Robotica 1, Brazil 0
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IN THE NEWS Nadal all the way
Nadal all the way
Teams from the African continent have outshone the Asian countries in the first round of the football World Cup, writes Ivninderpal Singh
THE FIFA World Cup might be dominated by teams from Europe and South America, but African and Asian countries have also made their presence felt. Ghana, South Korea and to some extent Tunisia have done their respective continents proud with their heroics. African teams, in fact, have done better than the Asian ones.
Five countries from Africa — Ghana, Tunisia, Angola, Ivory Coast and Togo — qualified for the finals, fighting odds like political turmoil and civil wars at home. Except for Tunisia, the rest are all first-time qualifiers. Rather than being overawed by the occasion, these teams have given a tough challenge to European and South American sides.
Ghana stunned the Czech Republic, the world’s No. 2 team, and gutsy Angola held underachieving giants of World Cup history Mexico. Among the other African countries, Tunisia gave Spain a hard time, while Ivory Coast went down fighting to both Argentina and Holland. Togo lost to both South Korea and Switzerland, but they were able to keep low the margin of defeat.
It is not the first time that a lower-ranked team from Africa had humbled a highly regarded side. During the 1990 World Cup in Italy, defending champions Argentina were shocked by Cameroon in the opening match of the tournament. Cameroon went on to become the first African nation to reach the quarterfinals.
Nigeria led the African challenge in 1994 and 1998 and Senegal replicated Cameroon’s feat in 2002 when they defeated 1998 champions France in the opening match. The 2006 edition has belonged so far to Ghana. After losing the first match to Italy, the Black Stars came back into the tournament with a well-deserved win against the fancied Czechs.
Among the four Asian nations playing in World Cup 2006, South Korea have proved that their 2002 run to the semifinals was not a fluke. Korea beat Togo and held France to prolong the latter’s win drought in the World Cup. However, the other three Asian countries — Japan, Iran and Saudi Arabia — have by and large failed to make much impact.
The success rate of African and Asian countries at the World Cup is much less as compared to teams from Europe and Latin America. This is quite evident from the fact that only nine teams from both continents — five from Africa and four from Asia — are part of the 32 finalists in 2006 as compared to 14 from Europe alone.
Comparing the success of teams from the two continents at the World Cup, it was Asia which made a grand start in 1966 when North Korea reached the quarterfinals but lost to Portugal 3-5. In the past two decades, African nations have performed better than the Asian countries. Morocco reached the knockout stage in 1986, Cameroon entered the quarterfinals in 1990, Nigeria crossed the first-round hurdle in both 1994 and 1998 and Senegal went as far as the quarterfinals in 2002.
Among the Asians, Saudi Arabia reached the knockout stage in 1994, while hosts Japan and South Korea reached the knockout stage and the semifinals, respectively, in 2002. The South Korean team has also played in six consecutive World Cup finals from 1986, making a total of seven World Cup finals in all (the first being in 1954). However, Japan have found it hard in Germany to repeat their 2002 home success.
Beginning with the 1986 World Cup, at least one African team has reached the second round or further, while in the case of Asian countries it has happened thrice in the past 20 years. To pose a greater challenge to European and South American giants, more inter-continental tournaments are needed. These will benefit Asia more as they have lot to learn from the Africans.
IN the next few years, football powers like Brazil, Argentina, Italy or Germany may be in for some really tough competition from none other than humanoid robots.
These robots were seen in action at Robo Cup 2006, an international football tournament held in Bremen, Germany, recently.
As many as 440 teams from 36 countries participated in the 10th edition of this unique annual event. The Australian robots team — NUBots, which represents the University of Newcastle — defeated the University of New South Wales’ rUNSWift team 7-3 in the final. The NUBots aggregated 64 goals but didn’t conceded any.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the NUBots have retained one of the top three spots in the Robo Cup for the past four years, but this is the very first time they have tasted victory after a narrow defeat to Germany last year. Germany’s University of Dortmund team Microsoft Hellhounds took the third place.
Held in Germany for the first time, the five-day tournament had robots slugging it out in 11 different leagues or categories for simulation robots, small and middle sized robots, as also four-legged and humanoid ones. In the humanoid league, there were teams from countries like the USA, Canada, Germany, Japan, Singapore and Iran.
A number of matches saw live commentary provided by a pair of robots developed by scientists from Carnegie Mellon University, USA.
Organisers said their ultimate aim was to develop by 2050 a team of humanoid robots that could beat the human World Cup football champions.
"Robo Cup 2006 is the first step towards a communal vision. This vision includes the development of a humanoid robot team of 11 players, which can win against a human soccer world champion team," Minoru Asada, President of the Robo Cup Federation, said on the official website.
The Robo Cup competitors are built around the Sony AIBO robotic dog, and teams of students and academics work year-round on their design. Each of the four competitors in a team wirelessly communicate with other players, out-manoeuvre the opposition, try to keep the ball on the pitch and most importantly score goals for their side, all without human intervention.
The game involves robots playing both individualistic (each agent/robot must identify relevant objects, self-localise, dribble) and cooperative (passes, complementary roles) elements in a dynamic and adversarial environment.
The tournament, followed by a two-day symposium, also offered about 2,500 experts from all over the world a chance to come together and hold discussions on artificial intelligence and robot engineering.
"After 50 years of research within artificial intelligence, it has been determined that these things can be better researched using football than the game of chess. We have advanced a fair bit for this 10th year of Robo Cup," said Hans-Dieter Burkhard, vice-president of the federation.
The previous Robo Cup was held in Osaka, Japan, while the next one will be staged in Atlanta, USA. — Agencies
GOALS — they bring joy for some and tears for others, but everyone has his own way of celebrating making his mark on the World Cup stage.
So far, nobody had shown quite the breathtaking athleticism Nigerian star Julius Aghahowa, who four years ago in Asia turned seven backwards somersaults after finding the net.
But as the top teams at this year’s event begin finding their form and with it a place in the last 16 so the celebratory routines have been getting slowly more imaginative.
Ivan Kaviedes of Ecuador got in on the act when he helped to secure his side’s surprise package to the second round after a thumping win over Costa Rica prompted him to take out a yellow Spiderman-style mask and put it on his head.
The zany move was to pay tribute in part to former international Otolino Tenorio, who died in a traffic accident last year and who also used to bring out a mask dedicated to comic strip heroes.
Togo preferred to leap as on their prey when they took a shock lead against South Korea Portugal’s Pauleta lived up to his "Eagle of the Azores" nickname by spreading his arms wide when he netted the winner against Angola while the Saudi Arabian "sons of the desert" preferred to adopt a prayer stance.
The trend for outlandish goal celebrations is back, and the race is one for the wackiest, with Kaviedes probably out in front so far.
The elastic Aghahowa aside, recent years saw Brazil striker Bebeto celebrate on the way to 1994 glory by inaugurating the "new dad" baby-cradling routine, colleagues Romario and Mazinho rushing to join him in what became a favoured triple celebration.
And who could forget the hip-wiggling performance in 1990 of Cameroon veteran striker Roger Milla, who at 38 thrilled the fans by dancing solo by the corner flag before he was engulfed by team-mates?
Eight years later, Chilean Marcelo Salas impersonated a matador by going down on one knee, a red cape all that was missing as he put rivals to the sword.
In the eyes bulging category, nobody stands out to date in this year’s finals. Certainly nobody has come close to emulating fiery Italian Marco Tardelli, who looked close to spontaneous combustion after he scored in the 1982 final win over the then West Germany.
At the other end of the scale, French defender Lilian Thuram sank to his knees and put a finger to his lips after his semifinal double knocked out Croatia in 1998.
Thuram had never scored for the national side before — and never scored again.
England striker Peter Crouch may tread new goal-scoring ground, but despite netting the effort that undid 82 minutes of Trinidad and Tobago’s resistance, he is keeping his famed robot dance routine under wraps until such time as he can net for England in the final, provided they go that far. — AFP
turns him on
AFTER failing narrowly in his attempt to match Rod Laver and Don Budge, world number one Roger Federer will seek consolation by trying to emulate two more tennis greats when he starts the third defence of his Wimbledon title next week.
If he wins again at the All England Club, the Swiss will join American Pete Sampras and Swede Bjorn Borg as the only men to win four consecutive titles at the grasscourt Grand Slam event in the professional era.
Federer has a year to stew over his poor display against Spain’s Rafael Nadal in the French Open final on June 11 when months of careful preparations came to nothing as he once again failed in his bid to complete the full set of Grand Slam titles achieved by Laver and Budge.
The 24-year-old Swiss’s standing in the game is such that he is long used to being talked of in such exalted company.
As he showed last week, though, success has not affected his work ethic. Even Federer’s fitness coach told him it would be understandable if he did not defend his Halle grasscourt title following his exhausting and ultimately disappointing campaign on the Paris clay.
Instead, Federer won five tough grasscourt matches to flush the red dirt out of his system, and in beating Czech Tomas Berdych in the final on June 18, he equalled Borg’s record grasscourt winning streak of 41 matches.
"He (fitness coach Pierre Paganini) wasn’t too sure whether I should play but I told him that I would like to. He couldn’t believe that I came through. For me that’s a sign of my physicaland mental strength paying off.
"I have never been as fit as today. I’m back in top shape and that’s important for the rest of the season.
"But I don’t think that matches are decided by physical fitness, but rather mentally. It can be very frustrating on grass, because you don’t get a lot of chances. If you miss your chance, it can be very frustrating."
Sampras was the last man to win four straight titles at Wimbledon in 2000 and another American, 2004 and 2005 runner-up Andy Roddick, may well offer Federer his biggest challenge again this year, together with a resurgent Lleyton Hewitt, the 2002 champion.
Berdych, though, echoed the views of the majority on the men’s tour after losing at Halle when he suggested Federer was pretty much unbeatable on grass.
The Swiss finds the suggestion almost insulting. "It’s easy for him to say. I have to start an entire tournament from scratch. Obviously, he doesn’t quite understand how tough a Grand Slam tournament is." — Reuters
IN THE NEWS
WITH India’s coach Greg Chappell and captain Rahul Dravid favouring a four-bowler attack in Tests, the importance of part-time bowlers like Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh has increased considerably. Sehwag, in particular, has done fairly well with the ball in the first two Tests against the West Indies.
Chappell’s assertion is that with Yuvraj and Laxman not in the best of form, the inclusion of a bowler at the expense of a batsman will leave the batting vulnerable. The batsmen brought India close to victory in the second Test at St Lucia and with their tails up, Dravid and Co. need all the batsmen to fire to clinch a rare overseas series win.
But one bowler short certainly puts the burden on the four main bowlers — who have not exactly set the pitch on fire in the series. Dravid had to call on part-timers — Sehwag and Yuvraj — to fulfil the void left by a specialist bowler.
Sehwag has managed to get eight wickets in the first two Tests, which has certainly come as a pleasant surprise for the team. Coupled with regaining his batting touch, Sehwag coming good with the ball as well has lessened the worries of the team management.
Moreover, with Irfan Pathan not at his best and S. Sreesanth and VRV Singh still too raw to be depended upon to run through the Windies batting line-up, what is required is that India put up a strong total on the board so that the opposition can be batted out of the match.
For that the batting has to be at its strongest and an additional bowler has to be found from among the batsmen. Sehwag has shown that he can shoulder the burden of not only accumulating runs but also restricting rival batsmen and getting a useful wicket or two.
Sehwag, and to a certain extent, Yuvraj — no mug with the ball either — have shouldered the additional responsibility with aplomb and have shown that they are complete team men who can be called up — and relied upon — to deliver the goods.
Nadal all the way
KUDOS to Rafael Nadal, who retained his French Open crown by defeating Roger Federer 1-6, 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 in the final. The match proved to be very trying for both title contenders.
Federer set the pace by breathtakingly wrapping up the first set 6-1. Not to be outdone or intimidated, Nadal roared back majestically to clinch the second with an identical score. From there on, it was a grim battle of nerves as both contestants fought relentlessly to challenge each other’s supremacy. However, the Spaniard ruled supreme in the third set.
The fourth turned out to be a ding-dong battle in which Nadal prevailed over his rival through sheer grit and stamina to win the tie-break 74 and bag the coveted crown. With this victory, Nadal extended his winning streak on clay to 60 matches and his Roland Garros run to 14-0.
Tarsem S. Bumrah,