, younger brother of AC Milan's Filippo,
swept in at the far post a minute from time..

Mourinho's Inter slumped to a 1-0 loss to rivals AC Milan last weekend
but returned to winning ways on Saturday against a Bologna team which
ironically won at the San Siro on the opening day when they beat AC
Milan 2-1.

With the criticism for making Chelsea win ugly, Mourinho seems to have
kept that tag in Italy. Mourinho was whistled by the crowd after the
Werder draw in the UCL and has faced criticism in the press for his
favoured 4-3-3 formation. He changed to 4-4-2 against Bologna, with
wingers Ricardo Quaresma and Mancini supporting Ibrahimovic and
Adriano up front. It was a good game but not really fluid and
convincing seeming that they were gifted a goal by luck and they also
gifted their opponents a goal.

Following Lazio's failure to win on Saturday, Udinese are now level
with them and Inter - but they separate the two on goal-difference.
Udinese moved second, level on points with leaders Lazio, after a 2-0
win over Torino on Sunday.

The late game saw bottom-of-the-table Cagliari hold AC Milan to a
goalless draw on Sardinia - who are not three points off the top of
the table.

Palermo find themselves in fourth after a very good 2-1 over Juventus.

Roma's dismal start to the new league season shows few signs of
abating after going down to a 1-0 defeat in Tuscany to Siena.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Champions League Day 2 Results and Review

Nani and Cristiano Ronaldo ended Manchester United's training session yesterday with a game of keepy-uppy for the cameras - in which they only touched the ball with their chests and backs. AaB were apparently so excited about their visitors, they have put up signs around the town saying: "Man U are more than welcome here." Lovely.

When the teams were announced, I went like O'Shea... over Anderson or Park (or even Fletcher!)?!?! Are you kidding me?! My face lit up when I saw Rafael's name, and then turned negative when I saw O'Shea's name. I thought Fergie wasn't taking risks? O'Shea is not a midfielder, he is a defender. If you insist on playing him in midfield you need a midfielder who is willing to support the attack, and unfortunately Scholes doesn't have the legs to do that anymore. Strange, strange decision. Hopefuly I was not proven wrong.

With rival teams like Mumba's Royals roaring to 6 points from a possible six before kikc-off, Manchester needed to put their campaign on track and convincingly. With a strong team albeit with a few experiements as O'Shea played in midfield ahead of players like Fletcher and Anderson, and Rafael da Silva playing at right back ahead
of Brown, Manchester United claimed their first win in this year's competition thanks to two Dimitar Berbatov volleys and a Wayne Rooney slide home from a pass from Ryan Giggs against AaB Aalborg.

While Marcos Senna was helping Villarreal join United on top of the group with four points after through a brilliant curling free-kick, Manchester was left ruing the loss of Paul Scholes to injury (ligament damage so says Fergie); the loss of Scholes potentially until late November will be a significant blow to United. His replacement was not. Ironically it was Giggs failure to play with O'Shea in midfield
that led to the buying of the likes of Carrick and Andersson but today Giggs dictated play in midfield and laid Rooney through for the first goal.

Dimitar Berbatov finally broke his Manchester United duck as the Champions League holders swept aside Danish minnows Aalborg to kick-start their campaign. Berbatov, who made an undistinguished start with a dreadful miss after five minutes with an empty net waiting for him to volley in, opened his goal account when he took advantage of a defensive mix-up to score 10 minutes after half-time. He then volleyed
in Cristiano Ronaldo's cross for his second after 79 minutes. The miss followed Cristiano Ronaldo charging down the AaB keeper's kick and the ball spun to Dimitar Berbatov - who volleyed wide with the goal gaping. An absolute sitter.

It was a job well done by United - but at what cost in terms of injuries remains to be seen tomorrow; Wayne Rooney and full-back Rafael had to withdraw from the game with ankle and knee injuries as well. Not all was sad news. The youngster Rafael da Silva, the less impressive of the two teenager twins before Man Utd bought them,
produced a display beyond his years in a Euro debut that promises much. I am very impressed with Rafael Da Silva, he's only 18 and has got a pretty impressive shot! Like with the other Man Utd youngsters, I'm a bit unsure if he is on the same wavelength as the other players yet but I'm sure it won't take long to adjust.

As for Celtic, they are not bottom of Group E but qualification for knock-out stage looks difficult now. Their nightmare run away from home in Europe continues: one point from 16 matches.

Madrid . . .

Real Madrid were also given a tough battle by Zenit St Petersburg but maintained their 100% winning start thanks to Ruud van Nistelrooy's winner in Russia. An own goal by Zenit defender Tomas Hubocan, who put Rafael van der Vaart's low cross into his own net after about two minuts of the match, put Real ahead but Andrei Arshavin set up Danny to level before Van Nistelrooy's opportunistic strike gave Real a 2-1
victory - their first away win in Europe since October 2006. Danny stabbed in his second goal for his new club. The £24m striker got ahead of marker Gabriel Heinze, who rather foolishly attempted to clear with a diving header.

The second half saw Madrid outplayed by Zenit with Arshavin staring but Cassilas and the post saved Madrid. A penalty appeal was also turned down despite Pepe handling with ten minutes to go.

Maybe the shock news from Denmark that the Brazilian youngster Rafael started for Manchester United was because Madrid coach Bernd Schuster sprung a small surprise by leaving club legend Raul on the bench. The Zenit line up was as expected, with Andrei Arshavin returning to the line-up after missing their last game through suspension.

The Old Lady . . . .

Juventus needed two goals by Vincenzo Iaquinta to salvage a 2-2 draw in Belarus after trailing 2-0 against BATE Borisov. Igor Stasevich set up Sergei Kryvets for Borisov's first goal on 17 minutes and extended his side's lead soon afterwards. Iaquinta pulled one goal back when he headed home Sebastian Giovinco's cross and levelled from another Giovinco pass on the stroke of half-time.

Gunners . . . .

While Dynamo Kiev, who drew with the Gunners in their opening game, picked up another point in a 0-0 draw with Fenerbahce in Turkey, Arsenal eased past FC Porto with Robin van Persie and Emmanuel Adebayor both scoring two goals apiece in a routine 4-0 victory. Arsene Wenger's promised 'sweeping changes' involved replacing
Emmanuel Eboue with Samir Nasri only. No other changes were made. Does this mean English teams are just tough hence Hull's win over Arsenal? That was Porto's 10th defeat in 11 visits to England.

Apart from the impressive display by Arsenal, there were some moments for the cameras; like Theo Walcott volleying wide from six yards - prompting laughter from watching England coach Fabio Capello.Another moment was 'Hulk' coming in for Porto. That is actually what was written on the back of his shirt. Real name: Givanildo Vieira de Souza. Had it been Giovanni, the gunners would have been scared I

Arsenal could have had double figures, but four will do and that puts them top of Group G


AaB 0-3 Man
Villarreal 1-0 Celtic

Bayern Munich 1-1 Lyon
Fiorentina 0-0 Steaua Bucuresti

Arsenal 4-0 FC Porto
Fenerbahce 0-0 Dynamo Kiev

BATE Borisov 2-2 Juventus
Zenit St Petersburg 1-2 Real Madrid

UEFA Champios League Day 2 Analysis and Preview

Starting with my team, we play Aab Aalborg of Denmark. Last time we
went to Denmark, we lost 1-0 and Fergie knows too well that there is
no time for sentimentality or complacency as we try to be the first
team to successfully defend the UCL. Having dropped two points against
Villareal means Man Utd needs to win in Denmark. Losing will mean
going to Parkhead against Celtic and going to Villarreal for a win
which would be very difficult psychologically. Man Utd will use a
strong side; Fergie did use a weakened side last-time in Denmark and
Man Utd ended up scrapping to qualify. So Ronaldo is expected back in
the starting line-up and this Group E clash is easily the biggest game
in Aalborg's history.

The disparities between the two clubs are stark: while United's
average attendance last season was 75,638, Aalborg struggle to fill
their 10,000-capacity stadium. And the £30m Ferguson shelled out for
striker Dimitar Berbatov could fund the Danish club for seven years.
The club is so small that they have a ground with no players' lounge
and even the team manager has no office of his own office, so Ferguson
could miss out on the traditional post-match glass of red wine with
his counterpart.

However, the game will not be between two teams that are too far in
quality. Man Utd are favourites but Aalborg And they have a spine of
senior international players in the shape of Zaza (Morocco), Marek
Saganowski (Poland), Andreas Johansson (Sweden) and Michael Beauchamp
(Australia). Goalkeeper Karim Zaza, saved a penalty in the goalless
draw with Celtic.

But the Aalborg manager doesn't expect to make it to the knock-outs
like Fergie. "My last match will probably be the final Champions
League game at Old Trafford," said Rioch a former Gunners coach.

Talking of Gunners, losing 2-1 to Hull City for the first time since
losing in 1915, Arsene promises changes to the team. But he claims the
changes have nothing to do with punishment for the weekend lose. But
we know it is for that reason. I would have benched most of the
Arsenal frontliners and the midfield which kept sending long balls
upfront having gone 2-1 down instead of playing their brand of
football which is one-touch football. Problem with Arsenal is they
cannot take a beating. It is like Mike Tyson. He could not take a
beating and so whenever he was under the kosh, he lost.

I could not recognise the Arsenal way of play as the game went to the
end. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger thinks the club's next boss must
maintain the stylish brand of play he has established - or risk a
backlash. He says the crowd are used to it and demand it now. Losing
to Hull City was so uncharacteristic especially that they had just won
their last game 6-0 in the Carling Cup win against Sheffield United,
which saw Arsenal field a team with an average age of 19. Most players
were rested for Hull City. Hope they deliver against Porto because the
Portuguese team can be bad customers.

The Gunners could only pick up a point in the Ukraine against Dynamo
Kiev in their opening Group G game but home form will be key if they
are to progress to the knockout stages. Seeing them lose to Hull at
home only makes Porto more determined.

The match with Porto is very important to Arsenal because in the UCL,
a team needs 10 points to qualify, so if they win their home games
they get their 10 points and go through. That is remembering they have
a point already.

UEFA Champios League Day 1 Analysis and Preview

This is going to be a great UCL campaign. Almost like "Euro Two Thousand and Great" only this time Argentines and Brazilians are invloved too. What a delight for Taonga, Henry and Uncle Bobs.

To avoid being labeled EPL fan, I will start with the other teams.

The first shock ironically involved an Italian team. CFR Cluj-Napoca, making their bow in the tournament, won away at Italian giants Roma. Cluj won their first Romanian title last year, the first to be won by a team from outside Bucharest for 17 years and now they have just won their first UCL and what a win. First, ex-Chelsea defender Christian Panucci put the Italians in front in the Olympic Stadium and 90 minutes later, the unknown team from Romania had bagged the points. They have never won before in Europe. It was just the performance of the night, it would be one of the UCL performances of all time.

Brazilians did the job for Mourinho's Inter. Firstly, Alessandro Mancini, the guy who does more step-overs than Ronaldo and Robinho combined and formerly of Roma, scored. Then the forgotten Brazilian, Adriano, sealed the win. It was an away win.

Like i said, this is Euro 2008 plus the Brazilians and Argentines included. Need I say the English too? So the Argentines were not to be outdone.

First Argentine up, Aguero. The future best striker in the World I guess. Athletico Madrid won their match 3-0, with the brilliant young Argentine Sergio 'Kun' Aguero shining. He grabbed a brace and ex-Chelsea midfielder Maniche got the other goal. PSV were outclassed at home.

The second Argentine was in the Roma game. Roma lost because of the two goals by the 24-year-old Argentine Juan Emanuel Culio. Watch this space, I see that boy in England next year. So that is two braces by a couple of Argentines though Lampard which have joined Gerrard to equal that.

Like I said, Barca were impressive and look like the team to beat this year. 3-1 was only surpassed by two other games last night. Marquez, Eto'o, who almost left the team (scoring via a penalty) and Uefa's Player of Euro 2008 Xavi all scored. But the game showed their weakness. They cannot defend and the manner in which they conceded their goal shows that with better teams, they shall struggle.

No comments on the Basle and Werder Bremen games. Nothing of note there, except maybe that for Shakhtar, the scorer for the first goal was the Brazilian Luis Fernandinho. So thats three different Brazilian scorers there.

Liverpool didn't have their sponsor's name on their jerseys due to French law forbiding alcohol adverts but they still won their game which was the best game of the night. Couple that with the goal of the season so far from Gerrad; his sidefoot/shot/curler/rocket was a marvel to watch. Chamakh, Bakari Kone, Mamadou Niang and others failed to capitalise on Liverpool defending at the end of the match when Reina did a good job but the goal but the twice-taken penalty by Gerrard was good enough for the come-back to win them 3 points. So far they look like they may have a good season after all.

Chelsea is just too strong right now. I do not see any team beating them. Though that is the time when Man Utd usually pounces and so the weeked game should be interesting. 4-0 with English players and French scoring did the job. Joe Cole (that excellent player), malouda, Anelka (deserved his goal after 92 mins and working hard all game) and Lampard (who should have scored 2 goals) made sure of the points.

Isn't Champions League just great? Lets wait and see with the UEFA Cup, we can't forget our friends at Milano and Bolton. Or sorry West ham. Or sorry Spurs. As of UCL, that was a thrilling night of Champions League action once again. Performance of the night, if we ignore the Roma upset for a while, must go to Atletico. Or Chelsea? With the best game being the Liverpool game.

So tonight, the fun continues. Zenit shone last season but the Champions League is a big leap up from the UEFA Cup. Their first test against Juve will be very interesting. Sheva will either smile or frown tomorrow. It is a chance to see whether Juve can really challenge this season. Apart from Arshavin, the person to watch in this game will be a kid called Giovinco. He's a bit like the new Roberto Baggio, without the pony tail.

Then there is the return of Cristiano Ronaldo for Man Utd tonight. Yours truly will cover all games for you from the confines of Alpha Bar once again.

Ine naalanda kwena empompelele.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Phelps is Great but not the Greatest Olympian. Not yet.

No one can say which Olympian is the greater athlete based either on the number of medals they have won or which sport is "more difficult". This is a classic case of "comparing apples and oranges".

Is Phelps the greatest Olympian of all time? No he is not as far as I am concerned. Not yet. The greatest athlete or greatest Olympian is different from the athlete with the "most gold medals". It is like calling the winner of 15 medals in Draughts at the Olympics is the greatest Olympian. Or imagine for a moment a shooter -- air pistol, air rifle, small bore rifle -- piling up 20 golds over 4 consecutive Olympics. Would that make him the "greatest Olympian ever"? Swimming is a minor sport and so it cannot make him the greatest but what do you expect when he is American and most of the hype comes from the American media.

Phelps himself has placed his sport in perspective when stating that his ambition was to raise the status of swimming "in the public mind – to make it a major sport". In truth, swimming only dominates public attention when the Olympic Games come round every four years.

Some say he is not an athlete because swimming is recreation. But I am for him being a great athlete.

There was more excitement over Usain Bolt's win of the 100m and 200m dash double especially with world records in both than Phelps' 8 medals for many reasons and one of them is the profile of the two sports. 100m is like the main event of any athletics and swimming just isn't in the same league.

Because Phelps is a swimmer, somehow his accomplishments aren't as impressive. It is argued that it's "easy to win multiple medals in swimming" because swimming has so many racing opportunities, they say, and medals are cheapened. This is not entirely true however. Of the 20
men who have won the most Olympic medals, only three were swimmers. Gymnasts dominate the top 20. If winning swimming medals was so easy, swimmers should theoretically be all over that list.

Even if they did, though, Phelps' versatility renders that argument moot. Just because all swimming strokes take place in a pool doesn't mean they're the same. Phelps won at three different distances - 100, 200 and 400 meters -- in Beijing. It's the swimming equivalent of a runner pulling the 200, 400 and 800 triple. That's never been attempted in any Olympics, let alone accomplished. Michael Johnson only did the 200 and 400 double.

Phelps also won golds in three different strokes, a feat made even more impressive considering he was competing in those events with stroke specialists who gear their entire training toward that one discipline. That he had to swim a staggering 17 races in eight days is also not to be overlooked.

One observer says you cannot be called the greatest swimmer ever if you don't win 100m freestyle - the ultimate prestige swimming event; Phelps didn't and never will. Also: too many (3) relays in that medal count and those are far from being just Phelps's medals.

As for my verdict whether he is the greatest, it's too early to tell, since Phelps likely isn't finished winning Olympic medals. If he returns in 2012 at the London Games and wins, say, five more medals, then there will be no question that he should be hailed as the top Olympian of all-time. If Phelps retired tomorrow though, one could still make a compelling case on his behalf. But not entirely declaring him the greatest without dispute.

It must not be forgotten that Phelps was there at the 2000 Olympics and won nothing. The American press say nothing of this. At the age of 15, Phelps competed at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, becoming the youngest American male swimmer at an Olympic Games in 68 years. While he did not win a medal, he did make the finals and was fifth in the 200 m Butterfly. So he has not dominated all the Olympics he participated in.

Another point to note is that Phelps ranks second in total career Olympic medals, after Soviet gymnast Larissa Latynina, who won a total of 18 medals (nine gold) spanning three Olympic Games. If one is counting only gold medals, sure, Phelps has the most, and what he did was truly exceptional (like touching out what's his name by .01 sec -- that was pretty freakin' exciting).

Others say the best Olympian is Germany's Birgit Fischer, who competed in 7 Olympic games spanning 24 years.

May argue for Jim Thorpe who was a winner in the decathlon and pentathlon which are the ultimate test of an athelete. In the decathlon, Thorpe won 9 of the events and so could have won 9 medals had each event had a medal.

Carl Lewis for many is the greatest; Lewis is one of only three Olympic competitors to have finished first in the same event in four successive Games, the others are a sailor and a discus thrower. The discuss thrower however, broke records in each consecutive Olympics. Lewis's supremacy in the long jump between 1984 and 1996 was remarkable, but he was also a wonderful sprinter and in 1984 matched the performance of Jesse Owens in 1936 by getting four gold medals in the same Olympics. Unfortunately for him, he dominated at a time (1984) when
there was the Soviet boycott and so we will never know whether things would have been different.

As one writer puts it, "At the moment, I would put Phelps level with, rather than ahead of, Nurmi and Lewis, because he has yet to demonstrate their longevity of excellence. However, the American swimmer may well continue until London 2012 and we will have to reassess his status then."

What reduces his greatness for me is the fact that in Phelps' case, only four of his 11 golds over two Games have come from straight events. Three were from medleys and four from relays. But Lewis was more dominant in terms of straight events. How many medals might Lewis have won in his remarkable Olympic span from 1984-1996 had there been sprinting and hurdling medleys? Also other past athletes were disadvantaged by the amateur-only limitation that prevented Jim Thorpe and others from winning more medals.

Still, competition is much stiffer today, with more widespread participation in most sports. This is despite the fact that conditions are better with pools and swimming gear having been improved.

The last person's opinion I am quoting says "I believe that the greatest Olympian ever is Jesse Owens for the simple reason that Owens had to overcome the pressure of a country that did not embrace him and a country that considered him to be inferior. If he lost then there could possibly have been no Jackie Robinson or any other Olympian such as Carl Lewis or Michael Johnson or any other track and field athlete. I rate Olympians such as Wilma Rudolph and Nadia over Phelps because not only did they blaze a trail for others to follow they did it under dire circumstances wherein other athletes might have crumbled under the pressure".

This reminds me of fellow American swimmer Spitz . . . Phelps was great no doubt about it, however Spitz had only 7 opportunities, set World Records in all 7 i.e. 7 for 7 vs 7 for 8WR's in Phelps' case and Spitz being a Jew in Germany was difficult coupled with what was happening with the killings in Munich the other pressures must have been off the human ability to cope with, so with all that under those circumstances you still gotta go with Spitz. Will you?

Some still favour Phelps over Spitz. Spitz's record seven gold medals stood for 36 years, and he may have won eight golds if the 50-meter freestyle had been an event in 1972, as it is now. But even if Spitz had won eight golds in 1972, what Phelps has done would still be more impressive because worldwide swimming was weaker then than it is now. In 1972, the United States won nearly half of the Olympic swimming medals, but now countries have stronger swimming programs, meaning Phelps has more global competition than Spitz had.

Your truly's conclusion is that after his extraordinary performance in Beijing, Michael Phelps earned a spot on the list of all-time Olympic greats. Four years from now, he'll likely sit alone at the top.

For Phelps to be the most decorated gold-medal winner to date is magnificent, though not necessarily synonymous with the title eagerly bestowed upon him over the last few days by marketing sharks and American commentators. It would be ill-advised to detract from the acclaim for Phelps in total.

Michael Phelps just delivered the greatest Olympic performance in history and this to me is purely based on his levels of concentration and perfection. That is (or should be) without debate. But does Phelps' dominance in Athens and Beijing put him atop the list of greatest Olympians ever? Even after not making the mark in Sydney?

When Phelps wins another few medals, doubling all others - Say he wins four more golds, a large percentage of them being individual golds and say another four silvers being added to give a tally of about 24 Olympic medals - all doubt will be gone.

This is despite the fact that comparison's are futile....the sports are different and different athletes competed at different times in different conditions. Comparisons between different generations even in the same discipline are inevitably speculative, never mind in sports as different as swimming, running and gymnastics. In my opinion, in any estimation of Olympic distinction beyond simple medal count, many other factors need consideration.