Vertonghen Drops Spurs Hint

Ajax defender reveals that deal is close

Much coveted defender Jan Vertonghen has dropped a strong hint to where his future may lie, with the Ajax star suggesting that he wishes to join Tottenham in the summer.

Both Arsenal and Manchester United have been linked with Eridivisie Player of the Year, but the 25-year-old seems now to be headed to White Hart Lane instead. Vertonghen said that Tottenham is a ‘fantastic, traditional club’ who ‘buy young, eager and offensive-minded players’.

With the Spurs squad lacking any quality at centre back (other than the crocked Ledley King), Vertonghen seems to be almost the perfect signing and would be a small consolation for Harry Redknapp following his disappointment at not being offered the England management position.

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Haye vs Chisora Confirmed

British brawlers lined up for grudge match

An ‘official’ fight has been agreed between heavyweights David Haye and Dereck Chisora, just three months after their infamous brawl at a press conference in Munich.

Following Chisora’s world-title fight with WBC champion Vitali Klitschko, he clashed with Haye after having already mocked him in an attempt to goad the former world-title holder into a future fight. The scenes that followed embarassed British boxing, as the two men grappled, before Haye swung a large camera tripod at Chisora’s trainer and Chisora claimed to have been ‘glassed’.

Because of the violence, Chisora had his boxing license taken away by the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBOC), whilst Haye currently does not hold a license either, having retired last year after his defeat to Vitali’s brother, Wladamir Klitschko. The fight has therefore had to be sanctioned by the Luxembourg Boxing Federation instead of the BBBOC.

The fight has been scheduled for July 14 and will take place at West Ham United’s Upton Park.

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Fire in Babylon Film Review

Directed by Stevan Riley, this documentary features the likes of Ian Botham, Colin Croft, Joel Garner, Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Michael Holding, Dennis Lillee, Clive Lloyd, Malcolm Marshall, Viv Richards, Andy Roberts and Jeff Thompson, to name but a few. It charts the rise of the great West Indian cricket team during the 1970s/80s, which electrified the world of cricket and gave hope to a nation.

This documentary does not try to break from any genre conventions or pretend to be something it’s not and, merely as a documentary, it is not done particularly well. The reason this film succeeds is due, mostly, to the excellent footage of the great West Indian bowlers in action. The clips that were used truly delivered a message, be it of aggression, anger, sadness etc. One clip that stands out was the great over which Michael Holding bowled at Brian Close, which was terrifying to witness. Fire in Babylon also managed to get across the vibrancy of the West Indian culture, as well as illustrating the talismanic nature of Vivian Richards and the effect the team’s success was having on the nation.

Every cricketer interviewed had their own perspective and their own viewpoint on particular cultural issues, as well as cricketing matters. For example, as you’d expect, Viv Richards had a very different point of view to Tony Greig or Jeffery Dujon. In that way, each interviewee fulfilled their role perfectly; creating intrigue as well as a small amount of conflict.

For cricket lovers, Fire in Babylon is perfect; supplying clips of legendary players, as well as interviews. However, people who hold no interest in cricket could still enjoy this film, as it addresses other issues apart from the sport. All in all it is an interesting watch and certainly one of the better sport-related documentaries I have seen.

If films interest you please check out my other blog http://benglewismovies.wordpress.com/ for movie reviews and news.

Film Rating: *** Worth a watch, particularly if you’re a cricket lover like myself

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9l7qIFu3YDk

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Hodgson Given England Managerial Position

Former Liverpool and Fulham boss named as Capello’s replacement

Roy Hodgson has been named as the new England manager, despite the majority of pundits anticipating that the position would go to Tottenham Hotspur manager, Harry Redknapp. The 64-year-old had been enjoying a successful season at West Bromwich Albion, but his contract was due to expire in the summer, prompting the FA to make their move.

Hodgson’s appointment has met a mixed reception, with many English supporters remembering his disastrous reign as Liverpool manager. However, the reason the FA made their decision is probably due to his vast international experience- something Harry Redknapp lacks. Hodgson has previously managed the Switzerland, Finland and UAE national teams. It is also important to remember that, whilst he couldn’t find success at Liverpool, he managed to lead Fulham to the 2010 Europa League final and has won eight league titles during his career. Hodgson’s defensive style of football will bring stability to England, but you can’t help but think Harry Redknapp would have given the team a much needed attacking spark.

Many people are disappointed in Hodgson’s appointment (me included), hoping instead for the likes of Redknapp or Guus Hiddink, but the decision has now been made and as an England supporter I, personally, will support Hodgson and look forward to the European Championships, where we will face France, Sweden and Ukraine. Is it me or is there a bit of Steve McClaren about Roy Hogson, though…

 

 

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Di Matteo: Chelsea’s Man?

Rejuvinated Chelsea need Italian on permanent basis

When Andre Villas-Boas was sacked as Chelsea manager the team was stuck, under-performing and drifting through the season, looking unlikely to challenge for any form of silverware this year. The unenviable role of caretaker manager was given to Roberto Di Matteo until the end of the season and he has reignited Chelsea.

Di Matteo has not only managed to lead the blues to FA cup glory over Liverpool, but has also managed to mastermind a European run that sees them heading to Munich for the final. This included a remarkable victory over two legs against undeniably the world’s best team, Barcelona. Alongside this success, the Italian has also managed to bring Fernando Torres back into form, following up his winning goal against Barcelona with a hat-trick against Queens Park Rangers. The reason for this appears to be due to a surge in confidence and an apparent heightening of his appetite for football. If I was to put forward my own opinion I’d say that actually wanting to perform for the manager in charge is helping him.

Di Matteo has shown that he is capable of managing a club of such a high stature, as well as demonstrating that he has the ability to bring silverware to Stamford Bridge. He deserves the Chelsea managerial position on a permanent basis, but an inkling tells me that Mr Abrahmovic won’t be willing to give him the job unless he wins the Champions League.

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One Hand on the Trophy

The blue side of Manchester celebrates as City close in on title

Following a hard-earned victory over Newcastle, Manchester City maintained their lead in the Premier League, although United still only trail on goal difference.

Inspired by Yaya Toure and Vincent Kompany, City have managed to overturn an eight point deficit and now sit in pole position going into the final match of the season. Only a slip up against relegation battling Queens Park Rangers will, in all probability, see the red devils hold onto their crown. In theory, United can still win even if City overcome QPR, but they would have to win by at least nine goals in order to do so. United also appear to have, on paper, a much more difficult final encounter- a trip to Sunderland, who sit comfortably in mid-table.

If Man City do prove to be champions it will be their first league title since 1968, and will show the improvements the team has made over the last couple of years under the management of Roberto Mancini.

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Premier League Title: United’s to Lose?

Red Devils looking impressive as title race hots up

Throughout the current premier league campaign the two teams from Manchester have been the only sides truly challenging for the title, with the team in sky blue having led for the majority of the season. But that is no longer the case. Manchester United, so renowned for how strongly they have finished in recent seasons, have wrenched the initiative from Manchester City.

Following their victory over Fulham, United now have a 3 point cushion at the top of the table and look unlikely to slip up, particularly considering their fixtures should not prove as challenging as those facing City. The only match that looks a potentially difficult encounter for United is their trip across the city to their rivals, a match that could decide which team wins the league. City, on the other hand, have two difficult games against Arsenal and Newcastle, as well as the match against Sir Alex Ferguson’s men.

United have peaked at the business end of the season, with Wayne Rooney inspiring them with a superb run of goal-scoring performances. City, however, have dropped points against Stoke and Swansea and appear to lack the flare they had, with important players such as David Silva not putting in the sort of performances he did earlier in the season.

Man City’s players are beginning to look tired and, in comparison, United’s strength in depth is beginning to show. United also have experience behind them, with the legendary football club hunting their 20th Premier League title. In summary, United appear strong and are beginning to look in control of the title race. However, with City only three points behind, anything could happen. Tevez’s return to the club could prove crucial, too, if he steps up in the Manchester derby and scores the winning goal.

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Dravid set to retire

‘The Wall’ expected to make announcement on friday

Rahul Dravid has played cricket for India for over 15 years, but looks set to finally retire from the international scene with a press conference scheduled for friday. The Indian legend has been struggling in 2012 and his retirement echoes the expectations of many, as there have been calls for him and other experienced international players, such as VVS Laxman, to hang up their boots.

However, his retirement brings to an end a career which can only be bested by his team-mate, Sachin Tendulkar, and it is with regret that we bid farewell to one of the true greats of the game. The 39-year-old has scored 13,288 runs in test cricket, racking up 36 centuries along the way. He ends his career with an average of 52.31, particularly impressive considering the longevity of his career. He has also taken a record 210 catches. In ODI cricket he has scored more than 10,000 runs with 12 centuries.

The stats are formidable but, perhaps, do not tell the whole story. Dravid was never a batsman who was particularly pleasing on the eye, but had the gritty determination and solid, classical technique which young cricketers should aspire to replicate. His runs did not always come when the conditions were perfect but, often, when they were against him. Similarly to ex-England cricketer, Paul Collingwood, he seemed to thrive on pressure situations and battled India out of tough situations on many occasions. The determination he showed not to give up his wicket and to fight on no matter what the situation earned him the nickname ‘The Wall’.

His retirement from the international game does not mean we will never see him in action again, however, as he will captain the Rajasthan Royals in the IPL this season.

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Podolski set for move to Arsenal

Reports claim that German ace is headed to Emirates

With speculation mounting over the future of Arsenal’s star player, Robin Van Persie, it comes as little surprise that the London club are looking at potential replacements. Reports from Germany have suggested that Arsenal have agreed a fee of around £10.9 million for Lukas Podolski, currently playing at Cologne in the Bundesliga.

Robin Van Persie is looking more and more likely to leave Arsenal in the summer, with teams such as Milan and Man City supposedly lining up bids for the Dutch star. If he does move, then perhaps Podolski is the perfect replacement. They are very similar in many ways; they are both left-footed, both like to run at defenders and they both have an exceptional eye for goal. In signing Podolski they will not just have signed a player who possesses the attacking quality to score goals, however, they will have signed a player with experience as well. Although he is only 26, he has already managed to make 95 appearances for Germany and play in two world cups.

Robin Van Persie is not guaranteed to leave Arsenal, of course. He loves the club and if he is offered a good enough contract there is a strong chance he might choose to stay. If this is the case then Arsene Wenger may have to change his current tactic, employing a 4-4-2 instead of his preffered 4-3-3. Podolski can play on the left, but is more effective through the middle, similarly to Van Persie himself and so Arsenal may be encouraged to line them up alongside each other up front.

Cologne have not confirmed the deal yet, but it looks very likely that Podolski will complete his move to Arsenal in the summer… a good piece of business by Arsene Wenger.

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Defeat is a bitter pill to swallow

England denied late try against Wales at Twickenham following superb performance

Following two dissapointing performances against Italy and Scotland, England came into the match against Wales as underdogs, despite playing at home for the first time in the tournament. They made four changes to the team that last started, bringing in Manu Tuilagi for Charlie Hodgson, Lee Dickson for Ben Youngs, Geoff Parling for Tom Palmer and Ben Morgan for Phil Dowson. Tuilagi was the main talking point; the man who many felt represented England’s intent to bring strong, attacking rugby to Twickenham. I, however, disagreed with this idea. I agree that Tuilagi is a powerful runner and a fine centre who in many ways is not dissimilar to the Wales centre, Jamie Roberts. But he, in my mind, was not the most attacking change. Lee Dickson came on for twenty minutes against Italy and changed the match. He delivered quick ball from the rucks and was not afraid to be brave and run with the ball in hand. The decision to replace the struggling Ben Youngs with Lee Dickson was, perhaps, the single most important decision coming into this match. There was much talk about Owen Farrell moving to fly half and whether or not he would be able to perform in the number 10 shirt, but I had already seen him play to a very high standard in that position for Saracens, so I considered this simply a smart, sensible move by the management team. Whilst all the talk was about Farrell and the fly half position, people overlooked the likes of Ben Morgan, a very powerful ball carrier at number 8 and someone who would certainly provide attacking flair. England’s team appeared, on paper, to be better balanced than the team that started against Italy and Scotland, particularly in the backs. However, with a very unexperienced half back combination, would England perform on the day against a very strong Wales side? Farrell and Dickson were perhaps the main reason why the answer to that question was a resounding yes and, whilst England were unable to get the desired result, the performance showed a large degree of promise.

Wales began the match extremely strongly with Wales’ rising star, George North, breaking the English line following a fine pass from the Welsh scrum half, Mike Phillips. He would have been through if not for a superb try saving tap tackle by David Strettle, who did incredibly well to get across to the rampaging Welsh winger. England managed to hold off extreme pressure following the initial barrage, showing the solid defense for which they were praised in their first two games and despite Wales’ domination they could only gain a penalty. Leigh Halfpenny, who kicked so well in the first two games, was unable to kick the three points which would have given Wales a well deserved lead, however. England came back strongly following twenty minutes of Welsh domination, as Lee Dickson smartly took a penalty quickly, catching the Welsh defence on their heels. The move led to an English penalty, as Wales were penalised for being offside. Farrell made no mistake and converted the chance, giving England a 3-0 lead. But the lead didn’t last long, as Chris Robshaw was penalised for not releasing the ball. On this occasion Halfpenny made no mistake, bringing the scores level. England were in the lead again soon after, though. Tuilagi looked destined to cross the line before a desperate tackle from Sam Warburton stopped him short. The ball went out to Ashton, who also came close to scoring, but in the end England had to settle for a penalty which Owen Farrell calmly kicked. At this point the whole complexion of the match changed, with England suddenly dominating. A clever chip from Farrell sent him away, before a shattering tackle from George North put him down. Although England were beginning to look like the better side Wales were soon level thanks to a penalty from Halfpenny, following a mistake from David Strettle. But, again, England took the lead soon after, as Farrell kicked a penalty to send England in at half time with a 9-6 lead. England began the second half as they ended the first, boosted by an injury to Welsh battering ram, Jamie Roberts. Mauritz Botha chased down a clearance kick as Priestland took too long to get rid of it, but he was then tackled from an offside position by the Welsh fly half. This earnt Priestland a yellow card, meaning that Wales would have to play with fourteen men for ten minutes. Farrell also kicked the penalty, leaving England 12-6 up. At this stage, however, Wales’ extra experience shone through, as they intelligently ran down the clock whilst Priestland’s time in the sin bin ran down. They managed to gain a penalty to reward their hardwork, which Halfpenny stepped up to cleanly kick through the posts. At this stage Stuart Lancaster made an error that potentially sent the game in Wales’ favour. He made two substitutions, taking off the impressive Lee Dickson and bringing on the out of form Ben Youngs, as well as replacing Mauritz Botha with Courtney Lawes, now back to full fitness. Ben Youngs, who has been very poor throughout the Six Nations thus far, slowed the tempo of the play, which worked in Wales’ favour. Farrell missed a difficult chance to once more give England a six point lead and then limped off, prompting Lancaster to bring on Toby Flood off the bench. Seeing England’s young star leave the pitch Wales stepped it up, sparking a period of pressure for the visitors. This led to a penalty, which was converted by Halfpenny, leaving the scores level heading into the final period of the game. Wales quickly took advantage of their sudden resurgence in the game as, out of nowhere, Scott Williams ripped the ball from Courtney Lawes in midfield and then hit a beautifully weighted kick. He chased it down and gathered the ball, completing a beautiful piece of individual excellence by scoring the try under the posts. Halfpenny added the extra points, meaning Wales were seven points ahead with five minutes to go. This set up a spectacular, tense last few minutes of the match, with Toby Flood chipping a kick towards the corner for Strettle to chase. It appeared that George North knocked the ball into touch without making any attempt to catch the ball, an illegal move in rugby. Had he not, Strettle would almost certainly have scored. The referee, however, did not penalise the Welshman and so England had a lineout in a very dangerous area. England put pressure on the Welsh defence and eventually conjured the chance they had been hoping for, as Mike brown fed David Strettle who went over the try line, whilst two Welsh players tried desperately to hold the ball up. There followed a tense few minutes, as the officials looked at television replays to try and determine whether Strettle had managed to put the ball down. It appeared from one camera angle that Strettle did score, but the players bodies obscured any other view and so the replays were not conclusive enough to award the try and Wales won the match.

Defeat was a harsh result for England, who will rightly feel upset after what was an encouraging performance. My personal opinion at the time was that it was a try, but I was absorbed in the game and watching it as a passionate England supporter. On reflection, I have realised that it was probably impossible to give the try, based on the camera angles available to the officials and with the short time frame available to them to make a decision. England will still take away some pride, however, with Owen Farrell and Lee Dickson putting in particularly impressive performances. Owen Farrell has definitely lived up to the hype and has not dispelled comparisons with England great, Johnny Wilkinson. There are still some areas that need amending though. The form of Chris Ashton is particularly worrying, as he is perhaps our most natural finisher. He either needs to rekindle his confidence or England need to start looking at the likes of Ugo Monye or Mark Cueto as potential replacements as, put simply, Ashton has been poor so far. This also applies for Ben Youngs. Lee Dickson looks to have sealed a starting position following an impressive showing against Wales, but if Ben Youngs is to play any part in the remainder of the tournament he must find some form. He appears to be trying too hard at the moment and needs to nail the basics and stop box kicking when it is not needed- its just kicking away possession!

England will look forward to their match against France on Sunday 11th March knowing that they have come very close to upsetting one of the favourites already. France are a strong side, but if England can perform as well as they did against Wales and mix in a bit of luck they stand a strong chance! If Ashton can find his scoring touch it might help too…

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