Football Sports

Mayhem at the Bridge

The two semifinal second-legs played in London over the past couple of days couldn’t be more contrasting. If United were clinical in their performance at The Emirates on Tuesday — maximum damage with minimum fuss, an explosive finish was in store for the cliffhanger at Stamford Bridge, where Chelsea and Barcelona squared off to decide who deserved to meet Manchester United in the final at Rome.

The game had a little bit of everything: a brilliant display from Chelsea, an out-of-sorts and depleted Barcelona’s never-say-die attitude, two outstanding goals, controversy, shock, disbelief, and unbridled joy. In the end, Barcelona went through on the away goals rule, as the match finished 1-1. Andres Iniesta sending the Catalan dugout in manic frenzy with his inury-time leveller to cancel out Essien’s early left-foot volley.

That wasn’t the end of the drama on a controversial night as Chelsea were denied four penalty claims (two of which they deserved) by the Norwegian referee. Chelsea felt robbed and unduly penalized, and Drogba, who was subbed earlier in the game, emerged in his flip-flops onto the pitch, shouting obscenities at the referee and the television cameras. The scene was shocking and totally unconceivable from a professional footballer, and the Chelsea bench had a hard time restraining him. Although Drogba threatened a lot, only Ballack came closest to smacking poor old Ovrebo. Terry, Lampard, and coach Guus Hiddink, all voiced their disappointment over the sub-standard refereeing, and I think they were right in doing so.

I like watching good football, irrespective of the teams that are involved, and Chelsea played really well and were unfortunate to not progress through to the final. And Drogba losing his cool, and doing what he did in front of the referee, sadly, took the spotlight away from the good football Chelsea produced against Barcelona.

It would’ve been a special night in Rome to see United lock horns with Chelsea again. Would Terry redeem himself? A question we’ll have to wait for another year to answer.

Originally published: May 9, 2009

Football Sports

Rome awaits!

Arsenal 1-3 Manchester United

What a match! One of those old gems in the pantheon of European matches which you eagerly look forward to, and where all the hype and buzz surrounding two massive clubs actually lives up to its prematch expectations. Manchester United put on a devastating display of football against Arsenal at The Emirates, and emerged comprehensive 3-1 winners thanks to goals from Ji-Sung Park and Cristiano Ronaldo.

First half: Before the kickoff, the mood inside The Emirates was one to behold. The massive crowd was singing, chanting, and waving the Gunners’ flag. The atmosphere was electric, and what an encouraging scene for the players to walk into. Arsene Wenger, Arsenal’s manager, had adamantly proclaimed his young team had the mettle to turn around a one-goal deficit from the previous leg to knock United out of the competition. And his prediction seemed valid for the first seven minutes of the game. Arsenal took the game by the scruff of its neck, playing at a fever pitch in the early minutes of the game, and completely dominating Manchester United. But an unfortunate slip by Kieran Gibbs, as he tried to check his run inside Arsenal’s box, dropped the ball at Park’s feet and the South Korean coolly finished it past Almunia into the back of the net. Arsenal were shell-shocked, conceding the goal against run of play. But United were well and truly away at this point.

If the first goal dropped decibels level in the stadium, then Ronaldo’s screamer of a freekick from 41-yards struck the crowd dumb! Ronaldo unleashed a thunderbolt from the right side of the pitch, leaving Almunia beaten at his near post. The Arsenal faithfuls couldn’t believe what had just happened. Credit to Ronaldo for the strike, but a goalie of Almunia’s class should’ve done better. Arsenal were disappointingly out of sorts at home and lacked the spark in their passing gameplay; despite Robin van Persie’s return to the team, they never posed a threat to Van der Sar’s goal.

Second half: If Arsenal thought the break would upset United’s rhythm they couldn’t have been more wrong. The Mancunians continued to dominate and create enough problems in Arsenal’s half to pose a goal threat. It didn’t take long for them to net in their third on the night, in what was clearly a brilliant display of counter attacking football. Vidic headed clear Arsenal’s corner and Ronaldo darted back from the half-line to retrieve it, deep into United’s half,  and flicked it to Ji-Sung Park, who threaded a clinical pass over to Rooney who was breaking away on the left wing. Rooney unselfishly passed the ball back into Arsenal’s box and found Ronaldo who toed the ball into the net. Arsenal had the wind knocked out of their sails, and had to settle for a consolation by van Persie, when Fletcher was wrongly sent off by the Italian referee for bringing down Fabregas in the United box.

Although I’m delighted for United who booked a consecutive final’s spot, I feel for the lad, though; Fletcher who’s been an inspiration this season, backing up his commendable work ethic with form on the pitch. He will be missed in the final at Rome. Let’s hope the rest of the guys win it for him!

Originally published: May 7, 2009


Titan Quest: Immortal Throne

Point-n-click action RPG returns with a vengeance, folks! That’s right. After a self-enforced hiatus from both PC and console gaming, the stars aligned favorably and twinkled me a “thumbs up” a few nights ago, as I embarked on this virtual odyssey into ancient Greece, a mythical and mysterious land. Titan Quest: Immortal Throne is an expansion pack to the original Titan Quest of 2006, and an immersive game, one that I’m really enjoying playing at the moment. That’s been my preoccupation for this weekend and my overstressed (and complaining!) right carpal tunnel bears testimony to the fact.

Although strictly an RTS, EA’s The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II was the last RPG-like game I played way back in May 2005. Like all good RPGs, Titan Quest has a sense of occasion to itself; not to mention its foundation in Greek mythology, combined with your in-game character’s tendency of reckless adventure, sets an exciting mood for the game.

Gameplay comprises of the uncomplicated, classic point-n-click (just point mouse anywhere on the screen to advance your character in that direction) and hack-n-slash (click on an enemy to ensue combat) style of action. For a two-year old game, I think the graphics are pretty neat. In-game physics is a little suspect, what with your character passing through bodies of deceased foes on the ground, but nothing blatantly ridiculous. But these tiny blemishes are seldom noticeable once you are caught up in the frenzied gameplay, of which there is at least 50 hours guaranteed. You can build and equip your character with a variety of skills and powers. I’m playing primarily as a warrior, but my secondary ability is to achieve mastery in the use of thunderbolts; magic, in other words. And believe me, you’re going to need magic as you advance further in the game. Picking the right blend of abilities will set your character apart, and decide how you fare on the long, arduous road to the finish.

This is how it begins: The Gods have overthrown the aging Titans from their seat of power, and there’s peace and harmony in all lands. But the Gods have decided to leave earthly affairs for humans (mortals) to dwell over — and all hell breaks loose! The lands are in despair as a dark force rises from the underworld, ravaging, burning, tormenting, destroying everything in its wake. In these unforgiving times, a hero takes upon himself the task to find and challenge the root of this evil, and rid the world of its menace once and for all. And this quest takes him beyond Greece, to lands far and wide, and ultimately into Hades’ very stronghold.

On the way, you’ll come face to face with monsters unimaginable, and accomplish tasks unthinkable for a mere mortal. But that is your destiny, if you embark upon Titan Quest. May the gods be with you!

Much appreciation to the developers at Iron Lore Entertainment for bringing out Titan Quest. Sadly, as of January 2008, they ceased all active game development projects.

Originally published: May 3, 2009

Football Sports

Business as usual

Premiership weekend’s always a dodgy affair, especially after midweek Champions League matches. Key players need to be rested, bench warmers have to stand up to the occasion, and everyone hopes (with their fingers crossed) that the team doesn’t pay dearly for wholesale changes.

No problems for Man Utd, comfortable 2-0 winners over Middlesbrough. Giggs and Ji-Sung Park scoring the goals on either side of the half. Chelsea and Arsenal, too, won their respective games rather comfortably. Arsenal in particular made eight changes to the side that lost to Man Utd on Wednesday. Liverpool are also in command of their game against relegation-threatened Newcastle, leading 2-0 as I write this.

It’s business as usual for the top four in the Premiership. United are still six points clear of Liverpool, with five games to go.

Next stop: Champions League semifinal second leg against Arsenal at the Emirates.

Originally published: May 3, 2009

Football Sports

Manchester United 1-0 Arsenal

Just like Fergie predicted, Manchester United take a slender one goal advantage over Arsenal to the Emirates Stadium for the deciding second leg of this Champions League semifinal. Despite the fact we won last night, this match left a bad taste in my mouth. More than exhilaration and relief, frustration and disappointment dominate my sense of feeling right now. Maybe I need to sleep over this result to gauge the importance of things such as clean sheets and thoroughly outplaying your opponents.

But no, what I feel right now is an overwhelming sense of underachievement on a night that promised so much more. Right from kickoff, the tone was set: United were dictating play from the opening exchanges, and Arsenal were chasing the game. Well, they tried their best, but United were having none of that. Rooney’s looping header, Tevez’s stab at goal, and Ronaldo’s header from point blank range were some of the goal-scoring opportunities gone begging. The trio were wreaking havoc all over the pitch, shooting at Almunia’s goal and testing the goalie’s resilience, who was the only reason why we didn’t score more than one goal. From the amount of possession we had and the number of shots at goal, we should’ve been three goals up at half-time. United’s goal was a lucky one: Arsenal were caught ball watching and suffered from a momentary defensive shutdown–enough for O’Shea to sneak in and score. The crowd really got behind the players, making a lot of noise and whistling loudly everytime an Arsenal player got the ball (which was extremely rare in the first half). 

Second half was much subdued than the first in terms of intensity and match tempo. Even though United dominated the possession chart, and created a multitude of chances, they were kept out by the Gunners’ goalie. The likes of Adebayor, Walcott, and Fabregas never got into their rhythm. Ferdinand and Vidic were brilliant in defence, and the Arsenal offence had only rare glimpses of Van der Sar’s goal. Ronaldo’s shot from 30 yards had Almunia completely beaten but the crossbar came to Arsenal’s rescue on a night that should’ve settled the tie overwhelmingly in United’s favour.

Originally published: April 30, 2009


A romance of many dimensions

Perhaps one of the weirdest books you’ll ever read. Edwin A. Abbott’s Flatland, a tiny book written back in 1884, theorizes about inhabitants of a two dimensional world, drawing striking parallels with 19th century Victorian social hierarchy. What’s noteworthy is that it’s not just an allegory of a bygone era or an endless discussion on geometrical figures and their nuances, but a warning (in Alan Lightman’s thought-provoking foreword) for physicists and scientists, in a time riddled with scientific breakthroughs,  to be on guard against complacency and the tendency to rest on their laurels. Not to worship established wisdom as gospels of the ultimate truth, but instead ask questions that could lead to the discovery and validation of several more.

I like the premise of the book. Flatland challenges you to imagine a world where thickness is unheard of, where people exist in the likeness of geometrical figures on paper: triangles, squares, pentagons, and so on; much like shadows on the ground. The book is recorded as a first person narrative by A. Square, a distinguished Flatlander himself, giving us Spacelanders a perspective into his unimaginable world. Looking from above, for us Spacelanders, the two dimensional geography reveals a chaos of living, breathing geometry all around. But there’s method to this madness. If you look closer, as the author points out, you’ll notice people segregated in classes based on their shapes; priests who are perfect circles enjoy life at the apex, while women as straight lines compose the dregs of society. 

The social commentary is insightful to say the least, and invites your curiosity to study the finer points of Flatland’s day-to-day life and satires, to some extent, our own world. How people (lines, triangles, squares) there perceive and identify others (also lines, triangles, squares) when all they see is a flat line; how everyone adores symmetry of shape and abhors irregularity of one’s physical appearance. But that’s not all. If you’ll read the book, you’ll realize how the writer takes great effort to discuss at length the land’s physics and history, customs and beliefs, and reveals the philosophy of its inhabitants who appear to be self-content and lacking adventure. Where scientific and artistic excellence is taking a back seat and the minds are falling into decay. 

But all that changes with the appearance of a Spacelander! 

It’s a small book of hardly 100 pages, and one that I recommend to everyone who wants to take a break from their fantasy and non-fiction novels. It’s not a mathematical school book full of diagrams and jargon, if that’s what you’re thinking. It’s a good read. Here’s the Project Gutenberg link to download a free ebook version.

Originally published: April 27, 2009

Football Sports

A stunning comeback

Minutes after the game as I write this, I am trying hard to put into words what has just happened. Manchester United pulled off one of the most amazing comebacks in recent memory, by scoring five goals in the second half after trailing 0-2 at the interval. Goals from Ronaldo (2), Rooney (2), and Berbatov (1), ensured Liverpool’s stay at the top of the table was brief as they won their early encounter with Hull. Far from a cliff-hanger like the game against Aston Villa where young Macheda grabbed headlines, this game was a hallmark of a team’s ability to dig deep and bounce back after taking an initial beating. And the perfect exhibition of a demolition job. United won 5-2, and how!

First half: The first half began gingerly for United, with Spurs looking more agile and better organized than their opponents. Aaron Lennon in particular created a lot of trouble down the right channel, and Evra had a hard time putting a leash on him. United had plenty of possession but created very few chances. Mid-way through the first half, Spurs were piling up the pressure, closing down players and hitting on the counter. Aaron Lennon, along with Corluka, proved to be the danger men, feeding Darren Bent and Modric, respectively — both scoring within three minutes of each other.  Old Trafford was stunned into silence, and United’s desperate efforts to snatch one goal back before the interval were in vain. 

Second half: Going into the break, I’m sure every United fan — including me — was tense and anxious, thinking time after again how things couldn’t get any worse. Overcoming a two goal lead against a spirited Spurs side wasn’t exactly going to be a stroll in the park, shall we say. And United got their lucky break when Carrick was brought down by Gomez in the penalty box. Up came Ronaldo and he smashed it down the middle of the net, and Old Trafford erupted! The flood gates were well and truly open.

The crowd was a huge catalyst, cheering and urging the players was just what the doctor ordered, and the rest of the game was all one-way traffic. Spurred by the first goal, United played on a different level altogether. And the faithfuls didn’t have to wait long to see the culmination of a gem of a game and a comeback they’ll remember for a long time. Rooney, Ronaldo, Rooney again, and finally Berbatov, all scored in an amazing span of 14 minutes, where United upped the tempo, leaving Spurs and their fans shell-shocked. And just like that, it was all over. Spurs had the wind knocked out of them and they never recovered. United were left to celebrate a well-earned three points, and a performance that was a far cry from their dismal past outings. 

Turning point: The penalty awarded by referee Howard Webb will be the topic of much discussion over the next few days; but there’s little doubt that it proved instrumental in reviving United’s sagging spirit. Once they were on their way on the scorecard, there was no looking back.

Originally published: April 26, 2009

Football Sports

Premiership weekend

I’m a Manchester United fan, let me make that clear from the outset. Always have been, always will be. I’ve been following their fortunes since a year before their epic treble winning season. When legends were made of the likes of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Peter Schmeichel. Good times!

But I digress from the present. The Premiership is delicately poised right now, with Liverpool biting hard at United’s heel, fighting tooth and nail to dislodge the champions of their lofty perch. However, with six games to go, United are in control of their destiny — three points clear of Liverpool, and a game in hand. To their credit the Merseysiders have looked inspired and hungry to reclaim the Premiership crown, and outperformed United on the pitch both in terms of form and goals scored. Rest assured they won’t stop staking their claim until the very end.

With a six points lead, if we win today, chances are it will be long over before we reach the very end. United hold the key to a title race that in all likelihood shouldn’t go to the wire, or I won’t have any nails left. They host a rejuvenated Tottenham Hotspurs later in the day, and a victory today should put another nail in Liverpool’s coffin. But Liverpool have the chance to go on top briefly if they win their match against Hull, and put the pressure back on United. Their only hope is that United cracks and drops some points.

Team news: We’ll miss Gary Neville and John O’Shea, both picking up injuries in the win against Portsmouth the other night; let’s hope we aren’t doubly vulnerable on the right flank. That shouldn’t be the case, in all likelihood, as news of Wes Brown fit and raring to go couldn’t have come at a better time.

Forget Ronaldo, but Carlos Tevez has dropped hints that he may leave United at the end of the season, and Fergie’s voiced his fears over the development. More of that here. He’s a fan favourite, they love him at Old Trafford, admire his work ethic and commitment on the pitch, and hail the fact that he’s scored some crucial goals for the team in the past. But I understand his side of the story, disappointed as he is for not getting enough starts this season. I think the team will suffer a big blow if Teva leaves. 

Predictions: Should be a close game, with United’s below-par recent performances and Spurs’ resurgent spirit. I think we’ll nick it 2-1. Let’s see, should be a good one.

Liverpool should easily crush Hull 3-0 or more, given the form they are in.

Originally published: April 25, 2009

Football Sports

Alive and kicking!

Okay, here we go.

After a year gone by doing nothing but just sitting on this domain, I’ve been thinking about getting my act together and start spending some time here on my personal corner on the Web. On a day when my boss asked me to take the day off work and relax, I decided to roll my plan into action.

And voila! here it is in front of you, the culmination of an afternoon’s work. Hopefully, now that I have a platform in place, I should post here more often.

Until later then, cheerio.

Originally published: April 24, 2009