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Thursday, October 25, 2007
There has been huge talk about the English Treble last week in the media. What Treble? No, not the Manchester United Treble in 1999 or the Liverpool Treble in 2001. This time round, it's pretty different in a way that the Treble involves THREE different sports. Sounds cool isn't it?
First up, it was the England Football team. With Euro2008 coming next summer, they will qualify for the finals in Switzerland/Austria IF they beat Russia in a qualifying group stage match played last Wednesday at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. Well, they beaten the Russians at Wembley with a scoreline of 3-0 juz last month. Isn't it gonna be easy for them? Maybe. BUT, the Luzhniki Stadium has a very special field. Why?? Cos the "grass" is not natural; it's made of synthetic material. Much talk has been about how the England team will cope with a different playing surface. All the doubts were played down by the team manager Steve Mclaren though.
The plastic pitch
The match started off pretty well for England with their wingers causing a few problems for the Russian defence. 29minutes was all it took for England to take the lead. Right back Micah Richards launched a long ball deep into Russian territory and Michael Owen suddenly found himself doing the job that Emile Heskey used to do it for him so well. The 1.75m tall Owen leaped and knocked it so perfectly on to Rooney, who took one soft touch on his chest before launching a missile of such venom from the end of his right boot that keeper Vladimir Gabulov barely had a chance to move before it bulged the net underneath his crossbar. 1-0 to England, confidence were high. What a smashing goal!!
Wayne Rooney scoring with an unstoppable volley
Goal celebration with team mates
The lead lasted till half time. All seemed to be going to plan. Then after the break, England had a great chance in doubling their lead, but all Steven Gerrard could do from a Gareth Barry's freekick was to sidefoot the ball into the side netting when he was totally unmarked. It proved to a be a costly miss as Russia managed to pull one goal back in the 70th minute through substitute Roman Pavluchenko. Rooney, the goal hero, became the villain this time round as he was found tugging Konstatin Zurianov's shirt in the penalty area. The penalty was well dispatched by Pavluchenko and the scoreline reads 1-1 in the tense Russian atmosphere.
He may be flying after his goal, but his stupid mistake here cost England a penalty
Pavluchenko scored the penalty
Suddenly, England lost their direction as the Russians gained in confidence. The ball was hastily passed or pumped up field when an England player gets the ball. The composure was gone and England became jelly feet. They started defending desperately, hoping to hold out for a draw. Their jelly feet didn't last long though. All it took was juz another 4 minutes for another goal. Pavluchenko fired in from close range in the 74th minute after Paul Robinson could only parry Alexei Berezutsky's shot into his path.
2-1 to Russia
The stadium erupted as the scoreline reads 2-1. England's hopes were as good as gone. They now face the possibility of not being able to qualify for next summer's Euro2008. If Russia manages to win their remaining 2 group matches, then England is out of the finals, and possibly Steve Mclaren will be out of job too.
The look on Steven Gerrard's face after the final whistle tells the whole story
Ok, no Treble, then how about a Double?? Read On...
With the England soccer team's failure on Wednesday, there's only now left with 2 sports. It was the Rugby World Cup 2007 Final on Saturday. I still remember how I watched England win the final match in 2003 Sydney, beating Australia 17-20 all thanks to Johnny Wilkinson's dying minutes drop kick. Who would have predicted England could come all the way to the final match again in 2007; this time held in France
Will England become the first team to retain the cup in Rugby World Cup history? Well, the team was being criticised as playing ugly, relying on penalty and drop kicks by Johhn Wilkinson to win matches. When England beat France 14-9 in the semi-final match, everyone started watching them. All pre-match hype was about Johnny Wilkinson and his famous left foot. Ironically, it was his right foot that won England the World Cup in 2003. Now 28, he's facing and uphill task of helping England defend their title.
This was what happened in 2003's final.
But the huge favourite wasn't England. It was their opponent South Africa. It all don't look well for England though. South Africa was looking so strong throughout the tournament with their younger and stronger players. England on the other hand only have Wilkinson as their trump card. To make things look worse, England lost to South Africa 0-36 in their last meeting back in September in the same venue. Sensing some deja vu? Not really. England lost the match without their talisman Wilkinson back then. It will be different this time.
Since I'm not familiar with Rugby, I can't write much. Hahaha. See pictures below
Tough match for England
South Africa didn't find it easier either
But they had the upper hand with a stingy defence
The match finished with neither side able to score a try. The final scoreline was 6-15, all 21 points scored with penalties. England was being let down by their lack of discipline when they gave away 5 penalties. the 6 points scored by the English were from 2 penalties by who else but Wilkinson. He was unable to repeat the magic of 2003 as he failed to score from 2 drop shots and given little chance to impose himself on the match.
Heartbreak for England at the final whistle
South Africa, deserving winners of the 2007 Rugby World Cup
Treble & Double dream gone. How about a consolation? Read on...
Less than 24hours later across the Atlantic Ocean in Sao Paolo, Brazil, huge roars of engine can be heard at the Interlagos race track of the Brazilian Grand Prix. It was the final leg of the 2007 Formula One season. It couldn't be any closer as the World Champion Trophy will have to be decided by the result of this Grand Prix, with Lewis Hamilton(Britiain, McLaren Mercedes), Fernando Alonso(Spain, McLaren Mercedes) and Kimmi Raikkonen(Finland, Ferrari) challenging for honours.
Going into the race, Hamilton has 107 points, Alonso on 104 and Raikonnen on a far 100 points. Odds were on Hamilton winning his first World Champion title and make history by being the first rookie driver to win the Championship on his debut season. And who would dare challenge that? Me, being a Ferrari fan, has to admit that Hamilton is indeed a great driver. Eventhough he's in the same team as the two-time world champion(Alonso), he didn't show any nerves and out drove his team mate on so many occasions this season. He certainly didn't look like a rookie driver.
As a result, Alonso was feeling threatened all the time, which I believe is disrupting the harmony within the McLaren Team. Who would have predicted a rookie could hold the world champion all the way till the end of the season? If you ask me, I'll say Alonso will leave the McLaren Team after just one season. Haha..
Alright, on Saturday's qualifying session, Massa(Brazil, Ferrari) managed to clock the fastest on the track, followed by Hamilton, Raikkonen and Alonso. It all looked so familiar with the Scarlet Red Ferrari and the Silver McLaren starting from the front 2 rows. Race day on Sunday was surprisingly hot, with track temperatures hitting above 60 degrees celcius eventhough the air is 32degrees.
Hot day in Sao Paolo
The pack roared off the line once the green light lits up. It was obvious that the Ferraris were much faster than the McLarens and Raikkonnen zoomed pass Hamilton to gain 2nd position almost instantly. Alonso at the back even managed to steal 3rd position from Hamilton, leaving the Brit at 4th position. What a poor start for Hamilton, and he made things worse by driving too aggressively while trying to gain back his position from Alonso. He ended up locking his wheels, went off track and dropped to 7th position.
Hamilton going off track after locking up
Trailing behind two BMWs, Hamilton tried hard to gain more positions but his car was being hit by technical problems. The gearbox refused to switch into gear and he ended up languishing in 18th position, with retirement looking a real possibility. His car was drifting in the neutral gear for a period of time before the gearbox sorted itself out and Hamilton was back in business. He's damn unlucky to be hit with a technical fault in such an important race after experiencing great reliability from his car whole season.
At the front, the Ferraris were in a class of their own, pulling away from the pack and Alonso remained in 3rd, looking contented. Hamilton was trying very hard to move through the pack through out the whole race, setting fastest laps and pushing his way up the standings. But it was meant to be his day. After 1 hour, 28 minutes, 15.270 seconds, Kimmi Raikkonen stormed to the flag ahead of Massa to beat Fernando Alonso to the title by just one point while Lewis Hamilton, who started the weekend as favourite, also ended the season one point short.
Raikkonen speeding past the finishing line
He's the man
Raikkonen -- second in the drivers' championship in 2003 and '05 -- became only the third Finn to win the F1 title, and the first since two-time winner Mika Hakkinen in 1998 and '99. The first Finnish champion was Keke Rosberg in 1982.
Final Drivers' Standing:-
Kimmi Raikkonen (Ferrai) 110
Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes) 109
Fernando Alone (McLaren Mercedes) 109
Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 94
Nick Heidfeld (BMW-Sauber) 61
Robert Kubica (BMW-Sauber) 39
Raikkonen with his arms raised at the podium
The traditional champagne celebration
2007 World Champion
So yeah, the Formula One season has juz ended, but I can't wait for next season!!!! Singapore's proposal for the first ever night race in F1 history has been approved!! Gosh, I can't wait to hear the engine roar in Marina City on 28th September 2008, starting from 8pm Singapore time.
England, so close yet so far. A Treble that was not to be. It ended up as a Treble of misery.