Let’s face it, we love MMA and other combat sports because the likelihood of having a draw result is as slim as England winning a soccer world cup(other than the fact they have more talent lmao). However when they actually do happen, SCRUTINY is(rightly so)on the judges. Jan Blanchowicz of Poland is a former Light Heavyweight champion whilst Mago Ankalaev is ranked 4th in the division looking to win and edge closer to challenging for the title in the future. I was a bit on the disappointed side when it came to Ankalaev, he had the advantage of youth on his side, so why not wear down your opponent early in the first three rounds and go for the jugular in the last two? Both landed significant punches in the first round, so quite difficult to separate them in the first round. One could see the confidence rising in Jan in the second round. Just look at the strikes to the leg of Mago that not only bruised it but forced a change in tact from the Russian who now adopted more takedown attempts.
That is the Round that made Mago not win this match and justified the judges decision. Yes, indeed , one bad round can cost you a fight. That uphill task got a lot steeper in the third. Ankalaev now had a big bullseye on that right leg couldn’t come close to Jan and land anything worth mentioning. The fourth saw Mago come to his MMA senses started grappling with Jan on the mat. That saw the Russian ratchet up his significant strike rate giving the judges a headache or two. To Mago’s credit he thoroughly redeemed himself in round five but like I said it came a little too late. As earlier said the older Blanchowicz would get tired in the later rounds and so he did. Those knee shots from Ankalaev did most of the damage and the Russian countered with more takedowns. For a moment in that fifth round I thought the ref would stop the fight in Mago’s favor. Jan was pinned to the fence under a sleeper like hold , managed to get out but received a series of brutal punches whilst on the mat. With the match over I gave it to Ankalaev on the bases of winning three out of 5 rounds with one dominant one. However one Judge scored it in Jan’s favor by one point the other scored it the other way by the same margin. So it was left to the one judge who scored it a draw and he was well within his rights to. Jan seems to acknowledge defeat by raising Mago’s hand at the end there. Oh well, sometimes in sports you steal one at the death like soccer.
This winter world cup has both disappointed and impressed on so many levels. I questioned the wisdom of awarding the next best spectacle in world sports to a country with a population roughly the size of Chicago. It has been well run despite concerns about the alcohol ban and strict Muslim dress code(all hail Miss Croatia).Although smuggling alcohol into a stadium of a foreign country that despises it isn’t advisable, the good thing is Qatar recognizes they need at least designated spots(sports and alcohol are inseparable twins that’s for sure). Today I want to talk about the major events that have taken place in the last fortnight or so, the good, the bad, the ugly. What the ugly teaches us is what not to do in the future , so I am kind of a big fan of those ugly moments. That’s not to say I will highlight them more. Now let’s get to it.
I rejoiced like a lot of other fans when Samuel Eto’o, a former African footballer of the year, was elected president of Fecafoot(Cameroon soccer federation) this year. Not only do we need more soccer people in those high offices, we need people who actually know all about administration too like Eto’o with his experience in Europe. Now Cameroon hosted a great Africa Cup of Nations last year but the way they made it to Qatar didn’t go down well with some people. Like the Algerians who they beat in the play off to make it there. You see some quarters allege that Samuel Eto’o used his financial muscle to get to the referee of the second leg playoff game in Algeria. Like Algerian blogger Sadouni SM. Look I am for asking uncomfortable questions but this dude takes the cake. Asking a guy why he bribed the referee is bound to get you in a spot of bother. Violence has no place in sports for whatsoever reason, given the title he now holds, Eto’o should have known better and controlled his temper. Some people aren’t worth it. This happened outside the Brazil vs South Korea game and has put a damper on an otherwise good tournament. So I call this a draw, phrasing questions should be professionally done if you are a media guy , if you are a president of a whole association you should behave like a gentleman.
Video technology is sports has leveled the playing field so much that one can hardly get away with what happened in the 1966 final and the Round of 16 in South Africa 2010 between Germany and England. Like everything else under the sun, VAR has been anything but perfect. It all started in the very first match, the hosts gifted a reprieve from the second minute goal from Ener Valencia on an offside call against the keeper. The decisions such as offside and ball going out of bounds should be routine and straight forward, that I have no complain over. It is decisions on red cards and handball that have caused quite a ruckus since VAR was introduced some three years back. So it was a major surprise that the VAR team of 6 people got the Japan vs Spain “ball out of bounds” call WRONG. I know what you thinking. You probably saying the ball has a sensor(Connected Ball Technology) in it that sends a signal if the ball goes out of bounds, that is if it doesn’t touch the outside of the line. Like most technology it IS ACCURATE TO A CERTAIN LEVEL OF SIGNIFICANCE. For example tennis’s HAWKEYE is accurate to 3.6 millimeters. So for CBT , there could be a small but present margin for error. Bottom line, some decisions should be left to the on field ref like these ones. As a result the Germans headed home and the Japanese went into the last 16.
This is the best world cup in terms of upsets. It all started with the Saudis showing little respect to Messi and Co in their opening match with Argentina with a scintillating second half display. Japan also shocking the Germans in the second half of their opening encounter made the world take notice of the rising East. The best thing for me in the last two weeks has been the Stadiums and the goals. Best stadiums of the WHOLE lot has been the Al Janoub Stadium and Stadium 974. The aerial view of the Al Janoub has a peculiar shape of a sensitive part of the female anatomy which has endeared itself to fans. The shape is actually representative of the sails of traditional Dhow boats of Qatar. Stadium 974 is made of 974 shipping containers and will be decommissioned right after the tournament (problem of white elephants solved) with the containers recycled and donated to needy countries(Ah, Qatar the darling of the environmentalists) . No worries about the notorious Qatar heat, lots of air conditioning in the stadiums.The goals have been marvelous. What comes to mind is the two Richarlison goals against Serbia and Korea Republic for Brazil showing that JOGA BONITA is still alive and kicking. Surprised though by the lack of direct free kick goals, Marcus Rashford with a laudable beauty against Wales though. The ageless Ivan Perisic scored the header of the tournament with his goal against Japan in the Round of 16(Best one I have seen in a long time at the World Cup).
Germans are always expected to do well at world cup but at times this is a noose around their necks. Expectations are always high, but they come into this world cup with the bulk of their 2014 winners gone. Burden is now on young shoulders chiefly Jamal Musiala. Not a bad player at all to burden but we sometimes forget he is only 19 in his first tournament. At the center of their poor showing this year has been the selection of players by Hansie Flick. The former Bayern coach kept faith with Thomas Muller as his number 9 against Costa Rica in a match he had to win despite the impressive form of Niclas Fullkrug. This came back to bite him as chance after chance was wasted(my God Germany could have won this one even by 9 goals). Costa Rica’s win against the Japanese on match day 2 gave them hope of making it to the last 16. For a while it looked like fairy tales do come true. A freak own goal by Neuer had the Costa Ricans hope. Its been the feature of Die Mannschaft this year, defensive lapses against inferior opponents.
With Spain all but assured a place in the last 16, one couldn’t blame them for fielding a much changed side. The Japanese took the lead early in the second half in controversial circumstances from Tanaka(ball from naked eye crossed the byline before put back into play). That woke up the Germans (most importantly Flick) as they brought on the heavy hitters in Goetze, Fullkrug and Harvetz. The last two scoring the extra three goals to see the Germans through to the win but they left it to other people hands in as far as the long term picture is concerned. There will be heavy inquests from the German soccer loving population. So who is to blame this time(for once no Joachim Low to hand that honor)? Hansie Flick’s starting selection left a lot to be desired. Manuel Neuer is now one foot into the retirement room and so is Muller. Neuer’s errors nearly cost Germany the game here. The sequence of promoting assistant coaches hasn’t worked this time for me, I would like to see Jurgen Klopp have a goal at the national side. The Costa Ricans can be proud of the way they are clinical in front of goal. So clinical that they scored two goals with only 31% possession. The eleven goals they conceded in three goals shows where their real issues are. Ironically the 4-2 score line was the same score line when these two last met in the world cup in 2006.
The funniest thing about this Belgian team is that they are ranked higher than Spain and France in the FIFA rankings but they come into this world cup with BIG NAMES in terrible form for their club sides. Talk about the Eden Hazards and the Castagnes of this world. Reputations count for absolutely zero in soccer. Morocco were full value for their victory here, my heart warmed up to Ziyech’s redemption mission at this world cup. He has had a torrid 2022/2023 season at Chelsea having lost his place when Graham Potter showed up. He was a thorn on the side of Castagne all match capping off with a mega assist to Zakaria in injury time. This was the Ajax Ziyech as I knew him. Morocco were full of energy , enthusiasm and most importantly did not show any respect to their opponents which has been the downfall of many an African side at previous world cups. The Belgians started with Batshuayi upfront with Lukaku still missing and to be fair he held the line well but Michy has never been that prolific in his career.
In as much as Courtois is a marvelous goalkeeper, he is prone to a brain freeze or two once in a while. The hero of the UCL final was culpable for Romain Saiss’s opening goal. The former Wolves man was credited with the goal but Sabiri’s vision to catch out the Real Madrid keeper cannot be understated. Spain failed to renew the old guard on time and paid for it by poor showings in 2014 and 2018. Belgium are heading in that direction. Clearly Alderweireld and Vertonghen have seen better days, both in their late thirties were caught out on those set plays far too easily. I am in the mood to be critical today. Alex Witsel now, very little protection for the vulnerable back four. Kevin De Bruyne had his worst game for a long time (and it doesn’t happen often), absolutely little link up play with Michy. The good now, Mazraoui of Bayern was huge at left back, we all know how KDB streaks to the flank if he doesn’t find space in the middle of attack. Morocco didn’t feel the absence of their impressive first choice keeper Bounou of Sevilla at all, replacement Munir looked assured. Morocco will face already eliminated Canada ,knowing a win for Croatia when they face Belgium will send them through regardless of their result.
This is the GOLDEN GENERATION OF CANADIAN SPORTS we are witnessing this year. Canada’s young upstart Davis Cup team is the best of the lot, no disrespect to the Canadian Men’s Soccer team at all. They have two top 20 players in Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger Aliassime who played my play of the week this week. Facing Australia in this year’s final, Canada had taken a 1-0 lead in Malaga, Spain thanks to Denis winning against Kokkinakis in the earlier match. Felix now faced Alex De Minaur in the second match. Not only did he romp to victory in straight sets, he fired an impressive 22 winners past the 19 year old Aussie. Now my play of the week, check out first set 4-3 Canada deuce on the Aussie racquet. Is it possible to have a twin in tennis(not birth twin but a twin in sense of your approach to points)?
Felix is the younger version of Djokovic in terms of point construction and defense. The moment of the point where De Minaur was in trouble was mid point when he decided to go central with his backhand. From there Felix was finding corner after corner, getting back into the point was always going to be difficult for Alex. To his credit, Alex put up a valiant fight to keep in the point on the baseline, even the lob wasn’t bad. Check out the footwork by Felix for the overhead. Key to perfecting the overhead smash is to focus on the ball not on your opponent , deciding where you are going to place the ball early too. Couldn’t have done it any better. Crowd goes wild, Felix is something special. Canada winning their first Davis Cup title, second time of asking in the final, well deserved.
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