Friendlies, F1 and a good week for journalism?

Good evening sports fans and welcome back to the blog after last week’s no show. I’m going to dive head first into the game from last night, and see if the 87,000 that flogged to Wembley should be excited by what they saw.

Firstly I have to congratulate England. It’s hard for me to stray from my pessimistic views but our gameplan worked last night, and they should be proud of that result as they were vying against the world’s best international tenants of a football.

It takes immense levels of concentration and fitness to cope defensively with a team like Spain, because once they have the ball it is extremely difficult to: a) get it back, and b) to move it forward. Xavi acts as a quarterback figure, his laser-like passes scything through the opposition’s final third. He has players such as Iniesta, David Silva and David Villa all running dangerous, intertwining routes. They also possess the ability to boss the tempo through the industrious Sergio Busquets, and the eloquent Xabi Alonso in the middle of the park.

But Vicente Del Bosque’s Armada was unsuccessful as Fabio’s stubborn tactics just about resisted, and that was due in the main part to the sheer endeavour and defensive skill of Scott Parker.

Parker is one of the best players in the Premier League and the recognition he is getting now is just deserved, and if anything, long overdue. Perhaps I see it through rose-tinted glasses because of his toil for my beloved West Ham over the past seasons, but the capacity and drive of Parker is the only thing I can be proud of in the last four years at Upton Park. My appreciation is probably best summed up by the fact that I find it hard to hate him, despite his move to Sp*rs.

Behind him, Joleon Lescott was also exceptional at the back, and his partner Phil Jagielka did himself no harm either as he had an excellent game, with countless interceptions and tackles to stop the Spanish breach.

The game itself was pretty dull and quite stereotypical of a Spanish game, but Joe Hart didn’t have too much to do in truth. Spain’s ball retention was mesmeric, but they were kept at bay by England’s rearguard action. The second half saw David Villa hit a dipping volley onto Hart’s post, before a somewhat more cultured-looking Cesc Fabregas spurned two opportunities to level in the last ten minutes.

I made it clear in my first blog entry that I thought England had no chance of winning Euro 2012, and the game at Wembley hasn’t done much to change my mind.

In order to beat teams such as Spain, there is one key ingredient needed above all else: luck. Capello rightly set out his stall to combat Spain’s drone of midfield possession, as often opening up against teams with a large Spanish contingent spells disaster. (see Barcelona v Arsenal, April 2010).

Set pieces seem to be the only flaw in the Spanish team, but in order to win free-kicks or dare I say corners against the World Champions, you need the ball. Their unrivaled technical ability and trust within each other to keep the ball oozes confidence, and the fact that many of them are seasoned winners merely adds to their supremacy. Surprisingly, this was their fourth defeat since their triumph in South Africa, but they have qualified at a canter from Group I, winning eight out of eight and conceding only six in the Euro 2012 qualification. So for now, Mr Del Bosque will continue to enjoy his Sangria.

To keep the blog fresh and hopefully enjoyable, I want to talk about motor sport this week. Unfortunately the sport has encountered two travesties recently, where Dan Wheldon and Marco Simoncelli paid the ultimate sacrifice doing what they loved best.

Off the track, Bernie Ecclestone has given the green light to a new circuit for the 2013 season in New Jersey. America will hope that this time they can bridge the gap between their audience with F1, as it has never really taken off in the States.

The last race in America was won by Lewis Hamilton, in 2007, at the Indy 500 circuit in Indianapolis. But since then, Bernie could never agree a deal with the track owners, and F1 has had a five year absence from our transatlantic neighbours.

But before the street circuit of New Jersey in 2013, F1 will be returning to America for 2012 in Austin, Texas. At the 2005 American Grand Prix, fans saw just six cars start the race, after the majority of the teams pulled out over a tyre safety dispute.

Finally this week, I want to give journalism a pat on the back for the revelations of the spot-fixing scam from last summer’s series between England and Pakistan.

Bowlers Mohammad Asif, Mohammad Amir and then captain Salman Butt have all been sentenced to jail after being found guilty of taking bribes to bowl no-balls last summer. Cricket will mourn the loss of these three players, and particularly Amir, who was a throwback. A talented, left arm swing bowler, who was showing great promise in his late teenage years. Asif was one of the best test bowlers in the world, despite not being express pace, he was often very effective at the top of the innings for Pakistan, and thrived on the English pitches where the ball moved around.

The evidence provided by one undercover journalist exposed this whole scam. And the question that comes to mind is, how much are the anti-corruption teams and governing bodies actually doing to regulate sport?

The no balls were pretty blatant, and despite there being lots of evidence put forward, the footage of bookmaker Mazhar Majeed predicting the no balls was filmed by a News of the World journalist. And in the current climate of journalism and the backlash it has received from phone tapping, I think in this instance it needs to be congratulated for the part is has played in uncovering the shameful acts of these players. Simply put, it was the media contact which enabled the unveiling of the crime, and the ICC should now wake up and crack down on cheating for good.

It’s a sad thing to see that the players have been jailed and suspended, but equally I have no sympathy as they have brought shame upon test cricket and Pakistan as a cricketing nation.

However I want to end on a more somber cricketing note, Australia were bowled out for 47 in their second innings against South Africa in the first test at Cape Town (this was before the home side were skittled for under 100 themselves in the first innings). The South Africans went on to win the game by eight wickets. Who said test match cricket was a batsman’s game?


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