Philadelphia Eagles fly by the Vikings in Wildcard Playoff 2009

Philadelphia Eagles LogoIn the National Football League (that’s American Football), the Philadelphia Eagles [my preferred NFL team] made it into the 2009 playoffs with a wild card berth, thanks to a thrashing of the pre-season champion favourites Dallas Cowboys 44-6 in the dramatic regular season finale as well as invaluable help from two other teams (Oakland upset Tampa Bay and Houston beat Chicago). A veritable little miracle.

In the matchup against the Minnesota Vikings (10-6) on this Sunday (yesterday), the Eagles (9-6-1) put the home team to rest in frigid Minneapolis and advanced to the next round with an impressive 26-14 victory. Next up, the biggest Philadelphia rival, the New York Giants; as I have many friends (Brad, Sam, Burg, my father to mention a few…) who support the NYG, so I look forward to this NFC Semi-Final game.

With the MBL Phillies having already won the World Series,
the NHL Philadelphia - Brotherly LOVEPhiladelphia Flyers currently on top of their division (if a little precariously) and my beloved Reds of Liverpool FC on top of the England premiership, I am beginning to think 2009 will be an auspicious year for my professional sports teams. In any event, it is starting off well (and my happiness will not depend on the outcome of the various matches I assure you).

With this early success and good karma, it is as enjoyable a reason as there can be to wish you all a Happy, Healthy and Hearty New Year 2009.

Tottenham HotSpurs draw with Arsenal in fabulous 4-4 draw

A set of midweek games last night cannot be overshadowed by the Phillies victory in the World Series 2008. My Liverpool Reds continued their great progress this season with a 1-0 win over Portsmouth courtesy of a Gerrard spot kick. But the match of the night was the London derby between #3 Arsenal and ragtag bottom of the barrel Tottenham Hotspursat Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium.

With an unlikely 1-1 score at the half, Arsenal went ahead 2-1 to open the second half. Then there were three goals in the space of four minutes, with the Gunners still coming out trumps at 4-2. The game was wrapping up when Spurs pulled one back in the 89th minute. Arsenal had an injury-time booking and then in the 94th, last gasp, Spurs scored the equalizer via substitute Aaron Lennon. A resounding 4-4 thriller, even if a draw. And quite a startling start for new Spurs manager, Harry Redknapp.

Euro 2008 semi-finals — half the expected teams

Euro 2008 Semi-FinalsThe ongoing Euro Cup 2008 is showcasing a new set of teams and cast of players, specifically in the form of the never-say-die Turkish team and the pesky Russians. There have been a number of ‘disappointments’ (depends on your perspective, of course) proving that, aside from talent and money, it is important to have good chemistry and timing (as in, when you peak). With the semi-finals now just around the corner, the heavy favourites must be Germany, with a likely final opponent of Spain. But, I suppose you never know. Are Turkey’s squad of 14 and Russia’s need for revenge against Spain going to be enough?

Personally, I’d love to see Russia versus Turkey in the final.

However, one thing I remain curious about is how or who ruled that the players must come from the country to play on a team, but a coach can be another national (as in Russia’s Guus Hiddink who coached the Russians past his own nation). Seems odd, no?

Association Football’s continuing popularity despite all the diving…

What makes association football—a.k.a. soccer–the world’s most popular sport?

Clearly, as a professional player, there is the attraction of fame, fortune and free tattoos. But what’s in it for the spectators who are paying top dollar to go to the stadium*, pay pay-per-view cable and/or buying in on one of the countless merchandising opportunities?

At some point, I must invoke the argument that, because the spectator sex is mostly masculine, football is the ideal replacement activity for those bellicose natured human beings. Whether or not that holds true, because of football’s wide appeal, one could also say that as go football ethics, go audience ethics.

An article I read in The Evening Standard of June 3, 2008, tackled–if you excuse the pun–an issue that I have commented on before: the moaning, diving, cheating tactics that we see too often on football pitches. And, it would seem that the paying public has voiced its opinion via a survey of 2,814 fans through Football Fans Census (footballfanscensus.com — sorry but you have to register).

Sixty-seven percent of those polled recalled that a player had protested at least once in a manner that was unacceptable during the course of the season – maybe the 33% that didn’t recall a single instance were too intoxicated to remember? Interestingly, for Chelsea, England’s number two club, its fans gave the Blues a 91% [bad] mark.

Seventy-six percent remember at least one instance of a player deliberately taking a dive to win a free kick or penalty.

Sport is entertainment. It is in the business of entertainment. However, like all other businesses, sport should be held to certain ethical standards, especially considering its impact on impressionable youth and fans. Poor behaviour on the field inevitably spills over into the psyche of the local public. Perhaps this may explain why England’s national team has had such a poor record in recent years?

The success [and wealth] of the English clubs has everything to do with economics (size of stadiums, capacity attendance, high value tickets as well as the high wages…). The higher plane of economics has enabled them to attract higher quality talent and, therefore, more success in Europe. However, such success and wealth gives no just cause for petulance, poor sportsmanship or trickery. Indeed, football athletes should be given a code of ethics – just as corporate employees do. And, no spitting, head-butting, diving or rudeness should be tolerated. In the words of the legend, Pele, what counts is “honesty and hard work.”

So, for the high-paying spectators, are they getting their money’s worth? Are the players held to a high enough standard? Are the battles (of England) being won on these playing fields?

——————
*The Evening Standard of June 3 reported the following prices paid (including ticket, transportation, merchandise and refreshments) for going to see a game live at one of the London clubs: £102 for Chelsea, £92 for Arsenal, £84 for Tottenham…£52 for QPR …£42 for Watford…and, down to £26 for Barnet (Coca Cola League Two).

Among the staggering thoughts: there are 14 professional teams in the London area. Secondly, just limiting the exercise to the regular season games (38), that means that Chelsea fans spend £162 million in a season just on the regular season games. [In comparison, Barnet supporters pay somewhere around £5 million, with a stadium capacity of 5568].

Turkey dramatically defeats Croatia in penalties in Euro 2008 Quarter-Finals

Euro 2008 Quarter Finals Croatia v TurkeyTurkey produced miracle #3 of the Euro 2008 tournament by beating Croatia in the quarter finals in the most unlikeliest of circumstances. After regulation, the match was 0-0. Some might ask how a 0-0 game can be exciting. Well, sometimes, it just needs to have high stakes, a bit of woodwork, luck and the definitive need for a victor. The Turks had 56% of the possession and yet also had 4 bookings to 0 for Croatia. Meanwhile, the Croats had 15 (7 on target) total shots to 10 (4 on goal) for the Turks.

Then came the magic of overtime. Unlike ice hockey, it is not sudden death in football. There are twoTurkey downs Croatia in penalties Euro 2008 extra halves of 15 minutes. Twenty-nine minutes into OT, that is to say 1 minute before the end of extra time, Ivan Krasnic of Croatia scores with the head, 1-0. Jubilation. The Croatian players could taste the semi’s. After all, after 119 minutes of scoreless football, another score would be utterly improbable. At 120 minutes, the sidelines announce 2 minutes added on for injury time. With the clock ticking down at 121’50” the Turks rifle a long distance free kick that lands more-or-less on the foot of Senturk who pummels the ball with his left foot into the top left hand corner of the goal. The final whistle blows as soon as the ball soared into the back of the net. A scorcher, beautiful under any circumstances. Unfathomable in this moment.

1-1. Penalties.

The deflated Croats miss three of the next four penalty spots, two absolute misses and one saved by the Turkish Captain (and substitute) goalkeeper, Rüştü Reçber. The Turks ruthlessly knock in their spot kicks, including a Senturk right-footed execution.

So, in a veritable three-peat, Turkey is through, and Croatia, the former giant killer, is out. The Turks pulled off a last gasp win against Switzerland, 2-1, scoring in the 92nd minute to avoid a draw.  And then they made a sensational come-from-2-0-behind victory over the Czechs (down 2 goals with 15 minutes left). They scored three goals in the last 15 minutes to qualify for the quarters. For added drama, their goalie is ejected in the very last moments of the game.

Having visited Turkey and understood the intensity of the rivalry between the Istanbul football teams, I know the utter passion for football in Turkey (there is nothing more torrid than an encounter between Fenerbahçe v Galatasaray).

Not three, without four? Can the heavily yellow-carded Turks overcome the stalwart Germans in their first ever Euro semi-final? Clearly, the Turk coach, Fatih Terim, will have a difficult choice to make in goal.

Lyon defeat PSG in Coupe de France

Olympique Lyonnais wins Coupe de France 2008, first time in 35 yearsPSG defeated by Lyon in Coupe de France 2008Olympique Lyonnais double up on PSG in the Coupe de France 2008, but is the French Ligue really competitive?

Having watched the Manchester United vs Chelsea in the European Champions Cup Final this week (prior post here), this Olympique Lyon (OL) v PSG Coupe de France final match was decidedly less attractive and fun to watch, although there was plenty of tension (to the extent any overtime match is tense). A goal-less regulation game which PSG dominated was not good enough to win. OL’s Sidney Govou scored in the 102nd minute to sink PSG with a 1-0 scoreline. Here is a quick writeup in The Sports Network. What was more interesting than this tail-ending match itself, was the tale of the season.

PSG spent the majority of the season around the bottom of the league (Ligue 1), threatening to be relegated for the first time in its history. However, they managed, not only not to be relegated, but to win the League Cup, for the first time in ten years. And, they also got into the finals of the Coupe de France, the French equivalent of the FA Cup (which PSG had won in 2004 and 2006 most recently). What an up and down season! Winning the League Cup means a qualification in the UEFA. So, when all’s said and down, they finished 16th (two away from the relegation zone) in the League and yet had two national cup final appearances. PSG would qualify as a team that plays well in the knockout tournaments…in France anyway. [They won the UEFA once in 1996].

And then there is the 7th consecutive Ligue 1 title for Olympique Lyonnais. That is an absolutely huge stint at the top… but also possibly proving the lack of solid competition? There have been several teams that have won 4 seasons in a row in France, but none has accomplished what Lyon did. A dynasty in the making. Congrats to my Lyonnais friends for yet another great year and their first double (odd stat since they had 6 other years to do so). It is the first time in 35 years that OL have won that cup. That said, when you see Manchester United which has won 10 of the last 16 Premiership titles (17 overall, 1 behind Liverpool I note) as well as three European Cup Championships (two in the last 10 years), THAT is a dynasty. And, curiously enough, the longest stretch of consecutive Premier titles in England is just three (done four times, once by Man U, Liverpool, Arsenal and Huddersfield[!]). So, I am going to have to argue that the English Premier league is significantly more competitive.

See here for some highlights of the Lyon-PSG game at FC Footbal Blog.

Manchester United slip by Chelsea in Champions League Final 2008

John Terry missing for Chelsea against Manchester in the FinalIn Moscow last night, it was high drama as Manchester United downed Chelsea FC in penalties 6-5 in the European Champions League Final last night after a 1-1 game (regulation and overtime). Man U won when they should not have. Although they scored first and dominated play (in terms of possession) in the first half, Chelsea’s second half was masterful. Didier Drogba seemed to have a legitimate chance on goal every five minutes. He and Lampard hit the post. In the closing minutes of overtime (whicChelsea owner Roman Abramovichh was exciting mostly for observing the tactical substitutions), Drogba was ejected for hitting a Manchester player in the face (albeit a finger tip hit). Not even Russia’s wealthiest man and owner of Chelsea, Roman Abramovich, could buy a goal (homecoming wrecked on ESPN). The fifth penalty taker for Chelsea was John Terry, captain of his team and the man responsible for heading away a goal in the overtime. On his foot, the game hung. Had he scored, victory was Blue and the ever inventive Ronaldo’s penalty miss would have been historic. Instead, Terry slipped and hit the post in the torrential downpour (photo above from Martin Rickett/PA). He will indeed be haunted.

The game featured some fantastic runs, sharp passing and plenty of action. Other quick comments: The corner kicks were less than piercing. There were few menacing free kicks. Rooney was not present.

Whereas Chelsea had never won the Cup, it was Manchester’s third victory, this one coming 50 years after the tragic 1958 disaster. A second place finish in both the Premier League and the Champions League. A difficult pill to swallow. To boot, Chelsea lost the League Cup final to Tottenham Hotspur. Too many seconds if you ask me.

As for [my team] Liverpool, it was a year of fourths… Fourth (or third if you want) in the European Champions League and the Premier.

Here is the BBC writeup.

Some other numbers:
Zero Champions League Cups for Chelsea, one red card, two cups for Sir Alex Ferguson, three (right) posts and 3 missed penalties, Giggs’ 26th cup with Manchester United & his record 759th cap.

Sports Sponsorship from Lovemark Emirates Airline

PSG Team - Emirates Airline sponsorshipI had a marvelous marketing moment recently. I was walking down the Champs Elysées and, having just flown and enormously enjoyed Emirates Airline, I saw a photograph [left] on this storefront of a Paris St-Germain (PSG) football player wearing his uniform emblazoned “Fly Emirates.”

Here is the thought: the Emirates’ advertisement actually made me feel good about PSG, a team I don’t follow at all! I wonder to what extent the marketing folk at Emirates are aware of such a reverse feelgood factor? Is there any way to capture that beneficial sentiment emitted from a sponsoring brand? It could appear a cruel twist of fate that Emirates must pay so much money for this real estate. The complementary imagery between any two associated brands is vital.

Arsenal FC & PSG - Emirates Airline sponsorI add that Arsenal FC currently has the same Emirates-style contract; however, in this case, it does not move me in the same way (as I am a Liverpool die hard fan). Meanwhile, the marketing team at Emirates clearly has targetted many top notch teams around the world. As their Chairman, Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, says on this site: “Emirates believes that sponsorship is one of the best ways to integrate with our passengers. It allows us to share and support their interests and to build a personal relationship with them.” They participate in a whole host of sports (golf, tennis, rugby union & league, football, horse racing, sailing, etc.) and have a long trail of sponsored teams and associations, including the English RFU Rugby Sevens, Team New Zealand America’s Cup, FIFA, and many more.

Aside from pondering the efficacy of sports team sponsorship, I would love to know if anyone else has had other similar moments where the sponsor company (lovemark?) actually creates the affection?

Knowing that any single person can be a brand him or herself and may want to buy or sell (i.e. blogs) advertising space, I have come up with a few magical, fantasy associative advertising opportunities:

Any other joint ad-ventures you can come up with?

Liverpool v Chelsea & Flyers vs Capitals, now the Habs

As is frequently the case, in the big games, it is all about creating your ‘luck’. But in sports fan-dom (sitting in your canape or reading BBC.co.uk, etc), you win some and you lose fun (oops, I meant ‘some’).

The Reds of Liverpool (my team in the English Premiership) locked horns withLiverpool FC Champions League Semi-Finals Chelsea in the European Cup semi-finals for the third time in four years. It is impressive to think that the opponents of the semi-finals of such an international tournament can virtually become a franchise rivalry. Nonetheless, unlike the first two encounters where Liverpool, playing away the first leg, finished up on top, Tuesday’s home goal concession — an own goal in injury time — and a 1-1 score will likely prove fatal. John Arne’s Riise’s header into his own goal FIVE minutes into injury time will surely haunt him and the team leading up to next Wednesday’s showdown at Stamford Bridge. Both goals in the game were from errors rather than good plays. Sometimes, it is just about capitalising on your luck…

Philadelphia Flyers 2008 PlayoffsVirtually at the same time, the only other professional team I follow, the NHL Flyers of Philadelphia, playing against the Washington Capitals, managed to overcome the tide of momentum–having given up a 3-1 series lead and several leads in games–to eek out a 3-2 win in OT in Game 7. Heroics, great goaltending and grit. Good ole hockey saw the Flyers capitalise over Caps. The Flyers had to overcome some odds as well: Previously, Biron was 0-5 playing in the second night of consecutive games. Lupul, who scored the game winner, hadn’t scored a point in the entire series. And the Flyers, who had a franchise worst ever, NHL basement record last year are into the second round.

Now, the next round brings up the redoubtable Montréal Canadiens — my ex-home team. Bonne chance, mes amis!

I welcome some banter (taunts and progmostics) from my old friends and colleagues in Montréal–or any Habs fans for that matter! For myself, I believe if the Habs dont win in 6 or better, it will be a surprise.

And, as for Liverpool, they are facing a titanic uphill battle considering their record at Stamford Bridge. My prediction: 0-0 on Wednesday, therefore Blues over Reds. Anyone care to forecast differently?

Slyevisha stantia, Mosckva!

Liverpool – Reading … an old newspaper (Carling Cup)

Liverpool stuck it to Reading last night, at Reading, with a Carling Cup 4-2 win, featuring a hat-trick by Fernando Torres. This excellent result puts the Reds into the fourth round of the Cup. Ola Fernando! Note that Gerrard only came on the for the last 15 minutes.

Go visit FootyTube for goal highlights… they don’t have the embed functionality yet.

Story on BBC Report or The Independent.

Excellent blog post at Oh You Beauty.
And from the Great Red North.

Go REDS.
You’ll Never Walk Alone