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.

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?

Flyers bully Montreal out of Conference Playoffs 2008

Philadelphia Flyers 2008 CalendarWell, it’s time I fessed up. Our Philadelphia Flyers bullied the Montreal Canadiens 6-4 (read here Game Trax — in Montreal) in Game 5, enough to win a convincing Conference Semi-Final playoff by 4 games to 1. My prediction had been for a Habs victory in 6 or less games. Got that wrong (at least for the Flyers, I got it wrong…I was right that Liverpool would be knocked out in the Champions’ League semi-final, if with the very wrong score).

Bravo to the Daniel Briere (who was ironically held scoreless in game 5), Marty BironPhiladelphia Flyers Logo (another 31 saves) and, most notably, RJ Umberger, a truly talented all-rounder. Worth noting again the the Flyers field a very Canadian team…with 15 players from up north (and arguably the three best — Briere, Biron and Gagne — from Quebec, although Gagné is still out with concussion).

I suspect the next stop will be Pittsburgh (they play game 5 this afternoon). Considering the season’s awful record against the Penguins, the outlook again doesn’t look good (same problem with the Canadiens for the Flyers this past season).

No prediction this time, but I have to assume it is going to take another herculean team effort and some masterful coaching. The sum of the parts was clearly bigger than individual parts against Montreal.

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

In mourning this morning, Reds drowned in ‘pool (of sweat)

The Reds ran hard, had decent shots and, in the form of Xabi Alonso had brillance equal to any Kaka. In the end, AC Milan managed the deflection while Kuyt failed to put a leather deflection on a Gerrard shot. Then the “old” Inzaghi squirted around the defence and goalie and made it a double. In the end, the 89th “miracle in the making” goal was a nice thought (thanks Kuyt), but not enough. The red face of Carragher at the end said it all. The Reds were downed, if not drowned, in a ‘pool of sweat. An ugly affair. Can’t say Kaka played brillantly and can’t muster enough good spirit to say Milan deserved to win. Just that Liverpool, the underdog, lost the chance of a true double. Am looking forward to what money bags (American owners) will do to the face of the club over the summer. Gerrard wasn’t in top form last night, but certainly look forward to a few more years with Stevie at the helm.

LIVERPOOL

I have been a supporter of Liverpool FC since 1972… for silly reasons really (my best pal liked ‘pool at school). So, here I am in Amsterdam, 35 years later, in my hotel room, just having watched Liverpool win the Champion’s League semi-finals against Chelsea via penalties (how do professionals miss penalties?). And I feel odd admitting that I still get nervous and excited watching Liverpool play. Truth be told, I have never put my feet in Liverpool itself, land of the Beatles. Talk about being blindly loyal. Anyway, just happy to see them through to the finals yet again. Quite appropriate that the clinching penalty was scored by Dutchman Dirk Kuyt.