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The Sunday Stroll: 5 Dec, 2010

December 5, 2010

From World Cup bidding to the snowy and icy conditions enveloping Britain... it’s all gone rather Russian this week. Or perhaps, one might surmise that it’s been a week for rises – namely the rising fortunes of the England cricket team Down Under and the rising value of shares in Qatari construction companies. Ooh. Anyways, at the risk of sounding conspiratorial, we’ll drift away from that. Instead we decree that you lay down your shovels and deicers, you don’t clear that drive. It’s time for a brew and this week’s Sunday Stroll

Alas the 2018 World Cup was awarded to Russia this week. We tried our best, rolling out the glam-fam fraternity of Davids Beckham & Cameron, as well as the recently engaged Prince William, and putting together what actually seemed like a decent and competitive bid package. But after raised hopes from strong final presentations and the absence of Vladimir Putin, we came last in FIFA’s secret ballot. England’s bid adviser Sir Keith Mills was quick to point out that FIFA ‘want World Cups to go to developing countries,’ which is all well and good for those that are successful, but as Alan Shearer noted in the immediate aftermath, not so great for him and other passionate football supporting members of the British public: ‘I was hoping that I might see a World Cup in my lifetime in England. I wasn’t born in ’66. It hurts.’ One felt that with cracking stadia and a good, established infrastructure, on top of support lent by the PM, Becks and Prince Wills, we had a belting chance of winning, but now, in the words of Mr Shearer, we are left to ask ‘If we haven’t got it this time, when are we ever going to get it?

Incidentally, Qatar – with a population of just 1.4m people (full stadia, Sepp?), average summer temperatures of around 100ºF (peak performing footballers, Sepp?), and where homosexuality is illegal (great for your ethics and equality drive, Sepp?) – have won the 2022 bidding process. Mind you, they do have to build nine new air-conditioned stadia which should make some big bucks for a few folk somewhere. Most intriguing, especially in the light of the beeb’s ‘corruption at FIFA’ exposé and the post-vote onslaught of ‘FIFA fixed the vote’ from the media. All the above aside, SportingBlogs fails to rate the 2022 host’s chances, especially having seen them in action recently:

With perfect timing, Birmingham and Villa fans reminded us of football’s dark ages after their Carling Cup quarter-final. Pitch invasions, fan confrontations, flares being thrown, seats being ripped up, numerous arrests and several in hospital… hardly the best message to be sent the night before the World Cup vote (‘desperate timing,’ as Phil McNulty called it). One fan described the scenes as ‘like a warzone,’ whilst Brum boss Alex McLeish admitted he was ‘disappointed’ with the conduct of his clubs fans, stating that ‘it is not something we want to be associated with at all.’ The good news is that the FA are investigating and West Midlands police have vowed to take action against those involved; the bad news is that this is just the latest of several ugly incidents to have occured at English football games over the last couple of years. Most worrying indeed..

To cheer you up however, we have this gem from United’s John O’Shea. (United went out to West Ham in their Carling Cup tie, so the semi-finalists are Birmingham, West Ham, Arsenal and Ipswich…)

Jose Mourinho has been handed a suspended two-game ban and a £33,500 fine by Uefa after he appeared to encourage two of his players to time-waste, thereby receiving second yellow cards (i.e. a red), meaning they will be suspended for their inconsequential final group game and be free to start the knock-out rounds without suspension. To cap matters, Mourinho’s Madrid team were resoundingly thumped 5-0 by arch-rivals Barcelona earlier on Monday (highlights below). Certainly not the finest week in Mourinho’s managerial career…

Not content with a life of luxury, afternoons spent sipping lattes whilst  shopping in the fashion capitals of the world, Italian footballers have voted to lay down their boots (or gloves) and go on strike. How very Italian. Nonetheless, the dispute centres on the rights of players and a lack of protection, in particular for those in the final year of their contract who the Serie A believe can or should be made to ‘train away from their first-team squads and accept [enforced] transfers even when they are under contract.’ Maybe we’ll get splinters in our butts from fence-sitting here, but here at SportingBlogs we can’t help but agree with the players, for having a transfer forced on you seems a tad draconian, but we also feel that going on strike is a wee bit drastic…

Down Under, the Ashes began. Great stuff. The first test was a draw, although the Poms emerged ‘psychological victors’ having declared their second innings on a monstrous 517-1. It was a stirring fightback from a first innings deficit of 221, a position many previous English touring sides have folded under the pressure of. Indeed, whilst Aggers called it ‘nothing short of astonishing,’ Tom Fordyce brilliantly summed up the surreal nature of Englands achievement as ‘like stepping into some surreal parallel universe, a dream-like place where everything was the exact opposite of what you had come to expect.’ What was also astonishing was the volume of records that were broken in this test match, ranging from Alastair Cook making the highest ever score at the Gabba to Cook and Jonathan Trott sharing the largest ever partnership by two English batsmen in Australia, and indeed by any pair at the Gabba.

Not to be outdone, the Aussies had their own claim to fame… Mitchell Johnson’s erratic efforts meant he became the first bowler to break Hawk-Eye, such was the waywardness of his deliveries that rendered Hawk-Eye’s normal tracking fields useless. Nice going, Mitch. ‘I was a little out of form in the last Test, so there’s a bit of work for me to do,’ declared Johnson. Talk about understatements, eh. Mitch was subsequently dropped for the second test.

The perpetually-forthright Kevin Pietersen labelled the Adelaide groundstaff ‘pathetic’ this week (via twitter, obviously) after they negated to cover the outdoor nets admist pre-match rainfall. Already once fined for previous twitter-based indiscretions, KP vented his fury all guns blazing with a series of tweets stating: ‘What should a groundsmen make sure he does 2days out from a test match???? […] Cover the nets when it rains maybe??? […] PATHETIC!!!!!!!!!!!!!’ KP, we’ve got to say that we agree!

Final cricket stroll now folks, and we thought we’d bring your attention to Swanny’s Ashes Diary. Run throught the official ECB site, it’s an incredibly amusing insight into the England camp whilst on tour Down Under. There have been four episodes so far, but here’s our favourite (the third) for those that might have missed it. Get sprinkling folks…

Into Rugby League and the draw for the 2013 World Cup has been made, with England having been drawn in the same pool as, wait for it… Australia! What odds on that. Anyway, the draw should see these two powerhouses (and New Zealand) progress to the semis plus one other, which seeing as the big three aren’t likely to be challenged by anyone else is probably a good thing.

Switching codes briefly, and SportingBlogs would like to congratulate Brian Moore on winning the 2010 Sports Book of the Year award. In the book, ‘Moore talks not only of his glittering career, but also of the sexual abuse he suffered as a child,’ so SB would also like to praise the former rugby hard man for having the balls to speak so candidly about such issues in a public environment.

Tennis now, and last weekend’s ATP World Finals Tour, RFed beat Nadal to claim the crown for the fifth time in his career. Although the final wasn’t quite as epic a match as the Nadal-Murray semi, it was still a good encounter – as it nearly always is when you put Nadal and Federer together on court. This weekend sees the Davis Cup Final between Serbia and the 32-time winners, the USA. Thirty-two times winners eh, not too shabby. Believe it or not, Great Britain are tied third on the all-time list, somewhat remarkable given that the last British victory came back in the thirties. Whilst we’re on tennis, please enjoy [with a nod of thanks to the Guardian] this subtitled Arabic commentary on Murray-Federer. Here at SportingBlogs we’ve got a sneaky vibe the chap might just prefer RFed. Just a tad…

British MotoGP fans will have heard this week that new top-class rider Cal Crutchlow has undergone corrective shoulder surgery. He had very similar injuries (and therefore similar procedures) to Valentino Rossi, which should require three months recovery time, which with the next MotoGP appearance being in just sixty-two days time might be seen as a worry for the Brit. However, with ‘unlimited access to a hyperbaric chamber on the Isle of Man,’ Crutchlow is hoping to speed up the healing process and as such is willing to declare: ‘I’m confident I’ll be fit for Sepang.’ Fingers crossed, Cal…

The joke that is Audley Harrison announced his decision not to retire from the sport, instead choosing to ‘continue my journey in boxing and carry on my career as a professional.’ Ridiculous, but given what we know of dear Fraudley, not entirely surprising. What was surprising, however, were his somewhat un-prosaic views on the matter: ‘Yes it hurts not to achieve your goals, but we roll up our sleeves and we try again: such is the beauty of life.’ When all is said and done, however, he gets paid when the fans want to see him fight, and as such their views of him should not be underestimated. Here’s a sample from the beeb’s 606 forum: ‘Who in the world is going to want to pay to watch him fight. He should be payin ppl!’ (graduatefast); ‘Quit. No one likes you, your a disgrace in the ring’ (andie99uk); ‘i would [like] to put my 9 year daughter forward for his next fight’ (Paul Davies). Although, perhaps the final word should go to VIPER, who offered: ‘You cant blame Audley whilst there are people out there stupid enough to promote him and then pay to watch him!’ Touché VIPER, touché indeed…

F1’s official 2011 entry list was published on Tuesday, with virtually all of the main seats taken, although a few of the minor seats remain up for grabs. Perhaps the most disappointing news to emerge this week is that Williams have opted to drop talented German youngster Nico Hulkenberg for next season, replacing him with GP2 champion Pastor Maldonaldo, undoubtedly on the basis that the Venezuelan will bring around €10m in sponsorship money to the team. It’s a sign of the times that financial concerns rule supreme for F1 teams, but it still remains somewhat galling that the supremely talented Hulkenberg – who bagged a remarkable pole position in Brazil this season – is at the moment without a seat for 2011. As F1 commentator Martin Brundle states, the German has ‘all the hallmarks of being a future star and Williams are crazy to let him go,’ which is why we here at SportingBlogs hope that he bags himself a decent seat sharpish for it would be a damn shame should he not be on the grid in 2011.

Furthermore, after double diffuser controversies in previous seasons, here’s hoping the new rear wing rules (an adjustable flap that assists overtaking) don’t cause similar consternation throughout the paddock in 2011. Ferrari head-honcho Luca di Montezemolo (who incidentally this week has been rumoured with a career switch to politics) has already raised fears about it, stating ‘As for the rear wing, I hope we start the season with total clarity as regards the regulations.’ Given the perceived lack of overtaking in the sport in recent years, such moves to assist passing must be praised. However, won’t it be ironic if having finally achieved making overtaking easier, the sport’s rule makers and law enforcers are forced to curtail such improvements should canny rule-bending designers be seen to be giving their drivers an unfair competitive advantage over their rivals? You can’t help but wonder…

Last weekend also saw the Race of Champions held in Düsseldorf, won by outsider Filipe Albuquerque. It’s remarkable really; they turn a football ground into a race track [see video above] and get some of the best drivers from across the world’s motoring disciplines (F1, Rallying, etc) and let them fight it out in a number of different vehicles. A cracking end-of-season event, I’m sure you’ll all agree. Amidst the relentless rubber burning, recently crowned F1 champ Seb Vettel entertained the Düsseldorf faithful in his title winning Red Bull car, whilst Heikki Kovalainen – so used to being a spectator in his backmarking Lotus – joined the crowd once more, this time with a spectacular crash after a stuck throttle. All seemed fine, but since then the affable Finn has been put on bed rest after a heavy concussion, whilst his passenger in the car (girlfriend Catherine Hyde) was revealed to have suffered ‘a hairline fracture of the pelvis and muscle damage’. That negative aside, it was a cracking event which was enjoyed by many, but possibly none more so than the Portugese debutant who managed to win the event. Albuquerque’s thoughts: ‘[it] is just fantastic.’ Here are some highlights:

Snow is falling, our road, rail and air networks are in chaos, the Coca-Cola Christmas ads are on TV… that can only mean one thing. Yep, Sports Personality of the Year. Ahem. Well, the SPOTY top-ten shortlist was revealed earlier this week; it features Mark Cavendish, Tom Daley, Jessica Ennis, David Haye, AP McCoy, Graeme McDowell, Graeme Swann, Phil Taylor, Lee Westwood, and Amy Williams. Early favourites are the two golfers McDowell and Westwood, although our vote would go to the Manx Missile, Mark Cavendish, who with another five stage victories on the 2010 Tour de France (and a points jersey victory in the Tour of Spain) confirmed his status as the quickest and most feared sprinter in world cycling.

Finally, we finish this week’s Sunday Stroll with one of the lesser known sports, and a beautifully shot/produced vid on Scottish street trials pro rider Danny MacAskill. Cracking view this…

As always, thanks for reading folks…

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