The Battle of Seconds

By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (November 12th 2014)

Victory

Fazio

Tottenham Hotspurʼs Federico Fazio was happy with the win if his Argentina team beaten a second string Croatia 2-1 at the Boleyn Ground – home of West Ham United. Croatiaʼs second-string – the regulars remained at home to prepare for this weekendʼs vital Euro2016 qualifier against Italy – took a shock and against the run of play 11th minute lead, courtesy of Anas Sharbiniʼs first goal for his country in only his second match. Interʼs Mateo Kovačić provided the assist.

Despite dominating the first half Argentina, captained by Lionel Messi, back to his mesmerising best, trailed to Sharbiniʼs strike. The move began on the right flank before working it inside to Kovačić, who beat Christian Ansaldi and found Sharbini on the left of the area. The mixed-race – Croatian and Palestinian – midfielder finished with aplomb across Sampdoriaʼs Sergio Romero from 10 yard out.

CIMG9411

Astonishing

Argentina created chance after chance. Sevillaʼs Ever Banega wasted a glorious opportunity created by the first of many mazy runs by Messi from the right wing into the left of the area. Banega missed after 5 minutes. The normally clinical Sergio Agüero had one shot well saved by Croatian goalkeeper for the night Lovre Kalinić, another volleyed straight at the keeper, failed to collect a Messi pass and prodded two shots wide from Messi passes after mazy runs all in the space of ten minutes without scoring.

Premier League defences had best savour the moment. Rarely has the in-form Kun proved so profligate. Messi was also denied. Another mazy run treading the same path as before, a one-two with Ansaldi, resulted in Messi shooting into the side-netting. He also hit the post in the second half with the keeper well beaten. However both Messi and Agüero would not be denied, albeit in controversial fashion for Kun.

Reward

CIMG9418

When Agüero got his goal only the eagle-eyed noticed it – well them and the replays. 3 minutes into the second half Ansaldiʼs fierce shot from just outside the area was deflected in past Kalinić by Agüero taking protective action. It went in off his arm with Kalinić stranded.

12 minutes into the second half Messi found Agüero on the left of the six yard box. Kalinić brought him down, conceding a penalty. Messi converted it. 

CIMG9419

Returning Idols

The Hammersʼ fans got to see the great Lionel Messi in the flesh, but by far the biggest cheers of the night greeted the return of 2007 West Ham hero Carlos Tévez. Will you please welcome Argentina and West Ham legend, Carlos Tévez”, as , the announcer said after 62 minutes as Agüero was replaced. Tévez received a standing and loud ovation despite the sparse crowd.

CIMG9421

But West Hamʼs former idol could not provide the fairytale goal despite a glorious chance made for him by Manchester Unitedʼs Ángel di María, which Tévez pulled just wide of the post. He also spurned another chance by heading Pablo Zabaletaʼs cross straight at Kalinić.

Midway through the second half the other Argentinian returning Hammer from the 2007 season Javier Mascherano, unleashed a pile-driver, which Kalinić saved. Five minutes earlier Barçelonaʼs defensive midfield enforcer inflicted a crunching shin high tackle on Tin Jedvaj. Not only did Mascherano not receive a card – friendly or not – but referee Lee Probert didnʼt even award the Roma defender currently on loan to Bayer Levekusen a free kick.

CIMG1637

Argentina got the win and Croatiaʼs second team showed spirit that pleased the President of Croatian Football Federation Davor Šuker. “[They] need to give back to Croatian national team and I think we have great performance”, Šuker said, “and we have great future in the Croatian football federation”. Croatia face Italy at the weekend and Argentina will face Cristiano Ronaldoʼs Portugal at Old Trafford on Tuesday.

Advertisements

Friendlies

by Satish Sekar

Meaningless?

CIMG9404

Argentina and Croatia meet tonight at West Hamʼs Boleyn Ground in a hastily arranged fixture. Croatia clearly have their eyes on the Euro2016 qualifier against Italy at the weekend. This squad reads like a Whoʼs Who of those who wonʼt be involved at the weekend. Argentina, meanwhile, showed their intent by bringing a squad with talent enough to field two teams, led by Lionel Messi. The in-form Sergio Agüero will lead the line. Former West Ham players Carlos Tévez and Javier Mascherano provide able assistance along with English footballʼs most expensive player Ángel di María!

Croatiaʼs manager Niko Kovač didnʼt want such a tough fixture ahead of the important Euro2016. He had wanted to play the USA, but a ʻbetter offerʼ meant that Argentina it was. He left his stars behind in Croatia to be trained by his assistant. Hardly the best preparation, but at least the Croatians, led by Šime Vrsalijko have a point to prove against top opposition and perhaps the opportunity to force their way into Kovačʼs long-term plans Argentina will expect a confidence-boosting win before the big one at Old Trafford when la Albiceleste take on Portugal. The mouthwatering prospect of Messi v Cristiano Ronaldo v di María takes place next Tuesday.

Mouthwatering

by Segun Odegbami © Segun Odegbami (October 24th 2014)

Segun at Wembley

El Classico – Another War

This weekend there is going to be another battle of epic proportions. It will be fought between two of the biggest and most powerful ‘armies’ in the world. The battleground is the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, home of Real Madrid Football Club. The invading ‘army’ is, in my humble estimation, the greatest team ever – Barçelona FC!

Leading Real Madrid and Barçelona are with respect to Zlatan Ibrahimović and others the two greatest footballers of their generation – Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. At stake are the crowns of ‘best team in La Liga’ and the ‘best player in the world’. In the past 6 years these players have held the title of the world’s best player in a vice – Messi four times, and Ronaldo twice. 2014 promises to be no different; perhaps it will be the most interesting contest yet as it is far more open than previous contests where one or other seemed the clear winner.

The Battle Lines

This season there appears to be a new edge to the rivalry between the two players. Although they both deny that their rivalry fuels their performances, the truth is that both players have drawn inspiration from each other and have shared the global limelight in almost equal measure because of each other.

Ronaldo, who always seemed to play second fiddle to Messi before the last season, needs to prove a point. Many people believe that although he was brilliant last season for Real Madrid, but in my opinion he won the title of world’s best player more because the world wanted a change from Messi. The mercurial Argentine had monopolized it four consecutive times. Did Ronaldo win because he was clearly better than the little Argentinian, or for changes sake?.

I have watched Ronaldo play this season. He has not been this sharp and focused in a long time. He is playing with a deliberate single-mindedness that convinces me that he has more than just helping Real Madrid FC to win La Liga trophy on his mind. He has ‘Messi must be beaten’ written all over his game.

Messi, on the other hand, has less to prove, but he has shrugged off the rustiness and casual attitude of the World Cup and is playing now with a lot of physicality and uncommon determination. Surely the avalanche of falling records at club, Spanish, European and World levels is propelling him to even greater heights. The list of his established and near-accomplishment records is very long. What must be noted, however, is that between them they have made goal scoring an art form.

Several great players spend a lifetime chasing after recording one hat trick. Ronaldo is about to break an all time La Liga record in that regard. He needs one more hat trick to beat the late great Alfredo di Stéfano and Athletic Bilbao maestro Tello Zarra (Tello Zarraonandia Montoya) – Marcaʼs award for Spanish scorers in La Liga was named after the Athletic Club great. Ronaldo is already in legendary company, three ahead of Messi.

The Supporting Cast?

But tempting as it is to focus on these two great players, El Classico boasts plenty more great players. Gareth Bale is the most expensive footballer on the planet, Karim Benzema is rated by no less an authority than Ronaldo as the best striker in La Liga. Luka Modrić is the cog that makes Real Madrid tick and while finding his feet in a new league Colombian heir apparent James Rodríguez has immense talent and of course thereʼs Sergio Ramos marshalling the defence too. And thatʼs just Real Madrid. Barçelona had a poor season by the their standards last term. It cost current Argentina coach Tata Martino his job. But the Catalans are no one man team. Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta arenʼt just club legends, they are football ones. Neymar is a precocious talent and El Classico is set to witness the La Liga début of former Ajax and Liverpool icon Luis Suárez. Meanwhile another duel with El Classico dimensions to it takes place this weekend too.

Van Gaal versus Mourinho

No roads lead to Rome this weekend and not all roads that will lead to Madrid either. In England Old Trafford is the place Iʼd like to be at as an almost equally important rivalry between two of the BPL’s great teams will be ignited. Manchester United and Chelsea will face off in what promises to be a match up between the coaches – two of the most experienced and renowned football managers in the world – as well as the teams they select.

Louis van Gaal will test his fledging Man U squad against a high riding Chelsea. In this encounter current form would matter little. It is the team that gets its tactics right that will carry the day. Van Gaal is going through a difficult period with his team struggling to find the old rhythm that made Manchester United the most successful team in the history of the Premiership and him one of the most successful coaches around.

Mourinho has donned his armour of confidence and loquacity, and is daring any other team in the premiership to break down his defensive tactics and, at the same time, stop his rampaging forwards. He has been trophyless for two seasons – he doesnʼt like it and seems set to take it out on opponents this season, although he insists that it is far too early to talk about titles. So, this weekend the battle line is drawn between them.

Chaos Theory

It simply would not be Nigerian football if there were no crisis, or at least one around the corner. I truly believed that with the start of the era of Stephen Keshi as manager of the national team Nigeria has seen the last of a foreign coach handling its national team. While Clemens Westerhof was a great success, letʼs not forget the disastrous appointments of Berti Vogts and Lars Lagerbäck, which cast Nigerian football into the doldrums.

We turned to local coaches, eventually settling on Keshi. I thought that Keshi’s generation, with their experiences in Europe and a little training in the coaching techniques, would kick-start the period when only qualified Nigerians would handle Nigeria’s national teams. It should have happened and it still can.

Keshi may have failed in his human relations, and may also have been slightly deficient in some of his tactics, but he surely did better than most of the foreign coaches that Nigeria hired since Westerhof. Success as a coach is measured only with the results of a team. Keshi delivered the African Cup of Nations – the first Nigerian to do so. For that he has our respect and a lasting place of honour in Nigeriaʼs football history.

It would be interesting to see which foreign coach would be hired of all the names being dangled by the media. We are waiting to see, hoping that if it happens it is not Berti Vogts Mark II. Keshi, with all his failings won laurels and went beyond what any coach, local and foreign, had ever done for Nigeria. Of his generation there are a few that could have been challenged to come ‘try their luck’.

Sunday Oliseh is an interesting proposition. His limited experience in handling a big team notwithstanding, his intellect and analytical prowess, which are acknowledged worldwide, should more than be a compensation. Check out several of the best coaches in the world at the moment led by Pep Guardiola, and you would see a trend that swings away from old, retired and tired coaches, local or foreign.

So, a foreign coach? Without great players any coach would ‘fail’. Unfortunately, Nigeria does not have exceptional players in this era. Mark my words: Nigeria would soon be back to square one, looking for an indigenous coach from amongst our own.

An Unwanted Distinction – Archive

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (May 17th 2009)

Fearsome

As West Indies captain Chris Gayle contemplates his third failure in a row amid accusations of disrespecting both this tour and Test Match cricket as a whole and the media storm that it has caused, he may spare a thought for his countryman and fellow West Indies international Leslie Hylton. On this very day (54 years ago Hylton secured an unwanted piece of cricket history at the cost of his life.

Hylton was a fearsome fast-bowler in his prime and not a complete mug with the bat. His first class record for Jamaica was not bad – in 40 matches he scored five half centuries with a best of 80, took 31 catches and 120 wickets at a reasonable strike rate and average. He never took ten wickets in a match, but claimed five victims in an innings thrice in first class cricket, but never in Tests.

Rich Potential

Hylton made his début in 1927, aged 21 and called time on his career as the world descended into the chaos of the Second World War. His first Test Match was in Bridgetown, Barbados, in January 1935 against England – all six were against the same opposition. After the West Indies had been dismissed for a paltry 102 that would have been considerably worse without George Headley’s 44, Hylton took his chance.

Although the Bridgetown wicket was clearly a bowling track, his first innings figures were sensational – 7.2 overs, 3 maidens 3 wickets for 8 runs. Wily England skipper, Bob Wyatt declared on 81 for 7. The West Indies also declared and England won by four wickets. Hylton took one wicket in the second innings.

In the second Test in Port of Spain, Trinidad, he took 2 for 55 and 3 for 25 as the West Indies won by 217 runs to level the series. The great Learie Constantine, who was later knighted and then ennobled took 3 for 11 in the second innings as England collapsed to 107 all out.

The third Test in Georgetown, Guyana was drawn, but Hylton produced his best analysis in Test Matches 4 for 27 from 13.2 overs, but that was bettered by Eric Hollies – the man who denied the great Don Bradman an average of 100 in Test Matches – who took 7 for 50 in 26 overs, which was his best too.

Hylton was wicketless in his eight overs in the second innings – the first time he experienced that sensation in international cricket. It happened again in both innings of the fourth Test Match at Kingston’s Sabina Park ground – the one and only appearance that he made at his home ground.

However, he had the consolation of the West Indies winning by an innings and 161 runs to take the series – their first series win, which was secured at the fifth attempt. Hylton’s only meaningful contribution in the match was to catch Walter Hammond for 11 – one of Constantine’s 3 wickets for 55 in England’s first innings – the only catch he took in international cricket.

Decline

After his explosive start to Test cricket, in which he troubled an impressive England line-up that included one of the finest batsmen England ever produced – Hammond – Hylton faded towards the end of the series and was not selected again until the 1939 tour of England. He played in the first Test Match at cricket’s headquarters and took a wicket in each innings, but England won easily by eight wickets.

Opener Arthur Fagg was Hylton’s final victim in Test cricket in the first innings of the Old Trafford Test Match, bowled for 7. The brief international career of Leslie Hylton ended with 0 for 18 from 6 overs in the second innings. His final figures in Test cricket was 16 wickets for 418 runs from 965 balls. He made 70 runs from 8 innings, twice being undefeated. But the figures didn’t tell the whole story. He was an intimidating prospect to face in his prime.

A Marriage made in Hell

Leslie Hylton will never be forgotten, but unfortunately for him not for his cricket. He retired aged 34, having maintained his bachelor status – something both he and his wife Lurline would have good reason to wish he had preserved. Three years after he hung up his boots they married, but his spouse fell for the charms of notorious womaniser Roy Francis. Lurline had gone to the USA to learn dress-making and while there fell for Francis, but Hylton was told of the affair and on her return confronted her about it.

Eventually, she not only admitted it, but flouted it. “I’m in love with Roy,” she was alleged to have said. “My body belongs to him.”

She then pulled up her nightdress to expose herself to her husband and emphasise that she had cuckolded him. Hylton grabbed the gun from the window-sill and shot her seven times, killing the 40 year-old, before calling the police. This is Hylton’s version of the fatal events, yet he undermined his own defence in his trial.

Loss of Control

His trial counsel Vivian Blake presented a credible defence that the former fast-bowler had been provoked, even presenting a letter to Francis from the deceased to the jury. “My beloved, I’m realising even more than I did before how much I love you,” she wrote. “I am going to force my man’s hand as soon as I can.”

Blake argued that Lurline’s actions were sufficient to cause any reasonable man to lose his self control. There was a strong case of provocation, but Hylton absurd claims that he meant to kill himself returned to haunt him – he had shot her seven times, meaning that he had to reload and shoot her again.

Recommendation

The law eventually moved on. such circumstances would almost certainly result in a lesser degree of guilt, possibly resulting in a manslaughter conviction. Back in the 1950s it was murder and that meant only one sentence – it was two years before the Homicide Act introduced stricter guidelines to the use of the death penalty.

Even without that the jury found Hylton guilty of murder with a strong recommendation for mercy. That could only have been due to the provocation – powerful mitigation, but not an excuse. However, the jury’s recommendation was ignored by the judge who sentenced Hylton to death and mercy was not forthcoming from the colonial authorities either.

On May 17th 1955, the 50-year-old Leslie George Hylton made history. He was hanged at St. Catherine’s in Kingston, Jamaica. He has the unwanted distinction of being the only Test Match cricketer ever to be executed. Keen to avoid scandal Wisden – the cricket almanac – published an obituary that failed to mention this fact. It has subsequently been corrected.