Confessions of A Football Junkie

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Written on 6/30/2006 03:13:00 am by sikapitan

My mind is clear, I am not dizzy nor am I sleepy. In fact, I could probably run a few kilometers right now just to shake off this adrenalin rush I am experiencing. It’s 2 a.m in the morning of 30th June 2006 and I am still, very much wide awake.

I move constantly, going up and down the stairs for no other reason than to grab a bite in the kitchen. I could now defrost cold meat, reheat leftovers and prepare a simple meal for two if you want, all after midnight. I just finished a sandwich, I just drank a glass of hot chocolate and I am still, very much wide awake.

My hands are itchy, constantly fiddling with the black object known as the remote control. The screen to my left constantly changes from one channel to another, as I watch the Scrubs while trying to catch any other match that I MAY have missed (which I honestly have not) and I am still, very much wide awake.

I have just finished reading The Star and NewStraitsTimes, back to front, including the business section. I could start reading the new novel I just bought, but then I wouldn’t have time to write this. I plan to finish my World Cup chart as soon as I’m done with my last sentence and I am still, very much wide awake.

I could tell you which mamak serves the best teh o at this time in Subang, which mamak has the best roti planta, and which mamak has the best projector/screen combination. I could tell you that there’s always a full house whenever England is playing, even though they’re boring. I could tell you all this right now, while discussing the merits of playing with 5 midfielders, and I WOULD STILL be wide awake.

My life for the past 3 weeks starts at 8 p.m. I catch every single live World Cup matches there is. I write and discuss about them religiously. I am, at this moment, a football addict suffering from withdrawal symptoms. For the first time in weeks I am left without live football at this ungodly hour. It’s 2 am, and I am very much wide awake.

Round of 16

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Written on 6/28/2006 02:28:00 pm by sikapitan

Brazil 3 - 0 Ghana
The expected Ghanaian Resistance never happened. Wasted too many chances, too square in defence. Ronaldo, Adriano and Ze Roberto all benefitted from Ghana's naivety in playing the offside trap.

As early as the 5th minute, Ronaldo broke through the square defence then did one of his step-overs which completely bamboozled the Ghanaian keeper to tuck the ball into an empty net. While the replay clearly showed Ronaldo was onside, the same cannot be said for the second goal by Adriano in the 45th minute. In fact, he was offside on two occasions.

The first could be excused, as he was not interfering with play when the ball was fed to Kaka, but he did joined the attack from an offside position, didn’t he? But most importantly, when Cafu played a delightful ball across the 6-yard, Adriano’s body was clearly ahead of the last defender. Lucky? You make your own luck in football…

The last goal was scored by Ze Roberto after a 25-pass move (eclipsing Argentina’s famed 24 pass goal against Serbia, though that was a wee bit more intricate) that simply bored the Ghanaians into submission. The finish was superb though, and truth be told after that Cafu and Juan missed wonderful chances to make the scoreline even more emphatic.

The two Fatsos scored (Ronaldo+Adriano) without doing anything much, while Ronaldinho is hardly at his best, yet they have now scored 10 goals and conceded just once. You do the math…


Spain 1 - 3 France
Ribery starred in France's superb comeback from a David Villa penalty in the first half. Vieira scored to make it 1-2 after a needless foul by Carlos Puyol. To cap what was an entertaining duel, old maestro Zidane scored in the last minute after cutting inside Puyol and placing a low show to Casillas' right.

Spain was again the more patient side, trying to tire the ageing French by stroking the ball around with relative ease. Xabi Alonso gave an example of a new breed of “water-carrier”, eclipsing the veteran Makelele with a combination of superb vision and tenacious tackling.

The right side of Spain, with little triangles by Sergio Ramos, Fabregas and David Villa caused problems for the French. But Spain lacked the experience to kill of the game, and resorted to one too many dives which gave the impressions that they are cheating even when there was a real foul.

France, on the other hand, soaked up the pressure, and I was very impressed with Willy Sagnol who had a great game at right back. The important thing to note when playing against France is that their backline is filled with great headers of the ball. The fullbacks will tuck in with the central defenders making no room for crosses to be met by Torres.

Even though Makelele really showed his limitation last night, the French weren’t really troubled with the biggest threat coming from set-pieces by Pernia, who again showed he is better going forward than defending.

I also questioned the tactical substitution made by Aragones, bringing on 3 players in the second half who did not alter the shape of the game at all. He brought out 2 strikers to be replaced by two attacking midfielders while taking out one of his best free-kick takers for a more defensive minded one. Marco Senna is a good player, but he is never going to be a match winner…You either be really bold (by taking out a defender perhaps) or you be patient like Domenech, keeping your cards well hidden.

In any case, I’m looking forward to the match-up between France v. Brazil, a repeat of the France 98 Finals – is it time for revenge?

Accept It

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Written on 6/25/2006 02:08:00 pm by sikapitan

Whenever a survey portrays Malaysia in a bad light, Malaysians get defensive and start questioning the veracity of the study. Recently, Reader's Digest published its courtesy survey that ranked Malaysia at number 33 out of 35 nations. Cue the "conspiracy against Malaysia" theory and "Western-centric bias" accusation. Nevertheless, the truth is that, no matter how hard we try to ignore it, Malaysians are less courteous than we think we are, especially to fellow Malaysians.

Reader's Digest conducted three simple experiments : the "thank you" test, the "drop a paper" test and holding a door open for someone. Now, just forget its scientific value and comparison with other nations, and concentrate on the three tests. Apply it in your daily activities and you will be surprised at how often we Malaysians fail to meet even our own expectations.

How often do we get a "thank you" with a smile? More often than not, what you get from your typical cashier is a half-hearted "thank you" (if you're lucky) without eye-contact, let alone a decent smile. What about those who helped you in holding the door, yet doing it with a sour face that you would think he is suffering from constant diarrhea?

We experience it everyday. On the road where people just don't bother raising their hands to acknowledge another person giving way, at the mall where most of the time the smile is kept for tourist, even on a date where the guy no longer bother holding the chair for the lady.

I personally don't care if Reader's Digest say we are First or Last. What matters is that I know we could be a lot more courteous to our fellow Malaysians, and THAT is undisputable.

Second Round of Matches

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Written on 6/20/2006 09:35:00 pm by sikapitan

Argentina 6 – 0 Serbia
Serbia came into this game carrying a reputation as one of the toughest team to break down. They are not noted for scoring goals, but they are certainly known not to concede that many. This is why this scoreline emphasized how truly wonderful Argentina was.

It is a bit too early actually to say that they would go on and win this tournament. There is always the danger of peaking too soon. Nevertheless, let us just enjoy this one as being one of the best team performances, I have ever seen, and that is not limited to this World Cup or even any World Cup.

The key to this performance was that Argentina had the right tactics, the right “imbalance” (more on that later) and the right personnel in the right places. I have written before that Argentina has harnessed the individual brilliance throughout the team to work as a unit, but I never expected it to be manifested in such a performance.

With Villareal, if you man-mark Riquelme, the whole team will fail to function. With Argentina, if you man-mark JR, then you leave the space open for others to exploit. The problem is that tactically it is difficult to impose your style of play against Argentina. There is an “imbalance” to the side, that makes it difficult for tactically rigid team to adapt.

They say they play with a back-four, but contrast the marauding runs of Sorin with the almost stationary Burdisso and what you get in effect is a 3 man defence and a midfield that is left-biased. Riquelme, Sorin and Rodriguez seldom wander to the right. Teams should exploit their right, as most of the time Burdisso is left without a cover. This would be easier if it weren’t for the fact that Saviola is tenacious in hounding the defenders into making mistakes, leaving them with no time to play the ball down the left. It would be interesting to watch the right side of Argentina cope with Arjen Robben’s more direct style.

Malaysians have this problem of concentrating only on the strikers. I kind of wish they would be a bit more aware of other key areas on the pitch. Even if you were to applaud strikers, I think harping praise on Messi is a bit too much. He came on against a demoralized, tired 10-man defensive unit that has been shredded to pieces. Messi is an exciting talent, but special praise should go to Javier Mascherano, the Argentina Makelele who exhibited great discipline in staying back and not wanting to get on the scoresheet, thus allowing others to weave their magic. The fact that Argentina had FIVE different scorers just shows how talented they are as a team.

Netherlands 2 – 1 Ivory Coast
The Cote D’Ivore again proved that they are one of the better teams in this tournament. They have played against two of the top teams in this world and have proven to be tough to crack and strong in attack as well. They are quick on the break and possess impressive stamina. It is just unfortunate that they are less decisive in finishing off opponents, as their approach play deserve better.

I have always said that Holland is the new Germany. They rely on quick counter-attacks, but most importantly, they are a tough nut to crack. I believe that their back-line is one of the best in this tournament, but Phillip Cocu is a bit too old to marshal the midfield. In fact the central 3 midfielders for Holland is the weakest link in this team, with Van Bommel most often committing unnecessary fouls.

Perhaps Van Der Vaart’s increasing fitness would make Holland more fluent in attack. They are a bit too dependent on the wingers, who so far have carried the team in two games - Robben against Serbia and Van Persie against the Ivory Coast. Closing these two won’t be easy, but possible because the midfield trio is slow to move forward and support the three forwards. This allows for opposing team to double-mark the two wingers.

Mexico 0 – 0 Angola
I wondered how I managed to stay awake watching this game. It lacked direction, with both teams seemingly unable to control the midfield. However, special praise must be given to Angola who again proved what a tough team they are to beat. Their midfield is one of the physically strongest ones in this tournament, as they can run and run without losing steam.

The Mexicans cannot counter this hard-tackling, hard-running display by the Angolans. When they do, they would find one of the unsung stars in this tournament, the Angolan goalkeeper. He is strong in the air, good at shot-stopping, acrobatic as hell…maybe a bit too eccentric to last in a top league, but in knock-out tournaments he would be great.

Angola keep their impossible dream alive of qualifying to the next round with this precious one point. If Mexico lose in the final game, and Angola win big (by 3 goals) against the Iranians, there is every likelihood that Angola would qualify.

Portugal 2 – 0 Iran
Portugal was a bit too cautious in the opening minutes. I have not been impressed with Pauleta in the opening two games for Portugal. He seems anonymous for most part of the two matches, though he did score in the first. I like the shape that Portugal adopts, with Figo and Ronaldo changing flanks at will while Deco holds the attacking impetus to unlock the defense.

But in the first half, they were stifled by a strong Iranian midfield. I believe that the Iranians have one of the most technically gifted midfield in this tournament. Their first touch is superb, passes sublime…it is just unfortunate that they lack the necessary tactical intelligence to fully utilize their undeniable natural abilities. They rush the pass too often, and were unwilling to attack crosses. Carvalho and Meira are not the strongest partnership I have seen so far.

A wonderful strike by Deco unlocked the Iranians, and you can see how that goal lifted the whole Portugal side as they started to show some flair in attack. I was particularly impressed with the Portuguese right-back who showed himself as a willing runner.

Czech 0 – 2 Ghana
My friends and I truly enjoyed this game as Ghana totally outclassed the Czechs. I did say that the Czechs are over-rated, and this was evident as Ghana outmuscled the Czech midfield. Poborsky, Nedved and Rosicky are the attacking fulcrum to this side, but they are not the most physically imposing players. Essien and Appiah totally dominated the middle, and if it wasn’t for some dismal finishing by Cyan in attack, they would have scored even more.

But perhaps I was being harsh on the Czechs. We must remember that they are playing WITHOUT two of their top strikers, Koller and Baros. It is like Brazil playing without Ronaldo…but they are doing that now anyway. It is like Holland without Van Nistelrooy and Robben, England without Rooney and Crouch (hahaha)…this is apparent as they could not impose themselves in attack with the two forwards losing the ball way too often.

Ghana would do well to qualify ahead of the Czechs if they manage to beat the US...

Italy 1 – 1 U.States
I told you that this is actually the toughest group to see who would qualify. All the teams are dependent on their third game. This game showed that the US is no pushover. In fact, they were probably unlucky to be down to 9 men after another inconsistent showing by a referee in this World Cup. Italy also had to play with 10 men. 3 red cards, and yet the game was never ugly with both sides showing great sportsmanship.

Italy would be disappointed with conceding an own goal, but the U.S earned their one precious point. They were tenacious in defense, not allowing the Italians to dominate the air. Onegwyu had a great game at the back, while Reyna finally showed how under-rated he is. Perhaps after the dismal performance against the Czechs, the US had to respond to the mauling from the press.

I knew that Landon Donovan would shine, and shine he did. He virtually ran the U.S attack by himself, making intelligent runs and showing excellent technique to keep the ball away from the famed Italian attackers. I applaud Claudia Reyna for bringing in fresh faces for this game, as Dempsey ran his socks off and were a menace to the Italians.

I don’t know why, but I really like Italy, Ghana and U.S. I think they have been quite entertaining and they would certainly add to the value of the tournament if they proceed. Right now, only Italy have their right foot in the next round, needing a draw from their last game against the Czechs.

Japan 0 – 0 Croatia
Croatia has flattered to deceive. They are strong defensively, with the two Kovacs putting in tremendous amount of workload. I am impressed with Niko Kranjcar who repeatedly managed to string together passes in the middle of the park to keep the pace up. However, they lack the killer instinct, with the strikers missing chances including a penalty (though Kawaguchi did well to parry it away).

Japan again showed that they are definitely skillful, and technically capable. They can mix it up with the best, and they have the defenders who can handle physical European strikers. But they seemed to lack the stamina, thus I have to question Zico’s preparation of the team. While the Koreans seem to run like the Eveready battery, the Japanese just cannot run for the final 15 minutes. They were hanging on at the end, and their forwards were struggling to even control the ball.

Japan must buck up to salvage this campaign. They must believe in themselves. Nakata and Nakamura are playing better than Emerson and Ze Roberto, so they must take that game by the scruff of its neck.

Brazil 2 – 0 Australia
The whole problem with Brazil is that there seems to be a lack of proper tactics when it comes to their attacking play. The four forwards are allowed to run around, carrying the ball, looking for the killer pass. This is unfortunate as you cannot have that many playmakers running around. There is no discipline in their attack. I would have preferred a “measured chaos” approach.

The forwards are allowed to do what they want, but within the confines of their assigned space. Ronaldinho on the left, Kaka on the right, with Ze Roberto being the link man. The Brazilians are too cautious despite playing 4 forwards. Why? Because the two midfield anchors refuse to attack!

Australia is strong, technically gifted. They just lack the quality in key areas. They are in a good position to qualify.



2nd Round of Matches - Group A & B

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Written on 6/17/2006 04:13:00 am by sikapitan

Germany 1 – 0 Poland
Germany became the first team to qualify to the second round after beating a Polish side still demoralized by a surprise defeat to the Ecuadorians. The return of Ballack to the side eased the attacking responsibility of Frings, thus making sure that the German backline was not as exposed as they were against the Costa Ricans. Unfortunately, this also caused the German team to lose their attacking verve so evident in the opening game.

It appears that the team was wary of irking Captain Ballack, as they were not brave enough to attack without going through Ballack. This slowed the pace down considerably, though Germany was always in control of the game. In fact, if Podolski and Klose were a bit sharper in front of goal, Germany could have won comfortably. At the other end, Germany’s defense looked better, but Friedrich is still easily beaten and most often out of position.

The introduction of Odonkor on the right wing gave the German something they were lacking – true pace down the flanks. The man noted for his 10.9 second 100m dash was a constant menace, though his dribbling skills left much to be desired. It was his cross after another lung busting run down the right which cut through the Polish impressive backline and reached the lunging feet of Oli Neuville, another Klinsmann substitute.

Germany would have been confident of taking the lead of Group A, if it weren’t for the impressive Ecuadorians…

Ecuador 3 – 0 Costa Rica
I was one of those who dismissed Ecuador as a nation who benefited from their less than friendly local environment to qualify to the World Cup. But if I was suitably impressed with their performance against Poland, at the end of this game I was a convert to the Ecuadorian cause.

What impressed me was not the scoreline, but the manner it was obtained. The Ecuadorians simply outran the Costa Ricans, showing great physical strength and stamina along the way. It could all have been a lot different if the Costa Ricans showed a bit more bite in attack. Ecuador has, in Tenorio and Delgado, two of the more exciting, threatening and on-form partnership in the tournament so far. I see them as two Drogbas, but with a bit more modesty and honesty in their play.

Kavides, who came on for Tenorio in the second half, had a good game as he broke through the defense countless times showing that the Ecuadorians do have strength in depth. I was suitably impressed with the No.8, Edison Mendez, whose combination with De la Cruz tormented the Costa Ricans left side.It was Mendez pinpoint cross that was converted by Kavides. It was a great goal, but I was not too suitably impressed with anyone who could celebrate wearing something that he kept in his shorts for 45 minutes!

England 2 – 0 Trinidad & Tobago
I somehow wished that England wouldn’t score, but then they scored two. It is not like I no longer support England, but it frustrates me that their tactical deficiencies are being glossed over by undeserved wins. I understand if they struggled in their first game, but by the second game, against perhaps the easiest team in this group, they were still lackluster and tactically inept.

Unlike most people, I do believe that the both Gerrard and Lampard can play together in midfield. But I think Sven has not utilized their talent to adapt to the more tactical international game. It was too easy for T&T as they packed up their defense with 11 men. England stuck to their long diagonal balls played down the flanks, and this T&T dealt with by simply not pushing their fullbacks forward. This resulted in both Lampard and Gerrard pumping balls to no one in particular.

I believed that England would play better if they were more patient in building up possession. Push the backline slowly and work the triangles in the middle of the park. Instead, the midfielders prefer staying in their own half and using the long passes to open up the defense. This would have been great if Crouch is not such a clumsy header of the ball. For a man that tall, he is not the most fearsome striker in this tournament so far simply because he is not strong enough.

The game changed considerably with the introduction of, not Rooney, but Aaron Lennon. It is not difficult to see why, as by being a bit more willing to take on the fullback, Lennon allowed Beckham more room to operate and deliver his crosses. Not only that, the tactics were also changed to a more appropriate 3 man backline and short passing game that allowed England to control possession better.

I think that this English squad could have been, and should have been stronger, if Sven was a bit wiser in choosing his squad. Downing is there simply because McLaren’s loves him, because he is not in any form to be in any World Cup squad. I would have preferred bringing someone like Kieran Richardson and why Hargreaves when you have players like Scott Parker? The most woeful decision was to bring along Walcott, especially since it appears that Sven himself is not willing to let him play. Why bring a player whom you don’t feel confident could turn around a game? Before I forget, could anyone remind Rio that he is not the FREAKING playmaker!!!

Sweden 1 – 0 Paraguay
What if Sweden had Nelson Valdez in their squad instead of Zlatan or Allback? This game simply highlighted that Paraguay would have been worse if it weren’t for the pocket dynamite who is plying his trade in Werder Bremen. He was their only threat, though I was impressed with Acuna, who tried valiantly and succeeding most of the time in stopping the less than effective Swedish midfeld.

Sweden, on their part, contributed to the dour game by not being adventurous enough in attack. Only Ljungberg showed his true worth, while the rest content with passing the ball around without purpose. Kallstrom had a mixed game as he showed a lot of flair and willingness to attack, but often made one too many mistakes in giving up possession.

I am amazed at how boring the games from Group B were. England v. Paraguay, Sweden v. Trinidad, England v. Trinidad, and Sweden v. Paraguay would not leave any fond memories in my mind. In a tournament filled with great goals, Group B contributed a total of FOUR GOALS coming from only TWO teams. One was an own goal, while the only truly good one was Gerrard’s last minute curling shot against T&T. They should have named this group Group Zzzz…



...

First Round of Matches...

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Written on 6/15/2006 05:23:00 pm by sikapitan

Germany 4 – 2 Costa Rica
The opening game and certainly one of the more entertaining one. Germany showed amazing attacking verve and flair with Bastian Schweinsteger and Philip Lahm one of the few who impressed for Germany. But they were severely exposed at the back, with the high defensive line adopted by Germany after their first goal being exposed twice by Paulo Wanchope.

Perhaps the Germans were more carefree without Ballack controlling everything in midfield. This allowed all the midfielders to have a free run at being a playmaker, attacker and defender though at a cost of defensive solidity. Costa Rica had 3 shots on goal, with two finding the net. They didn’t control possession and were, in actual fact, fortunate to score both goals.

I would love to see the Germans continue the tournament in this attacking spirit, something that Germany was never really famous for. Solid efficiency? More like suicidal flair…

Poland 0 – 2 Ecuador
Poland was strong defensively in the first 20 minutes, with Ecuador making the early runs. However, they were unlocked by a flick from Southampton player Delgado to Tenario who scored from close range. I was particularly impressed with the combination of both strikers who troubled the not-so-shabby Polish defence.

After the first goal, it appears that Poland lost the plot, especially in midfield as the physically imposing South American took charge. Ecuador was creative in attack with both full backs getting a free run against their opposite number. Ecuador was not that impressive at the back though, and I am waiting for the game against Germany to see how they adapt to a more polished, structured attack but by that time Germany would probably field a weak team.

England 1 – 0 Paraguay
England got off to a good start when Beckham’s wicked free kick went in off Gamarra’s head for an own goal. After that, they overran the Paraguayans midfield with Lampard and Joe Cole being particularly impressive. However, after 20 minutes, the pace considerably slowed and England could not maintain possession.

I am still perplexed as to why the English like to pump the ball down the flanks for either strikers to chase. In midfield they have a collection of individuals who have proven at club level they could pass the ball around. I believe that if England stick to a short, triangle-based game they would look better and perhaps bring out the best from Michael Owen who had a terrible game. This would also allow Lampard and Gerrard to play those great through balls.

Paraguay was quite impressive, especially Nelson Valdez, the star from Werder Bremen. If they had more of a killer touch, England could have been embarrassed.

Sweden 0 – 0 Trinidad & Tobago
Sweden has serious troubles, though I have to say they were unfortunate not to score. Shaka Hislop were the stumbling block against Zlatan and Larsson, but it would be wrong to say Sweden should have won the game. They were uninspired in midfield and tactically stiff against a surprisingly fiery Trinidad frontline.

Trinidad played with one lone striker, and yet the two fullbacks for Sweden were never adventurous enough to attack. This resulted in one absurd situation where the ball arrived at the feet of a Trinidad player in Sweden’s half and there were FOUR Swedish defenders! The sad thing was that only one was close enough to the striker to do anything while the rest just jogged down guarding the grass perhaps.

Trinidad won’t qualify to the next round, but they have shown that they’re no pushovers. Yorke impressed in a new role as the midfield dynamo where his lack of pace did not really matter.

Argentina 2 – 1 Ivory Coast
Argentina faced a difficult African team who qualified impressively and recently finished second in the African Nations Cup. This was evident in the first half where the Africans ran their lungs out, closing down the Argentinians. In fact, on the balance of play the Africans did not deserve to go down by two goals in the first half.

I was particularly impressed with Saviola as he proved to be the tormentor with clever off the ball running and accurate passing. I was not as impressed with Nicolas Burdisso, the right side defender of Argentina’s three-man defense. Luckily they have Heinze and Ayala, who despite obvious height disadvantage, did not leave any space for Drogba to exploit.

Truth be told, the Argentinians never looked in danger of losing, as they showed that this team is built around possession football rather than South American more favored direct attacking approach. But the Ivory Coast will prove to formidable opponent to whichever team they faced. It is just unfortunate they are stuck in this group.

Serbia 0 – 1 Netherlands
Critics would say they only won by one goal, but the truth was that Serbia never really threatened Van Der Sar, nor did they hold the ball as long as they should. Holland was impressive in controlling the midfield, though in truth they lack the necessary creative spark that a player like Van Der Vaart could bring in midfield.

Arjen Robben grabbed all the headlines as the star of the show, and I was impressed but I prefer to look at the contribution of Bouhlarouz who came as a replacement for Mathijsen in the second half. The Serbians was just beginning to attack with verve only to find this Stam-like colossus holding firm. It is believed that he would start in Holland’s next game against the Ivory Coast.

I was so disappointed with Serbia’s attacking line, because I expected more from the experienced Milosevic and explosive Kezman. They didn’t control the ball, and that proved to be the difference.

Mexico 3 – 1 Iran
This was surprisingly an interesting game. Iran was more than a match for the Mexicans in the first half, with Oswaldo Sanchez being the busier of the two keepers. The Iranians seems to have a problem defending set-pieces, but their midfield quartet was beautiful to watch. Skillful on the ball, they were unfortunate to go into the break level.

But I applaud the Mexican coach for making the necessary personnel and tactical changes at the beginning of the second half. They adopted a more fluent 4-4-2 attacking formation and this proved to be too much for the Iranians who lost the ball more often than they should.

I like Borgetti, but I think his injury proved to be the catalyst of Mexico’s success as the Mexicans then flowed with a different close passing game instead of lumping the ball into the box.

Angola 0 -1 Portugal
I was so disappointed with Portugal’s display against the debutants. Angola had no one who played in the top level of football, and in the opening 10 minutes this was truly evident. I thought that there would be a drubbing when Pauleta pounced as early as the 4th minute but I was so wrong.

In truth, the Portuguese huff and puffed without really excelling, but nor were they ever threatened. As I expected, the only bright spark was Christiano Ronaldo, before he was substituted. Figo was also impressive, against a very slow and immobile Angolan defence. Not impressed with Simao, who wasted one too many balls.

United States 0 – 3 Czech Republic
This was as one sided as they go. The Czechs were good, no doubt, but they were helped by an inept US display. The Czechs allowed the US midfield to control the ball as long as they want because they knew nothing would come out of it. I was bitterly disappointed that the midfield gave the ball away too much in the final third, with Eddie Pope and Claudio Reyna guilty of some glaring miss passes.

In contrast, the Czechs made every second of the possession count with Rosicky and Nedved particularly impressive. While the US preferred to stroke the ball in the middle of the park the Czechs made fast attacking runs down the channel to catch the US high line of defense off-guard. Rosicky was the man of the match with a solid display of midfield supreme, capped off with two sublime goals and one shot rattling the cross-bar. I just hate the fact that he is Arsenal’s, and for only 5 million pound!!!

Italy 2 – 0 Ghana
Ghana was tipped by many as the African team that would do well in this tournament, but with their strikers seemingly short of quality, the task to qualify to the next round would be challenging. Ghana had some wonderful moments in possession, with Appiah and Essien particularly impressive, but they came up short in the third half of the field.

Italy is no longer the boring defensive team of old. They were willing to attack when needed, and if they were a bit sharper in front of goal then the scoreline would be more reflective of their effort. The midfield trio of Pirlo, De Rossi and Perrotta was superb on that night. Defensively, the look tight and didn’t allow the Ghanaians space. Italy will qualify.

Australia 3 – 1 Japan
Japan was impressive in the first half. I liked the way they controlled possession, and the midfielders were more than a match against the physically imposing Australians. Australia, in truth, was pathetic in the first half. Harry Kewell was clearly feeling the heat, and was largely disappointing throughout the game.

Unfortunately, for Japan, they were indecisive in attack. There were situations where the Japanese could have scored or were in great attacking position but lacked the killer instinct. They paid the price in the final 10 minutes when their midfield can no longer carry the whole team. Tim Cahill exploited this by arriving late, unmarked, from midfield to score two goals. The final goal by John Aloisi probably was a bit unfair to the Japanese, who now must regroup for their next match against Croatia. They have failed to win their one must-win game, so their chance to qualify is next to impossible.

South Korea 2 – 1 Togo
Togo surprised me with their endeavor and their physical presence. It appears to be the theme for African teams this year. A lot of hard running, impressive skills, but lacking the tactical ability to adapt. Togo paid the price when they did not adapt to the arrival of Ahn Jung Hwan in place of a defender and the resulting tactical reshuffle.

Truth be told, South Korea did not impress as much as they should, considering their experience. Their midfield, especially Park Ji-Sung, ran around a lot, like little ants chasing pieces of bagel, but did not penetrate the defense of Togo. In fact, the only reasoned they managed to score from a free kick was the slow response of the cumbersome Togo keeper.

France 0 – 0 Switzerland
Like I have predicted, the Swiss would be no pushovers. Judging by their performance against the Les Bleus, they would most likely take maximum points against Togo and perhaps the Koreans. They were strong in defense and midfield, with Degen and Muller impressing in defence.

However, this was against a French team lacking cohesion and most importantly, the finishing touch. Henry had a terrible game in attack. His first touches were awful and there was no penetration from the wings as is usual with him at Arsenal. I was also unimpressed with Vieira, who did not grab the game by its neck in his central midfield role. Instead, with 10 minutes remaining, the French were still busy passing the ball around in the middle of the park with only 2 players in the penalty box! On the plus side was Zidane’s passionate and artful control in the midfield, instead of the over-hyped Ribery who probably was trying too hard.

Brazil 1 – 0 Croatia
Brazil won with 10 men. Ronaldo was missing for most of the time. In fact, he appeared to enjoy strolling around without purpose. Luckily for Brazil they had the impressive Lucio at the back, as he was the heart in the centre of defense. Only a beautiful curling shot by Kaka made the difference against a well-organised, strong-willed and dedicated Croatian team.

Dado Prso was a constant menace. Unfortunately, this he did outside the penalty area especially in the left side where he ran his socks off to no avail. Niko Kranjcar was impressive in the centre of the back, giving Emerson a run for his money. Croatia would definitely compete for the second spot in this group if they keep up with this performance.

Spain 4 – 0 Ukraine
Wow…what can I say? On a day where most would expect Spain to be overwhelmed as usual, and Ukraine to finally show the world what they’ve been missing all this years, it was the complete opposite! It was finally the day when the world at large can see a Spanish performance befitting their great players. The Ukrainian were overwhelmed and like I say, if you mark Shevchenko properly, the whole team would not function.

Most importantly, it wasn’t a complete walk-out like the Czechs had against USA. The Ukrainians gave a good fight in midfield and defence. But against a strong resolute Spanish armada anchored by Marco Senna and the ever exuberant Xavi Hernandez, they were simply outrun, outpassed and outwitted. Puyol was a rock in the centre of defence, capping a fine evening by setting up Torres for Spain’s fourth goal. Is this the year where the Spanish bull would come out and play?

Tunisia 2 – 2 Saudi Arabia
One of the most entertaining games of the first round was conjured not by the big names, but two of the lesser teams in this competition. That was not the case in the first half as the two teams labored under the cautious approach of their respective managers. I don’t know why, but in the second half Tunisia simply capitulated despite holding a lead in the first.

Saudi, on their part, fought gallantly with their right back pumping balls down the channel that the Tunisian left-back failed to deal with time and time again. They soon equalized after one such ball opened up the defence and then took the lead from a quick, skillful counter attack. They thought they had their 3 points under wrap, but unfortunately, Raidi Jaidi had another idea when he rose to head the ball in the dying minutes of extra time.

...

The Time Has Come...

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Written on 6/10/2006 07:06:00 pm by sikapitan

I could have started with the over-used “once every four years…” but I won’t simply because you would know I was talking about the World Cup. It has reached a stage where even a 70-year-old grandma would have an inkling that the World Cup is on the way. At this very moment, Poland v. Ecuador is showing live on Astro. I watched the highly entertaining Germany v. Costa Rica match with my fellow “pundits” at the obligatory mamak. It was great to be out there, with a bunch of guys who share the same passion for the beautiful game.

The fact that I’m in the midst of my semester break, and the European timing not that dissimilar to English Premier League matches make this THE World Cup for me. Think about it, by the time the next World Cup in South Africa comes around, I would be working. Unless it’s my god-damn company or the boss has some weird idea about productivity, I doubt I would be able to catch the entire tournament as I could AND would this year.

Let’s not waste any time now, and start with some early predictions (and hopefully, a light-hearted one).

Group A
I wasn’t surprised at all when Germany was drawn in this group, one of the relatively easier ones. Like France in ’98, it appears that the European Union has been more effective in getting favorable draws for their members than actually running a “Euro-republic”.

If Germany don’t qualify, expect to see some defects in your BMW or Mercedes as German workers might finally give up at the ineptitude of the German government who can’t even get a football team right. It’s amazing how far they’ve fallen from their football throne, and also their economic might. Perhaps they need the Klinsmann approach to their economy – go Americana!

The second spot is a bit tougher to choose. Most would go for Poland, simply because they’re European based. Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Ecuadorians doing well as they seem to have adjusted to the lower altitude in Germany. I guess this whole “altitude” stigma was stuck as the Ecuadorians seem impenetrable at their home 4,000 meters above sea-level. But I think the European summer weather is not dissimilar to the Latin mountains, so they could have adjusted better than most expected.

Group B
I hate to say I’m an England supporter simply because there’s too many of them in Malaysia, and people usually equate us as being EPL lovers who only support England because we only know English-men. I’m sure that is true for some, and I do admit the EPL has somehow imparted a very “English” frame of mind in analyzing football. However, this year, I truly believe the English squad has the necessary personnel to at least go to the quarter finals, where they would either meet Holland or Argentina.

What I hate most about supporting England is the whole hype surrounding the team. It seems like every teen-wonder is the saviour from God, and the average centre-back being made like a colossus. I’ll take Vidic anytime over Rio Ferdinand, or Schwen-susah-nak-eja over Theo “Who?” Walcott. Nobody knows who Bastian Susah-nak-Eja is, or for whom Nemanja Vidic is playing for BUT everybody knows Theo Walcott plays for Arsenal and Rio missed a damn drug test. England are good, but way over-hyped.

Sweden will be second in this group, unless Paraguay springs some nasty surprise. I would not be surprised that the second placed teams would be sorted out through goal difference. Trinidad & Tobacco…sorry, Tobago…are here to chill out and enjoy themselves.

Group C
This truly is the Group of Death. Most Malaysians will probably underestimate Ivory Coast and Serbia but trust me when I tell you, there could be a surprise coming from this group. The two leading nations, Argentina and Netherlands will cancel each other out and then it’s up to the two remaining matches against teams which are made to be physical.

I believe that Serbia and Montenegro could upset either one of the big names. But realistically speaking, Holland and Argentina head into this World Cup as the outside favorites thus there’s every reason to expect them to qualify. In Pekerman, Argentina has a manager who is experienced in such competitions, albeit for a different age group. However, it is extremely important to have a manager who is used to such tournament and in Pekerman they have a tactically adaptable coach who has turned Argentina into a more fluid, attacking team harking back to the days of Maradona. Unfortunately, they have not been impressive in friendlies against European teams in Europe.

Which I why I would go for Holland as the group leader. They have a young, exuberant coach, Van Basten, who makes up for his inexperience by being tactically astute and strong in will. Holland has one of the youngest, least experience squad heading to Germany, but their qualifying campaign in a very strong group suggest that Van Basten couldn’t care less who played, as long as they play his way. The Ajax system of the diamond 4-3-3 is favored, though there is more emphasis in protecting the back line than pouring forward. Total football needs team work rather than individual brilliance, which the Dutch appears to be lacking, what with injury to the stylish playmaker Van Der Vaart, but they will do well in this group.

Group D
Mexico, not Portugal, is the seeded team in this group, which I believe, would suit Portugal well. There appears to be a common belief that the Portuguese are good enough to trash the minnows, but not good enough against the big boys. I beg to disagree. The Portugal squad is the dark horse in this tournament, more likely to do well than the over-rated Czechs. Most importantly, the have Big Phil Scolari as their manager. It can never be underestimated the worth of having someone with experience leading the team.

I like the fluid 4-2-3-1 formation favored by Scolari. Particularly keen to impress this tournament would be Christiano Ronaldo. Though his club form has been somewhat patchy, Ronaldo appears to be at ease with Scolari’s system which seems to bring out the best in him.

Mexico will do well in this group, with the most likely competition coming from Iran, and even then not a strong one. I have a problem with this group because simply both Mexico and Portugal would qualify, at the expense of bigger names pooled in tougher groups like Group C or Group E.

Group E
People say that Group C is the Group of Death, but I find it hardest to predict the qualifiers from Group E. Old favorite Italy is under-rated at this tournament, and yet I believe the pessimism surrounding the team is understandable considering the lack of big name stars in the line-up and the decline of Italian football in general.

However, Lippi has done well in moulding a proper team, rather than a collection of egocentric individuals. Gilardino and Luca Toni are not household names, but by the end of the tournament I believe they will be the new Vieri and Inzaghi. The most problematic aspect of this Italian team, unbelievably, is the lack of world-class cover for the pairing of Nesta and Cannavaro.

The problem for them is the fact that the rest of the group consist of teams who play differing styles and play them effectively. The United States play a fast running game, full of physically fit and well-conditioned players. They are the up and coming team in World Football.

The Czechs are over-rated in my opinion. It’s not that they’re bad, far from it. Nevertheless, to say they are one of the outsiders for the Cup is a bit far-fetched. Their moment of glory was in the Euro 2004 Qualifying Rounds where they notched up impressive wins to top their group.

My bet to be this year’s Senegal would be Ghana. Physically strong and imposing, Ghana now possess some fine names which would undeniably warrant more attention from the general public. They would fight for the second spot, with probably goal difference separating them.

Group F
There is a reason why everyone thinks Brazil is the firm favorite to be World Champion again. Unlike other contenders, the majority of the players in their first 11 can arguably be said to be the BEST in their position. Emerson, Kaka, Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Cafu, Lucio, Ze Roberto, Dida and even old Roberto Carlos would arguably walk into most side in their respective position. Genuinely world class in every sense of the word, it would surprise me if they didn’t get maximum points from this group.


Choosing the second team would be a harder test. My heart says Japan, but they lacked the teamwork in play like they did in 2002. This is probably because they now believe they have the players who can dictate the game without using the traditional minnows tactics of running their socks off and all-out pressing. It would be foolhardy to discount the Japanese, but the face stiff opposition, not from Croatia but from Australia.

Australia’s strength is not their players, as often believed, but their tactical guru Guus Hiddink. He has harnessed a squad that has experienced playing a South American powerhouse (Uruguay) and defeating them. Tactically, the Aussies have capable players who are adaptable, but they lack the fluency that is often the hallmark of Hiddink’s teams. This they compensate by being brutally physical, but their lack of class in defence would prove to be their undoing.

Group G
People write off France because of their lackluster campaign to World Cup and their ageing stars but they have failed to realize, like Portugal, the draw has been favorable to the Les Bleus. Drawn in a group which contains Togo, South Korea and Switzerland, it would be a surprise if they did not finish first. It’s often been said that their trump card is Frank Ribery, but I wouldn’t put it past Thierry Henry to exercise the demons which haunts his play in the national team. If Henry can play like he did with Arsenal, then Zidane’s lackluster display would be irrelevant.

Second place would go to either South Korea or Switzerland. Unfortunately for Asia, I predict that Korea would struggle, especially against the very impressive and physically imposing Switzerland. The Swiss plays with a quiet efficiency that tends to make others take them lightly. They have no big name stars, with the most famous player being Senderos! Just like their banks, watches and cheese, the Swiss will do things quietly but effectively.

Group H
This has got to be the weakest group in this whole tournament. I would even say that if Sweden were in this group, they would come out tops. The only big-name team in this group is Spain, and we all know how they choke when it comes to big tournaments. They have failed to impress me in qualifying, with Aragones seemingly unable to harness the young talents available to work as a unit. Everyone would love to see Fabregas play, but Aragones would most likely stick to Xavi and Alonso. Torres is over-rated, while Raul is struggling to find his form. Nevertheless, it would be a huge upset if they’re not first.

There is of course the possibility that they would not even qualify to the next round, as this group also contains Ukraine and Tunisia. Tunisia??? Yes, Tunisia. Unlike their previous appearance where they were drawn in tougher groups, this time around Tunisia has as much of chance to qualify to the next round as Ukraine. Ukraine rely too much on Andriy Shevchenko, but if teams mark-out Sheva, then the whole set-play would crumble.


Players to watch
Bastian Susah-nak-eja (Germany), Lukas Podolski (Germany), Luca Toni (Italy), Joe Cole (England), Riquelme (Argentina), Kaka (Brazil), Nakamura (Japan), Landon Donovan (USA), Beasley (USA), Essien (Ghana), Rosicky (Czech), C. Ronaldo (Portugal), Sneijder (Holland), and of course Ronaldinho (Brazil).

Kuala Lumpur International Motorshow (KLIMS) 2006

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Written on 6/03/2006 01:13:00 am by sikapitan

I remembered my first time to a proper Motorshow, the very first Kuala Lumpur International Motorshow. In fact I remembered going to that particular event TWICE, simply because I was awestruck by the goddesses manning the manufacturers’ stand and booths. I was a bit daft when it comes to car, but being a red-blooded teenager facing a bunch of skimpily dressed beauties, it does not really matter.


Fast forward to 2006, and I am no longer that na├»ve young man gawking at the Yokohama girls. Confident, educated, and a whole lot more experience with girls left me with the distinct impression that I wasn’t going to pay any attention to the bevy of beauties on show. The fact that I am now one of those who has not missed a single issue of Autocar Asean since its launch in Malaysia a few years ago made me even more confident that I was going to thoroughly enjoy the event for the right reasons.Armed with a pretty impressive looking Olympus E-500, I head out to PWTC with my best friend, Dhan.

It wasn’t long before I was pissed with something (as regular readers might have noticed). I can’t find a proper parking space that does not cost a low-wage earner weekly income! Anyway, I was quite simply delighted to discover that my University ID can be handy when it comes to the issue of discounts. At RM5 only, I felt that it was a bargain.

The first thing I noticed was the number of people there. This must have helped MAA in its bid to make KLIMS the premier motorshow event in ASEAN in the coming years, rivaling that of Thailand.

The 1st thing that greeted us...

I was bitterly disappointed with Proton for making their stand such a non-event, from the use of lackluster props and, forgive me for being a tad rude, not-so-pretty girls. It should not have been such a big factor, if it wasn’t for the fact that the product on display wasn’t that impressive either. It was dull and unexciting, with the exception of the Lotus APX concept car.

Looks like a car with weird personality disorder
Is it an MPV?Supermini?Hatchback?Sedan?

The rest of Hall 1 was not that impressive either. I was impressed with the funky looking yellow Swift Sport. I like the Cowboy theme used by Modenas. As for the rest, well…let’s just say that Trucks and Buses don’t really set my heart on fire.

Yellow Fever...
Swift Sport

Midnight Cowboy...
Modenas
Hall 2 was much better, and livelier. This is probably helped by the fact that as soon as you entered it you are greeted to a very mean looking Renault Kangoo. I never thought that an ugly car like Kangoo can look appealing, but after seeing this jacked-up version, I want one! Renault was inventive in its approach, and there’s one Kangoo dressed up like a 70’s hippies van. The girls are even decked out in flower-motif dresses. Talk about psychedelic!

Mean machine
Renault Kangoo

Hyundai gave us, well, Hyundai. However, I must say that I am mightily impressed by the new Santa Fe and its bold lines. Not so impressive is the interior of the NF, Azera and its ilk. Looks good on the outside, but left wanting inside. The girls could learn to be a little bit more cheerful, IMHO.

Nissan was very businesslike in its approach, the girls in drab suits. There’s a weird circus act in its presentation where there are guys busy bending their body around each other. Though I think the presentation sucks (too drab, too serious), I was delighted to see a proper concept car in the shape of the Nissan Sports Concept. I was again flabbergasted at the sight of the 350Z Fairlady (Dream car 1).

Nissan Sport Concept looks great...

The In-Car-Entertainment section also gave us a pleasant time with some seriously loud speakers and gorgeous girls. Particularly impressive were the Yokohama girls (AGAIN!). More on the girls later… The Brabus set-up was quite impressive in concept and execution. You really felt that you are special when you’re in their zone. Naza, riding high on its recent two launches, showcased the sports concept version of the Sutera and Bestari. Looks great, though I can’t understand why car manufacturers would want to drab their concept car in black. It should stand out!

Hall 3 was even more impressive as here we find the Peugeot stand where the sweet-looking (though badly reviewed) 407 Coupe makes its Malaysian debut. Whether it’ll be on sale is unclear, but the 307 Cc definitely is. Perodua took a much bigger space this time around, though I personally think it was wasted on cars that you can find on any clear day at those Sunway workshops.

Mitsubishi didn’t offer anything much for petrol heads, though their girls are perky, amicable and camera-friendly. Mazda, with its Zoom-zoom motto, showcased their entire passenger car range, with the superb MX-5 (dream car 2) on display and the beautiful concept Cx-7, which looks ready for production anyway.


The Volvo stand attracted a huge audience for two reasons. (1) They had great looking cars (2) They had good looking girls. Plus, the whole stand was well thought out. The C70, which is due to make its debut later this year in Malaysia, was well-received though the pictures doesn’t really show how big this car is. Not for teenagers then. Perhaps the C30 can settle that conundrum. Also on display was the 3CC concept car.


Toyota showcased a few concepts but none impressed me. It looked too ultra-futuristic. The Toyoto supermini, Yaris, is on sale right now, but at the price it’s being offered I think a Suzuki Swift would be a better answer.

Toyota cars were boring...but who cares?

I like Ford’s 4Trac concept, with its imposing front grill and muscular bodyline. Also on display was the Ford Focus ST, in quite simply stunning orange paint, though sadly this won’t be on sale in Malaysia.

You don't want to see this in your rear view mirror...

There was Honda at the next hall. In fact, the whole hall was split evenly between Honda and Mercedes-Benz. Honda featured two great-looking concept car, the boring-sounding Sports 4 concept and the FCX concept. However, I was more impressed with the Modulo-kitted new Civic (dream car 3). Unfortunately, there was no sight of the now-famous yellow Civic Type-R recently launched by Jenson Button.
Honda Sports4 Concept...sounds boring, looks anything but


Want to see the rest? Click here

Mercedez-Benz had its usual range of cars, and not so unusual in the shape of the McLaren SLR (NOT the greatest car in the world, but damn it looks sexy).

The surprising thing for me was that the most awe-inspiring display of sexy motoring was given not in one of the main halls but in a small hall wholly controlled by NazaWorld. On display was a collection of the most desirable sports cars out there, and one not marked by the term “Concept”. I don’t care if there are no models hanging around. The sight of red Enzo, black M6 and M5 (dream car 4), 997 Carrera, Carrera GT, Lambo Gallardo (dream car 5) and Pagani Zonda is enough to cover my entrance fee.

You don't see this in Hartamas, do you?
Pagani Zonda

GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS

I would have thought I would have outgrown it, but there’s something about these girls that fascinates us men. The combination of muscular looking cars and demure looking ladies are a sight to behold. However, I must say that I am possibly bored of the generic looking skimpily dressed fair girls manning the stand. I can’t differentiate the girls from Bridgestone to the one from Honda. Perhaps that’s why I was a bit giddy at the Perodua stand because, well, they were the only Malay girls there.

Though I admire them, I do respect them. This aspect seems to be lost to some of the guests, who talked and treated these ladies as objects rather than human beings. I am particularly miffed with guys who take pictures with these ladies while hugging them.

There’s this one MALAY guy who had the gall to slowly slide his hands to the ass of one “showqueen”, and I was glad she managed to politely ask him to stop. It was embarrassing to say the least to witness these incidents. Then there are those who do nothing but just stand there and stare…stare…stare…Even I got a bit annoyed, so I imagine the girls must have it harder.

At the end of the day, though I hate to admit it, without these girls my verdict for the show would be much-much different.


Here’s to sweet dreams of a hot car…

More pictures (of cars and girls) will be uploaded - Click Here...