Thursday, 30 September 2010

The Third Biggest Sport’s Event In The World?

Yep, that’s the boast I heard tonight about the Ryder Cup.  Not really sure how that conclusion has been reached, especially with the Commonwealth Games and the Athletics World Championships having a better argument to be on the same podium as The Olympics and the football World Cup.


What the Ryder Cup does bring is an almost certain guarantee that there will be some sort of drama right at the climax, either with a missed put, or with some unsporting behaviour, as occurred in 1991 and 1999.  Both Kiawah Island & Brookline have entered the annuls of the sports books under the heading as notorious. Whatever happens, we can hope for some nerve shredding drama at Celtic Manor this weekend.


The action starts tomorrow morning with the Fourballs.  First up will be Lee Westwood & the USPGA winner Martin Kaymer up against the US Masters winner Phil Mickelson & Dustin Johnson, this will be at 7:45am tomorrow.  At 8, it will be the all Northern Irish pairing of US Open winner Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy up against last years Open champion Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar.  English pair Iain Poulter and Ross Fisher will be up against the Tiger and Steve Stricker from quarter past 8, while last to tee off will be the pairing of Luke Donald & Paidraig Harrington up against Bubba Watson & Jeff Overton.


Europe will be hoping to put the nightmare of Valhalla behind them, while the Americans will be hoping to retain the cup and win on European soil for the first time since 1993.  I thought at the time the teams were announced & the wildcards picked that Europe would lose.  Now I'm not so sure.  I think Europe will cling on by a point.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Disaster Averted… But…

European Championships, Qualifying Group I, Hampden; Scotland 2 Liechtenstein 1

McManus Scores against Liechtenstein
During the victory which heralded Scottish Football’s anus mirabilis, Dennis Law and Jim Baxter were supposedly engaged in some sort of debate about how exactly to beat England.  Law, having played during the 9-3 drubbing in 1961, wanted to exact revenge by piling on the goals.  Baxter just wanted to extract the urine.  It seems at times as if the need to extract the urine has overtaken the need for results in Scottish football, and this was the case on Tuesday night when, no matter what the management and the players say, eleven players trooped on to the pitch at Hampden expecting to roll over a side 100 places below them in FIFA’s rankings system.

Scotland, were awful and at times bordered on the unprofessional.  They could not string passes together and gave the ball away far too many times.  Better sides than Liechtenstein would have taken Scotland on that performance, but then again Scotland would not have dropped their performance levels so alarmingly against better sides.  For such a poor side, Liechtenstein produced 2 of the best moves of the whole game either side of half time.

Weisser shot straight at McGregor before half time, but Mario Frick scored with a fantastic drive just after half time, topping off a good move which exploited Scottish players being out of position.  Frick’s goal woke Scotland up, as they belatedly began to go through the gears, with the equaliser coming about 15 minutes later through a Kenny Miller strike.

Scotland’s winner came deep in injury time, and evoked memories of their famous win in Limmasol during the qualification process for Italia 90. But still, we cannot escape the fact that Scotland were seconds away from drawing with Liechtenstein, and the can must be carried by the poor fortitude displayed by the players.  It is a mantra of mine, but it is one which bears repeating.  It’s not about how good you are, but how good you are upstairs.  Unfortunately the players did not display the correct mental attitude on Tuesday, which is a shame as they did so many things right on Friday in Lithuania.  We hope they can gather themselves together, as the Spain game is now approaching quickly.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

If It’s Lithuania, It Must Be The Euro’s Again

Dailly's score's V Lithuania, September 2006
12 years ago Scotland started a Euro 2000 campaign that would end in heartbreak at Wembley with a 0-0 draw in Villnius, a game that saw Neil McCann & Barry Ferguson make their debuts, 4 and a half years later, a 1-0 loss in Lithuania nearly derailed Scotland’s hopes of qualifying for Portugal (losing 6-0 in Amsterdam eventually did that), while four years ago Scotland’s 2-1 win made it two wins out of two going into their crunch clash with World Cup finalists France (before losing out, by that most Scottish of means, with a loss away in Georgia).  On Friday, Scotland are again in Lithuania, this time in Kaunas, for European Championship qualification duty.  All that will be missing will be the rendition of “I’ve Got You Babe”.

The background for this game couldn’t be more difficult for Scottish football.  Last week saw a series of results which together were a disaster.  Celtic were particularly culpable in surrendering a two goal lead by crashing to a 4-2 aggregate loss to Utrecht.  That is the equivalent of going to somewhere like Paisley and losing…  no wait they did that last season.  Celtic are now clearly a side in transition, Lennon will need to be afforded time to see if he can get things pulling in the right direction.  Motherwell’s fate was also frustrating, and alongside Dundee United’s fate, symptomatic of the general lack of exposure to the higher levels of the game.  Both sides lacked experience (Motherwell have got thus far with experience in the dug-out, they could have done with some experience on the pitch on Thursday).  All of which leaves Rangers alone in Europe struggling to keep the Scottish co-efficient afloat, a task not really helped by their European Cup draw.

For Scottish football, it will be key that the national team get off to a good start, starting with Lithuania.  For the double header (Scotland play Liechtenstein four days later at Hampden), Craig Levin has re-called David Weir, Lee McCulloch & Paul Hartley.  Should Weir play, he will be the oldest outfield player ever to have been capped by Scotland.  Making up a triumvirate of returning defenders for Scotland will be Andy Webster.  With Gordon still missing with injury, and a shaky defensive display against Sweden last month, the return of Weir, McCulloch & Webster will provide needed stability at the back.  I would also like to see Scotland start with a 3 man centre midfield (either playing 3-5-2 or 4-5-1, maybe evolving to a 4-3-2-1 as the game goes on).

Lithuania will be familiar bedfellows in more ways than one, no fewer than 9 of the Lithuania squad have plied their trade in Scottish football at one time or another. Zaliukas is still with Hearts, Velicka has joined Aberdeen on loan from Rangers this week, while Saulius Mikoliunas (he of the subtle dive during the last meeting, at Hampden in September 2007) is also in the squad.  His motivation will clearly be that the dive made him the most hated player in Scottish Football for a short period, with the media fallout forcing him from Hearts.

A win on Friday really is vital for Scotland to have a chance of qualification for Euro 2010.  After Liechtenstein on Tuesday, Scotland will be away to the Czech Republic before the arrival of the Defending champions, and new World Cup winners Spain.  Maximum points from the first quarter of the qualifying programme would provide Scottish Football with a much needed shot in the arm.