Celtic scraped themselves into a healthy advantage by defeating Helsingborgs 2-0 in the Champion’s League playoff first leg last night but the Scots had little to celebrate. In fact, aside from their two moments of brilliance and/or luck, the only man really keeping them in the game was an Englishman – step forward Fraser Forster.
Time and time again, the big Northerner rose up in his area to punch away inswinging corners and crosses that never had any chance of reaching the heads of the Swedes. He flapped on one occasion, rushing out to slap away another threat but missing and seeing it spin out behind him for a goal kick, but it was an extremely solid performance from an English ‘keeper that gets little press coverage. In fact, the only thing that really irked me about him was his incessant time-wasting that earned him a caution early on, but he was probably told to do that.
It brings me back to a conversation (if you can call it that) on Roy Hodgson’s Euro 2012 selection, particularly the choice of untested Jack Butland to replace the slightly more experienced John Ruddy in the England 23. Of course, Joe Hart was always likely to wear the gloves from the first minute of the tournament but should anything have happened to him, we’d have had to turned to a Championship ‘keeper who had a torrid time in World Cup 2010, eventually losing his place to the ancient David James, or a man whose highest league experience was the fourth level of English football. Why them, when there is a wealth of talent throughout Britain?
Of course, it never helps when players remove themselves from selection, believing only they should be first choice in their position and they refuse to play second fiddle to someone younger than them. That spark of brilliance has already ruled out Paul Robinson and Ben Foster, two shot-stoppers I’d include in my England team in an instant (although it’d help if Robinson played for anyone but Blackburn). Then you have the likes of Scott Carson and David Stockdale, players the England coach has dabbled with but never given any really serious thought to making them numero uno. Add in Fraser Forster, Stephen Bywater, Steve Harper, Frank Fielding – talented players who have never been given a chance because there is always someone better out there. Or, at least, that’s what they’d have you believe.
So, if Forster comes out next fortnight or whenever and plays another blinder, surely ol’ Woy will have to have a think and kick out young Butland, who only proved himself against some other youngsters. Then again, with Hart in the frame, does it even matter?
In the fourth day of the Vuelta a Espana, the big talking point was the crash of the current red jersey holder and race leader Alejandro Valverde and the idea that Team Sky took advantage of the fall. Well yes, they did, and good on them. I’m sick of hearing this “unwritten rule” that says cyclists should stop and wait for a fallen rider if they’re involved in a crash, especially if it’s the race leader. What a load of rubbish! Fair enough if it’s something out of everyone’s control, like the carpet tacks incident in the Tour de France, but a crash is a crash and it was Valverde’s fault that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. His team, Movistar, were at the other end once before and they certainly didn’t wait, so it’s all swings and roundabouts, really.
So yes, Froome and his team really did benefit from the fall, as the GC hopeful is now just 1 second away from wearing the red jersey. I admit, despite my scepticism yesterday, I do prefer La Vuelta’s scoring system to Le Tour’s. Of course, being a cycling novice, I’m still completely lost, but I’ve grasped that a lot of emphasis is placed on the leaders reaching the checkpoints ahead of their rivals, as they are awarded bonus seconds (or should that be deducted? Who knows?) to their overall cumulative time. I haven’t worked out the fine intricacies of this way of racing yet, but it seems to blow everything wide open. In France, a lot of riders had the exact same time all the way through, as everyone that crosses the finish line in a group receives the same time (which I find stupid, but never mind).
Here, despite that still happening, those bonus six seconds or so picked up around the route really affect the standings, as we see with Froome’s tiny deficit. All he needs to do is finish in front of Rodriguez by winning one checkpoint and he can even finish the race with him – Froome would hold the red jersey. Exciting times I’m sure you won’t agree, but, after one day of moodiness, I’m really getting into this Vuelta. Ole!
Sailing’s back! Wait, nobody’s cheering? Well, it’s not exactly a spectator sport, is it? I’ve been seeing yachts sail by in Bridlington Bay for over a decade now and I haven’t given a toss who was winning (or even if anybody was actually winning).
Still, Ben Ainslie, fresh from his fourth consecutive Olympic gold medal, has entered himself into the America’s Cup World Series – a sort of practice run for the real thing next year – under his Ben Ainslie Racing (BAR) banner and he’s hoping to build up enough experience for a later edition of the America’s Cup. I admit, I know nothing about sailing’s most prestigious competition, but one look at the size of the boats that are used reveals a completely different side to racing. Ben’s with a team now, one more experienced at this form of sailing than the Finn rider, and he wants to lodge a serious challenge for the next America’s Cup. I wish him the best but it’s hard to see him in a race and understand he’s not a true contender.
Fortunately, he’s not the only British hopeful in San Francisco this week; Chris Draper, a 2004 bronze medallist, has left Team Korea and joined Luna Rossa Piranha, a boat he has already won with earlier in the year. Draper and the Italians are joined by Paul Campbell-James in the sister yacht, the Luna Ross Swordfish. Both are British helmsmen but will be leading a primarily Italian crew, whereas Ainslie’s BAR is the foundation for a truly British future America’s Cup challenge.
Loads of county cricket games began yesterday but, because they span over several days, I can’t bring myself to report on any scores yet. Marcus Trescothick made his 50th first-class century of his career against Sussex, which hardly sounds like a first-class match, but there you go. Isn’t it time they got rid of County Championship games and stuck to the single day/limited overs form? It’s bad enough in international Test Cricket, but when two counties slog it out for a week in front of less than 10,000 fans? Sheesh.
The penultimate round of the International Championship Qualifiers saw legend Jimmy White come and go without too much of a fight, losing 5-6 to Aditya Mehta, who has already beaten Mike Dunn and Michael Leslie after beginning in the first round. Today, though, is the appearance of the big guns. The likes of Mark Davis, Barry Hawkins, Dominic Dale, Peter Ebdon and Ali Carter are all vying for the final places in the Chinese ranking tournament.