Sunday, 10 February 2008

Brave New England

England 2 - 1 Switzerland

This was the first game in Fabio Capello's reign as England manager and it was capped by a victory. The big stories leading up to the match were the exclusion of potential England centurion and the reports of Capello's strict discipline. Gone were the players phones and Playstations and the players were expected to sometimes train twice a day. Wednesday night was going to be an indication of what England fans can expect for the next couple of years, so what did the friendly show?

The morning's papers had predicted a team that would include Ashley Young and Owen Hargreaves, but Capello fooled them all by including Gareth Barry and Jermaine Jenas, the latter of whom justified their selection by scoring the first goal. The formation was 4-5-1 with Gerrard the No.10, as there was no place for the Michael Owen. It represented a change in system for the England side with the team so used to variations of 4-4-2. Capello's change from the system represents a different direction for the team and in the first half, the players seemed unable to adapt to the new formation. Things were better in the second half, Rooney, Gerrard, Cole and Jenas thriving . The performance wasn't great, but a winning start is always welcome. Upson occasionally looked out of place at times and Ashley Cole's mind seemed elswhere at times. With the exception of the Switzerland goal and a few nervous moments at the back, England looked solid.

With Beckham out of the squad, David Bentley was given his chance on the right-hand side of midfield, and produced a competent performance. As one of the suitors for that position, he may have earned himself another crack at securing his place in the team. Beckham is believed to still be in Capello's plans, but found himself stuck on 99 caps. Capello has made it known that sentiment will not play a part in his selection process, so Beckham will have to earn his 100th cap. There was also no place for Michael Owen, who may become the first victim to England's new style. However, his goal record at international level is unrivalled by any other England player, so surely he must remain in and around the squad.

England's performance wasn't spectacular, but it was solid and something for the new manager to build on. Hopefully the players will become used to the way England play and the team will be able to put the misery of the Euro 2008 qualifying campaign behind them.

You can see SvenSport's photos from the game on the right hand side.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Superbowl XLII: A Giant Upset

New York Giants 17 - 14 New England Patriots

After each side contested their 19th game of the season, it was the end. For the New England, their "Pursuit of Perfection" had reaped no reward. They were not to leave Glendale, Arizona with the Vince Lombardi trophy. Their record, a commendable 18-1 meant nothing after the end of the Superbowl on Sunday night. The New York Giants had caused an almighty upset. The Giants became the first NFC Wildcard to win a Superbowl, and in doing so ended the Patriots dream of emulating the 1972 Miami Dolphins, who went 16-0, and the season unbeaten. The heartbreak of the Patriots and the jubilation of the Giants highlighted both the pros and the cons of the system in which American Football teams compete.

The action was intense, and the 7-3 scoreline in favour of the Patriots at half-time only told half the story. The Giants were getting a lot of the ball and were rattling New England. Suddenly, the league's most lethal combination of QB Tom Brady and Wide-Receiver Randy Moss, did not look so lethal. The Giants' defence was holding out and keeping the dream alive. New England looked to have won it when that lethal combination previously mentioned, managed to score a touchdown. Each team's entire season went down to five minutes of football. The Patriots stifled the Giants' Offense before Eli Manning produced a piece of magic that will be shown in Superbowl showreels for years to come. It looked like the Giants Quarter-Back had been sacked (something the Giants managed to do Manning's New England counterpart, Tom Brady five times), but somehow managed to squirm free before throwing the ball to David Tyree, who managed to catch the ball by holding it against his helmet. Manning then found Plaxico Burress to make it 17-14 New York. The Giants held on and managed to win their third championship.

While the Giants celebrated an improbable victory, the Patriots had to accept their first defeat of the season. They had saved their worst performance for the last game, the one that mattered most, and this is the fatal flaw in the league structure of NFL. As the author of this article has been brought up on a diet of Premier League football, a league in which the best team undoubtedly wins by having the best record over the course of the season. On Sunday night, the best team in the 2007 NFL Season did not win the championship. A plucky outsider managed to force their way through the post season and triumph. This is also one of the joys of the structure and makes the Superbowl such a spectacle and a joy to watch. The Giants deserve their victory, but there was no doubt in who was the best team in the NFL this season.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Superbowl XLII: Super Sunday

It's one of the biggest sporting events in the world, and it's on today. The unbeaten
Patriots look to secure their place in history by defeating the New York Giants, who have surprised everyone on their way to tonight's season finale. British interest in the spectacle has been revived this season following the game at Wembley and hopefully when events get underway in Arizona, it won't disappoint.

The New England Patriots are currently 18-0, the first team ever to achieve this record, and can become only the second team, after the Miami Dolphins, to go an entire season unbeaten in the history of the NFL. The Patriot's ship has been steered by Tom Brady, who will be looking to win his fourth Superbowl, and stake his claim to being the league's all-time top quarter-back. Randy Moss has also made history, after receiving 23 Touchdowns in the 2007 season. While those two hogging the headlines, the other areas of the New England team have been overlooked, but there is quality in every area of the side. With New England favourites and seemingly unstoppable, is there any way that they can be stopped?

The Giants surprised many en-route to the Superbowl, especially with their overtime victory over the Green Bay Packers at a freezing Lambeau field a fortnight ago. With Eli Manning looking to follow in the footsteps of his brother, Peyton, who won the Superbowl with the Colts last season, this should be an intriguing contest. The Giants pushed the Patriots all the way at the end of last season as New England laboured to a victory that ensured their perfect season. The Giants can take heart from that performance, but are under no illusions that this will be anything but a difficult task. The key to stifling New England, is to neutralize Tom Brady. Some teams have tried to take Randy Moss out of the game, while ignoring Brady. The Patriots have too many offensive weapons to counter such a one-dimensional defensive strategy. There is no doubt about it, sometimes New England are just unplayable.

The Giants will have to play the game of their lives to defeat the New England juggernaut, intent on what the media have dubbed, "The Pursuit of Perfection". Eli Manning will want to ensure that the Manning family secure a second consecutive Superbowl victory, while the Patriots will want their place in history. With American Football in the British spotlight a little bit more than usual this season, the showpiece of the sport will have to live up to expectations.