Washed up swimmers flood Olympic pool

Friday, February 18, 2011 Posted by the sportsloop team 1 comments
Australians love a comeback. A chance for old heads to show the latest crop of hot shots a thing or two about the competitive nature of sport. Recent history is full of stories of the redemption and glory of comeback kings. But will this be the experience of the Australian men’s and women’s swim team at next year’s Olympics?

The story of Geoff Huegil has been publicised to death. Undergoing a reverse metamorphosis of sorts, Huegil turned from a butterfly (World Champion) into a slug carrying an extra 40 kilos and back again, all within the space of four years from 2004 to 2008.

His return to the top ranks of swimming was complete at the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games where he won gold medals in the 4x100m medley and 100m butterfly, narrowly missing out on the treble, coming second to Kenyan Jason Dunford in the 50m butterfly.

There was no doubt this was a remarkable effort. But now at almost 32 years of age what more can we expect of Skippy? Unable to secure an Olympic crown at the height of his career in the early noughties, will his sense of renewed purpose be enough for the teams oldest member to hold off all comers in London?

Our men’s team in particular has struggled in recent years. There appears a dearth of swimmers with raw ability, hunger for success and news headline appeal. It is this same doubt over the depth of Australian swimming talent that has seen Huegil’s former team mates join him back in the pool vying for Olympic berths. Enter Ian Thorpe.

On the back of his own four year self imposed exile the former Olympic great recently dipped his toe in the water declaring his interest in again tasting success at the highest level. There is no doubting the pedigree, his record speaks for itself – Thorpey has been named World Swimmer of the Year four times, he’s won five Olympic gold medals and eleven World Championship golds, including 6 in the one meet.

However two questions do remain; can he get back to the form that saw him set world records in three distances of freestyle events (200m, 400m and 800m)? And, can he go faster?

It’s a scary thought to think that a man once so dominant he was virtually unbeatable no longer holds any world records. Even his pet event (400m freestyle) now rests with another man, even if it is only by the skin of his teeth.

They’re not all that close though, in fact in some cases Thorpe would have to improve on his PB by a whopping 7 seconds to be competing with the current champions. Notwithstanding the furore those full length swimsuits from another planet caused, these new records stand and should prove more than a handful for the Thorpedo.

Thorpe WR
New WR
200m Free
Mar 2001
P. Biedermann
Jul 2009
400m Free
Jul 2002
P. Biedermann
Jul 2009
800m Free
Jul 2001
Z. Lin
Jul 2009

Along with Geoff Huegil, Thorpe will have some more old friends for company with Libby Trickett and Michael Klim both recently signing on for the reunion tour. Klim even cited nostalgia as part of the reason he was keen to jump back in the pool after training alongside Daniel Kowalski and hearing of Thorpe’s return reminded him of their freestyle relay success in Sydney 10 years ago.

No matter the reasons for their return, there’ll be plenty of people looking forward to finally seeing Thorpe taking it up to Michael Phelps. Heck, let’s give Kieren Perkins and Grant Hackett the chance to tussle with China’s 19 year old sensation Sun Yang for the right to the 1500m crown. Then again, maybe not.

 - DJK

Minnow Magic – Top 10 moments for Associates at the Cricket World Cup

Thursday, February 17, 2011 Posted by the sportsloop team 0 comments
The 2011 Cricket World Cup could quite possibly be the last tournament for cricket’s little boys, the Associate nations, or more commonly known as ‘minnows’. The minnows have been made the scapegoat for the decline in popularity of one day cricket, and are not scheduled to be invited to the 2015 Cup, where the ICC will, in the words of Graeme Swann ‘take the world out of the World Cup’. So before possibly their last hurrah, Sportsloop takes a look at the top ten moments that teams and players from crickets developing nations have brought to the sport’s biggest event.

1                    Kenya defeat West Indies, 1996
The mighty West Indies – Lara, Ambrose, Richardson, Walsh. Greats yes, but on this day not nearly good enough to trouble a plucky set of eleven players from East Africa. The first innings was routine enough, with the Kenyans making the meagre total of 166, but from there on it was the two-time champs that were made to look like minnows. 3/15 from captain Maurice Odumbe, and 3/17 for Rajab Ali ensured West Indies were kept under 100. The Kenyans had thrashed their self-confessed idols, and created the greatest moment in minnow cricket.

2                    Ireland defeat Pakistan, 2007
Many felt that the Irish had used their luck in scrambling to a tie against an admittedly weak Zimbabwe in their opening match. But that was nothing compared to the drama that unfolded at Sabina Park on St.Patrick’s day. Pakistan made just 132 and at 4/108, Ireland were cruising. Three quick wickets set up a tense finish. With balls remaining not an issue, Kevin O’Brien batted patiently to back up his brother Niall’s match winning innings. The win guaranteed Ireland a spot in the Super Eight’s, and in history.

3                    Kenya make semi-finals, 2003
The Kenyans backed up 1996’s heroics with the best tournament of any minnow to date by making the semi-finals in the first tournament hosted in Africa. Aided by a forfeit against New Zealand, the Kenyans still managed to record wins against three Test nations in Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. Collins Obuya produced a career best performance in the most impressive victory, taking 5/24 against Sri Lanka on home soil in Nairobi.

4                    John Davison’s record century, 2003
The seminal moment in Canadian cricket history, a washed-up off spinner from Victoria was amongst the unlikeliest candidates to set the World Cup record for the fastest century in a tournament that included the likes of Gilchrist and Jayasuriya. But on a sunny day at Centurion, he did just that, bringing up his ton off just 67 balls. By the time he was finally dismissed by impressive catch from Vasbert Drakes, Davison had scored 111 in a team total of 156.

5                    Zimbabwe defeat Australia, 1983
There was already cause to celebrate in Zimbabwe’s maiden appearance on the international stage. No one could imagine though that the day would end with victory over one of the games traditional powerhouses. The players who had waited so long for this moment made it count. Duncan Fletcher top scored with an unbeaten 69 in the Africans total of 239. The future England coach then backed this up with 4/42 to ensure the Australian innings never gathered the required momentum. Zimbabwe would go on to also have India on the ropes at 5/17 before 175 from Kapil Dev ended that dream.

6                    Bangladesh defeat Pakistan, 1999This performance from Bangladesh deserves to be higher on this list. However, through no fault of their own, the match fixing scandals that broke soon after the tournament, mean we may never really know just how legitimate this upset was. On paper, the Bangladeshi performance was fantastic. Pakistan were unbeaten at this stage, and were deserved tournament favourites, while Bangladesh were winless. A total of 223 from Bangladesh was competitive, but an inspired Khaled Mahmud that had Pakistan reeling at 5/43 and ensured the improbable became reality.

7                    Zimbabwe defeat England, 1992
had already sewn up a place in the semi finals, by the time they got to their final group game, against Zimbabwe, who at this stage were still not at Test status. Zimbabwe were no closer to a maiden tournament win when they were restricted to 134. Enter chicken farmer, Eddo Brandes, whose new ball spell produced four wickets and reduced England to 5/43. Brandes ended with 4/21 from 10 overs, and England finished nine runs short.

8                    Dwayne Leverock’s catch, 2007
The best Bermudan performance of the day was probably from David Hemp, who scored the side’s maiden half century against India. However the man to stamp his name in cricket folklore this day was larger than life; indeed he was larger than any other international player, Dwayne Leverock. Already a cult figure at the tournament, his catch at first slip and subsequent celebration, aided by YouTube ensured he became the only widely reported moment in Bermudan cricket history.

9                    Sri Lanka defeat India, 1979
Back in 1979, Sri Lanka were pushing hard for test status, and a good showing at the World Cup was the perfect stage to help build on their case. Against India they put in their best performance, and in doing so recorded the first ever win by a non Test playing nation. Solid contributions from the Sri Lankan top order including future Test captain Duleep Mendis and Roy Dias ensured a competitive 238, while a solid team effort with the ball ended with a 47 run win, and the minnows were on their way.  

10                Daan van Bunge bowling to Herschelle Gibbs, 2007
OK, so not exactly a highlight for Dutch cricket, or indeed the minnows in general, however van Bunge at least ensured himself a place in cricket history. Bowling an over of assorted rubbish which South African Gibbs was able to send over the boundary for six consecutive sixes, with a couple even ending up in main street of Basseterre, St.Kitts.


The F1 career of Nick Heidfeld

Tuesday, February 15, 2011 Posted by the sportsloop team 2 comments
Nick Heidfeld’s impending elevation from F1 discard to Renault lead driver provides the latest chapter in a career that has seemed all but over on numerous occasions.

Dating back to his sacking from Sauber at the close of the 2003 season the German has faced career oblivion no fewer than four times. While it is remarkable that he now finds himself with a top drive for 2011, what is even more remarkable is that a man with his proven record could have faced this prospect at all.

So has it been performance or perception that has lead to the ups and downs in Heidfeld’s career? Given that an F1 driver is judged first and foremost against his team mate, let’s look at the raw numbers of his career, against those of his various team mates.

    Qualifying vs. team mates: 91-81
    Points vs. team mates: 219-203
    Podiums vs. team mates: 12-11
    Wins vs. team mates: 0-1
    Poles vs. team mates: 1-1

Heidfeld’s record stacks up remarkably well when you consider the quality of drivers he has had on the other side of the garage: Raikkonen, Massa, Frentzen, Pantano, Glock, Webber, Villeneueve, Kubica, Vettel and Kobayashi. With the possible exception of Pantano, all are proven F1 drivers, with three world champions thrown in for good measure.

However one notable feature of Heidfeld’s team mates is that many were rookies when paired with the German. Let’s take a look at his qualifying record – the default barometer of a driver’s ultimate pace - if we divide these statistics into his record against rookies and non-rookies. For the purpose of this analysis a rookie is defined as a driver competing in their first full season of Formula One.

Against rookies
    Qualifying vs. team mates: 51-28

Against non rookies
    Qualifying vs. team mates: 37-56

Quite clearly Heidfeld hasn’t had it all his way when up against experienced drivers. So has his problem been the perception that when he has beaten his team mates it wasn’t by a big enough margin? McLaren’s hiring of rookie Kimi Raikkonen over Heidfeld for 2002 certainly lends some weight to this theory, particularly when you consider Heidfeld out qualified and out scored the Finn in their season together.

Given the sometimes vast differences in machinery, driver performance will always be viewed subjectively. Whilst undoubtedly being quick, there are few standout performances from his career to date that have made people sit up and really take notice of him. A driver who puts in one stunning performance for three mediocre ones will probably appear on more team’s shopping list than a consistent performer like Heidfeld.

Much is made of his record of 172 Grand Prix starts without a win, but as the man himself recently pointed out, only a single one of those races has seen a team mate take the top step of the podium. Kubica’s win at the 2008 Canadian Grand Prix could so easily have been Heidfeld’s had the team not asked him to let Kubica through mid race. It is ironic that Heidfeld’s career lifeline and potential shot at the big time now come at the expense of Kubica.

If we assume that Kubica will be back in 2012 and Petrov’s Russian connections will ensure he remains, then Heidfeld must grab the Renault opportunity with both hands if his career is to continue in any meaningful way. If he is able to convincingly lead the team at the sharp end of the grid then he stands a very good chance of landing a drive elsewhere for 2012 and beyond.

Will Heidfeld ever win a Grand Prix? He certainly has the talent, now all he needs is a car to deliver. A black and gold Renault would do very nicely.


NRL under the microscope – Part 2

Friday, February 11, 2011 Posted by the sportsloop team 0 comments
Recently the NRL has been inundated by bid teams from across the country expressing interest in becoming the leagues 17th or 18th club.

The Western Reds, Central Coast Bears and outfits from Central Queensland and Brisbane have the media all abuzz with talk of shoring- up rugby league’s heartland or entering new territories and taking it to the AFL. And while I'm an advocate for making the game truly national, there are a lot questions that need answering before expansion becomes inevitable – for starters:

·         What can these new teams bring to the competition and the league in the short and long term?
·         Can we maintain 9 Sydney clubs in a truly national competition?
·         How can the league afford to support more teams when some current clubs are already struggling to remain viable?
·         Will the Independent Commission set out a platform for sustainable business for NRL clubs?
·         Is there a cap system that provides for an even competition and doesn’t result in teams being forced to shed players after just becoming successful?

On face value each of the bid teams bring some benefits and unique opportunities for the game. The Central Coast lives and breathes league. They have the stadium and better yet they have ready-made support.

Like the Bears, the Reds have been here before and enjoyed relatively strong support. Significantly for the NRL, Western Australia offers a new market to sell to TV stations and provides an untapped time slot for the league. But this begs the question how can they sell the rights for an extended comp without delivering one? Unless that decision has already been made...

If indeed a national competition has been preordained, what then for the densely populated market of Sydney? Can a national league be based so heavily in one city or does the future hold more mergers and the formulation of super clubs? Now there's a scary thought for Ian Schubert.

People often forget the salary cap is not simply in place to stop clubs with higher revenue streams, strong crowds and good corporate support from creating an inequitable competition. At this critical time in the game’s history perhaps the caps more primary function is to sustain life for clubs on the other end of the equation.

Contrary to popular belief removing the cap wouldn’t result in a spending spree. Most clubs bar the Broncos have at one time or another been under pressure to improve their revenue in order to either satisfy the league or ensure they can remain part of the competition.

The shift towards club memberships and promotion of third party deals and corporate or private support in the game will alleviate some of this pressure in the future. As will improvements in the television rights deal and the establishment of a central administrative body in the Independent Commission but these are all yet to come to fruition. Even then does the league need to set some benchmarks for clubs (ala Super League days) so that those struggling to attract the bigger contracts or constrained by a limited supporter base can be identified and more ably supported?

It is clear though that no matter the caps intended purpose; in its current form it is having a cyclical impact on the success of NRL clubs and a yo-yo effect the emotions of fans. Canberra Raiders fans have waited around 15 years to see the club emerge from a recurring ‘rebuilding phase’. Now as they prepare for their most promising season in years there are already whispers that the team Don and David Furner have nurtured, developed and recruited may be picked apart once again by ravenous competitors keen to benefit from their hard work. I have to ask is this too heavy a price for clubs to pay for one or two years at the top?

Despite all that lies ahead there's plenty to look forward to in season 2011, and I can assure some of it involves football...

See you at the game.

 - DJK

ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 - Team by team preview

Thursday, February 10, 2011 Posted by the sportsloop team 0 comments
With the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup just a week away, Sportsloop looks at each of the 14 teams taking part.

Group A

Coming off a morale boosting thrashing of England in the recent home series. Selection of hit or miss pace attack means that if they miss, unproven spinners Krejza and Smith could be put to the sword on small grounds. Batting has enough class to keep them in all games. With six survivors from the 2007 victory, and not having lost a World Cup match this century, should be there at the pointy end, but this time there are teams with enough quality to ensure a fifth title does not come there way.

Key Man: Shane Watson – recently confirmed as Australia’s best player with a second Allan Border Medal, his good form at the top of the order, and ability to move the ball will remain critical if the recent team success is to continue.

Prediction: Semi Finalist

Sri Lanka
Playing games at home will make them a serious contender, and they should battle Australia for top spot in the group. A likely semi final against England or West Indies should see them into the last four without really raising a sweat. Still seem reliant on too few for consistent performances with both bat and ball, namely Sangakkara, Jayawardene, Malinga and the aging Murali. India, South Africa and Australia should have too much depth in the biggest matches.

Key Man: Kumar Sangakkara – Captain, keeper and best batsman (though some may argue for Jayawardene on the last point), a poor tournament for Sangakkara would surely mean no repeat of 1996.

Prediction: Semi Finalist

Surely a team that has lost its captain and new ball pairing for cheating, and has been forced to be a cricketing nomad for the last two years could not threaten with the current strength of international cricket. But with the Akmals, Afridi, Razzaq and Akhtar around, the common cliché regarding Pakistan being able to beat anyone on their day remains true. However that doesn’t extend to the three days required over the finals to lift the trophy.

Key Man: Umar Akmal – a young player who most agree has the potential to be one of the great batsmen of the next generation. If he can add some maturity to his undoubted talent it could finally be a good news story for Pakistan cricket.

Prediction: Quarter Finalist

New Zealand
A team too thin on the ground when it comes to genuine match winners. Will need big tournaments from McCullum, Taylor and Ryder with the bat, because if Vettori is unable to contain the opposition line-ups they will be chasing plenty. Recent four match series sweep at the hands of Bangladesh backed up by a home loss to Pakistan is a poor form line, and a quarter final against either India or South Africa should see their tournament come to an end.

Key Man: Brendon McCullum – probably the only Kiwi genuinely feared by opponents. Consistent IPL form and recent success on NZ’s tour of India shows he has a liking for the conditions

Prediction: Quarter Finalist

The shoots of life have started to appear in the thorny garden that has been the last decade in Zimbabwean cricket. But the reality is that the rebuilding is still very much a work in progress. While some exiled players have returned to the fold, the days of the 1999 Cup, where Zimbabwe were genuinely competitive are a long long way off. There is no chance of a quarter final appearance this time around. Wins over the minnows and competitive performances against the rest is the best that can be hoped for to continue the return from the abyss.

Key Man: Tatenda Taibu – the former captain returns to the biggest stage of all since the troubled times of the team he represented on home soil in 2003. With a clearer mind this time around, it would be great to see him show his true ability.

Prediction: 5th in Group

Eight years ago the Kenyans were shock semi finalists, but have regressed a long way since then, and have been passed by other associates. Might fancy their chances against Zimbabwe, but even victory over Canada can’t be banked upon.

Key Man: Thomas Odoyo – now a senior man, after having debuted in the 1996 Cup, will again be relied upon for large contributions with bat and ball

Prediction: 6th in Group

The shoulders of John Davison are now too old to continue to carry the Canadians. If they can beat Kenya, the tournament will be a success, any other dreams are just that.

Key Man: Ashish Bagai – must step up and take the baton from Davison, but as captain and keeper, will have his work cut out.

Prediction: 7th in Group

Group B

South Africa
The perennial chokers once again are in the conversation as potential champions. Strong leadership, powerful batting, and a fast bowling cartel all point to the Proteas again putting themselves in contention when the whips are cracking. As always, spin stocks are not high, but if the totals are sufficiently large, and the quicks do early damage, this may not matter. At the very least they should be playing in the final, and in this writers opinion, will lift the trophy as well.

Key Man: Dale Steyn – the best fast bowler in the world his best chance to put his stamp on the biggest tournament in the world. If he can consistently knock over the top order, South Africa are on their way to being World Champions.

Prediction: Champion

Now top of the heap in Test cricket, and the most powerful nation off the field, the time has never been better for India to lift a second World Cup to complete its World domination. Playing at home is yet another advantage, but bare in mind no host has ever lifted the Cup. Strong in all aspects of the game, they are the most complete team in the tournament, especially with the willow where Tendulkar, Sehwag, Dohni, Gambhir and Yuvraj will provide plenty of work for fielders.

Key Man: Virender Sehwag – along with Gayle, the most devastating opener in the game, but with more consistency than the Jamaican. If Sehwag fires on all cylinders, India will set huge targets, and will be well on the way to the final.

Prediction: Runner-up

Six weeks ago the English were brimming with confidence and were genuine title contenders. But injuries to half of the first choice side, including the loss of gun Eoin Morgan combined with a crushing series loss in Australia has seen their Ashes confidence sapped. If Pietersen, Trott, Strauss and Bell can find form a semi final isn’t beyond them, but they’ll probably have to go through Sri Lanka to get there.

Key Man: James Anderson – in career best form, and his team will need this to continue this as he is needed to knock the top off opposing line-ups early in the innings. With injuries to Broad and Bresnan, the pressure on him is greater than ever.

Prediction: Quarter Finalist

West Indies
Enough has been said about the demise of the former giants of the game. At least now they seem to have plateaued at a consistently low level. Kemar Roach leads a pedestrian attack that will leak plenty of runs. The batting, with Chanderpaul, Sarwan and Bravo remains dangerous, but Chris Gayle needs to find rare consistency to really give them a chance. If they make the quarter finals, a match against Australia or host Sri Lanka should see them booking flights to the Caribbean.

Key Man: Chris Gayle – no longer burdened with the captaincy, a lot will rest on Gayle getting the team off to explosive starts. It will surprise if he doesn’t play one the tournaments best innings, but equally if he plays enough of them to get his team to the semis.

Prediction: Quarter Finalist

Have continued to make steady improvement, highlighted by a series sweep against New Zealand at home, but their top players still produce their best far too infrequently. Five matches at home will give them a chance against the bigger teams, and should ensure no slip ups against the minnows. The match against the West Indies should decide the final place in the quarters. Bangladesh may never get a better chance to earn respect of crickets big boys, but are they finally up to it?

Key Man: Shakib Al Hasan – another all-rounder who will be vital to the success of his team, and that’s before you mention the captaincy. Shakib is a man with more on his plate than most 23 year olds, but in front of home fans has the ability to finally put his team on the map.

Prediction: 5th in Group

Rocked the world four years ago by putting Pakistan out, and their cricket has continued to improve at a steady rate. Will have patches in games where they are competitive, but the changes in tournament format will make the heroics of 2007 impossible to replicate

Key Man: Ed Joyce – has traded places with Eoin Morgan, and brings a reliable bat to Ireland’s top order. Along with wanting to do well for his native country, he will also no doubt have a point to prove to the English selectors.

Prediction: 6th in Group

Consistent qualifiers for this event, this being their fourth, but have always proved short of enough true class, and are in for more punishment this time around. Only real hope of a win will come against Ireland.

Key Man: Ryan ten Doeschate – the Essex star remains the main man in orange. Heavy defeats will result if he doesn’t fire with both bat and ball, and probably will even if he does.

Prediction: 7th in Group


NRL under the microscope – Part 1

Posted by the sportsloop team 0 comments
It seems everyone wants a bigger piece of the pie these days…

·         The NRL wants more money from its TV rights deal
·         Clubs want more money from the NRL
·         Players want more money from the clubs
·         And more teams want entry into the competition

Each of these things judged on their merits might appear reasonable but the problem for rugby league is the pie isn’t getting any bigger.

The establishment of the Independent Commission is in part a ploy to free up and better direct money that’s currently being sunk into the black hole of the games four current administrative bodies – the NRL, NSWRL, QRL and the CRL.

Unfortunately the commission has been much longer in the making than originally touted and names of potential appointees have come and gone faster than the fans can talk about them.

Everyone from sports stars, prominent business and media identities and league personalities has been spoken about at one time or another. Now a year on from Michael Searle’s declaration of independence and we’re left with a ‘shortlist’ of 128 people and no sign of what the commission will look like or when it’ll be in place.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m very supportive of the need for the Independent Commission and its intended purpose but in trying to unravel rugby league from its admin nightmare the game’s ‘saviour’ has been caught up in the mess.

The latest bureaucratic entanglement comes following calls to delay the commission until after the TV rights deal is sorted. The idea being that if the NRL waits until the commission is in place to negotiate, it’s likely those dastardly (and organised) AFL boys will have already plundered the reserves of the major free-to-air and pay- TV stations. Once again this argument loses sight of the bigger picture:

·         The NRLs television ratings are consistently higher than the AFL
·         The NRL rates amongst the years highest rated single shows on FoxSports
·         And delaying the commission means News Ltd would again be on both sides of the negotiation table

The NRL has a strong position to negotiate improvements to its current deal, including fixed scheduling which would provide for a more even spread of teams on free-to-air television, and of course more money. But first and foremost it has to stop making business decisions based on the happenings of rival codes. Ironically this is something the commission would no doubt eradicate.

To be continued…

See you at the game.
 - DJK

Red Revival

Posted by the sportsloop team 0 comments
As a grumpy Fernando Torres sat on the bench watching his new team try everything against a unmovable red wall; the Kop's favourite son Kenny Dalglish must have been wondering what a simple game this football caper must be.

Under the guidance of Roy Hodgson, Liverpool endured their worst start to a premiership campaign for almost 60 years and after two defeats and a draw in his first three games, Dalglish has turned Liverpool’s fortunes around with four successive victories including Sunday's 1-0 win over Chelsea and even more impressively four clean sheets in a row.

Against Chelsea, Liverpool displayed a remarkable defensive masterclass to record their second victory in seven years at Chelsea, through a Raul Merieles strike midway through the second half. The win is even more impressive considering Liverpool’s two big purchases, Andy Carrol and Luiz Suarez had no part to play in the win over Chelsea.

Under Dalglish, Liverpool has moved from the relegation scrapheap, to a realistic chance of playing Champions League football next season. This has come via a shift to a more positive pass focus game under Dalglish, that has rejuvenated talisman captain Steven Gerrard season’s and allowed Anfield’s favourite son to push forward into a roaming forward role; which many may argue is Gerrard’s best position.

Furthermore, the emergence of previous lesser known’s such as Lucas Leiva and Martin Kelly have also aided to the transformation of this Liverpool side. Lucas has added a combative steel, as well as reliability in possession to the midfield and relieved some of the defensive burden on Gerrard and Meireles; while Kelly has resolved Liverpool’s’ problematic right hand side.

With a further pledge by Liverpool’s owners John W Henry and the Fenway Sports Group to strengthen the side over the summer and assuming the inevitable decision to hand Dalglish permanent reign will eventuate; things are starting to look optimistic for the red faithful.
Do you think Liverpool can claim a Champions League spot this season?


Welcome back Mr.Lombardi

Tuesday, February 8, 2011 Posted by the sportsloop team 0 comments
Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers have conspired to deny the Pittsburgh Steelers their third title in 5 years, taking out Super Bowl XLV in Arlington Texas.

The win adds to the already imposing legacy of champion Packers teams and more importantly it returns the Vince Lombardi Trophy to its spiritual home in Green Bay, Wisconsin - at the same time sending the league’s smallest town into raptures.

Rodgers now joins the elite company of Packers legends Brett Farve and Pro Football Hall of Famer Bart Starr as winning Super Bowl quarterbacks. His performance that included 300 yards and 3 touchdown passes was enough to see him claim his own piece of history as a Super Bowl MVP – a feat Farve never achieved. Rodgers total of 9 postseason touchdown passes also leaves him tied for third-most in a single postseason in NFL history.

Both teams made a nervous start, highlighted by a fumble from Pat Lee off the kick off but it was Green Bay that settled into stride faster. The first half was all Rodgers. He had the ball on a string - his two touchdown passes for receivers Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings pinpoint. But it was Nick Collins’ 37 yard intercept return that left
Pittsburgh reeling and seemingly with little hope of arresting a green team now with major momentum at 21—3.

Injuries though began to play a part for the home team with Centre Back Sam Shields, key defensive organiser Charles Woodson and strike weapon Donald Driver all returning to the sheds before half time.

Despite mounting a second half comeback and giving themselves a faint chance to steal an undeserved victory with 1:59 left on the clock, the Steelers looked out of sorts for the most part.

Roethlisberger started slowly but began to find his aim as the game wore on. Pittsburgh's ever reliable rushing game which was employed to some effect in the first half was used only sparingly post half time.

For his part Rashard Mendenhall was underutilised, carrying for 63 yards and 1 touchdown. In the first half his presence alone twice created space for Roethlisberger to rush from the pocket, converting to first downs on both occasions.

But it was Green Bay’s day. Their determination to succeed was undeniable. Fitting then that this article should finish with a quote from the very man who instilled such passion and whose name adorns the NFL’s most coveted item.

“I firmly believe that any man's finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is the moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle - victorious” – Vince Lombardi.


Who should replace Robert Kubica at Renault?

Posted by the sportsloop team 0 comments
It may be somewhat of an understatement to say that Renault’s Eric Boullier would be a man with quite a bit to think about at the moment.

With Renault’s innovative front exiting exhaust system, competitive times in Valencia, and a fired up Kubica at the wheel, things were looking very promising for Renault. Now faced with the loss of arguably the team’s greatest asset, Boullier must decide who will replace Kubica, for what is likely to be an appointment for the entire 2011 campaign.

The choice takes on extra significance as the team’s number two, Vitaly Petrov, would very unlikely have gotten a second season with the team if it weren’t for the bags of Russian Rubles he brings with him. While I expect him to improve in 2011 he’s still very much a work in progress and unlikely to lead a team with aspirations of winning races this year.

Let’s take a look at some of the candidates who might be waiting on a call from Boullier this week.

Bruno Senna – The first of Renault’s reserve drivers, Senna would be a shoe-in if Kubica’s absence was short term. However would the team feel comfortable running a driver pairing with a combined total of two years experience? Questions must also be asked of Senna’s ultimate pace – whilst last year’s HRT was a bit of a dog, the usually hapless Sakon Yamamoto was able to get uncomfortably close to Senna at times. Not a good look for a driver with aspirations of moving up the field. He would be a risky choice for Renault, but
due to his role in the team must be considered a solid chance for the drive.

Romain Grosjean – The second of Renault’s reserve drivers. Grosjean drove the second half of the 2009 season for the team after Piquet was shown the door, however was trounced by team mate Alonso and did nothing to convince that he had the raw speed necessary to be a top flight F1 driver. Eric Boullier seems to have taken a liking to the lad, but it would be highly unlikely to find him in the Renault cockpit this year.

Nick Heidfeld – Now considered a veteran, having made his debut back in 2000. A very solid pair of hands, and probably the most underrated driver of recent times. Heidfeld proved a match for Webber, helped end Villeneuve’s career and, despite perceptions, was quite evenly matched with Kubica during their BMW days. Brings huge experience and reliable speed to the team, but having started more Grands Prix without winning than any driver in the history of the sport, does he have the killer edge to lead the team to victories this season? Given the right equipment I think so, and I would consider him the favourite
to take Kubica’s seat.

Tonio Liuzzi – The likable Italian is now on the market having recently been, what can only be described as ‘shafted’ by Force India. He’s quick and brings with him over 60 Grand Prix starts in addition to his experience as a test driver for Force India. His experience and speed would be assets to the team, however Liuzzi has often struggled with to perform consistently, which could be an issue for a team with Petrov in the other car.

Pedro de la Rosa – Like Heidfeld, has been around the sport for years, but  hasn’t raced a full season since 2002. Renowned as a tester, and currently working in that capacity for Pirelli, he brings incredible technical know how to the team. However, whilst a very capable driver, the fact that no one has hired him for a full season in nearly a decade tells a story in itself. I would be surprised to see de la Rosa racing for Renault this year.

Nico Hulkenberg – Showed last year that he has pace, but overall was shaded by Barrichello. Given he is another driver with only a single season under his belt I think it’s unlikely that Renault would take the risk.

Kimi Raikkonen – The man nearly everyone in F1 would dearly love to see slide into the Renault. However having lashed out at the team over their leaking details of discussions over a 2011 race seat, it’s quite unlikely they would pick up the phone to him again now. Plus, there’s the small matter of him running his own WRC team this year.

Who do you think Renault should hire?



Will two Allan Border Medals silence Watson’s critics?

Monday, February 7, 2011 Posted by the sportsloop team 0 comments

Looking at the 2010 figures, Shane Watson deserves to be favourite for tonight’s Allan Border Medal. He certainly benefits from having an injury free year, and while others may out perform him in tests or one-day internationals, his role in both forms, with bat and ball, gives him a distinct edge.
In a lean year for Australian’s batting in tests, Watson is second in runs scored to Mike Hussey. Ricky Ponting is the only other Australian to score over 800 runs. In terms of centuries, Hussey (3) Simon Katich, Michael Clarke and Marcus North (all 2) scored more than Watson's one, which could count for higher points in individual tests, but in terms of consistency, and scores above 50, Watson edges his rivals with 9 scores above 50, to Hussey’s 8 and Katich’s 7. In a team without much to cheer about in terms of batting, Watson would likely have picked up a few votes without necessarily being man of the match. Australia’s single test in 2011 saw Watson score the most runs.
In test match bowling, Watson comes in fifth in wickets taken, behind Mitchell Johnson, Doug Bollinger, Nathan Hauritz  and Ryan Harris. If simply a bowler, Watson probably wouldn’t hold a place in the team. However, add a few wickets to his frequent runs, and the likelihood of picking up votes increases. Johnson picked up three 5 wicket hauls, and the only Australian 10 wicket match, with Watson and Siddle the only others to get five-for twice. These statistics paint a lean year for bowlers, so with Johnson perhaps getting a few man of the match awards, Watson would also be in with a chance.
For test player of the year, Watson’s consistent performance of 50-odd runs and a few wickets, would set him to be with a good chance, with Hussey and Johnson the other leading candidates. Even a second or third placing for Watson would contribute to his Allan Border chances.
In one day international runs scored, Watson comes in at equal fourth with Ricky Ponting, behind Cameron White and Mike Hussey , and 7 runs behind Michael Clarke. In 2011, Watson outscored David Hussey by 70 runs to be the top run scorer.
In bowling, Watson is again fourth, behind Ryan Harris, Bollinger, and Clint McKay. It would seem White and Harris are likely to be 1 and 2 on the voting, but Watson would pick up a few votes along the way. This year, Brett Lee, Steve Smith, Bollinger, and David Hussey have taken more wickets.
Watson again comes in fourth in 2010  T20 runs scored, but is down the list in wickets taken, behind Dirk Nannes, Shaun Tait, Johnson, Smith and David Hussey. Watson’s impact in all forms of the games, and sheer number of games played, will favour him over others for the AB Medal, such as White or Nannes who don’t play each form.
Over tests and one-day internationals, Mike Hussey seems to be the best placed person to stop Watson’s back-to-back awards. If Watson was purely a batsman, you would think Hussey would beat him, but the benefit of being able to bowl, should see Watson pick up the prize. Mitchell Johnson’s limited impact in one day internationals (18 wickets) will count against him in the overall vote. I predict Watson, Hussey, Johnson, and Ryan Harris as the top vote earners in tonight’s count.
You would think a second Allan Border Medal for Watson would silence some of his critics. There was a lot made of Watson returning to the team as an opener, with other specialist openers not given the chance, or in some cases, another chance. Mike Hussey was chosen as a middle order batsman, despite being an opener for his state. It would seem that while batsmen have a preference for certain positions, a test-level batsman is able to perform wherever he is picked. Sure Watson doesn’t convert his half-centuries, which is a concern, but at least he is making them, and regularly. His contribution with the ball adds to his value in the team. Until other batsman are consistently scoring similar numbers of half-centuries, or centuries, Watson shouldn’t be the brunt of so much concern or criticism. There are still detractors, and there may always be, but two Allan Border Medals should keep them silent for a while to come.

Test Runs:
M. Hussey 967
Watson 897
Ponting 813

Test Wickets:
Johnson 40
Bollinger 30
Hauritz 22
Harris 20
Watson 19

One Day Runs:
White 848
Hussey 825
Clarke 778
Ponting 771
Watson 771

One Day Wickets:
Harris 40
Bollinger 28
McKay 27
Watson 22