Friday, 11 July 2014

Friday Five: Le Tour en Angleterre

Philip Davies (MP for Shipley) has called for the CEO of Welcome to Yorkshire (Gary Verity) to be recognised in the next honours list. It's not that far-fetched; 2.5 million people watched Le Tour in Yorkshire, with the scenery and residents displayed to their best advantage. 

Despite some utter selfie-taking morons thinking they were more important than the race and causing crashes and potential harm to the athletes who have trained for years for the opportunity to participate, the British leg of arguably the world's greatest cycle race has been a resounding success.

5 Great Things about Le Tour in Britain:
  1. Yorkshire: dry stone walls; green rolling hills; acres of moors; spectacular villages... and coloured sheep
  2. The history: just as the helicopter flies above the beautiful chateaux of France; so we got brilliant aerial shots of castles, colleges, stately homes and abbeys - stunning
  3. The crowds - the number of people who turned up to shout and support and add colour and enthusiasm was fantastic to see. And the road closures and the publicity and the all-round welcoming spirit can only bode well for the future of cycling in the country.
  4. London - the capital looks great with cyclists streaming through it, past the sights of Big Ben, Tower Bridge, the Tower of London and so many more
  5. The Red Arrows flypast at the beginning, with Ian Stannard in the back seat.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

2014 World Cup: Today's Talking Point - The Pain of Penalties

Penalties are like democracy, which, in the words of Winston Churchill, 'is the worst form of government, except for all the others.' For the neutral, they provide thrilling entertainment, for the team that wins, they are wonderful; for the team that doesn't they are crushing. And either way, you have to live with the result.

But what is the alternative? Knock-out games need a result. You could make the teams play on and on and on, adding further periods of extra time by the half hour until there is a result. This gives the opposition time to reply and sets a fair expectation - as in those interminable tie-breaks in tennis. You could go for the 'golden goal' option (this used to be called 'sudden death' but the term was deemed to have 'negative connotations' and removed from use in 1993) as FIFA have sometimes done.

This was basically a 'next goal wins' scenario whereby if the match was drawn at the end of normal time, there were two extra halves of 15 minutes played each way and if a goal was scored in this time then the game was won instantly. If not, the match then proceeded to penalties. Detractors complained that this led teams to play defensively (as if this were a bad thing) focusing on not conceding a goal rather than scoring one. 

Then there was the 'silver goal' introduced in 2002, whereby if a team scored in extra time, that half was concluded and the game was not stopped automatically, but if the goal had come in the first half, then the second half wasn't played. Furthermore, it was up to each tournament to decide which rules they were going to implement. Confusing? Yes, well that might well be why FIFA resorted to penalties.

Some say penalties are a lottery. Not really. If you are going into a tournament that may be decided on penalties (and a fifth of all World Cup knock-out matches since 1974 have been decided on penalties), then you practice taking them, and the side that performs best at penalties wins. This is proven by empirical evidence. 

England have been involved in three penalty shoot-outs at the World Cup; they have lost all of them. After their shoot-out defeat (by Argentina) in 1998, manager Glenn Hoddle admitted that his squad had not practiced taking penalties. Prior to the 2014 World Cup, England had lost more penalty shoot-outs than any other nation. Incidentally the teams that have won most penalty shoot-outs in the World Cup are Argentina and Germany. Bring on the final.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

World Cup 2014: Today's Talking Point - The Case for the Defence

What else could we possibly talk about other than that defeat? Hosts Brazil, who haven't lost a home game since 1975, let in seven goals; five in nineteen minutes in the first half. The final score of 7-1 to Germany could have been greater. And every non-partisan supporter cheered for football.

The Brazilian team has been appalling in this World Cup. Their football has let them down; they have relied too much on Neymar and have left gaping holes in defence, as Germany exploited to their delight and Brazil's bemusement.

Brazil aren't the only ones; the defending at this World Cup hasn't exactly been spectacular. All the focus in the early stages was on Neymar, Suarez, Ronaldo, Messi, van Persie, Robben, and even Rooney, but no one bothered about what was going on (or not) at the back. The games in the group stages were largely goal-fests, which may have entertained the masses, but it didn't bode well for the future of football. It was clear that the teams that were going to succeed in this World Cup would be any one which paid equal attention to both ends of the pitch: bringing a fresh interpretation to the cliche, 'a game of two halves'.

But it was more than that. The tricks, flicks and flairs of traditional Brazilian football were infrequent in this tournament. Crowds have been turned off as the boys from Brazil have hacked, fouled, shoved, barged and kicked their way through to the semi-final. The fact that they have appeared to win more than their fair share of referee's calls has also looked ugly. It has been far from aesthetically pleasing, and football fans are unimpressed. And so there are very few regrets as the Germans go marching on. So long, samba; the party's over.