Thursday, May 26, 2005

The miracle of Istanbul

From Simon Barnes, The Times Chief Sports Writer, in Istanbul

FOOTBALL. Bloody hell, the printable expletives are utterly inadequate for the task of summing up a night of football mayhem. Bring out the asterisks: it was a night when football brought us the utterly impossible on a night of perfect insanity as Liverpool won the European Cup final on penalties after doing their best to lose it.

Liverpool produced one of the greatest comebacks in the history of football. They created for themselves an utter disaster and somehow rose to find hope, and with it, power and effectiveness and purpose and direction. They turned a lost match around in six impossible minutes: one of those periods of total enchantment that happen in football, but very rarely.

Yet it seemed that they had managed to lose everything in less than a minute. After a season of ever-growing hope and burgeoning expectation, Liverpool looked as if they had lost the lot in a matter of 50 seconds. They conceded a goal more or less before a Liverpool player had touched the ball and were 3-0 down at half-time. It was humiliation.

But before you could say “Football. Bloody hell” they were back in it again. After being made to look like small-timers and second-raters, they came roaring back as if they were the old champions of the Eighties, the Liverpool side that expected to win European Cup finals as a matter of course. They drew level in that period of magic and took the game into extra time, a spooky period played in a mood close to emotional exhaustion.

The match proper finished at 3-3, but not before Jerzy Dudek had made a remarkable double save from Andriy Shevchenko that suggested the force was with the Pole. Then came the penalties and Dudek, a goalkeeper often and fairly criticised this season, saved two of them, enough for Liverpool to win the shoot-out 3-2.

There was a Liverpool banner in the stadium that bore the legend no passaran — they shall not pass — a tribute to the startling and complete impregnability of the Liverpool defence over the previous three matches in this competition. Plan A was obvious, then: don’t concede a goal and so the favourites will get worried and grow vulnerable.

As plans go, it had a lot going for it, but it was less than a minute before Liverpool were on to plan B. It is the nature of football that things can go very wrong very quickly. Liverpool were a goal behind while still wondering what the opening ceremony was all about.

The goal was simplicity itself. A foul: Djimi Traoré on Kaká. A free kick, and Andrea Pirlo swung it in. Paolo Maldini was supposed to be a weak link at 36, but his legs had not got tired in three quarters of a minute. He hit a spirited right-foot volley and topped the ball rather than met it sweetly.
As so often happens in such circumstances, it crashed into the ground and rose steeply in a fashion that was hard to read. And on this occasion it found the net and Liverpool’s day was ruined before it had rightly started. The Liverpool supporters had out-sung the Milanese before the start: their silence was shocking. It reflected a feeling of deep dismay and it reflected perfectly the dismay of the Liverpool players.

So much for Rafael Benítez, the Liverpool manager, and his sudden recognition as a tactical genius. You can’t fault him for effort, but he was presiding over a disaster at half-time and his ploy of putting Harry Kewell in his starting line-up looked like an act of folly.

They shall not pass, indeed. Liverpool hardly passed at all in the first half. Liverpool had come with a reputation for outstanding defence, Milan showed that the traditional continental virtues of tight, intelligent passing are worth a mention. Shevchenko, in a moment of gliding wit and eventing, set up Hernán Crespo for a tap-in, then Kaká pushed through a sweetly timed pass. This one required a bit more of a finish. Crespo provided it and in the process made Liverpool look like a team playing a little way out of their class.

Then the tide turned in a manner that defied logical and even tactical sense. It was simply as if God had changed sides. The force, long absent, was suddenly with Liverpool. Steven Gerrard was the man who started it with a looping header from a cross by John Arne Riise. Then it was Vladimir Smicer, who had come on as a 23rd-minute substitute for the hapless Kewell. He reduced the deficit to one with the goal that threw Milan into a state of confusion.

So much so that they promptly conceded a penalty and Xabi Alonso put that one away on the rebound. Three goals within six minutes: rout had become fightback and fightback had become epic.

The beautifullest game


3-0 down and dead at half time. 3 goals in 6 mad minutes against the best defence in the world. And a win on penalties!

Sorry, but no other sport can give you a night like that.


Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Them scousers again

It's the big day.

Luis Garcia is in amazing goalscoring form in Europe, and with Liverpool likely to play with only one striker, with Garcia in support, he's absurdly over-priced.

So my tips are Luis Garcia and 1-0 (40-1 at PaddyPower).

Or why not take a flutter on a real thriller? Garcia and a 3-2 Liverpool win is 175-1. Got to be worth a quid.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Signifying nothing

According to the BBC news this morning, motorway service stations are pushing to change rules dating back to the 1950s forbidding the use of adverts on the motorway.

"At the moment all we’re allowed is some hieroglyphics depicting a P, a bed, a knife and fork and so on," complained a suit. "We want to put brands in that space."

The official reason for the outlawing of brand signs all over the motorway is that they might distract drivers.

So far, Saussure
Never mind that, they ought to be banned for aesthetic reasons.

British motorways may be overcrowded, slow, and subjected to constant roadworks, but by thunder we know how to do signs.

British road signs are the most beautiful in the world. Minimal text, maximum efficiency, no sharp edges.

That warm, rounded font can make even the most dismal places seem welcoming...

...and convey a complex series of information bytes at a glance (not to mention provide a source of healthy in-car debate)... don’t see so many of these abroad...

...and who hasn’t spend many a happy mile pondering the physical possibility or otherwise of this little gem:

The Tube Map: Embracing the Abstract
British sign-making reached its apotheosis of course, with the London Tube Map. This is – seriously – perhaps the greatest piece of British design work of the twentieth century

It was created by Harry Beck in 1933. Beck’s genius was to realise that the map could bear only a passing resemblance to geographical reality – and that this would actually make it more useful.

Navigating the Underground is child's play, thanks to Beck’s map. You find your destination, see the line and then it's just a matter of northbound or southbound.

Compare its elegant simplicity with the horrors of the Paris Metro map, which misguidedly attempts to represent physical reality.

So here we have an interesting philosophical point. The French, lovers of the abstract and the ephemeral, fail to create something useful by attempting to be practical.

The down-to-earth British, on the other hand, embrace the abstract to create something practical.

(Incidentally, this is what the London Tube map would look like if it represented physical reality.)

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Last chance to see...?

Ibrahim Ferrer Posted by Hello

Missus Think of England and I went to see the 78 year old Cuban singer Ibrahim Ferrer at the Colston Hall last night.

Tall, thin and in trademark suit and flat cap, he hobbles onto the stage and has to be helped with the microphone a fair bit, but phew, what a voice! ...A totally unique sound that can’t have been any stronger or clearer when he began singing in the Havana nightclubs of the 1940s.

He had a whole orchestra of virtuoso Cuban musicians (they hid the hired English session guys on strings at the back of the stage), including a quite astonishing pianist, who at one point hammered the keys so fast his hands were literally a blur.

Ferrer is famous as the singer with the Buena Vista Social Club, discovered/put together by the American musician Ry Cooder.

If you haven’t seen the film, or bought the album, I can thoroughly recommend them.

The music is instantly loveable: a bit Latin, a bit jazzy, a bit North African, perhaps a touch of slowed-down salsa, and very easy on the ear.

Two hours of hypnotic bliss, and wonderful warmth from the audience, who gave him a series of epic standing ovations.

I don’t suppose we’ll see him again sadly, but you never know. If you get the chance, don’t miss him.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005


Jamie Carragher.
Eeegor Biscan.
Rafa Benitez.
A quid on Luis Garcia and 1-0 scorecast at 50-1.
A tenner each way back in October on the Mighty Reds to win the damn thing at 25-1.
Mourinho's face.


Monday, May 02, 2005

The Ashes - Summer 2005

Being a personal and very biased record of the much-anticipated Australian tour of England, Summer 2005.


God is an Englishman (the moments that swung it)
The Aussie Aftermath (Aussie player ratings)
England Heroes (England player ratings)
Funnies from the series
Weird science: key series statistics
Nobody told me there'd be days like these (the joy of victory)
Flintoff's Ashes (after Edgbaston)
A commemorative set of stamps is issued


The Aussies and sledging
Poms versus convicts: great Ashes quotes

The Ashes Test Series Results

England win the five match series 2-1

England Player of the Series: Andrew Flintoff
Australia Player of the Series: Shane Warne
Player of the Series: Andrew Flintoff

1st Test
Lord's, London
21-24 July 2005
Result: Australia won by 239 runs
Toss: Australia, elected to bat
Man of the Match: GD McGrath
Full scorecard

2nd Test
Edgbaston, Birmingham

4-7 August 2005
Result: England won by 2 runs
Toss: Australia, elected to bowl
Man of the Match: A Flintoff
Full scorecard

3rd Test
Old Trafford, Manchester

11- 15 August 2005
Result: Match Drawn
Toss: England, elected to bat
Man of the Match: RT Ponting
Full scorecard

4th Test
Trent Bridge, Nottingham

25-28 August 2005
Result: England won by 3 wickets
Toss: England, elected to bat
Man of the Match: A Flintoff
Full scorecard

5th Test
Kennington Oval, London

8-12 September 2005
Result: Match Drawn
Toss: England, elected to bat
Man of the Match: KP Pietersen
Full scorecard

Warm-ups and One-dayer highlights

England beat Australia in the first home international Twenty20 game. Rose Bowl, 13 June.
Somerset beat Australia. Taunton, 15 June
Bangladesh beat Australia. Cardiff, 18 June
Aussie all-rounder Andrew Symonds fined and suspended for naughty behaviour
England beat Australia. Bristol, 19 June

The Natwest Traingular Final is between England and Australia at Lords on 2 July and ends, absurdly, in a tie as Ashley Giles scrambles the required 2 off the last ball.

In the three-match Natwest Challenge series, with its supersubs etc, Australia jammily win the last two games, but England gloriously win the first by a record 9 wickets.

Ashes Links

Cricket365 Ashes special - tons of analysis, funnies, pics etc
Cricinfo - round-up, summary and stats - best for stats, plus a great photo archive
BBC News round-up
Channel 4 special report