Thursday, 18 May 2006

Rabel Watch - pre-season underway

My World Cup pre-season began on the weekend with the FA Cup final between West Ham and Liverpool – and what a game. I confess I didn’t make it through extra time, let alone the shoot-out, the first 90 minutes was full of great drama and I was content to call it a night at the end of full-time.
The underdog Hammers scored the first two goals in what were fortuitous circumstances – really Liverpool errors. The first was an own goal as the Liverpool defender ran back to protect the net from the ball crossed in and was responsible for putting the ball into the back of his own net. The second, the keeper should have held the ball cleanly but it dribbled through him allowing West Ham to touch the ball across the line.
All this had happened by the 30 minute mark even though the Reds were predominantly the attacking side during the first half.
West Ham had more of the ball in the second half but two great strikes, one just before half time and one after put Liverpool at 2-2.
Of most serious interest to Australian fans was the sight of Harry Kewell, so important to our World Cup aspirations, limping off the park with a reaggrivation of his groin injury.
Konchesky’s attempted cross for West Ham in the 64th minute was one of those astonishing occasions where the ball sailed perfectly over the keepers head but dipped under the cross bar and came to rest in the back corner of the net. 3-2 West Ham. Sadly for the Hammers, and our good friend Mr Rabel, “best centreman in England” Steve Gerrard powered home a goal from mid-range in injury time to take the game into extra time. Ultimately, with no scores made during extra time, the Reds won the penalty shoot-out 3-1 and won the FA Cup.

The pre-season continued in the early hours of this morning when I woke early (up at 5A, yes, I know kick-off was 445A, so I missed a bit) to watch the UEFA Champions League final between Arsenal and Barcelona. Another fantastic game to watch and one that I’m glad I made the effort to see. This on top of going to bed way too late after opting to watch the Green/Mundine fight with the footy club boys last night which was broadcast on Foxtel. The fight itself wasn’t such a great spectacle to be honest with Mundine fighting a better tactical fight, ultimately wearing Green out, and winning on points. I could be a tired boy by this afternoon. Nobody better ring me for anything.
The drama surrounding the Champions League final was the sending off of the Arsenal goalkeeper for a crude trip of Barcelona’s Eto in the 18th minute. The red card was deserved but it consigned Arsenal to 10 men and virtually to failure.
Coming in to the game, Arsenal were regarded as having one of the best defensive units (setting a Champions League record by playing 10 games and not conceding one goal) whereas Barcelona has one of the best attacks on their side, marshalled by FIFA World Player of the Year, Ronaldinho. Reduced by one, Arsenal had countless opportunities to demonstrate their effective defence and time and again brought numbers behind the ball and blocked with a wall in front of goal. With the graceful Henry up forward, Arsenal counterattacked as often as it was able and with a free-kick, Henry placed it perfectly for the Gunners huge centre back, Sol Campbell to head the first goal; Arsenal 1-0.
The constant running by Arsenal as they sought to make a break and then recover to defend began to tell as the second half wore on with finally Barca potting two goals within 6 minutes to take out the Champions League trophy 2-1.

Looking forward to the next engagement, the Socceroos take on Greece at the MCG next Thursday night and this is of course being broadcast on SBS (Thu from 730P). This is one of 3 “friendlies” that the Socceroos are using to fine tune their preparation for the World Cup which starts of course in just 22 more sleeps.

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