Not just another Ronaldo
to the fore
Punching machines set for Moscow
When the world stops over
Not just another Ronaldo
SUCH is his extraordinary talent, Cristiano Ronaldo takes his place among the greatest players to have graced European football despite the less savoury aspects of his game. The Portugal winger was runner-up to Kaka in the Ballon D’or last year and, after scoring an extraordinary 42 goals to help propel Manchester United to the Champions League and Premier League double, was untouchable in the race for this year’s award.
For all the diving, the theatrics, the exaggeration, the "what me?" shrugs and the Real Madrid transfer shenanigans, Ronaldo’s most important contribution to the game is his quite extraordinary array of talents.
There are many people who can perform eye-boggling acts of football trickery but the closest most of them get to the professional game is a bit part in a halftime fizzy drink advert. Ronaldo does it in the white heat of battle at the very highest level against the most committed defenders who take it personally when he makes mugs of them.
His tricks, more often than not, are less for show and more a means to an end as, once he has made his space, he wastes little time in delivering his crosses and incisive passes. Only George Best, who also won his 1968 European player of the year award after helping United to win the European Cup and scoring in the final, combined that talent as a winger and provider who also had a greed for goals.
Ronaldo’s return last season of 42 in 49 games was astonishing. The haul contained goals of all sorts, dead-eye free kicks, calm one-on-one finishes, "right-place, right-time" tap-ins and a number of towering headers.
United manager Alex Ferguson said his heading ability should be compared with the true giants of the art such as Tommy Lawton and Tony Hateley and says critics of Ronaldo’s diving should look at the punishment he takes. "All these great players over the years, the Maradonas, Cruyffs, Peles — they all took a kick. It didn’t deter them at all," Ferguson said last week.
"Cristiano has a similar thing. He had an operation in the summer, which was the result of consistent tackling on him, but he’s naturally brave." Like those greats, his talents cross the club and country divide.
Ronaldo was also voted the best player in England by his peers, journalists and fans across all clubs for two seasons in a row, despite the uncomfortable memory of his sneaky role in Wayne Rooney’s red card at the 2006 World Cup. He is a talent that puts thousands on the gate. A player who fathers want their sons to watch and one their wives and daughters have an eye for too.
His critics say he has yet to become a
big enough influence for Portugal, or even United, in the biggest games
but it was he who scored his team’s goal in the Champions League final
against Chelsea last season. Under a massive weight of expectation, he
may not have shone in Euro 2008 but nobody could doubt his commitment in
helping Portugal to the quarter-finals and it was Ronaldo who converted
the shootout penalty to take them into the 2006 World Cup semis. It is
certainly a long and illustrious CV for a player who is still only 23
and there is room for many more glorious entries yet. — Reuters
Foreign players to the fore
FOREIGN players once again ruled the roost in the prestigious I-League, conducted by the All-India Football Federation (AIFF), with Odefa Okolie of Churchill Brothers emerging the top scorer with 11 goals, which included three hattricks.
In fact, the top three scorers were all foreigners, with Elija Junior of Sporting Club de Goa taking the second position with seven goals and Ranty Martin of Dempo being third, scoring six goals. Sushil Kumar Singh of Mahindra United, Kalia Kulothungon of Mumbai FC and Eduardo Escobar of JCT shared the fourth place with four goals each.
The 64-match, first phase of the I-League concluded rather quietly with cricket hogging much of the spotlight.
The illness of AIFF president Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi put a shadow on the I-League as the last few matches were played in virtual anonymity.
Sporting Club de Goa head the table after the first phase, logging 25 points from 11 matches, with eight wins, one draw and two losses.
They scored 14 goals and conceded eight while second-placed Mohun Bagan could tally only 21 points from 11 matches, with six wins, three draws and two defeats.
They knocked in 13 goals and conceded eight while Churchill Brothers of Goa were just a point adrift, at third place, with five wins, as many draws and one defeat from 11 matches.
Former champions JCT could gather only 12 points from 11 matches to be placed at the eighth place, with a minus two-goal difference as they conceded 11 goals and scored only nine.
East Bengal, also having 12 points from 11 matches, were ahead of JCT with a zero goal difference, having scored 11 and conceded as many.
In 64 matches, 131 goals were struck, including four self goals. Foreign players accounted for nearly 40 goals, with Mboyo Iyomi of Dempo being the only other player after Odefa, to score a hattrick.
Vasco made up the rear in the 12-team league, with Dempo, Mumbai FC, Mahindra United and Mohammedan Sporting playing only ten matches each, due to the unavailability of ground in Mumbai.
The second phase of the I-League will be held
in the third week of January, 2009 after the Federation Cup (4 to 21 December in
Kolkata), national camp in Goa and a friendly away match against either China or
Hong Kong, on 14 January.
HOPING to put behind their near-miss at the Olympics, Beijing quarterfinalists Akhil Kumar and Jitender Kumar - along with A.L. Lakra - left for the four-day inaugural Boxing World Cup in Moscow, Russia.
India will have a four-strong presence at the event and wild card entrant light heavy weight pugilist Dinesh Kumar will leave on December 5 after sorting out his travel documents.
The World Cup promises to be a tough competition as only the best-eight from the Olympics entered the draw. Both Lakra (57kg) and Dinesh were invited after a few pullouts from their respective weight categories.
Bantam weight pugilist Akhil, who disappointingly lost to a little-known Moldovan in the Olympic quarterfinals after beating a world champion in the previous round, said he is confident of ending the year on a high at the World Cup which is scheduled from December 10 to 14.
"I always aim for the gold and nothing less than that. It has been a gruelling two months of training and I am confident of doing well in Moscow," he said. Jitender (51kg), whose Olympic heartbreak was compounded by the fact that he had to fight with 11 stitches on his chin, also oozed confidence.
"My target is very clear, we have all practices very hard and we will definitely come good in Moscow," he said. Both Akhil and Jitender had undergone a fortnight of training in South Africa, where they sparred with professional boxers in Durban. The duofitness was taken care of renowned South African physio Heath Matthews.
When the world stops over
WHEN Ericsson 4 crossed Fairway Bouy, the finishing point for Kochi, India was fighting its war against terror. By the time it berthed at Cochin Port, the nation was celebrating its triumph over terror.
The clouds of gloom parted and spirit of nationalism was soaring as yachts started berthing the special jetty at Cochin Port for the Volvo Ocean Race, the global challenge tour for yachts.
The mood in Kochi swung from tense to jubiliant as the sails of Ericsson 4, the leader of the second leg of the VOR appeared on the horizon. The yacht crossed Fairway Bouy, which is 8 nautical miles off Kochi shore, at 4.22 a.m. on Saturday. It had completed 4450 nautical miles in the second leg from Cape Town to Kochi in 14 days, 11 hours, 32 minutes and 30 seconds, to be precise. Torben Grael from Brazil and his international crew onboard Ericsson 4 made it two wins in a row.
Later addressing the media, Torben Grael, skipper of Ericsson 4, said the team faced tough situations in the fourth leg and was happy to win it. The team now has seven more legs to cover, which are going to be more difficult. "A lot of unexpected things can happen." That captured the essence of this adventure sport, stopping by India for the first time.
It is for the first time since the global ocean race started 35 years ago that it is stopping over in India. Eight yachts will cover more than 39,000 nautical miles, braving the most adverse situations in high seas, stop over at 11 ports across the world before crossing the finishing point.
This year’s Race started off from Aliconte in Spain in October and called at Cape Town in South Africa before reaching Kochi. From here, the yachts will head towards Singapore, then to Qingdao in China, Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, Boston in the US, Galway, Goteborg, Stockholm and end the race at St. Petersburg.
Telefonica Blue led by Bouwe Bekking, Ericsson 3 led by Anders Lewander, Telefonica Black led by Fernando Echavarri, Puma Ocean Racing led by Ken Read, Delta Llyod led by Ger O’Rourke, Green Dragon led by Ian Walker, and Team Russia led by Andreas Hanakamp, are the other teams.
The state government has prepared a race village spread over two acres on Willingdon Island, which is home for Cochin Port. The village has facilities for the team members of the yachts to unwind and prepare for the next leg of the race.
Vayalar Ravi, minister for parliamentary affairs, Government of India, inaugurated the stopover celebrations at the race village. The village, along with the trade fair, was opened to the public, making it a rare chance for Kochi residents to participate in an international sporting competition.
The celebrations were marked with a slew of cultural programmes. This included ‘Soul India’ – the music night by famous singer Hariharan, performance by musicians like Louis Banks, Gujarati dance, Naval Band, fusion music combining chenda, Kerala’s famous percussion instrument, and violin, Kathakali, and fireworks.
The yachts will start the third leg of its competition towards Singapore on December 13. Following the terror threat, the race village was given extra security. The Navy and Coast Guard brought in two hi-tech patrol boats to scan the coast while the teams were berthed. Visitors to the race village were subjected to many layers of security screening.
The stopover has brought back smiles to the faces of merchants and players in tourism industry. It did a lot in wiping off the smudges caused by Mumbai terror strike. For a while, the industry in Kochi was worried that the terrorist attack would dampen all the preparations made for welcoming the VOR teams.
The city was given a facelift well ahead of the event. Merchants joined the movement by sprucing up their shops and giving basic training in language and etiquette to greet the tourists.
Even though Kochi is closest to international
shipping channel, it is yet to make it to the international seafaring tourist
circuit in a big way. So it has been cruise vessels berthing at Cochin Port for
short stop-overs With the VOR stopping over, Kochi is announcing its entry to
international tour circuit.
Australian pace spearhead Brett Lee has claimed his 300th Test wicket in the first Test against New Zealand at the Gabba.
Lee became just the fourth Australian bowler to reach the milestone when he dismissed New Zealand opener Jamie How for a golden duck in the first over of the Black Caps second innings.
Lee, who endured a difficult four-Test tour of India where he took just eight scalps at 61, started the Gabba Test with 297 wickets and took 2-38 in the first innings.
He joins an esteemed group of Australian bowlers to surpass the 300-wicket milestone including Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Dennis Lillee. — Agencies