Monday, June 30, 2008

Three Explosive Women

Question: What do the films Day Night Day Night, The Terrorist and Dil Se have in common?

Answer: All three have female leads who are on a mission to blow themselves up for their cause.

Motives and Organizations:

Neither film clearly spells out the exact reasons and organizations the women are seeking to kill themselves for, with Day Night Day Night being the most vague of the three movies. In Santosh Sivan's The Terrorist we can guess the identity of the group which is training the terrorists because the setting of Southern India & the bombing method evokes memories of how Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by a woman suicide bomber in 1991. Whereas in Mani Ratnam's Dil Se, a few background scenes gave the cause to be related to conflicts in North Eastern India.


  • Day Night Day Night

  • : The story is more interested with the character's last day before she heads to New York for her mission. We never meet the people who are directing her for this mission and even though a few of her accomplices come to meet her, they are hidden behind masks. For some reason, everyone in the film is so friendly when talking with the female suicide bomber, who is extremely polite herself in answering questions regarding the mission's execution. She is completely relaxed to go on her mission and only when she reaches New York does she show signs of weakness and nervousness. In one scene, she phones her family but does not have courage to speak on the phone. This is the only film of the three where the girl attempts to query God when she finds herself afraid and weak to carry on with her mission.

  • The Terrorist

  • : The story starts off at the training ground where Malli (Ayesha Dharker) is getting her education in killing people. She is picked to be a human bomber and we follow her as she heads to a village before she will get the call to kill the 'minister'. Along the way, she befriends a little boy and gets better acquainted with a family in the village.

  • Dil Se

  • : A love story which seeks to pierce through the surface and understand what true love is about, including the seven stages of love.

    Character(s) in focus:

  • Day Night Day Night

  • : The movie stays completely focused on the female suicide bomber at all times with her accomplices hidden behind masks.

  • The Terrorist

  • : Even though the center of attention is Malli, the film includes brief screen time for a little boy she befriends, a tiny cameo for a militant boy she has a fling with, an older grandmother in a coma along with Malli's trainers (without masks).

  • Dil Se

  • : Manisha Koirala plays the suicide bomber but since Shah Rukh Khan is present in the movie, the camera clings to him quite a bit. On top of that, most people will remember this film as the debut of Preity Zinta whose bubbly character lights up the screen.


  • Day Night Day Night

  • : Concrete jungle -- a chaotic New York city with the skyscrapers, bright lights and throng of tourists. Also there are plenty of food places for the female character to spend her last few dollars on and also to lessen her stress. A candy apple, two pretzels and a single slice of tomato are the items she feeds on. Incidentally, she gets charged 0.65 cents for a slice of tomato.

  • The Terrorist

  • : Lush Jungle -- the forests of Southern India form both the training ground for terrorists and serve as a beautiful cinematic backdrop. Since Santosh Sivan is one of the best cinematographers in Indian cinema, the background is perfect for him to capture prize shots of lotuses, dew drops on leaves, calm waters and the enchanting forests. On top of that, Sivan uses the environment as symbology to depict certain incidents in the film. For example, a lotus flower sinking in the water foreshadows the coming death of an innocent child.

  • Dil Se

  • : The entire Indian subcontinent is a backdrop for this rich musical. From the heart pounding train song of Chaiyya Chaiyya shot in Ooty (Southern India), to the Indian deserts in Western India to Kashmir in the North with key scenes taking place in the capital New Delhi. Santosh Sivan is the cinematographer of this film which was released a year before his directorial venture The Terrorist.

    Background score and music:

  • Day Night Day Night

  • : Shot with a digital camera, we do not get any background score but only the sounds that echo around the character, be it in her hotel room or in the traffic jammed city.

  • The Terrorist

  • : There is a background score which attempts to raise tension and give clues about the oncoming danger but for me, the film's images were far more memorable and powerful than the music.

  • Dil Se

  • : This film's music and songs have been some of the best to come out of Bollywood in the last decade. Of course, with lyrics by Gulzar and music by A.R Rehman, the songs were sure to leave a lasting impression. But the videos do justice to the poetic lyrics. The most popular song was Chaiyya Chayyia which featured soulful vocals provided by Sukhwinder Singh & Sapna Awasti. Also the memorable video with a dazzling Malaika on top of a train has played countless times on Indian channels around the World.

    Note: Spike Less used Chaiyya Chayyia in the opening credits of Inside Man.

    Even though I love Chaiyya Chayyia, the song that cast a spell on me was E Ajnabi (O Stranger). I can remember quite a few rain soaked nights that I heard this song on.

    Overall impressions & comments:

    Even though I thought highly of the cinematography in The Terrorist, I was not impressed by how the character's decision process was simplified; Malli's decision to take her life was difficult but the emotional hooks used to ease her choice were not to my liking. In fact, I felt the emotional hooks (grandmother in a coma to name one) were typical of most Bollywood films and had no place in a much superior film structure that Sivan was trying to construct.

    Although there are no easy emotional hooks in Day Night Day Night, the overall friendly tone of the film's first half seemed a bit odd to me. I can understand the intent of Day Night Day Night was to remove any political agenda and only focus on the female character but the film appears to be too light weight and more of an experiment to make a meaningful film compared to a film like Paradise Now, which was completely gripping and engaging.

    My most memorable moments of Dil Se center around the songs and a few collected scenes involving the chance encounters between Shah Rukh Khan and Manisha Koirala's characters. The film was supposed to usher in a new wave of Indian film making as it was the first collaboration of heavy weights such as Mani Ratnam, Shekhar Kapur and Ram Gopal Varma. The three directors were supposed to work on more films together but after the box office failure of Dil Se, no other projects between the three took place and they all went on to more fame with their separate paths -- Kapur with Elizabeth; RGV with Satya, Company and other Mumbai underworld films; Mani Ratnam with A Peck on the Cheek, Yuva and Guru.

    Sunday, June 29, 2008

    And in other news, continued.....

    If the papers can repeat like a broken record, then so can I. Two weeks ago, I posted a link to a NY Times article which as usual blamed the increasing oil prices on rising demand from China and India. Well this sunday's NY Times has another article which gets a bit creative when blaming increasing oil prices to problems in Nigeria along with sharply declining production in Mexico and slowing production in Russia, the North Sea and Venezuela, all in the face of steadily rising demand by fast-growing behemoths like China and India..

    If it were not for the addition of these inventive words fast-growing behemoths.. then the article would have looked quite stale!

    Graham Bowley's article has the sensational headline:
    One Reason Gas Is Emptying Your Wallet: Nigeria

    Wow. Really? You mean this is a new development? What about the mid 1990's when crisis in the Niger Delta caused the prices of oil to jump to $50 a barrel? Haven't things in Nigeria being in a downward turn since then? Apparently not according to Mr. Bowley because he is really concerned about the current problem.

    How about the following headline?
    One Reason Gas Is Emptying Your Wallet: Because you drive a gas guzzling vehicle!!

    Come on Mr. Bowley, why don't you mention that? Why go on blaming the rest of the world when people all around you are wasting gas by driving gigantic behemoth vehicles!

    It does seem that the editor of the NY Times section wanted to balance things out because right below Mr. Bowley's article is the following article which shows how cheap gas is in America.

    I guess no one stops to think that it is quite strange that oil extracted from Canada and transported to the US is cheaper at the pumps for Americans than for Canadians who live around the oil fields. Why? Because of higher gas taxes in Canada. And errr, something about a Free Trade agreement between Canada and the USA as well...I should not mention that though...

    Instead, Daniel Plainview cue music...

    Euro 2008: Underdogs no more!!!!!

    Sunday, June 29, 2008:
  • Germany 0 - 1 Spain(Torres 33rd minute)

  • It was not a great final but Spain did enough to squeak by a completely inept and awful German team to win their first major tournament in 44 years. After being the pre-tournaments for a majority of the World Cups and European Champions since the mid 1990's, Spain have finally delivered a winning team. Overall, Spain went unbeaten through their 6 games, winning their groups games 4-1 vs Russia, 2-1 vs Sweden, 2-1 vs Greece followed by a penalty shoot-out win over Italy in the Quarter Finals (0-0 after 120 min, 4-2 on kicks) and a 3-0 result over Russia in the Semi's. Spanish striker David Villa, who was injured for the final, ends the tournament as top-scorer with 4 goals.

    Germany on their part were nothing but drama queens. The German captain Ballack was more concerned about showing his anger at the officials and running around shouting at them and even at his team-mates. They never tested the Spanish goal-keeper and despite having all three forwards on the pitch near the end, could not even get the ball on target.

    Tuesday, June 24, 2008

    Euro 2008: Films vs Football

    With Italy getting knocked out by Spain on penalties in the Quarter-Finals, my Euro 2008 prediction is gone out the window. I had predicted Italy to beat Germany in the final with Portugal and France also making the semi's. As it stands, only Germany has made the semi's from my predicted four teams, with Germany standing a great chance to make the final.

    So now is a good time as any to compare the Euro 2008 Film Festival results with the soccer games.

    Films vs Football Comparison:

    Only three countries had both their films and soccer teams advance to the quarter finals. Portugal and Spain won their respective groups in both cases with Germany finishing second in both Euro 2008 and the film festival. Interestingly, the winners of Group B, C and D in both cases ended up with a rating of 9 -- 9/10 for the film festival, and 9 points (or 3 straight wins) in the soccer tournament.

    Only one quarter final was similar for both the film and soccer tournament with the same outcome, Germany winning on both counts. Spain also triumphed in both film and soccer results.

    Soccer Film Festival Final:
    Score: Poland 3 (Acting, Story, Cinematography) - 3 Romania (Acting, Story, Direction)

    Winner: Romania (12:08 East of Bucharest), on a subjective penalty shoot-out.

    Euro 2008: Semi's overlook

    I would honestly prefer a Turkey vs Russia soccer final as both teams provided some of the best soccer memories during this tournament. Russia have played the best football of the tournament in their perfect demolition of Holland and Sweden in their last two games. Turkey on the other hand have provided the best drama of any team with three late thrillers. Turkey stunned the hosts Switzerland with a last gasp winner and followed that with 2 goals in the final few minutes to dump Czech Republic out of the tournament. But Turkey saved the biggest drama against Croatia in the Quarters. After Croatia scored what looked like a winning goal in the 118th minute, Turkey shocked everyone by tying the game up with a few seconds left on the clock. Croatia were in such a state of shock that they could not even put away their penalties and were easily brushed aside in the shoot out.

    However, Turkey is missing quite a few players via injury and suspensions for their semi-final encounter against Germany. I am not sure where a Turkish goal will come from with the absence of Nihat, Tuncay Şanli and Arda Turan. On top of that Turkey might struggle to fill the bench with enough substitutes so it will be a very tough job for their wafer thin squad. I cannot look at the German team without thinking of their cheating ways. Against Portugal, the third German goal was illegal as Ballack pushed Paulo Ferreira out of the way before heading Germany's third goal. But the officials did not see the offense and the goal was allowed to stand. On top of that, Christoph Metzelder and Ballack faked their dives and injuries against Portugal. Everytime I saw the bearded Metzelder and Ballack, I could not avoid seeing the huge CHEAT sign hanging over their heads. If Germany were that good, then why did some of their players (including their captain) need to cheat? Unfortunately, Germany might still stumble into the final due to the absent Turkish players rather than any brilliance on part of the German players. Nonetheless, it will be an emotional match with plenty of Turkish neighbourhoods across Germany tuned in.

    I am looking forward to the Spain - Russia game. I believe the first game between the two (Spain won 4-1 in the Group D game) can easily be ignored as the Russian defense was nervous and the team had no attacking bite. With the return of Arshavin, Russia is a completely different team altogether. Spain showed their shortcomings against Italy when a tactically clueless Italian team were successfully able to neutralize a talented Spanish side. The Italians were awful and one-dimensional; in every attack they only looked for Toni who was ineffective. On top of that, Italian coach Roberto Donadoni was unable to make any relevant changes and deprived the opportunity to inject some pace into a lethargic Italian team by not giving any chances to Quagliarella or Borriello. So the second semi-final will come down to a battle of wits with the two coaches (Guus Hiddink vs Luis Aragonés). If Russia can stop Xavi, Cesc (provided he starts) and Iniesta in the Spanish mid-field, then David Villa and Torres will be unable to inflict any damage. On the other hand, if Spain can somehow control Arshavin, then Russia will be done. For now, I am backing Russia to advance.

    What If......

    What if Eduardo was not injured for Croatia? Then Croatia would not have needed extra-time to beat Turkey!

    What if I had gone with my original Turkish film selection of Climates by Nuri Bilge Ceylan? Well then Turkey would have won the Euro 2008 Film festival!! Even though I gave Climates a rating of 9/10, its beautiful cinematography would have been enough for it to have edged the German, Polish and Romanian films. Unfortunately, Climates was not available back in Feb-March and I could not risk waiting until June to see the last remaining film festival selection.

    And finally......

    Overall, the soccer at Euro 2008 has been much better than the entire Euro 2004 & 2002 World Cup combined; Russia's 3-1 win over Holland is clearly the best international game I have seen in quite a few years. I enjoyed the 2006 World Cup as there were some lovely moments (Argentina's 24 pass goal against Serbia, Italy fielding 4 strikers against Germany in the semi's and France's neutralization of Brazil to name a few) so I cannot say that Euro 2008 is better than the 2006 World Cup but after a few dull opening days, Euro 2008 certainly kicked into life.

    [Update: Wed, June 25, 2008]
    As expected Germany reached the final of Euro 2008 with a 3-2 win over Turkey. But going by the 90 minute match, it was indeed a surprizing result as Turkey took the game to Germany. The make shift Turkish team shackled Germany and rendered them ineffective for a majority of the game until a late goal send Germany through. Turkey started the tournament by giving up a late second goal to Portugal but for the next three games, it was Turkey who scored the late goals. On Wed, after Klose had headed Germany into a 2-1 lead, Turkey tied things up with 4 minutes left on the clock. But the fairy tale came to an end as Lahm ended a neat passing move to score the late winner. Overall, Turkey played quite well and deserved to make the final.

    Note: The Klose goal was one that the entire world missed as a power outage in Basel took down all the satellite feeds.
    [Update: Thu, June 26, 2008]
  • Russia 0 - 3 Spain

  • For now, I am backing Russia to advance.

    Ha Ha. Shows how much I know. But then I also said...

    If Russia can stop Xavi, Cesc (provided he starts) and Iniesta in the Spanish mid-field, then David Villa and Torres will be unable to inflict any damage. On the other hand, if Spain can somehow control Arshavin, then Russia will be done.

    Obviously, Russia could not stop Cesc. Even though Mr. Aragonés, the Spanish coach, really wanted to hold Cesc back and only he knows why. So when Villa got injured, Aragonés brought on Cesc. But what if Villa was not injured? Would Cesc have come on? Sometimes, we never will know.

    So the final is between Germany and Spain, the two teams picked by a majority of journalists & soccer pundits to win the tournament. Germany was an easy pick to reach the final as they had no real competition from their side of the draw. Portugal didn't count because as long as they had Big Phil as their coach, they would never win anything. Yes I know Scolari won the World Cup with Brazil in 2002 but that was because none of the other teams gave a damn back in 2002, except Korea. The real tough draw was between Group C and Group D, where the likes of France, Italy, Holland and Spain would have battled it out. France were never a threat because their coach had his girlfriend in mind, Italy were too much in love with Toni to bother passing the ball to anyone else and Holland were in denial that Russia was playing the Dutch way of football to bother trying. So all Spain had to do was survive a clueless Italian team and then let Cesc do what he does best against Russia. Ofcourse, the Spanish plan involved an injury to David Villa and only then could Cesc come on. Simple really.

    Sunday, June 22, 2008

    French Stereotypes

    It is good to know that there are two men out there who are reaffirming the romantic stereotype normally associated with Frenchmen.

  • El Presidente:
  • In the last few months, there have been more articles written about French president Nicolas Sarkozy's wife than about his policies. A month ago, Doug Saunders of The Globe and Mail reviewed a year in Sarkozy's life with respect to 5 women. Ofcourse, it is the 5th women in that list, his wife Carla, that has been getting all the attention. When Sarkozy went to England at the end of March, the papers gushed all over Carla. Canadian papers followed the example as well. And on Sunday, the Carla bug touched down in the NY Times.

  • National team manager:
  • Then there is the strange case of Raymond Domenech. Moments after his French team got knocked out of Euro 2008, he apparently proposed to his girlfriend Estelle Denis in a television interview. A day later he tried to play the incident down but honestly, that was just bad timing.

    But what is interesting is this rumour regarding Ludovic Giuly and Estelle. This is the first I have heard of it but is this a reason why Giuly was dropped from the national team? In reality, there are better players who can play instead of Giuly for France but could his sending a text message to Domenech's girlfriend have cost him a place in the French national team? Not sure. What I don't understand is why Domenech dropped Robert Pires? I have felt that Domenech has been a bit vengeful in his team selections and does not often give valid reasons. For example: why were Sagna & Clichy not at the Euros?

    If the French team manager was more concerned about his girlfriend, then is it any wonder why he looked lost and unable to inspire his players? On the other hand, the French players showed no mental strength and were not at all interested in the games. Why did Thuram opt out of the final game against Italy? Were all the French players instead thinking of their women and how they would rather spend time with them on a beach somewhere rather than run around for 90 pointless minutes? We will never know.

    Saturday, June 21, 2008

    Euro 2008: Everyone stand back, the maestro is here

    He missed the first two games of Euro 2008 through suspension but since his return, Russia have been dazzling.

    Andrei Arshavin is a genius! His performance against Holland in the Quarter-finals was mesmerizing. As was the entire performance of Russia; they were faster and more agile than the Dutch. Russia passed the ball nicely and tried to carve open Holland on numerious occasions while Holland were pedestrian and only threatened to score a goal via free-kicks or crosses. Holland didn't deserve to tie the game up with 4 minutes left on the clock, but not to worry. Russia ran them off the park in extra-time and deserved their 3-1 win.

    Holland for all their counter-attacking football in the first two games could not manage a decent passing move in the entire 120 minutes against Russia.

    A new star has arrived. Ofcourse, Zenit St. Petersburg have known that for a while as was demonstrated by Arshavin's displays in their UEFA Cup victory.

    Soccer to Arshavin: Welcome. This game has needed someone like you!!

    I started watching the game back in 1988/89 because of Marco Van Basten; his goals and attacking play got me hooked to soccer. But pity that 20 years on as coach of the Dutch team, he lined up a team designed to counter-attack and not attack. He has used 2 holding midfielders so far in the tournament(Orlando Engelaar, Nigel de Jong) and against Russia, he once again went with the pair along with Kuyt up front. That meant that Holland had three players who were more useful for fouling opponents as opposed to breaking down defenses with clever play. And it showed. Holland were woeful against Russia and fully deserved to go out. Against Italy and France, when the Dutch took leads, they sat back and benefitted from the desperation on part of Italy and France to get an equalizer. But today against Russia, when they needed to do the hard part themselves, Holland were clueless.

    Thursday, June 19, 2008

    Imagining words through a cinematic lens

    Here's an open question:

    When you read a book (fiction or non-fiction) do you just read the words and absorb the essence or do you visualize the images that the words evoke? And if you form images, then how do those images get formed?

    In some cases, the writer goes to the effort to allow the reader to get a sense of the book’s surroundings but in other cases, the writer may leave it up to the reader to form their own visions. It is harder to form any visual images of the surroundings if one has never been to (or is familiar with) the places being mentioned in the book. Sometimes, I have found that films fill the gap by providing images of cities that I have not visited. There have been many cities that I learned about via cinema before I actually visited the places and then found my preconceptions to be either validated or corrected.

    The reason I am curious about that question is because a strange thing took place when I read Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone by Rajiv Chandrasekaran a few months ago. This book was on my planned reading list for a while but I kept putting it off. Before I picked up the book, I learned that Paul Greengrass would be directing a feature film based on the book. I figured this was a natural progression for Greengrass as he was advancing from pre-attack (United 93) to espionage (The Bourne Ultimatum) to post-attack (Green Zone). But what I didn't count on was that his name would distort my views while reading Chandrasekaran's words. Right from the opening pages when I read the words, I was not visualizing what Chandrasekaran intended; instead I kept seeing things as how Greengrass would shoot them in the movie. The Green Zone cafeteria suddenly presented plenty of close-up opportunities that Greengrass used in United 93 or The Bourne Ultimatum. And when Chandrasekaran left the cafeteria to go outside, well then things got even more clouded for me. I started visualizing things as per the check-point camera sequences from Brian De Palma's Redacted, a film which used plenty of hand-held camera footage.

    It took a while before I could get back to reading the words and forming my own visual images as opposed to imagining where the camera would hover around each character. Strange first there!

    It appears that nowadays for some popular books, the timeline between the book getting published and the film adaptation being made is getting reduced. Ofcourse, there was the case back in the early 90’s when the movie rights for John Grisham's The Firm were purchased even before the book was published. I never read the book but I did see the film. I can only imagine if the film studio had announced that Tom Cruise would be the lead before the book was printed, then that would have certainly ensured that a majority of the book’s readers visualized him while reading Grisham’s words.

    Ofcourse, it is also tricky when one attempts to read a book after seeing a film version of it. If I ever pick up Upton Sinclair’s Oil! in the future, I doubt if I can shrug off the shadow of Daniel Day Lewis’s character from There Will Be Blood.

    Wednesday, June 18, 2008

    Euro 2008: Anatomy of a failure

    After the final group games on Wednesday, June 18 the following are the 8 teams moving on to the Quarter-Finals:
    Portugal, Turkey, Croatia, Germany, Holland, Italy, Spain and Russia.

    While the following are the 8 teams going home:
    Czech Republic, Switzerland, Austria, Poland, Romania, France, Sweden, Greece.

    Prior to the tournament, Austria were labeled as the worst team out of the participating 16 nations. But after the first round games, Austria have redeemed themselves as they were far from the worst team. The worst teams in terms of points and goal difference are:

    Note: GF = Goals For, GA = Goals Against, GD = Goal Difference

  • Greece: The 2004 Fairy tale finally comes to an end

  • Back in Euro 2004, Greece were drawn in Group A along with hosts Portugal, Spain and Russia. Greece stunned the hosts Portugal with an opening day 2-1 win and followed that with a 1-1 tie against Spain before a 2-1 defeat to Russia. They edged through to the quarters on goal difference over Spain and won all their next 3 games by a margin of 1-0. Their wins were due to team-work and organization and not to skill and technical ability. This time around, Greece got 2 of the same group teams from Euro 2004 in Spain and Russia, along with Sweden. In the end, the other teams were clearly a class above Greece in terms of on the ball ability and Greece could not manage to get away with their set-piece and defending acts like 4 years ago.

  • France: Les Terrible! The French rot continues from 2002

  • This French team was doomed for failure even before the tournament began due to Raymond Domenech's awful team selections. At left-back, Domenech picked Patrice Evra ahead of Gael Clichy; at right back, he picked Willy Sagnol ahead of Bacary Sagna. Both Clichy and Sagna were voted by their peers in the English Premier league Team of the Season and if Domenech had watched any English league games, he would have known of Clichy's pace and ability to offer options down the wings. Sagna was one of the best players for Arsenal and he would have brought strength & leadership to an ailing French defense. Even though Sagna was injured for the last few weeks of Arsenal's season, he was never given a chance to prove his fitness either. On top of that Domenech picked Eric Abidal who had a dreadful season at Barcelona. In midfield, Domenech was bent on taking an injured Patrick Vieira as opposed to picking a youthful Flamini, who had an outstanding season for Arsenal. Vieira never played a minute for France and occupied a spot in the roaster that could have gone to an able body like Flamini.

    It is known that Domenech has had a difference of opinion with Arsenal's Arsene Wenger. So maybe that is why he left out three capable Arsenal players (two if you count that Flamini will be at AC Milan next season) and only took Arsenal's William Gallas. This is a reasonable assumption as Domenech has been known to spend more time with personal duels with his players than team tactics. Robert Pires and Vikash Dhorasoo come to mind. Moreover, Domenech has shown to be incapable of understanding the tactics of this French team and has often picked the wrong players or slotted players in incorrect positions.

    In the end, it all came undone for France against Italy when Domenech's awful selections contributed to a worthy French exit. It is rumoured that Thuram asked not to be played in the center of the defense which led Domenech to play Eric Abidal there. Just three minutes into the game, Abidal almost presented a gift to Luca Toni but as has been common in this tournament, Toni missed his chance. 22 minutes later, Abidal was ball watching and lost track of Toni. In a state of desperation, Abidal brought down Toni resulting in a penalty for Italy and earning himself a red card. If Abidal had any sense, he would have let Toni go on as chances are Toni would have missed his clear chance. The 10 men of France never had a chance after Pirlo converted his spot-kick. Now then there is the case of Patrice Evra. He was absolutely useless against Italy. Not only was he pedestrian, he offered no help in creating France's offense down the flanks. He was so happy to play ball boy and offered to take all the throw-ins, thinking that would merit his contribution. In truth, he merely hid from his responsibilities and offered to stay away from the action. But he should never have been playing at Euro 2008 in the first place.

    Domenech took an old and aging French team to Euro 2008. He had hoped that these old stars would work their magic and bail France out as opposed to coming up with a tactical plan himself. In the end, his aging team were too tired to bother playing and Domenech had no options on the bench to change things around.

  • Poland: bright start then fade to black

  • Poland were not that bad in their opening game against Germany as they attempted to string together some decent moves. The introduction of Roger Guerreiro in the second half certainly gave the Poles an attacking bite but they could never put away their chances. Poland were lucky to get away with a 1-1 tie against Austria as they should really have been 3-0 or 4-0 down in the opening 20 minutes. Poor Austrian finishing and some good saves from Artur Boruc kept Austria at bay. Poland needed a miracle in their final game against Croatia to advance but they never looked up to the challenge.

  • Austria: The co-hosts do themselves proud

  • Austria certainly played well but poor finishing cost them goals and points. Still it was good to see them holding their heads up high and attempting to create chances.

  • Romania: 2 points but could have been so much more

  • Romania have no one but themselves to blame for their early exit. If Romania had been a bit more adventurous they could have beaten France in the opening game but they settled for a 0-0 tie. Against Italy, a mistake from Zambrotta led to Mutu putting Romania ahead. However, a minute later they let in a soft goal to allow Italy to come back into the game. In the last 10 minutes, Romania got a real gift when they were awarded a non-existent penalty. But Mutu could not put his kick away and Buffon was the Italian hero as he saved the penalty. Still Romania could have advanced against a changed Dutch team in the final game. But for whatever reason, Romania refused to attack against Holland. Maybe they were hoping that the Dutch would score a few own goals but the second string Dutch squad were in no mood to make life easy for Romania.

  • Czech Republic: no creativity costs them in the end

  • It is certainly hard to replace players like Nedved and Rosicky but the Czechs offered nothing in their opening game against the co-hosts Switzerland; they were lucky to get away with a 1-0 win as they did nothing in the game. They tried to play some football against Portugal but were no match for the speed of the Portuguese. Even though they built up a 2-0 lead against Turkey, the Czechs could not cope with wave after wave of Turkish attack and mentally folded to bow out of Euro 2008.

  • Sweden: lack of pace, tired legs and sitting back prove costly

  • Sweden only needed a draw against Russia to advance out of Group D and it looked like Sweden only wanted to play for a draw. They offered nothing in terms of attack and Russia should have easily won their game by a 4 or 5 goal margin. It was shocking to see such a terrible display from the Swedes but then again, they put in a dull second half against Spain which cost them dearly in the end when David Villa scored a 90th minute winner.

  • Switzerland: like Austria, co-hosts do themselves proud

  • Things could have been different had Switzerland put away their chances against a dull Czech Republic in the opening game. But the injury to their captain and star player Alexander Frei certainly took a bite out of their offense. Switzerland were unlucky against Turkey as well losing to a last minute strike. Atleast, the Swiss ended the tournament with a well deserved win over group winners Portugal.

    Euro 2008: Group stages complete

    Group D: The Russians are coming....
  • Spain 2-1 Greece
  • Russia 2-0 Sweden

  • The Dutch better beware as the return of Andrei Arshavin has suddenly revolutionized the Russians into a pacy and potent attacking force. With the aid of Arshavin, Russia dispatched a slow, tired and generally poor Swedish team with considerable ease. Arshavin scored the second goal but the game should have been over long before that as Sweden offered nothing except a looping Larsson header that hit the woodwork. It appeared Sweden were content to sit back and hope for a 0-0 tie but Russia had other ideas in mind.

    Spain scored two second half goals to finish the group stages with a 100% record. A completely revamped Spanish side were still too strong for the defending European Champions who ended the tournament as the only side on zero points. Atleast Greece managed to score one goal, a beautiful header by Angelos Charisteas via a free-kick. The Greek goal certainly evoked memories of Euro 2004 as back then it the headed efforts of Charisteas that led Greece to their unlikely European title.

    Tuesday, June 17, 2008

    Euro 2008: Dutch and Italian delight

    Group C: Holland and Italy advance
  • Holland 2-0 Romania
  • France 0-2 Italy

  • Holland did their part by winning their 3rd straight group game and knocking Romania out of Euro 2008. As expected, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar started for the Dutch and scored a goal. How much longer can he stay at Ajax? Surely a bigger club will snatch him up. Van Persie stayed on his feet and blasted in a powerful second goal to finish off an impressive first round for the Dutch. Holland won their first three games 3-0 over Italy, 4-1 over France and now 2-0 over Romania. Out of the 9 goals the Dutch have scored, seven different players have found the net -- Van Nistelrooy, Sneijder (2), Van Persie (2), Van Bronckhorst , Kuyt, Robben and Huntelaar.

    Italy got a stroke of luck with their second goal when Thierry Henry deflected De Rossi's free-kick into the French net but overall, I cannot feel any sympathy for France, even though they lost Ribery to an early injury. The best chance France had was when they were 2-0 down with Benzema striking a beautiful curler but Buffon made a remarkable save. If the French Federation does not fire Raymond Domenech in the next 24 hours, then well there is no future for French soccer.

    Monday, June 16, 2008

    Euro 2008: Signs of life & some shock therapy

    I have learned a lot of things via soccer but on Sunday, I learned something new entirely. Turkey's stunning 3-2 comeback win against the Czech Republic was just a phenomenal result but the manner of their late winner can be attributed to a footballing example of "shock therapy". Naomi Klein's excellent book The Shock Doctrine talks about how various individuals and corporations use(d) time of emergencies to sweep wide changes to take advantage of innocent citizens. The rationale behind this is(was) that when people are in an emotionally vulnerable mental state, then anything goes. Turkey were trailing 2-1 with less than 5 minutes to go when a fumble by Petr Čech allowed Turkish captain Nihat to level the game up. The Czechs were in a state of shock so much so that less than a minute later, another Turkish attack allowed Nihat to break free and curl a beautiful shot to lead Turkey into the Quarter finals.

    Petr Čech is one of the best goalkeepers in the world, if not the best. This was just a rare mistake by him. Last year, he fumbled a corner against Arsenal which allowed William Gallas to head Arsenal to a 1-0 win over Chelsea. On Sunday, he stumbled yet another cross but before that, he and the entire Czech defense were busy trying to withstand wave after wave of Turkish attacks. But his mistake sent the entire Czech team into a state of disbelief. And it was then that they were most vulnerable and Turkey were full worth for their remarkable win. Another example of this "shock therapy" took place in the 1999 European Cup Final between Bayern Munich and Manchester United. Back then, Munich took an early lead and dominated United but they were unable to score a crucial second goal. With time running out, Man Utd tied the game up. Bayern were in such a state of shock that less than a minute later, they let Man Utd get another goal to win 2-1 -- two goals in 2 minutes gave Man Utd the European Cup. In the 2005 European Cup final, Milan raced to a 3-0 half-time lead against Liverpool. Milan dominated the game except for 6 second half minutes when Liverpool scored three goals to tie things up. In those 6 minutes, Milan looked completely disorganized and disoriented.

    It was good to see Turkey come away with a win. Yah for attacking football! And the tournament is finally showing some signs of life. In fact, one had to wait until the 4th day for two teams to score goals in a single game. When Spain beat Russia 4-1, the lone Russian goal was the first time at this year's tournament an opponent managed to find the target. The 8 previous games had ended 1-0, 2-0, 1-0, 2-0, 0-0 & 3-0. A majority of the football has been cautious and dull but there have been some rare delightful moments. And Turkey's magical final 15 minutes stands head and shoulders above the rest.

    Also, the game showed that sometimes the margin between defeat and victory is separated by a tiny fraction. Czech Republic could have made it 3-0 and finished the game off but their shot hit the post. On the other hand, Arda Turan's 75th minute goal hit the inside of the post and went in to make it 2-1. When Nihat curled his stunning shot, the ball appeared to be curving above the goal until it hit the underside of the crossbar and settled in gracefully into the net.

    After Round 2, only two out of 16 were eliminated
    It was good to see that after all the teams had played their first two games, only two teams were officially eliminated (Switzerland and Greece). All four groups had been won with a further 10 teams in contention for that crucial second place.

    After Sunday (June 15) & Monday's (June 16) games, both Groups A & B are now decided.
    Group A: Portugal and Turkey advance
  • Switzerland 2-0 Portugal
  • Turkey 3-2 Czech Republic

  • Group B: Croatia and Germany advance
  • Austria 0-1 Germany
  • Croatia 1-0 Poland

  • Day 8 -- Sat, June 14:

    Group D: Spain wins group
  • Spain 2-1 Sweden
  • Greece 0-1 Russia

  • David Villa just keeps increasing his asking price. Villa scored a delightful last minute goal to lead Spain to a worthy 2-1 win over Sweden. Even though there were some nasty fouls in the game, both teams played a technically delightful game to watch. The first half was a real joy to observe in terms of the effort from both Spain and Sweden. However, in the second half Sweden sat back allowing Spain to play some clever balls and display some tricks. Still Sweden looked dangerous on the counter-attack and both teams tried to get a winner until the final minutes, even though both attempted to push for a winning goal within the confines of their cautious framework.

    Sunday, June 15, 2008

    And in other news....

  • The NY Times has joined the list of international newspapers to talk at length about Mukesh Ambani. India is always on the news nowadays and Ambani is never far from it. But what is interesting about the article is the specific elements that it talks about the rise of the Ambani name makes it clear that Mani Ratnam's film Guru is a clear look at Ambani's life, with the addition of some songs and romance (ofcourse!).

  • And no news day would be complete without a look at the surging oil and food prices. Ofcourse, such news would never be truly certified unless the following lines are included: ..rising demand from China and India.

  • The Group of 8 nations — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States — are many of the world’s largest consumers of oil. But most have little say over production, and over drivers of oil prices like rising demand from China and India.

    Yes there is rising oil demand from China and India. I think every one gets that now as it cut and paste in every article about rising oil prices. But how many of those new vehicles on the Chinese and Indian roads are gas guzzling suv's, mini-vans and hummers? Let's see now. America and Canada sucks up oil for decades in wasteful vehicles but if other nations need the same oil for their tiny cars which can't ever go over speeds of 60 Km/hr because of congested roads, well the West does not like it. I suppose Daniel Plainview put it best:

    Friday, June 13, 2008

    Euro 2008: Rang De Mausambi

    Day 7, Friday June 13

  • Holland 4-1 France
  • Italy 1-1 Romania

  • Psst. Have you heard?
    The Dutch are back!
    Yup. They beat Italy 3-0 and dispatched France 4-1. And they are playing like a team again! No more infighting.

    Wait...Hang on a minute. Let us get some things clear first. This Dutch team is not like the old Dutch team of the 70's. This team is a ruthless, colder and more sinister version of the previous Dutch teams who believed in pure football. Yes the Dutch class of 2008 play like a unified group of players, which includes hunting in packs -- counter attacking together and fouling together. But they are not the creative force of the past, who took the game to their opponents as opposed to sitting back and taking their chances.

    Although credit must be given where it is due. Holland were indeed clinical and took their chances well. But just like against Italy, Holland benefitted from a slice of good fortune. Against Italy on Monday, Holland scored a proper first goal but I still believe they got the call due to an initial error but it just so happened on a closer inspection, it was a correct call; that call changed the complexion of the game and Holland went on to pick apart a broken Italian team. Against France, a clear-cut penalty against Holland was denied when Ooijer handled a French shot. And that call did change the game as France pushed forward and Holland took advantage of the gaps available to them.

    The Dutch started the game with a flurry of fouls (De Jong took out Ribery less than a minute into the game) and took an early lead when Kuyt stayed on his feet to smartly head home. But Holland did nothing after that until their second goal. They just sat back, fouled France whenever they got a chance, and used the burning pace of Robben to double their lead. Ooijer, Kuyt and Giovanni van Bronckhorst were quite proficient in fouling their French counter-parts (note: although Makelele was equally sinister in fouling his opponents). But I should not complain too much as this is the way European football is going -- sit back, break up the opponents play and hit them on the break. Talented players like Kuyt are an example of the way European soccer is evolving. Kuyt spends more time off the ball, making runs, fouling his opponents than spending creative time on the ball. No wonder he is such an asset to Liverpool where he fits in perfectly with Rafa's plan to play boring football. And I still cannot forget the foul that Kuyt got away with against Hleb against Arsenal in the champions league. On the other hand, Van Persie has much more talent than Kuyt but because of his injury, he has only gotten a minor role at Euro. Still it was good to see Van Persie take his chance beautifully against France. Van Persie is the player most associated with the good old Dutch attacking football not Kuyt but it is because of players like Ooijer and Kuyt that Holland are getting their results.

    Still despite all my dislike about the Dutch fouling, I sincerely hope they go ahead and win Euro 2008. They have scored the most beautiful goals of any team and are the best of an average bunch of European teams this year.

    When I first saw Group C, I had wondered if Holland and Romania would advance like a scenario from Euro 2000. Back then, Portugal, England, Germany and Romania were drawn in a tough group. Everyone expected England and Germany to advance but based on the technical talent Portugal & Romania had, I had expected Portugal and Romania to upset England and Germany and that is exactly what happened -- Portugal and Romania moved to the Quarters. This time however, I thought France and Italy would advance despite their problems. But as it turns out, both France and Italy are in danger of going out. If Romania beat Holland, then the result between France and Italy will not matter. Romania could have made life easier for themselves had Mutu converted their penalty and knocked Italy out on Friday but Buffon saved Italy and now the World Champions need a huge favour from the Dutch to advance. For France, I really hope this tournament is the end of Raymond Domenech's coaching days as he done nothing to improve the rot that has existed in the French team since Euro 2000.

    Day 6: Lighting strikes again after a gap of 10 years

  • Croatia 2-1 Germany
  • Austria 1-1 Poland

  • 10 years ago Slaven Bilić was a player in the Croatian team that upset Germany at the 1998 World Cup. This time around with Bilić as the coach, Croatia once again screwed up the odds to beat Germany to advance to the Quarter Finals. Germany's numerous problems were exposed and they must now regroup to avoid another embarrassment at the Euros.

    Austria kept their slim hopes alive with a 1-1 tie against Poland. Both teams displayed plenty of poor football but amazingly, both teams still have a shot at the quarters. Although, neither team has an easy job -- Germany will be a handful for Austria and Croatia will atleast want a tie against Poland to avoid Portugal in the next round.

    Thursday, June 12, 2008

    Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Films

    Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Turkish snapshots

    There is plenty of beauty to be found in both of Nuri Bilge Ceylan's features Climates and Distant. Even though there isn't much dialogue in both films, one hardly notices the lack of words because the camera is so well placed that we can perfectly understand what the characters are thinking and feeling.

    A relationship on the ropes: Climates (2006)

    A marriage is breaking apart.

    We witness intimate moments between the couple. Very early on, we can tell something is not right between the two. In the following picture the wife, Bahar (Ebru Ceylan), wakes up from a dream she had on the beach. What did she dream about? That her husband (Isa played by Nuri himself) was throwing sand on her face and suffocating her. Hmmm..

    The distance between the two is growing.

    Just like in Distant, the male character still finds time to take beautiful pictures.

    In a cafe thinking about his life and waiting to get Bahar back.

    The snow falls tenderly around Bahar, not wanting to disturb her thoughts.

    The intimate scenes between the couple and their solitary moments when the characters looked into the distant horizon reminded me of Antonioni's films (L' Avventura & L' Eclisse)

    Loneliness and wanting space: Distant (2002)

    Mahmut (Muzaffer Özdemir) likes his solitary lifestyle.

    When his cousin Yusuf (Emin Toprak) arrives in town,

    Mahmut is hospitable at first. But eventually he gets bothered because Yusuf's presence disturbs his day to day activities.

    So Mahmut stays out of the house late, drifting across the beautiful city that is Istanbul.

    Mahmut shares a lot with Isa from Climates. Both prefer to keep to themselves and both love to capture the simple beauty of Turkey via their camera. Maybe one day the two could meet in one of the countless cafes in Turkey and discuss their lives, or even chat a bit about the state of Turkish soccer.

    Ratings out of 10
  • Distant (2002, Turkey, Nuri Bilge Ceylan): 9.5

  • Climates (2006, Turkey, Nuri Bilge Ceylan): 9

  • Wednesday, June 11, 2008

    Euro 2008: Days 4 & 5

    Group D: Greece, Sweden, Spain, Russia

  • Spain 4-1 Russia
  • Greece 0-2 Sweden

  • Both games went as per plan with Spain and Sweden winning as expected.

  • David Villa increased his market price with a hat-trick for Spain. Only teams such as Real Madrid and Chelsea might be able to afford Villa now and he is surely out of Arsenal's market price.

  • It was good to see Cesc get his first international goal for Spain, even though it was an easy effort.

  • Russia's poor defending made Spain look quite good. Time and time again, Russia could not pick up the Spanish forwards on their cross-cutting runs. Spain's second goal involved Iniesta's defense splitting pass for Villa, but Iniesta had tried that same pass before in the game, especially for Torres.

  • 7 errors too many:
  • Sweden's second goal against Greece involved a comedy of errors from the defending Euro champs. After a Swedish goal-kick was sent upfield, a Greek player incorrectly sent his header upwards and backwards which resulted in his fellow Greek team-mate failing to control the ball and conceding a needless corner. From the resulting corner, the Greek keeper (Antonis Nikopolidis) failed to punch the ball firmly and another Greek player headed the clearance poorly on the edge of the penalty box. Now, despite all this Greece could have been fine but yet another Greek player kicked his poor clearance directly to a Spanish player. In all the chaos and confusion, no Greek players picked up Freddie Ljungberg who was left on his own. Nikopolidis saved Ljungberg's shot and the resulting save was not cleared, allowing Hansson to bundle the ball over the line with his knee. It appeared that the Greek players were still in shock from the first Swedish goal and were mentally not ready as they let in the second goal 5 minutes later. Greece's fairy tale run from Euro 2004 has finally ended.

    Group A, second round of games:

  • Czech Republic 1-3 Portugal
  • Switzerland 1-2 Turkey

  • Portugal booked their place in the Quarter finals and Turkey knocked out the co-hosts Switzerland, thus avenging their defeat at the hands of the Swiss in the 2006 World Cup qualifying games. The 2006 World Cup play-off games between Switzerland and Turkey were a violent affair. Even though the Euro 2008 game between the two on Wednesday was not one for the faint hearted, the blood visibly present on two Turkish players faces was the result of accidental clashes. So the final group game between Turkey-Czech Republic now becomes a one game play-off where the winner will make the quarters as both teams are currently tied with the same number of points and goal difference.

    Monday, June 09, 2008

    Euro 2008: Day 3

    Two more games and a total of three goals again

    Group C: Holland, Italy, Romania, France
  • Holland 3-0 Italy
  • France 0-0 Romania

  • The Dutch earned a well deserved win over Italy but the score-line is a bit deceiving. Italy were not played off the park and Holland didn't offer any beautiful football like Dutch teams of the past. Instead, Holland offered Italy a lesson in the execution of the perfect counter-attack and were aided by a huge helping hand from the referee. Holland's opening goal should not have counted. Ruud van Nistelrooy was clearly offside but this is not the first time Ruud boy has scored a goal from an offside position. In his time at Manchester United, RVN made a career out of manipulating the passive offside rule to his advantage much to the frustration of his opponents. Today, RVN did what he does best -- stick around in the 6 yard box in an offside position to score a goal. Like Inzaghi, Ruud is the master of the 6 yard box and his 26th minute opener changed the game completely.

    Italy had started off decently and it took a while for the Dutch to get into the game. However, after the Dutch took the lead, Italy pushed upfield and Holland just attempted to hit them on the counter. From an Italian corner, Holland raced upfield and Dirk Kuyt headed into the path of Wesley Sneijder who finished nicely from a narrow angle to double Holland's lead after just 31 minutes. Italy had chances to score a goal but poor finishing let them down. A good free kick from Pirlo was saved nicely from Edwin van der Sar and from the resulting counter attack, Holland scored their 3rd goal in the 79th minute to wrap up the 3 points. Once again, Kuyt was the provider for the 3rd as his cross was headed home by Giovanni van Bronckhorst.

    First look at Group C:

    This was the group I was most looking forward to and the Holland-Italy game was probably the most enjoyable game of the tournament so far. While Holland were good in counter attacking, Italy still produced some good moments. One such moment came from Gianluca Zambrotta who turned Kuyt inside out in the 53rd minute but unfortunately Zambrotta could not fashion a goal out of his slick trickery. The Italians were poor in finishing their chances off and Di Natale, who was impressive in the Serie A last season, was especially guilty of not being sharp.

    The France-Romania game was just terrible. Pathetic. Both teams should be kicked out of the tournament for being so bad. And they should take the Czech Republic and Croatia along as well.

    Friday's Group C games are set up nicely. Italy take on Romania in the early game and have to win. While a win for Holland against France would send the Dutch through to the quarters. France will have to come out of their shell against Holland but based on today's evidence, they have nothing to offer. Still, this is a strange game. One incorrect call, one penalty and everything could change. But before Friday, there is the matter of Group D games on tuesday, along with the second games for Group A (Wed) and B (Thu).

    Euro 2008 Day 3: The Blues are fading away

    Group C: Holland, Italy, Romania, France

  • France 0-0 Romania

  • Even though I have not seen today's opening Group C game, I was expecting France to tie 0-0 with Romania. At best, I thought France might have managed a 1-0 win but given the current rot in the team, 0-0 was the way to go. Sure enough, the game ended goalless.

    2002: the downfall starts..

    The malaise in the current French team started during the 2002 World Cup. A lot was expected of France during that tournament but a majority of the players appeared tired and jaded. The Arsenal duo of Henry and Vieira had nothing left in them as they played themselves into the ground to win a memorable league-cup double for Arsenal, while the injuries to Zidane (just before the tournament) & Pires left them with no creative options.

    2004: no improvements

    France should have rebuilt after that 2002 loss as they had a great crop of young players but they turned in a dire display at Euro 2004. They were awful against England in the opening game and only salvaged a 2-1 win via two late goals from Zidane (a free-kick and penalty). A 2-2 draw against Croatia was followed by a 3-1 win over a mis-matched Swiss team. In the Quarters, France could not manage anything against an organized but talent less Greek team.

    The warning signs were there but apparently no one was listening. The French Federation hired Raymond Domenech and it has been nothing but disaster since then.

    The Road to 2006

    These were the results that France managed in the qualifying games for the 2006 World Cup:
    France 0-0 Israel
    Faroe Isl. 0-2 France
    France 0-0 Ireland
    Cyprus 0-2 France
    France 0-0 Switzerland
    Israel 1-1 France
    France 3-0 Faroe Islands
    Ireland 0-1 France
    Switzerland 1-1 France
    France 4-0 Cyprus

    The team had no creative ideas and produced nothing but pathetic displays in the qualifying games. But since France made the World Cup, Domenech was safe.

    France's performances in the 2006 world Cup were forgettable. They began the tournament with a predictable 0-0 tie with Switzerland (I am proud to have predicated that correct result, which helped me in my soccer pool) and followed that with a muddled 1-1 tie with South Korea. A 2-0 win over Togo allowed France to make the second round where they came back from a goal down to beat Spain 3-1. Not much credit to France there as Spain once again failed to play to their potential. A 1-0 Quarter final over Brazil was seen a great result but all France had to do was stand their ground and prevent Brazil from having space to run around; they could then simply observe an ineffective Brazilian team offer nothing in terms of offense. France duly beat Portugal 1-0 in the semi's to make the final. Since France played decently in the final and only lost on penalties, all was forgiven again. Domenech was kept in charge.

    The road to Euro 2008

    The following are the results of France's 2008 Qualifying games:
    Georgia 0-3 France
    France 3-1 Italy
    Scotland 1-0 France
    France 5-0 Faroe Islands
    Lithuania 0-1 France
    France 2-0 Ukraine
    France 1-0 Georgia
    Italy 0-0 France
    France 0-1 Scotland
    Faroe Islands 0-6 France
    France 2-0 Lithuania
    Ukraine 2-2 France

    France are truly lucky to be in Euro 2008 as their two 1-0 losses to Scotland highlighted their creative inability. Despite having some of the best players in European football, the French team cannot manage to even turn in one decent performance.

    I still expect France to bundle their way into the Quarters at Euro 2008 and they may even make the semis, but this team is living on its last legs. The Federation needs to bring in a visionary manager who can get the best out of the players and even integrate some of the younger players in the team. Also, they need a manager who does not spend more time running around on personal crusades against his players while neglecting the tactical developments of the French team.

    Sunday, June 08, 2008

    Euro 2008 Diary: Day 2

    Group B: Two games, three goals

  • Austria 0-1 Croatia
  • Germany 2-0 Poland

  • The results of both Group B games ended up as expected but it was good to see both Austria and Poland attempt to get a good result from their opening games. Croatia took an early lead via the penalty spot (Luka Modrić) but they didn't do too much after that. To Austria's credit, they took the game to Croatia but their finishing left a lot to be desired and it is no wonder they were labeled as the tournament's worst team. On a few occasions, Austria could not keep up with the Croatian players and had to commit fouls to keep the score-line down. Besides winning the penalty, Ivica Olić was pulled back more than once otherwise he could inflicted more harm on the co-hosts.

    Germany got the win everyone expected of them and they could have had more goals. Polish born Lukas Podolski got both German goals and his lack of celebration at both goals was nice to see.

    First impressions of both co-hosts:
    Switzerland were unlucky not to get anything from their opener against the Czechs yesterday and today Austria were unfortunate as well to not atleast score a goal. Both co-hosts tried to play football but their technical problems were apparent. The Swiss are hit quite hard because their captain and one of their best players Alexander Frei was injured on Sat and is out for the rest of the tournament.

    Saturday, June 07, 2008

    Euro 2008 Diary: Day 1

    Group A: Two games, three goals

  • Switzerland 0-1 Czech Republic
  • Portugal 2-0 Turkey

  • The opening game was simply dull and boring. The Czechs went with a 4-5-1 formation which meant that Jan Koller was left upfield on his own, with little support. The Swiss had some decent chances but the game never sparked into life. As a result, in the second half when the Swiss defense fell asleep, Václav Svěrkoš nicked a neat goal. The Swiss to their credit pushed forward for an equalizer and could have tied the game up but Johan Vonlanthen struck the cross-bar. In the end, the Czechs did enough to get the three points.

    Note: At half-time, Swiss captain Alexander Frei left the field with an injury and if his injury is serious indeed, then the Swiss will be left with no bite for their remaining two games.

    The Portugal - Turkey game started off predictably -- Portugal only played with one pure striker (Nuno Gomes) and that meant Portugal's attacks came from the flanks via the experienced Simão & Cristiano Ronaldo. A fast paced first half produced little in goal mouth action with the best chance being Ronaldo's free kick expertly saved by the Turkish goal-keeper, Volkan. Pepe's header was correctly ruled for offside in the first half for Portugal.

    Not much happened early in the second half even though Nuno Gomes hit the post after a nasty foul on Simão carved open the Turkish defense. However, just after the hour mark Pepe finished off a beautiful move by exchanging a pass with Nuno Gomes before Pepe's goal attempt was helped over Volkan by an on-rushing Emre. After that goal, the game went into a dull lull as Turkey could not muster any clear-cut chances. Portugal could have even had made it 2-0 but Nuno Gomes headed against the crossbar via a Ronaldo cross. Then Portugal's coach, Scolari, decided to remove their only striker Nuno Gomes to bring on another midfielder/winger in Nani, meaning the only goal-scoring threat would come from Ronaldo. But no such goal scoring threat came from Portugal as they watched the inability of the Turkish players to pick the right option in the final third of the field.

    But Ronaldo did play a part in Portugal's second goal of the night -- with time winding down and Turkey having pushed everyone forward, Ronaldo's run and pass to João Moutinho enabled João to pick out an onrushing Raul Meireles who calmly slotted the ball into an empty neat to seal a Portuguese victory. Prior to that goal, there was a nasty two foot lunge on Nani, another reminder of the game's ugly side.

    Overall, an average opening day. Portugal looked the best team of the bunch but their lack of strikers might cost them in the tournament. If a team wants to stop them, then all they have to do is cut off the supply line via the flanks and Portugal will be left with no creative options.

    Friday, June 06, 2008

    Euro 2008: preview

    So Euro 2008 finally starts in less than 12 hours yet I am still not that keen on the tournament, the first time I am not looking forward to a major soccer tournament since I started following the game prior to the 1990 World Cup. I even held a personal Euro 2008 film festival a few months ago to help kick things off but two major reasons are still making me wary of the games.
  • The dull games in the 2002 & 2006 World Cup + an awful Euro 2004

  • The mediocre European soccer season that ended in May 2008

  • 3 dull tournaments:
    The 2002 World Cup has to be worst soccer tournament I have ever seen. Awful games, un-interested/tired players, negative tactics and amateur officiating all made for a painful month of soccer. Euro 2004 was no better when an average Greek team won the tournament despite not having any dribblers on their team or players with even the basic technical skills required in top flight football. The 2006 World Cup had very few good moments with the best memory being Italy fielding 4 strikers in extra-time against the hosts Germany in an exciting semi-final. Italy were not great in all their games but they were still the better team and deserved their title.

    One negative aspects in the last few years has been the emergence of defensive tactics in the game. The most common form is 4-5-1, with 4 defenders, 5 midfielders and a lone striker. On top of that, one of the 5 midfielders actually sits in front of the 4 man defense resulting in sometimes 5 defenders and the lone striker dropping back in midfield. Jose Mourinho perfected this at Chelsea and Rafa Benitez used this often at Liverpool. As a result, the games became chess matches with players waiting for their opponents to make a mistake and capitalizing on any slip-ups. The brilliant writer Eduardo Galeano put this perfectly in his summary for the 2006 World Cup:
    The results rewarded what is now called practical sense: high defensive walls and way up front a lone scorer, imploring God for a favor. As is usually the case in football and life, he who plays best loses while he who plays not to lose wins.

    Galeano goes on to add: In professional football, the kind on television, there is little joy to be seen. We seem condemned to nostalgia for the old days when there were five forwards, and to the sad recognition that now there is just one. And at the rate we are going, not even he will remain: one day there will be only defenders.

    And that is precisely what Greece did in Euro 2004: they played with 10 defenders. It is true they played themselves into the ground and were organized, but it does require less skill to break up an opponent's play as opposed to constructing an offensive plan. No wonder the defensive tactics are finding favour in teams which do not possess talented players but it is a criminal when teams such as Chelsea and Liverpool play defensive football despite having some of the best players in the world on their teams. Ofcourse, if winning is the only thing that matters at any cost, then the game's beauty will be sacrificed.

    The average 2007/08 European season:

    Feb 23, 2008. The day that beautiful soccer died. 3 minutes in the league game between Birmingham and Arsenal, the inept defender Martin Taylor goes in with a kick aimed to hurt Arsenal's talented Eduardo. Taylor accomplished his goal and broke Eduardo's leg in two spots. While sympathies poured in for Eduardo, it was shocking to see the number of people who jumped to Taylor's defense. Taylor was described as a "nice guy" and his tackle was deemed "not that bad". In fact, people were quick to point out that such tackles were common place in the Premier League and one should not make too much of it. But no one wanted to discuss why these tackles were common place in the Premier League. No one wanted to talk about the lack of skilful players and how average teams resorted to brutal kicking and fouling to stop attacking players and teams.

    That injury to Eduardo derailed Arsenal's season. Prior to that game, Arsenal put on displays of beautiful soccer for the good part of 6 months. But after the Birmingham game, Arsenal only managed two wonderful games against AC Milan in the Champions League; in the remaining games they appeared shocked and unable to cope mentally (the exception being the 3-2 win at Bolton) in the last few months and gave up both titles. Man Utd eventually won the English league but with the exception of Ronaldo, they were an average team for most of the season. Sure they knew how to grind results out but that's all they did. Chelsea continued to play in the Jose manner -- dull, boring but effective football. Liverpool rode their luck in the Champions league until lady luck turned their back on them in the semi's.

    The presence of 3 English teams in the semi's of the Champions League contributed to a dull finale to the European season. On top of that, Barcelona were a pale shadow of their former self and never woke up during the season. Madrid won the Spanish league title but they were inconsistent throughout the year, while Inter were their dull self, Milan were slow and un-interested despite the efforts of Kaka and Pato, Lyon failed to improve in Europe despite winning a 7th straight league title and their first league-cup double. Bayern Munich won 2 of the three trophies they were expected to win but they failed miserably in the UEFA Cup where the Russian team Zenit St. Petersburg surprized everyone and deservedly won the cup.

    Will Euro 2008 be an improvement?

    I am just hoping for some good games. My expectations are quite low but I wish I am proved wrong.

    Group A: Switzerland, Czech Republic, Portugal, Turkey

    Predictions: Portugal and Turkey should get through this group. But I don't expect Ronaldo to star for Portugal. Their best hope might be in Quaresma. It is shocking that Portugal do not have a talented striker and have to rely on their wingers to get them results.

    The Czech Republic were strong at one point but the loss of Rosicky is a big blow and they will struggle for creativity.

    Group B: Austria, Croatia, Germany, Poland

    Predictions: Germany and Croatia to advance. Germany got the easy group they wanted and despite missing Eduardo, Croatia should squeeze through. Austria appear to be doomed.

    Group C: Holland, Italy, Romania, France

    Predictions: Italy should advance despite missing their captain Cannavaro with France to follow.

    With the absence of Cannavaro, Totti or Maldini, Italy have no real leaders in the team. This might work to their advantage as the team might play as a unit.

    I really wonder where the goals will come for France. On top of that I have very little faith in Raymond Domenech. He still seems unable to understand how to tactically arrange his team. Plus I am not sure whey left out Sagna and Clichy from the team. Even though Sagna was injured near the end of Arsenal's season, he should have been given a chance to prove his fitness.

    Holland will self-destruct again, on their own. Their worst enemies are themselves.

    Romania are a good technical team but despite whatever Contra and Mutu can muster, they might fall short.

    Group D: Greece, Sweden, Spain, Russia

    Predictions: Spain and Sweden to advance.

    Spain should advance easily but I am not convinced they will do as good as the odds they are being given (Spain are the bookies second favourite to win the tournament after Germany). After Spain, both Sweden and Russia stand an equal chance of advancing. The one concern for Russia is that one of their best players, Andrei Arshavin, will miss the first two games through suspension.

    Overall winner:
    I feel Italy will win the tournament and defeat Germany in the final.

    The four expected semi-finalists: Portugal, Germany, Italy and France.

    Monday, June 02, 2008

    Spotlight on France: the line-up

    A healthy line-up of different genres and time periods forms a spotlight on French cinema.

    Format: Film (Year, Director)

    Early films: 40's-50's
  • La Belle et la bête/The Beauty and the Beast (1946, Jean Cocteau)
  • Le Salaire De La Peur/The Wages of Fear (1953, Henri - Georges Clouzot)
  • Rififi (1955, Jules Dassin)

  • Director Profile: Jacques Tati
  • M.Hulot's holiday (1953)
  • Mon Uncle (1958)
  • Playtime (1967)

  • Director Profile: Louis Malle
  • Elevator to the Gallows (1958)
  • Murmurs of the Heart (1971)
  • Lacombe Lucien (1974)
  • Au revoir les enfants (1987)

  • Was Louis Malle part of the French New Wave or not? As I have seen articles arguing for either case, I just had to find out for myself. Although, I only picked one movie which forms a genuine contender for the New Wave: Elevator to the Gallows.

    Director Profile: Catherine Breillat
  • Romance (1999)
  • Brief Crossing (2001)
  • Anatomy of Hell (2004)

  • Catherine Breillat certainly fits the bill of "New French Extremity" cinema, a term coined by James Quandt. I wanted to visit some of the films which earned her that tag. Previously, the only two Breillat films I had seen were Fat Girl and Sex is Comedy.

    Newer films: Comedy, Horror, Action & some Romance
  • The Valet (2006, Francis Veber)
  • Sheitan (2006, Kim Chapiron)
  • OSS 117: Le Caire nid d'espions (2006, Michel Hazanavicius)
  • Coeurs (2006, Alain Resnais)

  • A spotlight won't be the same without a dash of comedy, a pinch of romance or some horror to stir the pot up. And when all is said and done, a simple action is required to serve the dish.

    As it stands, I still have to see 4 films from the above list. So far the most satisfying films have been Elevator to the Gallows, The Wages of Fear & Rififi.