Friday, June 27, 2008

Guus Hiddink is the Miracle Worker 2.0 - a new and improved version of Bora Milutinovic

Guus Hiddink has done it again. I don’t have words to describe his magical feats at Euro 2008 – have simply run out of clichés. So I’ll make my life easy and do a simple analogy.

Guus Hiddink is the new and improved Bora Milutinovic

First a little something about Velibor ‘Bora’ Milutinovic

Long before Guus Hiddink gained a reputation as the coach with the magic touch; there was Bora Milutinovic. The Serbian had the uncanny and almost ungodly ability to get the football team of any nation to play out of their skin and achieve the seemingly impossible. Succeeding with one foreign team is difficult enough – there are issues about understanding the culture, the football mindset and sometimes even the language. But rather then succumb to it; Bora Milutinovic seemed to thrive on the challenge.

Savour this – He got Mexico to the quarters of the 1986 Football World Cup;Costa Rica to the second round in 1990, the US to the second round of the 1994 World Cup;Nigeria to the second round of the 1998 World Cup and finally China to the World Cup of 2002. He has a flawless resume when it comes to taking the most ordinary of football nations to the biggest football event in the World and then getting them to do well in the main tournament as well. Teams like Mexico and Nigeria at least had a modicum of football pedigree. The likes of Costa Rica and the US were supposed to be lambs to the slaughter but Bora got them to roar like a lion

In his prime, Bora was the closest thing to a ‘Miracle Worker’ – a nickname bestowed upon him by Alan Rothenberg, the president of the US Soccer Federation. Rothenberg had turned to Bora when the US faced the certain ignominy of becoming the first host nation to fail to qualify for the second round of the World Cup. The miracle worker blew his magic whistle (to use a coaching term) and saved them the blushes.

Those who know Guus Hiddink well would now be smiling to themselves in the knowledge of having figured out the rest of the article. But for the benefit of those who haven’t, here’s why Guus is an improvement on even the great Bora.

Because taking Holland into the semis of the 1998 World Cup beats taking Mexico into the quarters in 1986

Because taking hosts South Korea into the Semis in 2002 was more sensational than the achievements of hosts USA in 1994

Because taking Australia into the second round of the 2006 World Cup, where they almost knocked eventual champions Italy out of the tournament is on par with the feats of Nigeria in 1998.

Because Hiddink’s magical journey into the semis of Euro 2008 with the Russians eclipses the Costa Rica’s dream run in the 1990 World Cup.

And for those who are still not convinced here’s the clincher – Bora was a poor club coach failing with Udinese in Italy and with the Metrostars in the US. Hiddink on the other hand won the European Cup with PSV Eindhoven in 1988 and went on another magical run with the same club in the UEFA Champions League in 2004-05 making the semis.

Various people have tried to honour Guus Hiddink by bestowing impressive nicknames upon him – notable being Tsar Hiddink, Aussie Guus and Guus Geluk ( meaning lucky Guus) . But I can think of only one which gives the Dutchman and his achievements the right scale and perspective. He is the Miracle Worker 2.0 – a new and far improved version of the original ‘Miracle Worker’

This article was originally published on

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Why you should avoid the TIMES NOW channel if you are looking for football news and analysis

Because the football guys at 'TIMES NOW' don’t know that penalties converted in a shoot-out are not counted as goals scored. Check out the following picture.

Yes, the great football experts at TIMES NOW added the 3 penalties converted by Turkey and one by the Croats to the score line and showed it as 4 goals scored by Turkey and 2 by Croatia. The statistics also show that Turkey had only two shots at goal. So how did they manage to score 4 goals when only two shots were on target? How does one score a goal in football without the shot being on target?

What I cannot understand is that how no one in the news channel noticed it - the presenters, the camera guys, the production guys and everyone else who is involved in bringing news to us. Surely someone in the organization must know a little about football.

Now to give you a cricket perspective of this football blunder. Imagine a Twenty-20 game which has a bowl-out. Team A loses 9 wickets during the game and team B hits the stumps five times during the bowl-out. Then TIMES NOW’s analysis would have shown Team A lose 14 wickets in the game. That is how bad they are. Continue watching TIMES NOW if that is not bad enough for you

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Roger Federer - Tiger Woods 'best sportsperson' debate is now over - The fierce tiger just gobbled up the Swiss cow

The fierce tiger got the better of the meek Swiss cow

Roger Federer will go down as the most talented tennis player of his generation and one of the most talented of all time. He will also be considered one of the best tennis players of all time. Another claim that he can make involving the word 'greatest' will also have the word 'choker' associated with it. He has been building a strong case over the years and the meltdown in the French finals on June 8, 2008 sealed the deal for him.

It is high time we stopped the comparisons with Tiger Woods about ' who is the greatest sportsperson on the planet'. Tiger has comprehensively bested Federer on one important parameter and clinched the verdict. Mental fortitude and ability to perform in the clutch are important pre-requisites for great players. And that is where Federer has drawn a blank and Tiger has scored full marks. Federer is like the student who scored 7 A's and an F and hence is not eligible for the big scholarship. The stage was set up perfectly for him at the French- a chance to beat his arch nemesis and cement a place in history. And what did he do - rather than raise his game a few notches, he dropped it way below - so much so that the spectators had a good reason to ask the Swiss for a refund on their tickets. Can you imagine Sampras succumbing to the pressure like that? Never!!!

Additionally great players don’t get dominated by anyone for too long. They always figure out a way to overcome the fiercest of adversaries. Roger has failed on that count as well. His rivalry with Nadal is becoming more one-sided in Rafa's favour with each passing day. Rather than come close to solving the Nadal puzzle Roger is moving away from it. Rafa on the other hand is tantalizingly close to unlocking the mystery of beating Federer at Wimbledon. That is another F for Federer.

Now for proof of why Tiger scored A’s on the same parameters to close the debate.

Tiger Woods overcame a badly damaged left knee - bad enough for him to use his club as a walking stick and delivered in a pressure cooker situation with the US Open on the line. His powers of concentration were at their peak as he made more than one tournament saving putt. His victory was more a reflection of his never say die attitude than of his talent. The last 6 holes on day three proved conclusively that he has the ability to raise his game to superhuman levels whenever the situation demands. His performance was a story of sheer grit, physical hardiness and mental toughness - the exact requirements to qualify as a great champion and fully deserving of an A for mental strength.

Tiger has had his fair share of dangerous rivals. Ernie Els challenged him for a while. Then Vijay Singh ran him close managing to snatch Tiger's world number one ranking. And finally there was Phil Mickelson – who almost out-hit Woods off the course. Each rivalry made for an interesting duel. But in the end Tiger out duelled them all; to the extent of totally shattering their confidence. Tiger gets another A for this as compared to Federer’s F (for being on the receiving end of his only major rivalry.)

The debate could not be settled by arguments about talent or dominance of their chosen sports. It finally came down to a battle between a tiger and a Swiss cow. The tiger was too fierce and the cow was too meek. That was the only difference between two supremely talented individuals but the difference was good enough to settle the debate once and for all.

Ladies and Gentlemen: Introducing Eldrick ‘Tiger’ Woods – THE GREATEST SPORTSPERSON ON THE PLANET


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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Important note to Sir Alex Ferguson and Man United – Remember what happened the last time a great player called Ronaldo moved to Real Madrid

Real Madrid’s pursuit of Cristiano Ronaldo is becoming a major cause of concern for Alex Ferguson and all United fans. Now here’s a precedent which should cause more concern.

Real Madrid were successful the last time they pursued a player called Ronaldo – Ronaldo Luis Nazário de Lima - the Brazilian striker who was a three –time World Player of the Year in 2002 when Real got him from Inter Milan. Like Cristiano he was also one of the top players in the world.

The Ronaldo on the left could repeat what the Ronaldo on the right did in 2002

United believe Cristiano has enough reasons to stay at Old Trafford.

Beware !!!

There was a good reason to believe that ROnaldo would also not want to move to Real. He had just been through 20 months of rehab. Inter Milan had been fully supportive, not only paying his full salary but also his medical bills. Ronaldo was expected to feel grateful and stay at Inter. But he got lured by Real. Such is the attraction of Real.

Now for the scariest part

In exchange for Ronaldo, Real gave Inter 35 million euros and the option to take one of two players – Steve McManaman or Santiago Solari. The valuation of these players was put at 10 million euros each, thus making Ronaldo transfer value 45 million euros.

Fair deal? Not really

Inter Milan choose Solari but the player refused to join the club. It took more then six months and a lot of trouble before Inter finally got hold of Solari. The player, however, was a disgruntled man and his frustration showed in his performances. He was a shadow of the player he was at Real. It became a bad investment of 10 million for Inter.

Now for the remaining 35 million. Real Madrid paid one instalment but defaulted on the balance payment. Inter had to go to FIFA and another painful saga ensued. Finally, Real compensated Inter by giving them another player. Needless to say the player was highly over-valued for the deal and did not make a name for himself at Inter. A bad deal became worse for the Italian club.

So as a Red Devil and a well-wisher of Man United, I have just one piece of advice for Sir Alex and his legal team

United should not settle for mediocre players like Solari

You are dealing with a Club who are absolute crooks. They have already made illegal advances. They are fully capable of luring Cristiano to the Bernabeau. Prepare for the transfer well in advance and do your homework. Please ensure that you get your pound of flesh for Cristiano. Don’t settle for Real’s rejects like Robinho or fall for a complicated payment plan.

Just remember what happened the last time a superstar called Ronaldo moved to Real. Please for god’s sake; spare us (Red Devil fans) the same heart break.


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Friday, June 13, 2008

Choosing between cricket(Asia Cup) and football( Euro 2008) - let the TV commercials decide it for you

The third most important football tournament in the World (after the World Cup and the UEFA Champions League) is on right now and the 19th most important Cricket tournament in the World will start shortly. Ok fine, I just made up that number. But with a million cricket tournaments and series' in a year, and many of them one-off events, it is impossible to do a real ranking.

With these two big tournaments on simultaneously, Indian Sports fans have a problem of plenty this summer. And we haven’t yet spoken of Wimbledon and the US Open golf event. I am just sticking to the most popular sport in the world and the most popular sport in India. With little time on his hands how does the Indian sports fan prioritize his sports watching on the telly? The Euro is a more important football tournament but we are a cricket mad nation and our national team happens to be playing in the Asia Cup.

Well, I have a new way of resolving this dilemma. It’s called 'LET THE TV COMMERCIALS DECIDE'

There are two TV commercials dominating the sporting airwaves tight now. One is the Nike football commercial called ‘Take it to the NEXT LEVEL’ which makes a pitch for football and the Euro tournament. Then there is the Star Cricket commercial which calls on cricket fans to start cheering for India in the Asia Cup.

Watch both and watch the tournament which has a better commercial.

Watch the Nike commercial.

This commercial really takes a football fan to the next level. You almost experience what it feels like to be a player on the field. You score, you tackle, you get tackled and you even get to kiss the babes.

The ad also leaves you guessing – who is the player in the ad – the guy through whose eyes we see the entire ad unfold. He is a goal scoring Dutch forward who plays for arsenal. Points to one Robin Van Persie. But this player is right-footed and can’t be Van Persie. Anyways this is an outstanding ad.

Now take a look at the Star Cricket commercial

I am sorry but this ad is not fully available on the internet. None of its 4 versions. It’s actually so infantile that I have a feeling Youtube refused to upload it on their site. You can’t miss it on TV though. There are no other ads which show grown up men shouting INDIA, INDIA for no rhyme or reason. One guy enters a parking lot and looks around as if he’s a car thief and then starts shouting INDIA INDIA. The other versions show similarly demented men shouting in offices, homes and elevators. The ad line says – time to start cheering for INDIA.

But shouldn’t we wait for the games to start at least. Do we have to act like the village idiot to show our loyalties? People in this country have enough intelligence to know that the IPL is over and they need to cheer for the national team in the Asia Cup. I guess the commercial is meant for people who don’t understand that – people who behave like the guys in the ad.

Final Decision – The commercials have clearly made the decision for me. However, you can watch the cricket if you are planning to watch each and every cricket tournament in the year and do the ranking analysis for the Asia Cup and other tournaments. In case you do. You know what to do next. Start shouting.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

A Commonfan’s Euro 2008 Diary - 11/06/2008 – A lone Englishman and a scouting report on the Portugese

Scouting note for future opponents of Portugal

1. The Portugese defense is poor in the air. The shorter Turks couldnt take advanateg of it but the taller Czechs neraly made the portugese pay. Teams like Germany who are strong in the air would be taking note of this weakness with glee.

Please note - The right-footed guy in Blue is playing left-back for Portugal

2.There's a guy with a poor left foot masquerading as a left back for the Portugese. He has been a right back all his life and has not been a very good one the last few seasons. Wonder why his coach thought he would do well on the left when he was bad on the right. Is it simply because the Scolari has no other defensive options available? That is a scary thought for the team's fans.

The 2006 World was a bad nightmare

Check this

1998 World Cup - 36 goals in 14 games between European nations ( both teams from Europe)
2000 Euro - 85 goals in 31 games
2002 World Cup - 24 goals in 8 games between Europen nations
2004 Euro - 77 goals in 31 games
2006 World Cup - 31 goals in 16 games between European nations
2008 Euro - 23 goals in 10 games so far

Average number of goals per game have been - 2.57, 2.74, 3.00 ,2.48, 1.93 and 2.3

Notice the trend - The 2006 World Cup won by Italy was a nightmare for attacking football. Thankfully, there has been a revival at Euro 2008. The goal average at this tournament will improve further if Italy or France are not present in the second round.That looks a real possiblity and fans of attacking football can rejoice furtjher.

The lone Englishman at Euro 2008

Turkey's Kazim- Kazim was born in England and given the name Colin Kazim-Richards at birth. He got the name as his mother is Turkish Cypriot. A prodigy in England he failed to live upto his early promise and his career floundered. It has seen a revival in Turkey and now Kazim gets to be the solitary Englishman at Euro 2008.

Calling himself Kazim Kazim is a nice move. It makes him more Turkish and less English. Saves him from the curse which befell the the 'Englishmen who are not at Euro 2008'

Rising transfer prices

Ronaldo’s outstanding displays at Euro 2008 would have whetted the appetite of the Real bosses even more. His already high transfer value is now going through the roof. And he’s not the only player increasing his market value by impressing at this tournament.

Deco's signature just became a hell lot more expensive

Deco is another. Already on his way out of Barcelona, he will have more suitors then he can handle if he continues in the same vein. And then there is David Villa. Rafa Benitez would be kicking himself for not signing him when he was available for far less than what he would cost after this tournament.

On the flip side players like Karim Benzema could hurt their transfer valuations if they don’t improve their play quickly.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A Commonfan’s Euro 2008 Diary - 10/06/2008 – Spain have an embarrassment of attacking riches and Greece are paupers

Spain can keep these guys on the bench and still look good

Spain started with Xabi Alonso and Cesc Fabregas on the bench and played fluently. How many teams at euro 2008 would love to have them as their starting central midfield pair. Everyone except for Portugal, France, Italy and Holland. And even these 4 teams would be tempted to play at least one of them. That is the level of quality in the Spanish side.

For all the talent in the world, Coach Luis Aragones deserves a lot of credit. His teams play a wonderful brand of attacking football that others in Europe can only dream about (except for Portugal and Holland). He has also instilled a lot of confidence in his young side and they don’t start choking from day one like the Spanish sides of old. In fact, they don’t choke at all. They are lacking in international experience but they force the opponent to beat them and don’t end up beating themselves.

Spain should qualify easily as group toppers. I am not counting on them to win it all but they should progress beyond the second round. Their attack was the hero against Russia but their defence will be critical once the knock-out round begins. The form of Ramos and Puyol would be crucial.

My most heartfelt desire is to see a Spain- Portugal or a Spain –Holland game. That would bring even the football gods to earth


Thank god, the English didn't qualify. We would have never seen the free flowing game we saw last night. The Russians lost 1- 4 but they displayed enough attacking verve and could have scored more than the one goal they managed. Credit is due to their manager Guus Hiddink for playing to win and not playing 'not to lose'. Their approach however could prove costly if they end up tied on points with another team and the qualification decision comes down to goal difference.
Russia's qualification now depends on Hiddink's tactics and mind games

The Russians will compete with Sweden for the second spot in this group. Drawing with the Swedes will not serve their purpose as they have a far inferior goal-difference. They will need to go all out for a win. The Swedes know this. They will just stay back and take a counter-attacking approach - something which they do really well. The odds are all stacked up against the Russians. But they have the best tactician in the world to bail them out of this precarious position. Its time for Guus Hiddink to start his mind games and prepare a few surprises for the upcoming games.


The Swedish team reminds me of the New Zealand Cricket team. They have a handful of stars (Ibrahimovic, Larsson and Ljungberg) and then a whole bunch of decent players (most of them happen to be role-players at big European clubs) who combine beautifully to ensure that the whole is always more than the sum of the parts.

They almost always qualify for the big tournaments, do well in the group stages and then get knocked out early in the knock-out rounds. They have regularly failed to emulate their semi-final efforts at the 1994 WC and 1992 European Championship. Another repeat is likely at Euro 2008. A comfortable 2-0 win over the defending champs was a big step towards the second round but they didn’t display enough to suggest that they could be considered serious title challengers.

This strike pair could be deadlier if they had better service

Their biggest strength is the strike force of Larsson and Ibrahimovic. But the duo would struggle to repeat their club form as their more modest international team- mates will fail to match the service that they are used to at club level.

A special word of praise for the Swedish fans. Their section behind the goal was completely yellow – not a single speck of another colour. Every fan seemed to be dressed in the same uniform. Way to go fans.


The ride is over. With a sound beating at the hands of the Swedes, the Greeks no longer carry the aura of defending Champions. In fact they look ripe for a last place finish in this group. They had a dream run the last time round where their ‘defend first and then snatch a goal’ worked like a charm.

Otto and his boys can rest on past glory

These European Championships are about teams which can go out and take over the game with their attacking firepower. The defensive minded Greeks do not belong here. The fans want to see the likes of Holland and Portugal and wouldn’t min an early exit for the Greeks. But Otto Rehhagel and his boys have nothing to be ashamed of though. Their place in the history books of football is already etched in gold.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Commonfan’s Euro 2008 Diary - 09/06/2008 – Unravelling the Group of Death

France reminded me of the last French side which played a major tournament without Zinedine Zidane - the 2002 World Cup team, which finished last in the group. At least that side could call on Zizou for their last group game. This team will not have that option an to make matters worse for them, two of their other talismanic players - Thierry Henry and Patrick Viera were also unavailable for the Romania game and could miss more action. The Romania game was a must win and the two dropped points could come back to haunt them.

No more Zidane comparisons for Benzema if he continues to play like this
It was actually painful to see such a fine collection of talent give such a disjointed display. Many of the youngsters have been anointed with Zidane related monikers (like the new Zidane) and its time for them to step up and live up to their Zidanesque billing. But more than anything else, the return of Viera could revitalize the side. He has the ability to dominate the midfield and set the tempo for France.

There is still a lot of football to be played in this group and France is still in complete control of their destiny. They are a veteran side and their experience, especially in defence will be very handy for the crunch games against Italy and the Netherlands. It will be imperative to get the formation and tactics right and the French fans can count on Domenech to get it right. They are still my favourites to make it out of the group of death.


Romania has had their moments in the big tournaments, most notably their win over Argentina in the 94 WC and over England in France 98. This time, however, they have a far bigger mountain to climb - they are in the group of death and even a second place finish will be reason for massive celebration at home.

Their defence is ably marshalled by Christian Chivu and was rock solid against France. However, their job was made easier by the lack of coordination in the French side and the Italians and the Dutch might not be so generous. Even then the defense is the least of their worries. This team needs to win at least one of their remaining games to have a realistic hope of qualifying and to do that they will need to score goals. And that is where the bigger problem lies.

Their attack is solely dependent on Adrian Mutu. While this was good enough for the lesser nations in the qualifying tournaments, it’s grossly inadequate for the big boys. Expect Romania to go down fighting but with their head held high.


They hammered the defending World champions 3-0 and are on pole position to qualify from this group. Their attack was hugely impressive and if you can shred the Italian Catenaccio defence three times, you can score against anyone in the world. The offensive players were a source of great joy but the fans can draw greater cheer from what was missing from the Dutch squad.

We dont miss you - thanks for not coming
Question marks were raised about the Oranje's chances after the withdrawal of some big names before the tournament. Looks like these withdrawals did more good than bad. The Dutch have self-destructed through infighting at almost all major tournaments. The withdrawals meant there were fewer egos and fewer trouble makers, creating a healthier team atmosphere and reducing the chances of infighting. The depth of Dutch talent ensured that Coach Van Basten had no trouble finding suitable replacements.

A united Dutch side which could go all the way

Marco Van Basten is the common element from Holland’s title winning squad of 1988 - their only international title. His lucky touch combined with an offence which is in top form and a side which is united for a change could land a second international football title for the Dutch. The football purists can brace themselves for a treat of attacking football.

The 3-0 defeat to the Dutch was a shocker. I had been unable to pick which side will miss out in the group of death before the tournament began. Now I think the Italians will endure that ignominy.

It's risky to bet against Italian sides as they are known to start slowly and have an innate ability to rebound from defeats. But I will take that chance for one simple reason - Italian sides never concede 3 goals in a game. Usually they let in that many in a tournament. I think the last time it happened was in the 1988 Olympics in the third place play-offs against West Germany. That is right – 20 years back when Germany was still divided.

Can someone find the Italian defence please

There is something seriously wrong with the Italian defence. And an Italian team which loses its defensive identity is like a singer who has lost his voice – they are no good.

Roberto Donadoni was a surprise choice to replace Marcello Lippi. Failure to qualify for the second round could possibly end his reign. He can complain about missing Fabio Cannavaro but his pleas will find no takers if the Azurri cannot pull themselves up in the next two games.

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Monday, June 9, 2008

A Commonfan’s Euro 2008 Diary - 08/06/2008 – First impressions of group B


Germany have almost the same side from the last World Cup, almost the same coaching ideology as the last World Cup and are almost at home , geographically speaking ,like the last World Cup. And I would expect them to almost repeat their performance of the last world Cup – they will play well and make the semis at least.
The coach is no longer there but his ideology and players remain

After two horror European tournaments, the Germans are finally back with a strong side and have re-discovered their swagger and winning mentality of old. In a closely fought tournament like this, a winning attitude is often the difference between victory and defeat. The Germans have a strong side which plays a busy attacking style based on team work and efficiency. They don’t have any big stars but are solid at every position and are a tough nut to crack. Their biggest star is Michael Ballack who has returned to form at Chelsea this season. His midfield leadership will be crucial to an extended run for Germany in the tournament.

Their opening game against Poland was expected to be a dog fight but Germany emerged with a convincing 2-0 victory which was remindful of their displays at the 2006 WC. The Germans are all fired up and should top the group.


The Poles were knocked down by a polish born-German. They have no reason to complain though. They have also benefitted from emigrant footballers, most notably the Nigerian born striker- Emmanuel Olisadabe.

They have already over-achieved by qualifying for the tournament and their display against Germany was nothing to be ashamed of. They are a side of no names which has been turned into a fighting unit by the wily old Dutchman – Leo Beenhakker. I would expect the Poles to make their coach proud by beating the Austrians and challenging the Croats for a second round berth.


For all the talk about this team being on the verge of a major international breakthrough, the Croats were horrible against arguably the worst side in the tournament - the Austrians. They were lucky to get the win; else they would have done their qualification hopes some serious damage.

Their coach is quite hopeful that his team is capable of much more. I am sure they are, having beaten the English in England to top their qualifying group. But most managers in Euro 2008 are far better than Steve McLaren and their sides will know how to handle the Croats.

Croatia has no one in the class of Boban and Suker

In fact, I would go as far as saying that this isn’t the best side to come out of Croatia. Previous sides have boasted of the likes of Boban and Suker – established names at big-time European clubs. The current side has no such pedigree and will find it difficult to go one better.


Quite simply the poorest side in the tournament. They suffer from a hopeless lack of quality. Their best player is a mediocre member of a mediocre Middlesbrough side. But they put up a valiant fight and would have made the home fans proud. I hope they manage to get at least one point in the group and have something positive to remember about a tournament they had been so excited about.

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Sunday, June 8, 2008

A Commonfan’s Euro 2008 Diary - 07/06/2008 – First impressions of Group A


Hugely impressive in their 2-0 win over the Turks. The ball movement was a treat to the eye and the defense also looked solid. Could have won by far more. In spite of the fine performance two fatal problems remain and unless Portugal can prove me wrong, I don’t see these guys winning the tournament.

The first is the lack of a proven goal-scorer. Except for France at the 1998 World Cup and Greece in the last Euros no team has won a major tournament without a top striker. In fact Portugal’s inability to produce a top-striker baffles me. They have a regular assembly line which churns out world –class talent on a regular basis but somehow the line fails to produce a quality finisher. Portugal’s best case scenario would be to do what France did in 98 – get goals from all over the field. They did just that against the Turks with the goals coming from mid-field and defense.

Portugal will need more goals from defense and midfield

The other is the lack of leadership. This was an easy game. But who is going to rally the troops in the heat of the battle against the likes of Italy, France and Germany. Cristiano is the captain but is he a leader? I don’t think so. The only one who comes close to being a leader is Ricardo Carvalho. Scolari is a smart coach. I didn’t expect him to make Ronaldo captain. More than goal-scoring, lack of leadership could be Portugal’s biggest undoing.

The lack of leadership also stems from the fact that this team has finally broken away from the Golden Generation of Portugese football – the likes of Figo, Paulo Sousa, Fernando Couto and Rui Costa – players who won two junior World Cups together and served the senior side with distinction for many years. There is a clear absence of veterans in the side. But this could serve as extra motivation for this team as they would look to create a new identity for themselves and come out of the shadow of the Golden Generation. I love to see them play and would hope they do so


They lost to Portugal but they are my favourites to qualify second from this group. They have greater balance than the Czechs and the Swiss and have the best striker in the entire group in Nihat Kahveci. Their superior offensive prowess should see them prevail and make it to the next round.

Fatih Terim’s presence is also a major plus for them. He inspired Turkey to a third place in the 2002 World Cup and can get them to play out of their skins once again.

They had some positives to take from the loss against the Portuguese. They kept the game alive till the very end and had scoring chances of their own. On another day the referee could have been more benevolent and the Turks could have snatched a draw.

Czech Republic

The Czechs made a stunning start to the last World Cup and then just crumbled. Things haven’t improved a lot since then. They were missing the creativity of Nedved, Poborsky and Rosicky from the last tournament and it showed, quite palpably. Their offense was almost non-existent and I don’t know how things can improve for the side. Their big striker, Jan Koller has denigrated and the lack of supply made him look even worse. Milan Baros was not even considered worthy of a substitute appearance. A far cry from Euro 2004 where he netted five times.

This was an extremely lucky win for the Czechs. Even their reliable defense was stretched by the plucky Swiss who don’t boast of any big names in offense. The going will be far more difficult against the Portuguese and the Turks who are far more potent in attack. The Czechs exited the 2006 World Cup with a win and two defeats and a repeat at Euro 2008 is quite likely


The Swiss fans made the second round in the 2006 World Cup and did not concede a single goal. That performance and the fact that the tournament was at home gave the Swiss fans a lot to aspire for. Their hopes came crashing down after a defeat against the Czechs and their hopes of qualification are extremely bleak now.

Important Lesson – The European Championship is very different to the World Cup for European sides. The Swiss side is built on a well-organized defense. It served them well against non-European sides at the World Cup. But isn’t much of an advantage against European sides. They are all accustomed to playing against European defences and know how to break it down. When it comes to attack, the Swiss are all industry and running but that isn’t good enough to bring in the goals against well marshalled sides.

A smash-and-grab goal that undid the organized Swiss defense

All these elements were on display against the Czechs. The Swiss held possession and pressurized the opposition defense but had little to show in terms of clear-cut chances. And were unable to take the few that did come their way. They defended well but were done in by a smash-and-grab goal that is the trademark of European sides. For once the Swiss got a taste of their own medicine.

Predictions for Match Day 2

Austria – Croatia

Easy win for Croatia. Possible score line 2-0. Another home defeat

Germany – Poland

Expect the Poles to play hard and push the Germans who should prevail eventually. Possible score line 1-0

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Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Commonfan’s IPL Polls – Awarding the Icons, commentators and brand ambassadors in the IPL

I recently put up three IPL-related polls on the blog. The IPL is over, the polls are closed and its time to analyze the results.

Two points before we start

Point no 1 – I have myself abstained from voting to prevent any kind of human bias while analyzing the results.

Point no 2 – I am a trained but hopeless statistician. Still I remember enough to say with more than 95% confidence that the sample size is not statistically relevant. But how can we have large sample sizes when the popular forums refrain from popular polls. They cannot go beyond the ‘who will win the match’, ‘who will hit maximum sixes’ and ‘who will win man of the series’ type of polls. These Polls test your clairvoyance and don’t ask for your opinion. And if they do ask for opinion they don’t dare touch the gods of Indian sport. A hard nosed poll which puts the greats in the dock is pure sacrilege. Therefore I will throw the statistical relevance out of the window when I analyze the poll results

Poll 1 – Who is the worst commentator in the IPL?
Results Aamir Sohail – 37%
Ranjit Fernando – 20%
Rameez Raja – 12 %
I watch matches with the volume turned off – 12%

The overall standard of the commentary in the IPL was shambolic. Amit Verma has written a delightful piece on state of commentating in the IPL and I suggest you please read it. Krishnamachari Srikanth escapes this list as he was classified as a brand ambassador. I hope all the commentators find great jobs elsewhere and spare the poor fans.

Aamir Sohail - incorrigible

Aamir Sohail takes the cake and a word of advice for him – stay away from India. You always end up making an a** of yourself. You did it as a player (against Venkatesh Prasad in the 96 WC) and have now won the Razzies of the cricket commentating world. You will do a better job modelling for hair cream.

Ranjit Fernando’s eloquence has also been well-documented. A piece of advice for Set Max – cricket telecasts don’t need the lone representative from each participating country. Foreign fans watch the telecast to watch their cricket team and not to cheer their native son doing commentary. I would give an arm and a leg to hear Ian Chappell and Richie Benaud but would rather turn deaf when Laxman Sivaramakrishnan and Ravi Shastri come on air.

Poll 2 – Which Icon was the biggest dud in the IPL?
Results Sachin Tendulkar – 36%
Rahul Dravid – 22%
VVS Laxman for being a chicken and backing out – 22 %
Sourav Ganguly -12%
The biggest dud was the concept itself – 12%

There was a lot of criticism of the concept and the last option should have been the most preferred option. However as Shane Warne and MS Dhoni showed, there is definitely a need for iconic players in the League. But rather than the IPL committee anointing ICONS it should be left to the franchisees to decide their Icon or franchise player. Even the US Leagues have franchise players. The concept is ok but its modalities need serious tweaking.

It was a tournament to forget for the big 4 of Indian cricket. Sachin Tendulkar escaped the criticism but did little justice to his icon status in the IPL or his mega-iconic status in Indian cricket. Rahul was disowned by his owner and Laxman benched for mystifying reasons. Sourav Ganguly’s last few efforts and especially his last innings did a lot of damage control for his icon status.

The new brigade made another claim to replace the old icons. The likes of Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina and Gautam Gambhir cannot be denied for long.

Poll 3 – Which team had the best set of brand ambassadors/mascots in the IPL?
Results KXP with Preity Zinta - 38%
DC were smartest for not wasting any money on it– 33%
KKR with Shahrukh– 16%
DD with Akshay Kumar – 11%

Based on poll results the possible line-up of brand ambassadors for next season’s IPL -Sherlyn Chopra, Mallika Sherawat, Rakhi Sawant, Pamela Anderson(for Mallya’s team as he doesn’t believe in the desi babes), Bipasha Basu, Shilpa Shetty and Deepika Padukone. Their agenda – to beat Preity Zinta at her game of hugging and kissing, no holds barred. Don’t be surprised if you see much better performances from the other teams next season.

Preity has set the bar for future brand ambassadors

Other than that nothing else will work. So if you can’t get a hot babe to be your brand ambassador and shower her love on the players, then you might as well drop the idea of having a brand representative.

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NBA Finals – Game 1 – Seeking the positives and the negatives for my beloved Lakers – the anti-Sports Guy column

Important NoteIam a great fan of Bill Simmons’ columns on ESPN. But Bill is a Boston fan and I am a Lakers fan. So no point reading Bill’s writing during the finals and getting foolishly carried away by the Celtic Magic. This is my anti-Bill Simmons column in support of my Beloved Lakers. Go Lakers

The Boston Celtics have defeated the Lakers 98-88 in game 1. As a Lakers fan Iam a little worried because

The Boston defense was at its very best

For the third time this season the Boston defense managed to clamp done on Kobe Bryant. If KB24 cannot be a dominant scorer in this series, the Lakers will struggle for sure.

The supporting cast and the bench also wasn’t great for the Lakers. Except for Derek Fisher in the first half, nobody really came out with his reputation intact. Three-point shooting was atrocious

The big 3 fired for Boston. This is something which hasn’t happened a lot these playoffs. Have they raised their game for the biggest series of their individual lives?

Young point guard Rajon Rando played quite well against wily veteran Derek Fisher. He was unfazed by the occasion.

Boston Coach Doc Rivers won the battle of the coaches against Phil Jackson. Has he finally learned to coach I the playoffs.

The Lakers were supposed to have an edge down the stretch. But Boston controlled the game really well and there were no late runs from the Lakers.

Kevin Garnett had a monster game. The Lakers had struggled to contain a great power forward – Tim Duncan in their last series and looks like another great one is going to fill the stat sheet in this series.

Paul Pierce on one leg turned the game on its head. Iam scared to think of what he would do on both legs

That’s quite a list. Seems everything went right for Boston and nothing clicked for LA. Exactly. And that is why I am only a ‘little’ worried. Because on a day when Boston played perfectly and LA were horrible, the game was still close till late in the fourth quarter. Actually, there are other reasons as well

This game was played in Boston. These playoffs have seen an extremely high percentage of home wins. And no one exemplifies it better than the Celtics. They won two series’ by just winning their home games. So, no need to worry too much.

The home game also explains the great play of Rajon Rando and the poor play of Lakers’ supporting cast. But the Lakers have every reason to believe this will change. They lost their first away game to both the Jazz and the Spurs but rebounded to win subsequently on the opposition’s home court.

The Boston defense had initially choked LeBron as well. But James managed to overcome them and get back to his regular scoring self. I would expect Kobe to do the same and sooner. Infact Kobe’s bad game 1 was still far better than LeBron’s bad game 1. And this is a different Kobe my dear Bostonians. He will not be trying to become the man and self destruct.

Paul Pierce on 1 leg was the difference makes in game 1. But he might not be around for a few games. Boston will find it extremely difficult without their main go-to guy. Remember he scored 15 points in the decisive 3rd quarter. And Boston fans have no reason to crib about it. Remember the Lakers are also missing Andrew Bynum.

The big 3 played well together. But the big 3 might be reduced to a big 2 for a few games. And even if it that doesn’t happen, Lakers need not worry too much. These guys were playing their ‘first’ NBA finals and must have been overflowing with adrenalin. Will not have the same energy for the later games and will be back to their disjointed ways.

Doc Rivers had a great game right. But this was game one and this was in Boston. We’ll talk coaching stratagem when the series really heats up and the LA crowd is baying for Doc’s blood. Or when Doc makes his typical mistakes and even the Boston crowd starts chanting for his blood. Then the real Doc Rivers will make an appearance.

As for KG’s great show, let him play. The Lakers won 4-1 against the Spurs with Duncan getting a 22-17. KG can win the finals MVP trophy as long as Kobe wins the NBA trophy.

There was enough proof that Lakers triangle offense will work against the Boston defense. The Lakers lead and scored consistently till the one-man on one leg show happened. So the Lakers just need to continue to do what they have been doing all play-offs long – execute their offense and pass the ball around.

I love your writing Bill, but not when my Lakers play your Celtics

This column will continue till the Lakers win the NBA title. Then Bill will be back to his objective best and will write in honour of the new champions. But till that happens Bill Simmons will do his very best to derail the Lakers with his jinxes and reverse jinxes. The anti-Sports Guy column will continue to balance the cosmic influence on the NBA Finals.

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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid - the good and the bad of it

Real Madrid’s chase of Cristiano Ronaldo is the biggest story in European football right now. Other than the soon-to-start Euro 2008 that is. Real have been undaunted in their pursuit of the Portuguese, while his current club – Manchester United have been equally determined to hold onto him. Off late there have been some ifs and buts from both parties. The player himself has been giving mixed signals and adding to the confusion. Let’s analyze all the angles and all that could be good and bad about this move.

Why Ronaldo might go to Real Madrid

Ronaldo has already achieved all he could with Manchester United. He has won the EPL, the FA Cup and the Champions League. He has been the Player of the year in England, won the golden boot and will end up as the European player of the year in all probability. He will want to go to Real in search of new conquests.

By winning the Champions League, Ronaldo has also repaid the debt he owed to Sir Alex Ferguson for giving him a chance at Old Trafford and for standing by him when the English media was berating Ronaldo for his role in Wayne Rooney’s red card at the World Cup. The Scot wanted the Champions League more than anything else and will have little to begrudge Ronaldo if he walks away.

Ronaldo is an Iberian from Portugal. Becoming a star in Spain (another Iberian country) at Real will be a dream come true. It doesn’t get any bigger than this for him.

Why Ronaldo might not go to Real

Ronaldo was completely overwhelmed with emotion during the Champions League final. The final reminded him of his own mortality and probably gave him a new perspective in life. He would have realized that he has a great thing going for him at Old Trafford and would be a fool to jump ship and run off to Real. He would want soak in the glory of his efforts and not want to start afresh at the Bernabeau.

Ronaldo also happens to be part of a great Manchester United side which is on the brink of greatness. They just had a brilliant season and still have scope for improvement. With a young core of outstanding players, they could reel off a slew of titles in the coming years. The scene at Real is not that great. And neither is he going to be winning titles galore with Portugal. This is Ronaldo’s chance to become a football legend. He might not want to let this chance go.

Ronaldo is the biggest star at Man United and their primary goal-scorer. The likes of Rooney and Tevez play second –fiddle to him. This will not be the case at Real. Ronaldo will have to share the spotlight with Raul and many others.

Ronaldo still has age on his side. He can go to Real later also.

Why Man United should let Ronaldo go

This could be the mother of all football transfers. Real are desperate and United can make them pay dearly for their desperation. If they play their cards well, they could end up with a ton of cash and more than a couple of world-class players in return. Every player has a value attached to him and if Real’s price is far in excess of Ronaldo’s value United should pull the plug.

United have holes to fill at right back, centre forward and on the right if Ronaldo leaves. This single transfer could fill all the gaps with world-class players. Real have many redundant players like Robinho who mean little to them but are proven quality otherwise. They will be undervalued in such a deal, much to United’s advantage.

United benefited from addition through subtraction the last two times they sold a player to Real. This could happen once again. Ronaldo’s exit will provide more opportunities for the likes of Rooney, Tevez and Nani. This will bring out the best in these guys and United will be able to compensate for Ronaldo’s loss.

Why Man United should not let Ronaldo go

All the transfer money in the world will count for nothing if there are no players available. The likes of Chelsea, Milan, Real and Barcelona have bottom less trunks of money and could out-bid United in any bidding war. Players of Ronaldo’s quality are few and far between. Man United could be left with a pile of money and no replacement.

It is never advisable to break up a winning combination. United have finally managed to put together a side which can compete with the very best in Europe. To add to it they have also had their share of transfer busts, in spite of all the experience that Fergie has. There is no guarantee that a world-class player will fit in perfectly in the United side. Remember Juan Carlos Veron. United had nine years of frustration before they returned to the centre stage in Europe. They should not be risking another spell on the European fringes.

What I would want United to do

I want to see more of Ronaldo at United. But if push comes to shove, United should make Real pay heavily in return - enough to get at least two players, who can walk into the current United side. I don’t want them to settle for Robinho and cash. Traditionally Brazilians haven’t done well in the rough and tumble of the premiership. The odds of the slightly-built Robinho getting knocked around are very high.

I want United to bargain for Arjen Robben and Wesley Snijder. The former is a proven commodity in England who will at least be a medium term replacement for Ryan Giggs. He will also have extra motivation for the games against Chelsea. Snijder on the other hand will be the best possible replacement for Scholes. Few midfielders have had the kind of impact that he’s had in his first season at the Bernabeau. He will command an immediate place in the United mid field and make them an even greater force.

If United can get only one of Snijder and Robben, then they should get enough additional cash to buy the likes of Ronaldinho, Samuel E’too, Karim Benzema, Dani Alves and Franck Ribery. Nothing short of that will do. And if they fail to land both Dutchmen, then the money should be sufficient to buy two such players.
Ronaldo will be missed at Old Trafford but Real’s benevolence and United’s shrewdness could ensure that Red Devils like me don’t miss the success that United have enjoyed this season.

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Monday, June 2, 2008

IPL Daily Dose – The Final – The day Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar did battle on a cricket field

Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar are considered to be the two greatest generals of all time. A showdown between the two of them would probably have been one of the greatest battles in history. Two great leaders well versed in tactical warfare leading well trained and highly motivated armies in the definitive face-off. While historians can only dream and envisage, cricket fans got to see the cricketing equivalent of the ultimate battle between two outstanding generals in the final of the IPL.

Like Caesar and Alexander, Warne and Dhoni were inspirational getting the best out of their troops. They led from the front, were masterly in their tactics and showed remarkable composure in the heat of battle. The performance of their men was also heroic with each man rising to the occasion and doing his bit for the cause. The result was a roller –coaster which kept swinging back and forth till the very end.

In the end every man was a hero and there were no losers. This game was a celebration of team performance and the ‘Man’ of the Match award seemed unnecessary and pointless. Yousuf Pathan threatened to become the ‘Man’ and appeared to be kissed by destiny as he continued to get life after life. Raina’s direct hit reduced him to a mere mortal.

The run-out was one of the many incidents which had the potential to become a killer blow in another game. Not in this one though. On this day the two teams were unwilling to concede defeat and kept coming back at each other with renewed vigour. Kind of like the Rocky versus Apollo Creed match-up in the first Rocky movie.

Aamir Khan in Public

A public appearance made by the actor who only considered the Oscars to be worthy of his presence. So is the IPL big enough (a matter of pride for Lalit Modi) or was it simply to give company to Mr Mukesh Ambani. The two have been seen together quite often these days.

Can someone provide information on Salman Khan’s accent?

The actor’s accent reminds me of call centre employees who work the US shift. But he couldn’t have done that as he’s from a pre-BPO age. So did he go to school and college in America? Wonder how he gets rid of the accent when he mouths Hindi-film dialogues.

An Iceman who lost his moniker

At the Twenty-20 World Cup, Joginder Sharma bowled the last over and the media made him the ‘Iceman’. The IPL cruelly exposed his limitations. Forget an Iceman encore in the final, the poor guy was not even on the field and nobody seemed to miss him.

MS Dhoni finally lost but only just

Mahi’s winning streak as captain finally comes to an end. But no need to fret over it. It took an outstanding performance from a brilliant side to beat Dhoni’s team off the last ball of the match.

Dudes of the DayThe twenty – two players who lined up for the final. Thank you for a memorable game. The only guys who remember the two semis are the players of Delhi and Mohali

Duds of the DayThe people who planned the pre match song and dance program. The songs, the dances, the costumes and the performances were completely disparate. Even the third-rate film awards have better choreographed shows.

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Sunday, June 1, 2008

IPL Daily Dose – 31/05/2008 – Night out for the IPL widows and making a case for India’s McGrath

The IPL has spawned a new breed of ‘cricket widows’ in India like the football widows in England. Poor women whose husbands have no time for them once the cricketing action begins. There is some good news for these distraught wives. IPL games now get over in an hours time (the competitive action that is). That leaves enough time for the man and woman to spend with each other. It gets even better when this happens on a Saturday night. The Chennai Super Kings saved a lot of troubled marriages last night and will have the good wishes of all the cricket widows for their final clash against the Royals.

Disclaimer – This does not include wives whose men were glued to the telly for the full game. I suggest they seek professional advice.

MS Dhoni stuck to the same modus operandi which has served his team well in the last few games. He gave an extended spell to his opening bowlers and let them do their thing.

Ntini and Gony first tie a noose around the batsman’s neck and then slowly tighten it. The batsman cannot take it after a while and in his struggle to break free chokes to death. Facing off against the most explosive batting line-up in the tournament, the two hit men were at their stifling best. KXP never got going and the game was as good as over after they lost their first 6 wickets cheaply. CSK’s opening pair can now lay claim to being the best opening attack in the IPL on current form.

Making a case for MS Gony

Check Gony’s figures in the last five games.

Semis - 4-1-13-2
DC - 4-0-21-1
RR - 3-0-32-0 (in a game which saw more than 425 runs scored)
RCB - 4-1-11-2
KKR - 4-0-17-0

When was the last time you saw an Indian bowler bowl impeccable line and length ball after ball, game after game. He is the closest thing we have had to a Glenn McGrath and has delivered against the most attacking of batsmen, bowling largely with fielding restrictions. He has been better than the other Indian bowlers on view and deserves a chance in the Indian side. If the BCCI is not going to consider such outstanding performances then what was all the rhetoric about unearthing new talent and giving them a chance.

What makes MS Dhoni such a winner?

He seems to have a Midas touch. The Twenty-20 World Cup, the Tri-series in Australia, the Pakistan series and now the IPL. Can’t really put a finger on what makes him such a winner. Is he a master tactician, an inspirational leader, captain cool or simply a lucky guy? Whatever it is, let’s not bother as long as he keeps winning.

Superman edges ahead

Shane Watson now leads Shaun Marsh in the ‘Best Player of the IPL’ race. Sadly for Marsh his failure on the big stage will undo all the good work done previously. Any other contenders? I would think Yousuf Pathan is a dark horse depending on what he does in the final.

Dudes of the DayNtini and Gony. At least the first semi-final was interesting till about 25 overs. These guys made this one a non-contest ten overs in.

Dud of the DayArjun Rampal. Saw his anguished face after Marsh was dismissed. He had disappeared after taking a victory lap with SRK to celebrate KKR’s victory over DD in Kolkata. Who does he really support? Is he the president of the ‘Support the Filmy IPL owners’ Club.

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The basketball gods have blessed me - It’s the Celtics against the Lakers once again

The Boston Celtics are through to the NBA finals with an 89-81 win over the Pistons. This has set up the 11th NBA final between the two most storied and most successful franchisees in the NBA.

Ever since the Celtics acquired KG and Ray Allen and the Lakers got Pau Gasol, this is the match-up all neutral fans have dreamt about. And finally the two teams have negotiated the obstacle course that is the conference play-offs to set up the dream match-up.

This rivalry has been blessed by intense competition and outstanding performances of the greatest names in the game. This rivalry has seen the duel between Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, the face-off between Magic and Bird and it is their performances on this great stage which made these players legends.

This time we will see KG and Kobe – two men who have more then just a title at stake. The former has been regarded as the greatest player of his generation never to have won a title. Questions have been asked of his ability to perform on the biggest stage and now he has the chance to answer all his critics. Kobe will get a chance to show that he can lead the Lakers to a title without the help of Shaq and that will shut up O’Neal for good. This is also their chance to be counted in the same breadth as the guys mentioned earlier.

The two franchisees have had contrasting fortunes since they last met in a final. The Celtics lost Reggie Lewis and Len Bias to early deaths and have never contended for a title since. They were the joke of the NBA last year and even the most die-hard fans were losing faith in the team. A title could wash away all the pain suffered in the last 21 years.

The Lakers have been in multiple finals and have added three more rings to their collection since. They are on the verge of starting a new dynasty with Kobe, Gasol, Odom and possibly Bynum. A title will cap off the dream season they have had this year – a movie script which could have only been written in LA (Hollywood)

This dream match-up can only be compared to Borg – McEnroe in a Wimbledon final, or Brazil – Argentina in a World Cup Game or India- Pakistan in a cricket Cup Final. Yes, this is how big it is. This is the opportunity of a sports fan’s lifetime. Go watch the finals even if you don’t understand a thing about basketball. You will learn all about historical rivalries and fanatical support.

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