Jumat, 30 Juli 2010

Arjuna Awards for Deepak & Chhetri

In great news which came out of Delhi last night, seasoned defender Deepak Kumar Mondal and striker Sunil Chhetri have been named amongst this years awardees for the prestigious Arjuna Award, the National Sports Award of India. The winner of all the awards will receive theirs from President Pratibha Patil on National Sports Day on August 29 at the Rashtrapati Bhawan in New Delhi.

For the first time ever in the history of the Arjuna Awards two footballers will be given the award in the same year. This comes as much-needed recognition for the national football team which has won the Nehru Cup 2007 & 2009 plus the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup to qualify for the 2011 AFC Asian Cup.

Deepak has been a player with the Indian national team for over a decade, a dependable no-nonsense kind of guy on and off the field, while Sunil Chhetri has been the rising star of Indian football over the last few years and has now taken over the mantle from Baichung Bhutia as our lone international player abroad. And the Delhi lad has scored many crucial goals over the last few years for Team India in their title triumphs.

But on such a happy day we should not forget that some players have been overlooked for years and might never get the recognition that they deserve. I am talking about players like Mahesh Gawli, Climax Lawrence or a Renedy Singh who over the last few years have been the mainstay of the national team; have been part of this building process and have seen a lot over the last decade of Indian football. Hopefully some of them will get an Arjuna Award next year.


List of Awardees

Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Awardee: Saina Nehwal (Badminton)

Arjuna Awardees 2010: Joseph Abraham (Athletics), Krishna Punia (Athletics), Dinesh Kumar (Boxing), Parimarjan Negi (Chess), Jhulan Goswami (Cricket), Deepak Mondal (Football), Sunil Chhetri (Football), Sandeep Singh (Hockey), Jasjit Kaur (Hockey), Rajiv Tomar (Wrestling), Jajseer Singh (Paralympics), Dinesh (Kabaddi), Kapil Dev (Volleyball), Rehan Poncha (Swimming), Sanjeev Rajput (Shooting)

Dronacharya Awardees: A.K. Bansal (Hockey), N Ibomcha Singh (Boxing), Subhash Aggarwal (Billiards & Snooker), A.K. Kutty (lifetime, Athletics), Captain Chand Roop (lifetime, Wrestling)

Rabu, 28 Juli 2010

Raul joins FC Schalke 04

Raul has signed a two year deal with German Bundesliga club FC Schalke 04 and for the club in Königsblau (royal blue) it is one of the biggest signings ever. Spanish legend Raúl González Blanco leaves Real Madrid after 18 long years and has surprisingly joined the Ruhr valley club, who unveiled their new signing today infront of over 150 journalists, photographers and a dozen TV crews.

The former Real Madrid club captain has been playing for the royals since joining them from city rivals Atletico Madrid in 1992. And he is the club's all-time highest goalscorer with 323 goals in 741 matches. He also happens to be the highest goalscorer in the UEFA Champions League with 66 goals. Also Raul has played 102 times for Spain scoring 44 goals, which until recently was a record before David Villa went past the mark.

Schalke coach Felix Magath told the club website: "It's great news for FC Schalke 04, I am pleased that we have succeeded in such an exceptional footballer and world-class striker switching to the Bundesliga for Schalke 04. He will be an inspiration. His qualities will help us."
Magath added, "His commitment is a crucial step in our efforts to strengthen the squad for future tasks, and to restructure. I look forward to working with this good professional."

To many Raul signing a contract for Schalke might come as a surprise, but the deal has been in the pipelines for some time though other clubs, especially from the English Premier League, still hoped to sign the Spaniard at the last moment. The deal has been made possible by Raul's former and new team mate Christoph Metzelder. Metzelder left Real Madrid in the summer for Schalke after a last season where he was not really part of the team, but Raul was one of the players with whom he got along well. Raul also told Metzelder that he was looking to leave the club if he wouldn't get more playing time. And Metzelder let his new coach Felix Magath know that Raul was available once at the club and over the last few weeks Schalke have been pursuing to bring Raul to the club. Now they have their catch prize as Raul will have to replace Kevin Kuranyi who left for Moscow, but was good for 12 to 15 goals a season.

Chhetri - Staying in US or joining Team India?

This is a question which only Sunil Chhetri himself can answer, but he has to look at his short-term aim of playing first team football, also look at the upcoming Asian Cup and his club career after January 2011. It will be a difficult decision for Sunil Chhetri to make as he hasn't seen any first team action for the Kansas City Wizards in the North American "Major League Soccer" since joining them in March 2010. But what could be seen in the friendly match against Manchester United on Sunday was a match fit Sunil, so if Bob has any worries he could be getting a non-match fit player back later in the year, then he is at least for the moment wrong.

What has happened? Sunil Chhetri gave an interview to mlssoccer.com, the official mouth piece of the MLS. And some of his statements can be interpreted this way or the other way around. Sunil said, "There are times when I think it's just not happening, and I should move on and think of different alternatives. But then it's a kind of challenge for me. Everyone looks up to me in my country, and there is a point to prove. I came here to learn, and I think I can learn more over here. That really motivates me."

"It's been three months that I have been here working a lot and trying to understand the kind of game we play in Kansas City. It's been difficult because I am not used to all the things that happen over here but I am trying to do my best to acclimatize," Sunil further added.

This whole situation reminds me of what Baichung Bhutia faced about a decade back at Bury FC. Baichung at the time decided to stay in England and try to make it there, which in the end after three years didn't work out, still Baichung was more mature and wiser plus if you look back then the Bury days have helped him a lot.

Sunil has not talked to the media back in India, but reports in India have surfaced that Sunil is desperate to get back and join the national team at their training camp in Portugal. In some reports it sounded like the MLS adventure is over and it is time to return to India with unnamed sources within the AIFF telling the journalists. Can here, has Sunil spoken to someone at the AIFF?

I spoke to my friend Yogesh Joshee, who is Sunil's agent, to find out more and he gave me a somewhat different picture. Yogesh told me, "Sunil is happy at Kansas City, its a learning process for him in a new country, new surroundings. And it was clear from the onset that it wasn't going to be that Sunil just walks in and starts playing for the Wizards."

But Yogesh went on to add, "Yes, there has been a request from Bob and the AIFF to see if something could be worked out with the Wizards, so Sunil can join the national team for the rest of the year on loan. And we will have to see if a deal can be worked out."

In the end Sunil has to decide what he wants to do. But still he can take advice and help from his agent Yogesh Joshee, senior players like Baichung Bhutia, coach Bob Houghton plus family and friends.

FC Barcelona in financial trouble

Yesterday I wrote about the Balearic island club RCD Mallorca being banned by UEFA from its competitions for the 2010/11 season. And now could their big Spanish La Liga brothers FC Barcelona be following them soon?

When I wrote my blog entry I didn't know that FC Barcelona was facing this big a financial problem when I named them as an example of a big club who could face the axe due to the new financial regulations being put in place by UEFA for their club competitions. Now it will be interesting to see if UEFA asks for further financial details from Barca before confirming their place in the UEFA Champions League 2010/11 or letting them off with a warning that next year they would scrutinize them more thoroughly.

The new Barcelona president Sandro Rosell and his board of directors had asked Deloitte to carry out a new audit of Barcelona's financial figures and what has come out is simply put a disaster. The old audit showed a profit of 11 Million Euros only in June, while the new audit now suddenly shows a staggering loss of 77,1 Million Euros.

The new Barca audit showed operating income of 408.8 million Euros and costs of 477.9 million Euro compared with previous figures published under former president Joan Laporta of 445.5 million Euros as income and 429 million Euros as costs, the club published on their website (www.fcbarcelona.cat) yesterday.

And that Barcelona has a liquidity problem was known in late-June when the club was forced to seek a 150 Million Euro bank loan to cover for difficulties in their cash flow. One of the key problems was salary payments to their highly paid players.
And what makes the scenario even more scary is the fact that Barca's net debt has risen from 329 Million Euros to now an incredible 442 Million Euros.

Javier Faus, a Barca vice president, said at a press conference, "There is a structural problem. The sporting excellence of the past few years has not been reflected in excellence in economic management."

To the outside world it always seemed Real Madrid where the Spanish club spending loads of money on their Galacticos, while Barcelona was focusing on their youth development programme and buying players here and there to strengthen the squad. But when one now knows these figures and also knows that the club has already spend 40 Million Euros on bringing in Spanish star striker David Villa from FC Valencia and Adriano for 9,5 Million Euros from FC Sevilla for new players, then one also understands why the club had to sell Yaya Toure for 30 Millions Euros to Manchester City and allow Dmytro Chygrynskiy to return to Shakhtar Donetsk for 15 Million Euros to even out the clubs spending in the transfer market. But still the club is trying to lure Cesc Fabregas away from FC Arsenal with a big pay package and a hefty transfer fee for Arsenal. Can Barca actually afford it?

Also Barca shows the problems of Spanish club football. Spain is World and European champions plus their clubs are amongst the best in the world, but this success has been bought by the Spanish with money which they don't have. And if a club like FC Barcelona faces such problems with all the advantages they enjoys along with Real Madrid in that country then think about the smaller Spanish clubs. Spanish clubs have more then 3,5 Billion Euros in debt, the figure is growing by the minute, and new streams of revenue are unlikely to be found and TV rights revenue is at its peak. Sadly difficult times coming for Spanish football...

Selasa, 27 Juli 2010

Santosh Trophy - Anyone following?

The 64th edition of the Santosh Trophy is currently being held in Kolkata. And if I see the coverage in the media, then I ask myself the question is anyone seriously following the tournament? Surely there will be the exceptions of football crazy people who don't want to miss anything Indian football, but else...

The Santosh Trophy before the days of the National Football League/I-League was the national level competition where states used to compete and it was the only way to judge the status of Indian football. There was a flaw in the system that players could only represent the state in which they played in, so Bengal through the Kolkata Maidan giants had an undue advantage, but the competition was about beating the big boys of Indian football.

Now this competitiveness has somewhat died out as the importance of the Santosh Trophy has diminished as have a lot of other tournaments, leagues and competitions with the rise of the I-League and a more central approach in Indian football. Don't get me wrong, the I-League's growth is the only real solution of having top level professional football in India; but one also needs the feeder tournaments where young talent or talent not seen before can show themselves. And the Santosh Trophy should be used as such, and only as such.

I think that a lot of I-League players at this time of the year would have liked to be either still on holiday or at pre-season training with their clubs with a long professional season of I-League, Federation Cup, local leagues and other tournaments ahead of them. The question to be asked is if players not really interested to play the tournament will give it everything. I doubt that as they will also avoid to risk injuries as players from smaller states will give it all.

So what to do? The AIFF needs to promote the Santosh Trophy most likely in a new avtar. Currently the tournament seems to be held for the sake of playing it. Also it cannot and should not compete with the I-League. But that is unfair to a historical tournament like the Santosh Trophy, unfair to the player taking part in it and also unfair to the fans who are still following the tournament.

Looking at a possible solution is by making it a tournament for non-I-League Division 1 players, but allowing players under the age of 23 from I-League clubs to take part. You give the youngsters and fringe players the chance to show themselves in the Santosh Trophy and maybe get picked-up by a big club or given a chance at their respective club due to a strong performance in the Santosh Trophy. Also the competitiveness of the tournament would most likely go up as the big stars and professionals wouldn't take part. Surely states like Bengal and Goa would be hit, but if they really have the talent pool that they claim to have then this wouldn't be an issue.

Maybe someone is listening...

No Europa League for Mallorca, possible implications for other clubs

European football governing body UEFA it finally going tough on clubs who are facing financial problems and aren't willing to change their ways. UEFA has barred Spanish La Liga side RCD Mallorca from participating in its competitions in the upcoming 2010/11 season. The decision was taken by UEFA's Control and Disciplinary Body at its meeting in Nyon on July 22.

A statement by UEFA's Control and Disciplinary Body said: "On the basis of all expert reviews which have been undertaken, the Control and Disciplinary Body ruled that the club does not fulfil the necessary admission criteria (Article 2.07 of the Regulations of the UEFA Europa League), as the licence of the club was not granted in accordance with the UEFA Club Licensing Regulations, 2008 edition, and the club has not fulfilled its obligations as defined in these regulations."

This tough decision did take some by surprise and also means that RCD Mallorca would be replaced by FC Villareal in the Europa League as a Spanish representative as they finished seventh in last season La Liga behind then island club.

A statement on Mallorca's official website read: "UEFA's decision is quite surprising in substance and form. The club will consider legal steps to follow upon receipt of the resolution in its entirety. RCD Mallorca deeply regrets the disappointment that UEFA's decision (which is unprecedented and not understandable) will cause our fans."

In the meanwhile RCD Mallorca have lodged an appeal with UEFA against the UEFA Control and Disciplinary Body's decision last week whereby the Spanish club are not admitted to the UEFA club competitions for the 2010/11 season. The date of the appeal hearing will be announced by UEFA in due course. One will then see if UEFA stick to their guns or takes a step back and leave it with a warning.


And what does this step mean for other European club sides???

Take this as a real warning as regulations will get tougher in the coming years and UEFA will more and more scrutinize the balance sheets of clubs qualifying to participate in the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League.
It would be interesting to see financially troubled clubs from England, Spain and Italy barred from European competitions due to their balance sheets in the minus and their debts in 100's of Millions. An interesting case would have been FC Portsmouth if they had won the FA Cup last season though they went down from the Premiership and went into administration. They would have also been debarred from taking part in the Europa League.

So can you e.g. think about a UEFA Champions League without an FC Barcelona or a Manchester United? Well unlikely for not qualifying through their respective leagues, but rather due to the financial problems these biggies of world football currently face. Barca are just looking for a 150 Million Euro loan, while Man U's owners the Glazers have financed their buy of the Red Devils with hefty loans. An unlikely scenario, but if UEFA goes by their financial rules then these clubs could follow Mallorca in the future. And that wouldn't be good for football and its fans, but we also don't want clubs to end up being in a situation like Portsmouth.

Senin, 26 Juli 2010

Congrats Maria Rebello!

My heartiest congratulations to referee Maria Rebello from Curtorim in Goa! Maria on Sunday became the first female referee to officiate at the highest level of AIFF organised men's football competition. She officiated the Delhi vs. Madhya Pradesh group stage match of the 64th Santosh Trophy (National State Championship of India) currently being held in Kolkata.

From what I have been told there wasn't much to say about the refereeing. And no news on the refereeing is always good news. But there was added pressure on Maria as an AFC Refereeing Inspector was at the Howrah Maidan to observe her in match action. If the post match report is positive and she gets through the written/oral tests then Maria could be soon joining the AFC's Women Elite Refereeing panel. A great honour if she achieves this and then maybe she could get a chance to be a match official at next years 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup in Germany.

It is already a great achievement for Maria, a former India international footballer, to officiate at the highest level in men's football, when women in football isn't promoted the way it should for the development of women's football in India. But this example once more shows that hard work and dedication even under difficult circumstances pay off.

And in further good news for women referee's Maria's senior Bentla D'Couth from Kerala has become the first Indian woman referee to be selected for the FIFA Futro III Referee's Instructor Course, which will be held in Kathmandu from August 1 to 6.

India needs good quality referee's and it doesn't really matter if they are male or female as long as they are good in their job. It is an area which needs to develop in India as many other different aspects to make the game more professional.

Sunil Chhetri plays against Man U


It was a big day yesterday for our very own Sunil Chhetri, then the boy from Delhi came on as a substitute for his American MLS club Kansas City Wizards in an international friendly against English Premier League giants Manchester United.

There was a lot of buzz back home in India before the game that India's Sunil Chhetri would be playing against the biggest football club (I don't agree on this, its surely a point of discussion) in the world. And many Indian football fans had hoped Sunil would start for KCW, but Sunil had to stay put on the bench and stay there for 69 minutes to see his side play an entertaining game against their superior opponents from the old world.

More than 52,000 people came to the Arrowhead Stadium, the biggest ever attendance for a football game in Kansas. And many were in for a surprise as the Wizards took a surprise 11th minute lead through their captain Davy Arnaud. The Wizards looked the more dangerous side, but defender Jimmy Conrad brought down Dimitar Berbatov in the box. The referee pointed to the dreaded spot, gave Conrad a red card and then Berbatov coolly slotted home the ball in the 41st minute. But only seconds later on the other side Kei Kamara would head in a Ryan Smith corner for the winner.

The Wizards came under more pressure in the second session with a man down and the game slowed down as numerous substitutions were made. And then came the 69th minute when Sunil Chhetri came on for Canadian striker Teal Bunbury. And to me it was clear that Sunil would have a tough job as KCW were playing in a 4-4-1 system with only one striker. But he made his runs, was there to play one-twos with team mates and took two long range shots. But both where too weak and from too far away to bother Ben Amos in the United goal. United build some pressure towards the end, but Kansas City prevailed to score a historic 2-1 win against a depleted Manchested United. It was good to see Sunil on fire, he showed the urge to prove himself, he wasn't overawed by the occasion; so hopefully coach Peter Vermes will now start to use him as a sub in the MLS.

Before the game Sunil had the pleasure of meeting Man U's Portuguese star Nani. Surely a weekend to remember for Sunil. Now I hope he will get some playing time for the Kansas City Wizards in the MLS as Sunil needs match practice before rejoining Team India later in the year ahead of the 2011 AFC Asian Cup.

Minggu, 25 Juli 2010

Business India Forum, London - A review


This years Business India Forum was held on July 22, 2010 and the event once more organised by Celebrasian UK was held this year in London at Christie's. A lovely small, niche auditorium amongst all those works of art from around the world.
The mix of topics this year was once more quite interesting with sports business meeting luxury and lifestyle in an Indian context, something with the exception of IPL isn't really the case for India just yet. So something which is set to become more and more real for India in the coming years.

It was a half day forum with over 100 delegates attending. The opening session had the title "Overview of the Indian economy and three sectors". Ridhika Batra, Director - Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, UK; was in the chair with Vijay Goel, Indo-EU Business Forum; Deepak Lalwani, Astaire Securities; and Farid Haque, Global Markets, Accenture as panellists and they all gave their views on how business could and should be done in India plus where the opportunities and possible problems lie. This set to tone for the rest of the afternoon.

The second session had the topic "The Business of Sports" with myself as the moderator with the focus mainly on cricket and football. My panel included Ishan Saksena, Chairman, Queen’s Park Rangers FC; Ashish Ray, Author and journalist; Kevin Roberts, Editorial Director, Sport Business Group; Anders Grundberg, Partner, McGuire Woods; and Clive W. Leach, Chairman, Durham County Cricket Club.

I started off giving a general overview on the Indian sporting field with the IPL the often mentioned example of commercialisation of sports in India, but I also gave the audience the information that football is a fast growing sport in India with the question to be asked on how and where can cricket grow further. My aim was to give an overview not only of cricket and football, which still where the main focus. My seasoned colleague Ashish took the discussions to another level as he is a cricket purist and was more interested in Test cricket, while most of the world was interested in 50 Overs and T20. An interesting discussion developed as India has clearly shown that Test cricket is of no real interest for the general public these days, while T20 is the new craze through the IPL; while in England Test cricket still has its place of its own. An interesting comparison was made as a strong league doesn't automatically mean a strong national side. England and the EPL in football were compared to India and its IPL in cricket. And yes, it scarily sounded correct as both national sides have failed in recent major competition.

We also focused in the session on the main topic of business of sports in India. There are numerous opportunities not only in cricket and football with the example of the 30 year deal signed by IMG-Reliance with the Basketball Federation of India recently made, but there are also chances in Formula 1 and Golf.

After a tea break "Session Three - The Burgeoning Luxury and Lifestyle Markets" was held with Amin Jaffer, Director Indian Art, Christies; in the chair. The panel included Fiona Sanderson, Managing Director, The Luxury Channel; Onita Prasada Vashish, Owner, Onitaa Fashion; and Kevin Rego, International Head of Sales and Marketing, B4U TV.

The fourth and final session was on "Doing business in India". It had Carl Nisser, Board member, Europe India Chamber of Commerce Counsel & McGuire Woods; as the moderator. The panel included Atul Gupta, Director, Euro Max Capital; and Parvinder Bhatia, Wasserman Media Group - India. They talked about the does and don't in the Indian market. One thing that came out clear of this session was anyone interested to do business in India needs to know and then also understand how to do it in India. And that is the difficulty for international business across all fields as even multinationals have failed in India.

Sabtu, 24 Juli 2010

France suspends World Cup squad

In a drastic, but somewhat understandable step the French Football Federation has upon the request from new coach Laurant Blanc suspended all 23 players from the 2010 FIFA World Cup squad for their next international friendly. In that match France will take on Norway in Oslo and Blanc will have to put together an altogether new squad of 18 to 20 players.

Blanc wants a fresh start and also wants the players to think about what they had done in South Africa. France had finished bottom of their group with one draw and two losses. And if this wasn't bad enough then there was the case of striker Nicolas Anelka abusing coach Raymond Domenech at half time of the match against Mexico, which resulted in the Chelsea player being send home. And tension grew further in the French team as captain Patrice Evra in a press conference told the media that the Anelka incidence was unfortunate, but the real problem is that team internals were being given to the media and the traitor needed to be found. So far no one has been named to have been the traitor, but this tension led to the players going on strike. And in am embarrassing situation with coach Domenech forced to read out the teams statement to the present media.

Blanc, who had been named as Domenech's successor, must have watched the matches and these off the field occurrences with horror. Maybe he was even thinking why I am leaving Girondins de Bordeaux for this bunch. But the 1998 World Cup winning captain has proved at his club that he is an able coach, but getting France in line and getting a team together will be a tough ask.

The suspended players will only get a chance to redeem themselves on September 3, but then again in a competitive match in a 2012 European Championship qualifier against Belarus. And who knows if some of the players left out or the young player might take their chance and prove their worth to coach Blanc against Norway and some established players career for Les Bleues is at least for the moment over.

But the worries for French football don't end here. As part of investigations against a prostitution ring offering minors to high profile clients French footballers Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema have been implicated by the French authorities. And other players are said to have also availed of the services and could be named soon. Some French politicians say such behaviour isn't suitable for stars to represent the French L'Equipe Tricolore and have asked these players not to be nominated by the FFF and the coach.

Difficult times for French football...

London - A city that I just love

Today I continue my once in a while series of non-football blog entries telling you about my fascination for the City of London. In the past I have written about Delhi, Amsterdam, my home town of Remscheid and my experiences in those places. And London surely is a place which I like, actually its even more I just love it!

I do travel to London three/four times a year and its multicultural identity appeals to me. It is a melting pot of people and their cultures. It is a micro-cosmos of the globe and its Indian touch is something which I always liked about the city, especially in its suburbs like Southall, Hounslow or the Bengali East Ham. And yes, you can also catch some good quality football in London, if it isn't England at Wembley. Sorry had write this one line post the 2010 FIFA World Cup...

In London I always like to travel on the tube (underground) though it isn't my preferred mode of transport elsewhere. It surely isn't the most modern, but it has its own charm and flair plus a reach across the city which other underground systems would love to have. You can get to anywhere on the underground or the linked new overground and train systems. And the flair comes from the fact that you see interesting characters and often the latest tech gadgets on the trains and in the stations. Just two small examples: I first saw an iPod with those prominent white earplugs there and also the mass use of Blackberry phones before these phenomenon's came across here to Germany.

What else do I like about London? The variety of restaurants, bars and the old fashioned English pubs. But I was told the other day that these pubs are dying out and that they are being replaced by either trendier lounges or Mediterranean type cafés which offer drinks, but also good dining options. Sad if these pubs die out...

But also for me London is also a place where I have many friends and contacts. And when it comes to football, a day in London talking to people in the business or the media, you know the latest happenings not only in English football but from across the globe. Often infos or insights which will come out in the public domain weeks or even month's later.

Jumat, 23 Juli 2010

Remembering Fulham vs India; July 22, 2000

Yesterday I happened to be once more London and remembered this day ten years ago in exactly this city. And I happened to speak about this anecdote at the Business India Forum at Christie's yesterday. Exactly 10 years ago to this very day India played its first historic match back in England after 52 long years. The last time India had been in London was in 1948 for the Olympics. We played at Craven Cottage against Fulham FC on a nice, sunny afternoon. We did lose 0-2 through two goals from German 1990 World Cup winner Karl-Heinz Riedle against a superior Fulham, who weren't then the established Premier League team as they now are, but rather an aspiring Division 1 (now Championship) club, who did gain promotion at the end of that season.

Fulham had Frenchmen Jean Tigana as their coach. The match against India was his first game in charge. And ageing stars like John Collins (Scotland), Karl-Heinz Riedle (Germany) and Bjarne Goldbaek (Denmark) plus the young Lois Boa Morte (Portugal) and Louis Saha (France), who didn't play, to name a few players. So a quality opponent and India did hold its ground as especially keeper Virender Singh had a good day under the bar plus Deepak Kumar Mondal and Mahesh Gawli in central defence.

But besides the game I especially remember the "Indian discussions" post match in the Fulham hospitality area, which was a better pub in those days.
It was the day when the late Noel da Lima Leitao came in, shouted at chief coach Sukhvinder Singh about his team selections and said, "why didn't you bring on Khalid Jamil earlier on? He would have been more effective today."
That was the passionate Noel da Lima Leitao. Not only supporting Vasco and Goan football, but also a big fan and supporter of Team India like all of us around.

The discussions followed about this with manager P.K. Banerjee, special advisor Chuni Goswami, commentators Novy Kapadia and Peter Hutton, captain Baichung Bhutia, myself and some others chipping in with their thoughts. We had the feeling and even more hope that day, a new era was to start and we were all lucky to have been there.
We all hoped this tour would be the start of a new era for Indian football. Baichung was at FC Bury, maybe other clubs would now look at Indian players and the National Football League would develop into a competitive, professional league.
10 years on I sadly have to say that we are somewhat back at the same stage, but hopefully this time around we will utilise the chances that come our way to develop Indian football.


The line-ups

Fulham: Maik Taylor, Steve Finnan, Andy Melville, Chris Coleman, Rufus Brevett (Wayne Collins, 70), Kevin Betsy (Bjarne Goldbaek, 78), Sean Davis, Lee Clark, John Collins, Karl Heinz Riedle, Lois Boa Morte (Luke Cornwall, 65).

India: Virender Singh, Prabhjot Singh, Mahesh Gawli, Roberto Fernandes, Daljit Singh, Jo Paul Ancheri (Khalid Jamil, 88), Basudeb Mondal (Hardeep Sangha, 46), Jules Alberto (Hardeep Saini, 46), Renedy Singh, I.M. Vijayan, Bhaichung Bhutia [CAPTAIN].

Kamis, 22 Juli 2010

Loew signs new contract, Germany breathes easy

It was feared that negotiation on a new contract would take weeks, but in the end it only needed a long weekend and on Tuesday Joachim Loew signed a new two year contract to remain national coach of Germany. And the whole of Germany was relieved as currently there seems to be a trend in German politics to leave the job after a very stressful period. Infact six chief ministers have either resigned or had to go in less then a year. An unprecedented event in German politics and many here feared that this could spill over onto the football pitch.

Not only will Joachim Loew now stay on until the 2012 European Championships in Poland and Ukraine, but also his assistant Hansi Flick, goalkeeping coach Andreas Koepke and team manager Oliver Bierhoff. Loew will receive a new increased salary of 2,7 Million Euros per year, an increase of 200,000 Euros from the last contract. But the main thing is that he can continue the work he has started with the young German team and hopefully can finally bring back a title from a major tournament. Germany has been third in the 2006 and 2010 World Cup's plus runners-up in the 2008 European Championships.

In the end the quick signature did come as a surprise to all. Original talks had been held in February 2010 which had broken down on demands of more power for Loew and Bierhoff. Especially under whose command the Under-21 national team would be had been an issue with the German FA's technical director Matthias Sammer plus more power for manager Bierhoff. But in the end these things didn't matter that much as the Under-21s like the rest of the junior squads remain under the control of Sammer and Bierhoff wasn't given more powers.

Loew was said to be thinking if he should remain Germany's coach and he had said at the end of the World Cup that he expected talks to last long, but what made things quick was the fact that both sides wanted to continue their work. Loew's team of Flick, Koepke and Bierhoff wanted to continue and the German FA after the World Cup performances wanted to retain their coach. And the coach had ensured that he didn't look as someone to the media and fans who only cared about the money, but not his team as was the news after the failed February talks. And this was a point explicitly made by German FA president Theo Zwanziger at the press conference in Frankfurt on Tuesday.

The negotiations were swift and direct. Unlike in February there weren't any demands placed to the German FA. Loew told DFB General Secretary Wolfgang Niersbach on last Friday on the sidelines of the 20 years of Germany winning the 1990 World Cup celebrations in Rust that they should talk. They had a telephonic conversation on Saturday, met on Sunday, the contract was checked on Monday and on Tuesday it was signed and a press conference held.

The fans now only look forward that Loews continues the work he has started. Sometimes things can be so easy...

Selasa, 20 Juli 2010

Chirag Utd release squad list, aim Top 4 finish

Kolkata I-League side Chirag United SC yesterday afternoon announced their squad for the 2010/11 season at a press conference at The Park. And the club which always had to fight the Maidan giants of Mohun Bagan and East Bengal have once more been able to put a decent team together.

It has been able to bring in experience through goalkeeper Abhijit Mondal (Dempo), the foreign defence duo of Chika Wali and Sergei Tokov both from Pune FC and midfielder Nacimento Silveira from Churchill Brothers. Further the club brought in young talent from Mohun Bagan in Subhojit Majumdar, Subho Kumar, Shanta Kumar and Branco Vincent Cardozo.

The club did lose some of their star performers from last season in Jayanta Sen, R. Dhanarajan and Sandip Nandy; but still the club could hold on to captain Denson Devadas, Brazilian marksman Josimar da Silva Martins besides Lal Kamal Bhowmick and Shylo Malswam Tulunga.

Chirag United owner and president Kaustav Roy said that the club has a balanced side and under the able guidance of Subrata Bhattacharjee the club aims to finish amongst the top four in the I-League and top two in the Calcutta Premier League. Ambitious plans, but one's which are possible if one looks at the season gone by.


Chirag United SC

Goalkeepers
Abhijit Mondol(Dempo SC), Somnath Khara, Swarup Das (George Telegraph SC), Bibash Ghosh (Under-19)

Defenders
Justine Stephen (Mahindra United), Arnab Mondol, Safar Sardar, Chika Wali (Pune FC), Sukhen Dey, Subhashish Roy Chowdhury, Noushad K. (Viva Kerala), Bapi Saha (Eastern Railway SC), Narugopal Hait, Sergei Tokov (Pune FC), Melwyn Rodrigues (Salgaocar SC)

Midfielders
Denson Devadas, Lal Kamal Bhowmick, Nacimento Silveira (Churchill Brothers SC), Asif. K (Malabar United FC), Mohammed Rafique (Tollygunge Agragami), Subho Kumar (Mohun Bagan AC), Shylo Malswam Tulunga, Jerry Zirsanga (Dempo SC), Soumik Chakrabarty, Subhas Chakraborty (Mumbai FC), Gouranga Biswas, Shanta Kumar (Mohun Bagan AC), Sirajudeen C. (Viva Kerala), Subhojit Majumdar (Mohun Bagan AC)

Forwards
Josimar da Silva Martins, Shankar Oraon, Branco Vincent Cardozo (Mohun Bagan AC), Pachau Lalam Puia

Under-19 Players
Bibash Ghosh, Ram Malik, Munna Malik, Sabir Ali, Bibhash

Official
Subrata Bhattacharjee (Technical Director), Garcia (Physio)


Players Released
Kingshuk Debnath, R. Dhanarajan, Jayanta Sen, Gouranga Datta, Ashim Biswas (all Mohun Bagan AC), Sandip Nandy (East Bengal Club), Gopal Das, Rahul Kumar, Manas Das, Eduardo Chacon Coelho Lacerda, Abhishek Aich, Hardip Singh Saini, Basudeb Mondal, Lalmalswama Hmar, Bengkok Nameirakpam, Parminder Singh, Parveen Kumar, Edmilson Marques Pardal

Chhetri to play against Manchester United

Indian international striker Sunil Chhetri is set to play for his MLS club Kansas City Wizards on Sunday against Manchester United in a friendly. It is a big occasion for the Major League Soccer club in the heartland of America, who will be facing one of the biggest club sides in the world.

And it is an even bigger honour that our own Sunil Chhetri will be facing Man U. And the task ahead of Sunil will be tough. Surely Manchester United will be missing a number of players who featured at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, but still Alex Ferguson will be able to field a competitive side. Sunil could be facing internationals like John O'Shea and Wes Brown or talented youngsters like Chris Smalling and Johnny Evans. But like most of his team mates Sunil will surely look forward to face legends like Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes or Man U regulars like Nani, Darren Fletcher and Dimitar Berbatov.

But for Sunil it isn't just about facing a club like Manchester United. KC Wizards president Robb Heineman had said last weekend that Sunil will play against Man U as the club will test players ahead of upcoming MLS fixtures. And if Sunil can convince his coach about his qualities in this game, then he could get some chances in the league in the near future. He is said to have been training well and is close to the first eighteen squad.

But in some parts of the Indian media it has been wrongly reported that Sunil would be the first Indian footballer to face Manchester United in a friendly. Actually Sunil's team mate and role model Baichung Bhutia had faced Manchester United in a friendly match for his then club Bury FC in August 2001. And Baichung just didn't play, the Indian captain was a live wire for his club, scoring an offside goal and missing further chances in a half for Bury. And the story is that after the game Man U coach Alex Ferguson inquired about who the foreign Bury striker is. It was our own Baichung Bhutia, but sadly his English club career never took off.

All the best Sunil!

Blackburn Rovers soon in India hands?

Will English Premier League club Blackburn Rovers soon have an Indian owner? If news, rumours and infos out of England and Mumbai are to be believed then a potential takeover is on the cards with due diligence over the books of the club currently taking place.

But who is the man willing to buy Blackburn Rovers? It is said to be 38 year old Saurin Shah, a businessman with shipping and textile interests from Mumbai, who happens to be the nephew of Niranjan Shah, the former BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) secretary and now IPL (Indian Premier League) vice-president.

According to reports brokers in London were approached by Shah in April 2010 to look for a suitable Premier League club for him. Feelers were send out and the advisers along with Shah quickly moved in on Blackburn after also learning about its large South Asian population and the historical links to the textile industry. According to the 2001 Census, 14.3 percent of Blackburn's population is of Indian origin, with a further 11.5 percent of Pakistani origin. A perfect local target audience for an Indian owner, who has ideas to link football with cricket's IPL.

Shah through his Qubic Sports investment vehicle wants to create strong links between Blackburn and the IPL, which would allow cross-marketing. Many EPL clubs are eyeing the ever growing Indian market and with such a strategic tie-up in place Blackburn could take a key role in the market.

The first bid by Saurin Shah of 25 Million Pounds was rejected by the club. The new offer is set to be in the region of 35 to 45 Million Pounds. And it is set to be made after the due diligence is over. The board is set to open to the takeover as new fresh investments would come into the club with which is could challenge for a higher finish after last season finishing 10th.

But Saurin Shah isn't the first Indian trying to buy or being linked with an English Premier League club. Over the last few years the Ambani brothers - Mukesh & Anil - have been linked with different clubs. Mukesh with FC Liverpool; while his younger brother Anil with Newcastle United and FC Everton. Some British Asian businessmen have also tried to buy into smaller clubs, but so far only the Mittal family have a controlling stake in a club. They now control affairs at Championship side Queens Park Rangers FC and hope to gain promotion to the Premier League this season.

Senin, 19 Juli 2010

2026 World Cup in China?

In somewhat of a surprise move Chinese officials have stated that the country could be interested in hosting the 2026 FIFA World Cup. And this bit of news out of Beijing hasn't gone down well with the Asian bidders for the 2022 FIFA World Cup as FIFA under its rotation policy is not going to grant the rights to host two consecutive World Cup's to the same confederation. And FIFA insiders have been repeating for years that China and India are the markets to develop for the future of the beautiful game.

The news came out over the weekend just before a FIFA inspection team was set to arrive in Japan which will be followed by stopovers in South Korea, Australia and Qatar plus the bidders from other continents. This Chinese push forward also means that the idea on an Indian World Cup in 2030 could be pushed back in the FIFA cycle. I know it is just a thought at the moment, but lets at least dream about 2030 and India.

The Chinese FA secretary Wei Di told the China Daily, "I think China should apply for the World Cup. We will make an official report to the sport's governing body shortly."
"We have so many fans that are crazy for football and they care for our national team so much, we should give them a chance to watch the World Cup on home soil."

"Hosting the World Cup was not only about development or the tournament's commercial value to soccer, it also helped unite South Africa as a nation."
"With China's status and influence in the international community, and with our infrastructure - which is no worse than South Africa's - how could we not be confident enough to bid for the World Cup?"

That surely is a confident push forward by Wei Di, which means that discussions and negotiations will start as the decision on the 2018 & 2022 FIFA World Cup will be taken in December 2010. And if China's interest becomes serious by then, then the Asian bidders for 2022 could lose out on their chance to host football's biggest spectacle. Then a FIFA World Cup in China is a no-brainer with the financial benefits on the cards with multinationals and football-related companies surely set to support such a bid.

It is an interesting development. Lets see how it pans out...

International Match Date - International Anger?

The date August 11, 2010 is causing a lot of international debate then that date is an official FIFA international match day. This means that only a month after the end of the 2010 FIFA World Cup the world football governing body has fixed a match date with most World Cuppers just back at their clubs and then off again for international duty.

Especially here in Germany the issue has made headline news with Germany to travel to Copenhagen to face Denmark on August 11. Top coaches Louis van Gaal and Felix Magath have questioned the logic behind such a friendly date in August with players preparing for the long season ahead. And it is a question which can be asked by affected club coaches. Van Gaal had eight players in the German squad plus another five player with different national teams and has been lamenting that he has difficulties in pre-season preparations with most of his first eleven still not in training.

The Club vs. Country debate goes on around the planet, but the Bayern Munich coach does have a point here. A few days ago van Gaal said, "The players return on August 2 and then they must go away again on international duty on August 9. That simply cannot be the case, it’s nonsense."
"If FIFA are a little reasonable, they would take this date out so soon after a World Cup. I hope that Mr Sepp Blatter listens to us, because this just cannot happen."

If the FIFA president is listening isn't known. But surely such a date don't really help the players, who often will go into such matches without any motivation. A different date later in the football calendar year would be more suitable, but many will say an international match date less would be good. One will see if anything happens...

Minggu, 18 Juli 2010

My 2010 World Cup


I had another great working month during a World Cup. But unlike in 2006 when I travelled across Germany to watch matches live, this time around I rather preferred to stay back in Germany and wanted to work from here. And the envisaged plan worked out perfectly fine for me.

I had my usual work at the Deutsche Welle radio's Bengali programme as our in house football expert. Before the tournament we produced some specials and during the tournament I previewed and analysed matches. Also before the tournament I made a special feature for our English programme's Asia Compact show on Asia at the 2010 World Cup. Luckily South Korea and Japan didn't let me down as I had raised some expectations about them in my feature.

And then there were the additions assignments during the tournament which meant lots of fun and interaction with people, something which I love. I was correspondent for English language news channel Times Now, Germany expert for ESPN India and for the Indicast's "The Sports Bench" podcast a general expert. Plus I have been blogging on the tournament on my own blog and at sportskeeda.com, writing about special experiences and things with I liked or rather didn't. To sum it up, loads of work, but work which is fun.

Surely covering the German perspective from my home town of Remscheid gave me new insights into a city were I have lived most of my life. I have to thank Remscheid and its people, who have helped me during the tournament making my job easier though it sometimes was tough to find people capable and willing to speak English on camera. But we always managed, got some nice pieces done and I hope we got it across to India.

The other tasks were mainly following the matches, the tournament in general and Germany in particular. You not only watch the matches, the analysis, the talk before and after; but to stay informed also read a lot of things on the net plus speak to contacts and insiders. One has to stay as up-to-date as possible so that when you have to give an expert opinion, you have the right facts available.

But I also had a tough task to master. And that was to cover the Octopus Paul story and then talk about it live on Indian television. Might sound easy, but to talk about such a creature for over 20 minutes with him not really doing anything is tough, but I got through this task and am a little wiser when the next time such a situation arises. And I can tell you, doing live commentary of a football match or being an expert/pundit is much much easier...

My final piece of work on the 2010 FIFA World Cup was writing a guest column about my views on the tournament for the Daily Pioneer's World Cup special which was published today, July 18. A rather longish piece on how I saw the tournament and its impact.

I have uploaded some of my audiovisual work onto my YouTube channel and also some pictures onto my Facebook fanpage. I hope you like them...


The 2010 FIFA World Cup is over, but work continues and besides the regular media work I look forward to two events which I will be attending in the coming weeks. First I will be a speaker at the India Business Forum in London on July 22 to be held at Christie's and then on July 31/August 1 I will be in Zurich, Switzerland to moderate at the International Goalkeeper Congress.


Follow me on my Facebook Fanpage: Arunava Chaudhuri Fanpage

Follow my exploits on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Arunfoot

Follow my work on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/arunavaaboutfootball

Mourinho eyes German talent

Real Madrid's biggest signing of the summer so far has been that of Portuguese coach Jose Mourinho. And the "Special One" is looking to strengthen his squad ahead of a tough first season in Spain for him. While before the World Cup the focus seemed to be on English players with the likes of Liverpool's Steven Gerrard and Chelsea's Ashley Cole on top of the wish list, it now seems Mourinho is rather looking at young German talent to bring to the Bernabeu.

The names being linked with Real Madrid are that of midfielders Bastian Schweinsteiger, Sami Khedira and Mesut Özil plus the surprise one of striker Mario Gomez. While in the case of Schweinsteiger it looks a lost cause as Bayern Munich are unlikely to release the 25 year old, who has come through the ranks at the Bavarian giants and has finally made the breakthrough; with Khedira it looks somewhat different. There it seems to be an issue of the transfer fee and modalities between Real Madrid and VfB Stuttgart. Real's first offer was said to be 8 Million Euros, while Stuttgart were willing to sell Khedira for 15 Million Euros. The follow-up offer is said to be higher at 10 Million Euros plus Dutch winger Royston Drenthe. But Stuttgart has denied any talks so far, while Khedira and his agent are said to have been in Madrid this week to have a look at the club and speak to Mourinho about his plans for the young midfielder. Here a transfer looks very much possible and at the end it will be an issue of money and modality.

But Mourinho isn't done with German players in signing Khedira. He also has set his sights on new midfield sensation Mesut Oezil. But Mourinho isn't the only one interested in Oezil. English Premier League giants Chelsea and Arsenal along with rivals FC Barcelona are also showing an interest in the Werder Bremen midfielder, whose contract is set to end in 2011. And Oezil seems to be interested to leave Germany and try his luck elsewhere. So if Bremen want to cash in on Oezil they will have to sell him this summer. But Bremen say they would rather retain Oezil and would try to renew his contract then sell him. But over the years Bremen has not been able to retain top talent who either move on to Bayern Munich or abroad.

The link of Mario Gomez and Real Madrid came as a major surprise to me. But for Mourinho there is a simple logic behind it. Living Real legend Raul is no longer a first eleven player and he would like to try his luck elsewhere. 33 year old Raul is said to have had concrete talks with German Bundesliga side FC Schalke 04, while his former Real Madrid coach Bernd Schuster is interested to bring him to Turkey to play for Besiktas Istanbul. So Mourinho needs a potent replacement and Mario Gomez seems to have caught his eye. And to make it interesting for Gomez's club Bayern Munich Real are willing to offer Rafael van der Vaart as bait. One will have to see if Bayern are interested to sell Gomez, who started off well in Munich but towards the end of the season had no real chance under manager Louis van Gaal.

So far Real Madrid have been rather calm and quite in the transfer market, even though they have already spend 41 Million Euros on Ángel Di María (Benfica Lisbon, 25 Million), Pedro Léon (FC Getafe, 10 Million) and Sergio Canales (Racing Santander, 6 Million). But surely Mourinho will look to add some big names to his squad before the transfer period closes on August 31 and he might until then also offload some player who do not fit into his plans.

WC Column: Goodbye waka waka


This column by me was published today in the Daily Pioneer's World Cup special: Goodbye waka waka .


From Ronaldo to Rooney, it has been a World Cup of disaster for superstars. Even the ‘super’ teams like Brazil and Italy failed to fire. Arunava Chaudhuri looks back at the sporting extravaganza to get the answers

The “Cup of Life”, which visited the rainbow nation for a month, is over. And we have a new champion in Spain. The golden generation of Spanish football added the World Cup title to their collection after having won the European Championships in 2008.

Though it wasn’t tiki-taka football at its best, the best side on paper proved their class in the end. Spain are also the first ever side to win the World Cup after losing their opening game 0-1 against Switzerland.

Spain dominated most of the games, but they often overdid their combining football, trying to combine into the goal and without a sharp David Villa the Spanish team would have had their problems. Also interesting to note is that Spain scored only eight goals in the tournament — they are now the World Cup champions with the least number of goals to their name.

The new Germany

It was, however, Germany that impressed us the most. The world was surprised to see a multi-ethic German team in the World Cup. It seems many people still have a wrong notion about Germany due to its Nazi past.

Germany was the most entertaining team to watch in South Africa. The system changes within the national team and emphasis on youth development — which were brought in after the Euro 2000 debacle — are finally showing their results. In 2009, Germany was the first ever country in Europe to have won the Under-17, U-19 and U-21 European Championships in the same year. Now this talent is also moving into the senior national team with players like Manuel Neuer, Sami Khedira and Mesut Oezil to name a few.

Then there was the young sensation of Thomas Mueller. The 20-year-old not only won the “Young Player of the Tournament” award, but also finished as the Golden Boot winner having scored five goals (like David Villa, Wesley Sneijder and Diego Forlan). Incidentally, only 18 months ago he had visited West Bengal as part of the FC Bayern Munich II team and played against East Bengal and a Siliguri XI.

Germany played and worked as a team. This was their biggest strength. The young side was led ably by Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger who themselves are in their mid-20s, but have years of experience on their side. For Schweinsteiger, in particular, it was the breakthrough tournament. And a lot more can be expected from this young German team. Their heart-warming football has won Germany many new fans across the world.

A great host

The first ever World Cup on African soil was overall a success. The feared problems in infrastructure, security, transport and public participation were quite efficiently handled by the locals. And they made up for other deficiencies through their passion and friendliness, but some visiting fans surely underestimated the cool winter climate. As for the games, some pitches were not up to the standard of a World Cup and others quickly fell apart as the tournament went on, which didn’t help the cause of the actual game.

And then there was the pain for the ears — the Vuvuzela. Before the tournament began, most people thought this would manifest the distinct African cultural identity, but this plastic horn turned out to be something that the world could do without. Over the first few days one could only hear the constant noise of the Vuvuzela, a monotonous sound. Such was the noise level in the stadium that one could hear no fan chanting; not even the national anthems could be heard. The local organisers did discuss whether to ban the Vuvuzelas or not, but FIFA didn’t come forward to take a decision in the interest of the fans in the stadium and those watching the game from across the world.

Disappointments


The biggest disappointments in South Africa were defending champions Italy and runners-up France. Italy came into the World Cup with no win in 2010 and also left with their negative record intact. Two draws and a loss in their final game against Slovakia meant Italy would finish at the bottom of Group F — behind an unbeaten New Zealand. Coach Marcello Lippi didn’t read the signs well before the tournament. He, therefore, decided to stick with the old guard and it backfired in a big way. But Italy’s woes don’t end here as no real talent is coming through their system. Qualifying for Euro 2012 might become an issue now.

As for France, it was a national catastrophy and shame in the way the “Equipe Tricolore” behaved and played in South Africa. France could just sneak into the World Cup through Thierry Henry’s controversial handball against Ireland last November. This ‘Les Blues’ squad had individual class, but was never a team which coach Raymond Domenech could control and guide.

It all culminated in Nicolas Anelka abusing his coach during half-time of the match against Mexico, and then the players refusing to participate in training sessions. Maybe France should have stayed home and not gone through such an embarrassment. In the end, even French President Nicolas Sarkozy had to get involved.

And then there was Africa. The host continent hoped to see a team go as far as possible, maybe even reach the final. Some pundits even said it would be the African World Cup. In the end, however, Africa must be happy and proud that Ghana, as the third African nation, reached the quarterfinals. Had Ghana been lucky, they could have reached the semifinals. It was the ominous 120th minute, the last minute of extra time against Uruguay, when Luis Suarez blocked the ball on the line with his hands and Asamoah Gyan missed the chance by whacking the ball onto the crossbar. Uruguay then went on to win the match in penalties.

Other African sides did shine in patches: The host South Africa did well, so did Ivory Coast and Algeria; but more was expected from them.

Positives

The phrase that there aren’t any small or big teams anymore in world football is becoming more and more standard. One cannot go into a match expecting the bigger side to win for sure. Often they do win in the end, but they have to play hard as the smaller sides from around the globe are catching up. This will make future World Cups even more interesting to watch. Hopefully, Asian and African sides will work hard to successfully challenge bigger nations in the near future!

An interesting piece of statistic is that New Zealand remained the only unbeaten team at the 2010 FIFA World Cup with their three draws. All other sides had at least lost one match over the duration of the tournament. And who would have thought that the minnows from New Zealand would be the unbeaten team.

Superstars?

None of the overhyped pre-tournament stars could shine, be it Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Wayne Rooney or Fernando Torres. None of these players, who had had good seasons for their respective club sides, could shine at the World Cup. The star in most cases was the team. After all, team-play was often more important than individual brilliance. In an ideal scenario the individual brilliance was an added bonus to the team.

But new stars emerged. Like Dutchman Wesley Sneijder, Germany’s Mesut Oezil or youngster Thomas Mueller and seasoned Uruguayan Diego Forlan, besides the Spanish geniuses of Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez.

Indeed, there was a superstar at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, but it wasn’t a footballer. It was Psychic Paul, an octopus at the Sea Life Aquarium in Oberhausen in far away Germany. Paul didn’t play at the World Cup, but rather predicted the results of all Germany matches and the final. And Paul scored an incredible eight out of eight correct. No mistakes in any of his predictions even though there were threats to his life. Towards the end of the World Cup, the frenzy around Paul had reached unbelievable proportions. More than 120 journalists covered Paul’s predictions for the third place playoff and the final live from Oberhausen.

Sadly for the legion of global Paul fans, the Sea Life in Oberhausen has said that Paul has now retired from football match predictions. But who knows if he could be tempted to come out of retirement!

Rise & fall of Latin America

After the group stages everyone was talking about a South American country winning the tournament, with Europe giving a weak and disjoined picture of itself. In the quarterfinals there were four South American nations, only three from Europe and in Ghana one from Africa. It looked likely that a South American nation could go all the way. Numerous experts and fans were already talking about a Brazil vs Argentina final, with the Netherlands and Germany not seen as serious opposition.

After the meteoric rise came the harsh crash, as reality once more set in. The stats of the last few World Cups prove it: Argentina hasn’t gone beyond the quarterfinals in the last 20 years, and Brazil has lost at the same stage over the last couple of World Cups. As talented as the Brazilian squad are, they failed the first real test and crumbled under pressure against the Netherlands, who fought back as Brazil also looked overconfident that the Dutch wouldn’t be able to score or endanger their one-goal lead. A big mistake and they had to pay a heavy price for it and fly home.

For Argentina it was all about their coach Diego Maradona and star player Lionel Messi. The tournament showed that Maradona has a long way to go to become a coach. At least, he needs assistants who are excellent at their work and Maradona would have to be willing to listen to them. As for Messi, he is as good as his teammates. At Barca he has Iniesta, Xavi, among others, who play for him; and, he was missing those guys in the Argentinean squad, which had a depth in top class strikers but overall wasn’t the team to worry stronger opponents.

Asia arrives, finally

It was a good sign to see Asia showing that they are closing in on the other continents in world football. South Korea and Japan, in particular, showed what they are capable of, but when it mattered most in the pre-quarterfinals they just couldn’t get past South American opponents.

The South Koreans were known to be physically fit, able to run for 90 minutes and more, but now with more and more South Koreans playing in Europe they have gained in international experience which is helping them as a team. Also, the side was ably led by their captain, Ji-Sung Park.

Japan’s coach Okada had said before the tournament that his side aims to be in the semifinals. Many laughed about it, but after their pre-quarterfinal penalty shootout loss against Paraguay, many said the sons from the Land of the Rising Sun could have achieved more. Also, Japan have a new star in the making in Keisuke Honda. As always, Japan was well organised, but if they had a more creative midfielder or a top striker, then they could have worried bigger opponents.

Australia’s tournament, meanwhile, ended before it had even started with the 4-0 trashing at the hands of Germany. They did draw Ghana one-all in a game which they could have won with 10 men and in their final game beat Serbia 2-1. They, however, lost out on the pre-quarterfinals due to goal difference.

North Korea were the surprise qualifiers and the lowest-ranked nation in the tournament. In their opening game, the players from the communist state held Brazil goalless for 55 minutes and then lost 2-1, which did raise many eyebrows. Many hoped for further surprises, but the North Koreans were trashed 7-0 by Portugal and then lost 0-3 against Ivory Coast.

-- The writer is an international football expert and consultant, who worked for Times Now and ESPN India during the 2010 FIFA World Cup

Sabtu, 17 Juli 2010

I.M. Vijayan: The start of a new career

A legend returns. Invalappil Mani Vijayan, better known as I.M. Vijayan, is back in the Mecca of Indian football - Kolkata. But this time not as a football player, but as the coach of promoted Calcutta Premier Division outfit Southern Samity. Yesterday was his first training day with his new team at the Rabindra Sarobar Stadium and it was of interest though the former India captain has chosen to start his coaching career with a smaller side.

Vijayan told the media present that he was happy to be back in Kolkata and hoped to prove his worth as a coach. Vijayan has been given a one year contract by Southern Samiti and hopes to be competitive with his team in the tough Calcutta Premier League.

The "black pearl" of Indian football as Vijayan was dubbed in Kolkata during his playing days for Mohun Bagan AC and East Bengal Club returns to the "City of Joy" to start his second career in football. The now 41 year old aims to learn the coaching trade and train his team with his years of playing experience. And if Vijayan has one thing, then it is match experience plus technical class and abilities. In fact Vijayan has been one of the best footballers ever to have played for India. And I still remember a journalist from Sky Sports telling me in summer 2001 that if Vijayan had been born in Brazil or Argentina, then he could have been a world star after watching him train and play. The journalist had told me, Vijayan would have been scouted at a young age, brought to some club in Europe and would have been developed further as a footballer. Maybe Vijayan can teach his wards the basics that they achieve what he couldn't.

I.M. Vijayan recently passed the AFC's 'B' Licence Coaching Course in Hosur, Tamil Nadu conducted by the AIFF's Director of Coaching Gabriel E. Joseph for coaches holding the 'C' Coaching Licence. Vijayan aims to next obtain the 'A' Coaching Licence and in future would love to be attached to the Indian national team in "any" capacity as he said.

All the best to you Vijubhai!

2011 SAFF Cup in India?

Will India play hosts to the next edition of the South Asian Football Federation Championships, in short the SAFF Cup? As per the plans and wishes of the South Asian Football Federation India could host next years championships. But if the AIFF will be willing to play host for south Asia's biggest football tournament is not known at this moment.

The last edition of the SAFF Cup was held in Dhaka, Bangladesh in December 2009 with record champions India winning back the title. And what made the title victory more commendable was that India played the tournament with its Under-23 national team, beating the senior sides of their south Asian rivals and also giving the youngsters much needed big match exposure.

But as per original plans the 2009 edition of the SAFF Cup was supposed to be played in Goa, but India pulled out as hosts due to political tensions between India and Pakistan. This tension resulted in the Indian government being unwilling to grant the Pakistani team the necessary visas to enter the country. At that stage Bangladesh stepped in and offered to host the championships, so Dhaka went on to host the championships.

The tournament promoters World Sports Group and its major sponsors want south Asia's show piece tournament to be held in India. And that happens to be logical as India is the biggest and most developed football market in the region. So it looks likely that India would be asked to host the next edition of the eight nation championships in which Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka face each other.

Portugal Camp: Baichung forced to leave, health issue

In a major setback for India's preparations for the 2011 AFC Asian Cup in Qatar captain Baichung Bhutia left the team camp in Portugal yesterday to fly back to India due to Thyroiditis being diagnosed on him. And Team India could be without its captain in the next three/four months with insiders saying that Baichung is only set to rejoin the team in November.

While in Portugal Baichung did not been train for the last five days. He lost up to five kilos of weight and has been feeling weak which called for a medical assessment. A Thyroid Profile was done on him in Portugal which revealed that he is suffering from Thyroiditis with Hyperthyroidism. Team doctor Sachin Yadav has advised him to take complete rest and get medical treatment, which would help him recover fully but it will take time for his Thyroid profile to become normal again.

For Baichung this isn't the first time that a Thyroid related illness has been diagnosed on him. A few years ago he had to spend some time in hospital to get healthy and match fit again.

For Team India losing Baichung Bhutia will be a heavy burden. He is not only the captain and leader of the team, Baichung is a living hero amongst his team mates for all that he has been able to achieve. Coach Bob Houghton will have to see who will be captain in Baichung's absence during the Portugal tour, while for the team it means the younger strikers will have to prove themselves with Baichung out for the moment and Sunil Chhetri having club commitments for his MLS side Kansas City Wizards.

All the best to Bhai! We need you in Qatar...

Jumat, 16 Juli 2010

Octopus Paul still a craze in India

The real superstar of the 2010 FIFA World Cup wasn't a player on the pitch, but rather a two and a half year old Octopus at the Sea Life Aquarium in Oberhausen, Germany. And I am amazed that in India the craze around Psychic Paul is still on, while here in Germany Paul is still part of private conversations and gossip, but he has disappeared from the media limelight.

Here in Germany people now regard Paul as having been an episode in this years World Cup. A surely crazy one, getting eight out of eight predictions right is a big achievement, but now it is history. But I had to realise that in India Paul is still a big topic, even after the end of the World Cup.

I have received numerous mails with attachments showing different pictures of Paul. My favourite one is the one in which Paul is deciding on the winner of a match between Brazil and India. It is the final of the 2026 FIFA World Cup and not surprisingly Paul the Octopus decides on India winning their first World Cup. I just love that picture, my only worry is that India needs to qualify for the 2026 edition. Thereafter the prediction can come true. Isn't it?

Another one which I have received shows Paul sitting in a birds cage besides an Indian fortune teller. Paul is deciding the future of the customers under the title "Aap ka future" (your future) by picking the cards, while the parrot who used to house in the cage is looking back at his old job and holds up a placard saying "urgently need a job".

Just to let you all know. The Sea Life in Oberhausen has officially announced on Monday that Paul is retiring from the business of football match predictions and will focus once more on being only an Octopus in an aquarium.

Kamis, 15 Juli 2010

Thierry Henry goes west, join NY Red Bulls

In an expected but still spectacular move French international striker Thierry Henry has joined US Major League Soccer club New York Red Bulls. Henry leaves FC Barcelona after three years at the Catalan club with one year of his contract still to run. But the club granted him his wish to leave and have allowed him move to the US.

The 32-year-old former Arsenal player signed a multi year contract on Wednesday and will be introduced at a news conference on Thursday at the Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey.
Henry is expected to make his Red Bulls' debut on July 22 in an exhibition match against English Premier League club Tottenham Hotspurs.

"Some people might think I am going to go there for vacation — I do actually go there for vacation — but it won't be for vacation this time," Henry said in a video interview on the club website. "I'm a competitor and I don't like to lose."
And Henry added, "This marks an exciting new chapter in my career and life."

For the New York Red Bulls the signing of Henry marks a considerable push to promote itself, the Red Bull brand and also the MLS as a league. This follows the clubs opening of their soccer (football) specific stadium, the Red Bull Arena, a few months ago.
Red Bull Football consists of three clubs - Red Bulls Salzburg (Austria), New York Red Bulls (USA), RB Leipzig (Germany) plus the Red Bull Ghana Football Academy and an Academy in Brazil. Once all these entities are working at the optimum the Austrians could further expand their football empire around the world.
Often people think the energy drink manufacturer from the Austrian Alps is only using adventure sports and Formula 1 to promote its products, but they are also focusing on using football more and more. Red Bull is known to be one of the most innovative companies when it comes to brand and product promotion. So the football world should look out.

Meanwhile in the MLS the signing of Thierry Henry is second only to the signing of English superstar David Beckham by the Los Angeles Galaxy a few years ago. Henry also joins former Arsenal team mate Freddy Ljungberg in the US, who now plays for the Seattle Sounders.
And with other players set to make a move to the US it will hopefully further strengthen the MLS, while we as Indians hope that our very own Sunil Chhetri will get the chance to play for the Kansas City Wizards against such players like Thierry Henry.

2010 World Cup: Indicast Podcast - the Final

On Monday I once more was part of the Indicast Podcast's Sportsbench special on the ongoing 2010 FIFA World Cup. And it was the last one after the final between Spain and the Netherlands. It was moderated by Vikram Nanivadekar with myself, Jan Roskott and Corey as guests discussing the grand finale.

It is titled "Football World Cup 2010 - Finale" and it surely will make interesting hearing for you all. A nice discussion about what we all have seen over the last few days in South Africa. The highs and lows from the final game of the tournament...


Listen Online (64 kbps) : ~ 34 mins











Here the direct link to the Indicast Podcast page: Sportsbench Podcast


Follow me on my Facebook Fanpage: Arunava Chaudhuri Fanpage

Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Arunfoot

Follow me on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/arunavaaboutfootball

Rabu, 14 Juli 2010

Ballack: Back to the roots

German Bundesliga club Bayer 04 Leverkusen yesterday presented to the media their biggest signing in years, German international captain Michael Ballack. Having left the club in 2002 and after four years each at FC Bayern Munich and FC Chelsea London he returns to the club which made him an international star.

And the media interest was worthy of an internationally renowned player. In the press area of the BayArena there where around 130 journalists, 25 photographers and a dozen TV crews. The calm and quiet days in Leverkusen are most likely over and expectations are set to rise amongst the fans too.

Ballack arrived for the press conference along with club MD Wolfgang Holzhaeuser, sports manager Rudi Voeller and coach Jupp Heynckes. And on a hot day Ballack came dressed in shorts and a black T-Shirt.

Holzhaeuser termed it as the "Transfer of the Year" for the club and said, "If it only had been an issue of money, then we wouldn't have had any chance to sign Michael Ballack."
But as sports manager Rudi Voeller stated the Bayer AG was willing to help make the transfer possible plus there where the arguments regarding the young, talented team and Michael Ballack was willing to come back to Leverkusen.

Ballack thereafter said things went really fast. The first informal talks were held in mid-May, just before his injury, on the sidelines of the testimonial match for his long time friend Bernd Schneider. It didn't look realistic then, but both sides continued to be in touch plus it helped that both sides knew each other which in the end most likely clinched the deal.

Ballack also sees the potential in the team and hopes he can finally fulfil his dreams of winning trophies with Bayer 04 Leverkusen. In 2001/02 the club finished second and runners-up in the UEFA Champions League, German Bundesliga and German Cup (DFB Pokal). That summer also a number of Bayer players were part of the German national team which finished runners-up in the 2002 FIFA World Cu. And since then Ballack has the tag of always coming second on him, which he couldn't change at Bayern, Chelsea or the German national team.

But first Ballack would need to regain match fitness. He is currently working on his rehabilitation and hopes to be fit again for the start of the Bundesliga season on August 21 when Leverkusen travel to Borussia Dortmund.

Coming to the topic of Germany Ballack made it clear that he wasn't retiring from international football and was still the captain.
Ballack said, "I am the captain of the national team. Philipp Lahm has made his claim at a moment that I feel is inopportune. I was injured and could not defend myself. There are hierarchies. I am going to talk to Philipp about this business."
Surely a conversation is going to be on amongst Ballack and Lahm when they next meet-up at the Germany camp.

Selasa, 13 Juli 2010

2010 World Cup: My Top Eleven

The 2010 FIFA World Cup is over. 64 matches were played and Spain has emerged as the first time winner of the World Cup trophy. I watched nearly all the matches except those running parallel and since the start I have been making notes on who could be in my personal eleven for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

But such a selection depends on the system one chooses and as most coaches played the 4-2-3-1 system, I have tried to pick my team accordingly to this system and I only took players from teams who reached at least the quarterfinals as this is the toughest stage in such a tournament, while others had already gone home.
And still I had to leave out numerous players who would have fitted in like Andres Iniesta, Diego Forlan, Luis Suarez, Sergio Ramos and Arne Friedrich to name a few.


GOALKEEPER - Iker Casillas (Spain, CF Real Madrid) - Captain of the successful Spanish side. Initially had a quite tournament, but then got into the act in the quarterfinals when he saved Cardozo's penalty and then twice denied Arjen Robben the chance to score the winner for the Netherlands. But Germany's Manuel Neuer and the Netherlands Martin Steckelenburg were close contenders.

RIGHT BACK - Philipp Lahm (Germany, FC Bayern Munich) - had a lot of burden on his shoulders taking over the captaincy from Michael Ballack just before the tournament. One has known for years that Lahm is one of the best right backs in world football, he proved it once more and also showed his leadership skills amongst a young German team. This kept him ahead of Sergio Ramos (Spain) and Maicon (Brazil)

CENTRE BACK - Gerard Pique (Spain, FC Barcelona) - Maybe not as often seen or heard in commentary as his colleague Carlos Puyol, but Pique like at Barca has become a key element in the teams play in starting of moves, but he wasn't the man to move forward, rather stayed back and ensure nothing happened. He only moved up for corners due to his height.

CENTRE BACK - Lucio (Brazil, FC Internationale Milan) - Brazil's captain is a real fighter and he kept the Brazilian back line together as their overall defensive set-up looked good, but it crumbled once put under pressure by the Dutch. Still Lucio tried to do something for the team, which just couldn't fight back.

LEFT BACK - Giovanni van Bronckhorst (Netherlands, Feyenoord Rotterdam) - The most difficult decision as no one really impressed me in the left back position over the duration of the tournament. Van Bronckhorst in the end was the best of the lot with Joan Capdevila (Spain) and Jorge Fucile (Uruguay) coming close.

DEFENSIVE MIDFIELDER - Mark van Bommel (Netherlands, FC Bayern Munich) - Off the field the most likeable guy, but on it Mark is the most rough, sometimes even unfair player who can win matches for his side as he sometimes systematically destroys his opponents. Often with fair means, but sometimes it can get ugly, still a key element why the Dutch reached the finals. If not him, then Xabi Alonso would have been my pick though Sergio Busquets would be a close second as he is more of a van Bommel kind of player.

DEFENSIVE MIDFIELDER - Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany, FC Bayern Munich) - it was the breakthrough tournament for the young, but experienced German who like at the club has grown in stature. He was the midfield engine of the young Germans. Finally it wasn't Schweini anymore, but Mr. Schweinsteiger who controlled the midfield as if he hadn't done anything else in his life. Initially he concentrated on his defensive duties, but against England and Argentina played brilliant passes for the third goal in both games.

RIGHT ATTACKING MIDFIELDER - Thomas Mueller (Germany, FC Bayern Munich) - the find of the tournament! The German youngster not only won the "Young Player of the tournament" award, but also won the "Golden Boot" as top scorer with five goals like David Villa, Wesley Sneijder and Diego Forlan; but his three assists placed him above the rest. And what a tournament it has been for the boy from Pahl. After a great first season at Bayern Munich he continued his meteoric rise and was a key member of the young German side. He beat team mate Arjen Robben in this position, but at the club he will likely return to a more central position.

CENTRAL ATTACKING MIDFIELDER - Wesley Sneijder (Netherlands, FC Internationale Milan) - What a season he had at Inter Milan winning a rare treble after joining from Real Madrid and Sneijder continued at the World Cup where he left off at his club. The key Dutch player in offence, who also scored some crucial goals for his team.

LEFT ATTACKING MIDFIELDER - David Villa (Spain, CF Valencia) - Was more effective in this position on the left as he had the space to run in front of him. Is stronger if not the point man in the middle, chance to play on the wing and move up or take long range efforts. Played another strong tournament.

FORWARD - Miroslav Klose (Germany, FC Bayern Munich) - the comeback man in the German team. Has now 14 goals in World Cup history, only one less then Ronaldo and as many as the legendary Gerd Mueller. Most probably one of the most underrated strikers in football history. A team player, who does a lot of defensive work, sometimes overdoes it like against Serbia; but scored crucial goals for his team.


COACH - Joachim Loew (Germany) - My coach as he formed a team out of the young German in less then a month. And played them as per his philosophy which is attractive attacking football. Something new for Germany, but something which the world appreciated. And credit for that to Loew!


What do you think about my selection? Please do let me know...

Senin, 12 Juli 2010

The romantic moment of the 2010 FIFA World Cup

This situation happens again and again after most games around the world, especially the higher the level and standard. A player is interviewed after the match, but what happened yesterday night after Spain won the World Cup is a first for live television post match interview.

Spanish captain Iker Casillas is interviewed by Sara Carbonero for Spanish TV channel Telecinco (Channel 5) after the game. What makes this interview interesting is that Casillas and Sara are together, and after the loss against Switzerland there had been speculation that Casillas was being distracted by his girlfriend being around. Some even demanded her to be send back to Spain, so the captain could focus only on football.

But after winning the World Cup it was time to pay back. When Sara asked Casillas whom he had to thank for the title. He thanked his father & mother, his brother and then stopped for a few seconds; Sara said lets watch the pictures of the day but Casillas lifted his finger and then kissed Sara on the mouth and check with the journalists around clapping for this burst of emotion. Sara stood there shocked, but for me it was a great moment from this World Cup. It gave us a personal touch to this rough and tough game of football, which we love to call the beautiful game. Isn't it?


Watch the video here:

Minggu, 11 Juli 2010

Final: Spain are champions!

The 2010 FIFA World Cup will allow a new nation to add its name to the list of football world champions as the Netherlands face Spain.

Netherlands 0-1 (0-0) [0-0] Spain (extra time)
Goals: 0-1 Andres Iniesta (116').

Spain are the new world champions in football. In the final at the Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg the Spanish defeated the Netherlands 1-0 in extra time. It was an Andres Iniesta goal in the 116th minute which gave the Furia Roja their first world title and they follow-up their 2008 European Championship triumph with the global title to show their dominance on world football. But the performances in the World Cup tournament weren't of the level of Euro2008.

Sadly the match never rose to any heights and referee Howard Webb from England handed out 12 yellow cards and a yellow-card to Johnny Heitinga in a match which was not too hard, but even though Webb allowed a lot of freedom the players didn't utilise it and some where asking for red cards. Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong should have seen red cards for rough fouls, while the man who scored the winner for Spain Andres Iniesta should have seen the red card for a retaliation on van Bommel. And towards the end a lot of players from both sides were seem lamenting with the referee.

Spain were the better side on display, but after a good start with a header from Sergio Ramos saved by Martin Steckelenburg in the 5th minute it was as often in the tournament, Spain had most of the possession while the opponent was relying on counter attacks. The Dutch had their best chance on the brink of half time from an Arjen Robben shot which Iker Casillas cleared for a corner.

After the break Spain continued to control the game, but their passing wasn't as good as it could be. And then Arjen Robben had the best chance of the game for the Dutch. Wesley Sneijder send through a ball for Robben who only has Casillas to beat, but his shot is deflected of the foot from his former Real Madrid foot for a corner. Spain's best chance was wasted by David Villa when Heitinga in the box hits over the ball and Villa can't put the ball in with Heitinga recovering to clear. But the match headed for a goalless draw as both sides only had half chances.

In extra time the match suddenly gained pace and Spain looked the better side. Substitute Cesc Fabregas was beautifully put through by Iniesta, but his shot is blocked by Steckelenburg's foot in the 95th minute. On the other side the Dutch could have gone ahead, but defender Joris Mathijsen headed a corner over. Then in the 109th minute the Dutch were reduced to 10 men when Heitinga received a second yellow card for stopping Iniesta from going through. And in the remaining minutes Spain were looking for the winner with the Dutch looking more and more tired after a running intensive game. And the golden goal which would decide the World Cup final came in the 116th minute when Fabregas found a free Iniesta and the Barca star placed the ball into the net, which resulted in big celebrations in the Spain camp. The Dutch had no answer and it ended 1-0 for Spain to bring curtains to the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Amsterdam in a Tuk Tuk


Some might ask the question what is a Tuk Tuk? Well, it is the Thai version of our Indian auto rickshaw. And why am I talking about it while in Amsterdam? Well I found one yesterday evening while looking for a location to watch the Germany vs Uruguay match. And there she was, a beauty in Orange with flags, garlands, in Dutch colours. I directly had an idea. I need to do a "price to camera" once again using an auto rickshaw as a backdrop while being in Europe.

I quickly did but a heavy thunder shower with lightening and rains was on the way, so suddenly the owner of the Tuk Tuk turned up to put it back into the garage. And he was more then happy for us to shoot his vehicle. His friends also turned up and they told us about their club of friends which was situated behind the house where the Tuk Tuk stood. And there was this small club house in which these people meet-up on Friday's and enjoy their time. Normally over the autumn, winter and spring; but during the World Cup they have met for the matches of the Netherlands.

During our conversation we get the offer if we want to tour Amsterdam in the Tuk Tuk the next morning. And it is an offer too good to turn down, so at 8.45 am the next morning we are back at the club, have a cup of coffee and then we are off to visit the hotspots of Amsterdam to shoot with the Tuk Tuk and interview people ahead of tonight's game. It is an enjoyable ride as it isn't a typical Asian vehicle as the owner has tuned in up a little over the years and surely could have taken part in the MTV series "Pimp My Ride".

We first went to the Museum Plein, the main square for public viewing in Amsterdam where tonight over 70,000 people are expected to view the game. Construction was at the time still on in full swing and I got the chance to interview locals, tourists from Spain and the USA plus media colleagues. Thereafter we drove through the small lanes of Amsterdam along the water and our rickshaw was an attraction for all, who hadn't seen something like this before we ended our morning at a major square with further interviews and reactions before the game. One could feel the buzz in the city ahead of the game. And also the Tuk Tuk ride ended for us...