Thursday, 24 April 2008

Depleted Rangers Seek Euro Glory

Rangers take on Fiorentina in what is arguably their most important game since a European Cup Semi Final 16 years ago. At the start of the season, most Rangers fans would have taken the UEFA Cup rather than the league title, given that European successes are much rarer feats. However, with captain Ferguson and Kevin Thomson suspended, and the treatment room resembling an episode of Holby City, the Light Blues are having to stretch resources. They should still be able to put out a decent side though, with Stevie Davis, Whittaker and Hemdani patrolling the midfield. However they will have to perform a lot better than they did on Sunday against St Johnstone. The Viola are an exceptional side, currently vying for a Champions League spot in Serie A. Ex-cocaine addict and Chelsea flop Mutu has rediscovered his goalscoring touch in Italy and will need to be watched closely by Weir and Cuellar.

Concerns have been raised by the away side over the pitch, and this could be to the Gers advantage, being the more direct and physical of the two sides. Up front, I'm relying on Darcheville to work the line as usual and Walter Smith will have to decide whether to deploy Novo or Cousin to share the load. My hunch is he will go for Novo for his pace and trickery. He rarely playes Darcheville and Cousin together, while the clubs top scorer Kris Boyd is evidently not fancied in European games. It should be a cracking game and hopefully all football fans in the UK, regardless of religious persuasions will be firmly behind this great and quintessentially British Scottish club.

Liverpool Can Still Progress

John Arne Riise's ludicrous own goal 4 minutes into injury on Tuesday was hard to take for Liverpool fans. However, judging by the performances of the two teams, the Reds should go into the deciding leg with a lot of confidence. Although they have not scored at Stamford Bridge for 8 games, that doesn not mean a thing. Chelsea have found it difficult to score against a resolute Liverpool defence in recent years, and all it takes is a goal from the away side, preferably in the first half, to put them firmly in the driving seat. Apart from the injured Aurelio, Benitez should keep the same team and formation. Alonso and Mascherano gradually took control of the midfield on Tuesday, although Chelsea will be boosted by the return of Michael Essien from suspension which poses a problem for Benitez.

One player who stood out for me was the ever dependable Jamie Carragher. His committment and attitude is vital to this Liverpool team, and he generally had Drogba in his back pocket for most of the game. Carragher will be required to be at his best on Wednesday night. John Terry's late booking will hopefully make him subconsciously aware that another will rule him out of the final and thus allow more freedom for Torres and Gerrard. I am fairly optimistic that Liverpool can get the result they need to progress, although it will be one heck of a nervy 90 minutes. Better get a spare pair of undies just in case :-)

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Zimbabwe Woes

Congratulations to Robert Mugabe on developing an innovative new election system. If it becomes clear that you have lost an election, simply refuse to declare the result, lie low and wait until the world's media gets tired of covering the story and thus remain in power indefinately. I can't believe no-one has thought of that before!

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Another Bloody Love Letter

I've just finished reading Another Bloody Love Letter by Anthony Loyd. Loyd is a well travelled foreign correspondent and this is his second offering following My War Gone By, I Miss it So. This time round he provides us with a taste of life as a reporter in wartime Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan.

Rather than a commentary on the motives and justifications for each war, the book is more an account of his experiences on the front lines of the worlds most dangerous conflicts. More specifically, it is a quest for the meaning of true human courage, and his ongoing search for personal gratifiction. There is an air of self loathing throughout the narrative and a sense that he regards his job not as one carried out through personal choice but as a duty to his soul. The writing is fluent and colourful and the book moves at a pleasing pace. This is because he tells the story through a combination of individual tragedies, near death experiences, unlikely friendships and journalistic exposes on the machinations of working for war lords.

Loyd impressively conveys the secret 'pleasures' of war, and I found it fascinating to read how he embeds himself in the various groups, in particular the Kosovo Liberation Army and the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. The section on Kosovo is especially dark and harrowing, and the atrocities of the Serb Army is recounted in vivid and unforgiving detail.

How he managed to emerge unscathed from his numerous encouters is something of a mystery to me, and one wonders whether he has used a little journalistic license in exaggerating certain situations. He appears to be driven by the adrenaline of the war zone, and implies that it is a kind of alternative to heroin, to which he was previously addicted and which lurks ominously in the background throughout. Indeed, he is in his element when navigating minefields with unscrupulous interpreters or dodging RPGs in the mountains of Afghanistan, preferring that to the boredom of London, and the unbearable temptation to relapse into heroin use that comes with it.

Another Bloody Love Letter may not be a politically balanced account of the respective conflicts, but the honesty and flair of this book made it an immensly enjoyable read, and I am looking forward to reading his earlier effort 'My War Gone By', provided I can get my hands on a copy as it does not appear to be stocked by any major store, including Amazon!

Friday, 11 April 2008

Rangers on the Brink of History

Rangers’ remarkable UEFA Cup run continued last night with a stunning 2-0 victory over Sporting Lisbon. The Light Blues will now face Italian outfit Fiorentina in a two legged affair, for a place in the Final at the City of Manchester stadium against either Bayern Munich or Zenit St Petersburg.

The Gers survived an early scare after Leidson struck Allan McGregor’s left hand upright, but the Portugese posed little threat after that and were generally confined to long range efforts. After a tight first half, Jean Claude Darcheville pounced on the hour mark to send the travelling Rangers support into delirium. Sporting, now requiring two goals to progress, pushed forward with more urgency but Rangers held firm and sealed the tie in the 90th minute after Whittaker danced through the tiring Lisbon defence to end matters. The two outstanding performers last night were the rugged but impregnable Carlos Cuellar, who must surely be due a call up to the Spanish national squad, and the Ulsterman Steven Davis, whose cross led to Rangers crucial opening goal. The Ballymena man has slotted in seamlessly to the first team and has formed a formidable partnership with Barry Ferguson in the middle of the park. His neat passing and tireless running are perfect attributes for Smith’s preferred tactical set up, and every Rangers fan will be hoping his loan move from Fulham is eventually made permanent.

Rangers are by no means a pretty side to watch, but they are ruthlessly efficient. Walter Smith rarely gets his tactics wrong and must get enormous credit for navigating the team through a hectic fixture period. There surely cannot be a team in Europe who have played more games this season than the light blues. Indeed, with a healthy lead in the SPL and a quarter final date with Partick Thistle in the Scottish Cup, Rangers are still on course for an historic quadruple, a feat which would guarantee the current team legendary status. Whilst there is obviously still a long way to go for that, what is certain is that the pendulum has well and truly swung towards the blue half of Glasgow and the misery of the Paul Le Guen era has finally been completely erased.As they say in Govan, “OH THE BLUEBELLS ARE BLUE, ALL THE BLUEBELLS ARE BLUE…..”

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Brown Will Not Attend Opening Ceremony

It appears an apology is due from me to the Prime Minister after he has confirmed he will NOT be attending the opening ceremony to the Olympic Games. Perhaps he has read this blog. However, he claims this is not on account of his opposition to the Chinese regime but because it would be a "waste of taxpayers money". Yes Gordon, of course it would be!

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Brown Should Stand Up to China

The Olympic torch will pass through London this weekend as part of its journey to Beijing. China intends to use the Games to prove that it is a succesful, forward thinking and modern society ready to take on the mantle of the world's new superpower. Unfortunately this is far from the case, as suggested by an Amnesty International Report:

"It is increasingly clear that much of the current wave of repression is occurring not in spite of the Olympics but actually because of the Olympics"

In addition, the IOC team who are currently in Beijing to assess its readiness for the Games have reported that the Olympic program has wholly failed to act as a catalyst for reform. Serious questions must now be asked as to why this brutal regime were ever awarded the Games in the first place. As Sam Leith of the Telegraph points out, this is a regime which not only seeks to suppress truths, but seeks to suppress the free exchange of thought between its citizens.

People such as the boat man Steve Redgrave and jogger Kelly Holmes will spout out the usual nonsense about "not mixing sport with politics". But the Olympics Games is a profoundly political event, which is what makes it so special and separate form the World Championships. The decision to bid for the Olympics is taken at a Governmental level, funded by Government and the social legacy is perhaps the most important factor in the awarding of the Games. How can it be anything other than political? The torch itself symbolises political freedom and harmony through sport, so it would be farcical acknowledge it given China's consistent human rights abuses, most recently in Tibet. I also somehow doubt they will be lining the streets of Darfur in celebration of the torch.

The shocking events in Tibet cannot go unpunished and it is important that the Games are not afforded any legitimacy, as was the case in 1936 in Berlin. In this respect Germany's Angela Merkel has to be commended for deciding to boycott the opening ceremony, while French President Nicholas Sarkozy has indicated he will also stay away. If Gordon Brown and indeed George Bush had boycotted the ceremony it would have sent a powerful message and been a huge embarrassment for the Chinese.

I for one will not be watching a single minute of the Games and hope it is a disaster, and that is nothing to do with the fact that half the athletes will undoubtedly be drugged up to the eyeballs. Hopefully the intense focus on the country for those couple of weeks will serve as a reminder to the Western world that China cannot yet be trusted and must be treated with caution. Once again, the all talk no action Gordon Brown has failed to stamp his authority on the world stage which is why he will be remembered as one of the most lame Prime Ministers in living memory.