Monday, August 12, 2013

The Return of Sport

After what seemed to be an eternity without any Sports that I was truly passionate about of several weeks, I was finally treated to a long weekend filled with utterly enjoyable sports events over the last 4 days. I'd like to take this opportunity to wish any Singaporeans out there who read this blog a belated Happy 48th Birthday to their country... and all the Muslims out there Eid Mubarak!
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Amongst the Giants at Last
Despite Falling Short of Gold, I'm incredibly proud with what our boys achieved out there.
I never thought I'd live to see the day when my country, The Philippines, would be able to reclaim its (IMO rigfhtful) place as amongst the best in Asia in the sport of Basketball. Over the past couple of weeks, fuelled by the fervent support of my countrymen (we were hosts), it happened: the Philippines took Silver in the FIBA Asia Championships and will be one of Asia's 3 representatives to next year's World Basketball Championship in Spain.
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Cursed with the genetic burden of being vertically-challenged, Filipinos were always going to face an uphill task in thriving in a game made for giants. My country's inexplicable love for the sport however means that we will always aspire and with a few pleasant twists of fate, might find ourselves with a fighting chance to be considered among the continent's (Asia) best again. I still remember vividly the Robert Jaworski-coached 1990 Asian Games team comprised of the PBA's best - bagging silver and only unable to beat China. The list of the impossible-to-beat has gotten much longer since then (South Korea, Japan, etc. would join the list)... and not even the influx of the Fil-foreigners (Filipinos with a foreign parent), with their bigger bodies and sometimes-international-exposure has helped much.
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Kudos would have to go to the Philippine Basketball authorities who worked with the professional teams to create a national team 'pool' of players, for camps, workouts and participation in international tournaments. It was a big investment that took a long time to pay dividends.
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Along the way to Silver, the Philippines managed to beat one of our regional Bette Noirs - the sharp-shooting South Korea... and we did so convincingly. In the end, our boys fell short of gold against the giants of Iran - whose used their size to bully their way to the basket constantly (helped by the fact that our 6'11 naturalized, American-born center was injured). All in all, it was a gallant effort to be proud of.
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Bundesliga Season Begins
As the Premier League struggled to (over)spend ridiculous amounts of money for top quality strikers, Borussia Dortmund have (once AGAIN) managed to unearth a jewel of a striker in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
I promised myself at the end of last season that I'd begin catching Bundesliga games this season in the wake of how truly impressed I was with the quality of Bayern and Borussia Dortmund. The Bayern-Mochengladbach game was at 2:30 am Singapore time and could only be seen if recorded, but my wife had beaten me to the remote earlier, recording a marathon telecast of 'Switched At Birth' in the same timeslot. So I was only left with Augsburg vs. Borussia Dortmund on Saturday night (on a decent 9:30pm timeslot).
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I was looking forward to see Borussia's Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (they're much easier to pronounce than spell with a keyboard!) but only managed to catch the latter (Mkhitaryan was not even dressed for the game). Without Gotze and Mkhitaryan, Aubameyang started on the right wing (where Kuba normally starts) while Gundogan started as a '10' for Dortmund. From what I saw, Dortmund are missing the presence of their '10'. Gundogan didn't look at home in his advanced position up the pitch at all. Borussia couldn't manage to control the game early on (despite the first half goals) and looked much better when Kuba came in during the second half, switching Aubameyang to the left with Marco Reus playing behind Lewandowski.
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Aubameyang however, was a wonder to watch. As we are in a transfer market filled with over-priced strikers, Dortmund seems to have completed a great bit of business in signing one of the French League's topscorers last season for "only" 13m Euros. The Gabon striker scored a hat trick from a header and 2 great finishes all coming from his impressive pace. I'm not sure if he is the man to eventually replace Robert Lewandowski, as his slight frame raises question marks in my mind though. Lewandowski also still managed to score from the spot to make it 4-0.
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I honestly wonder if the coming season will raise questions in Lewandowski's mind about his suitability for Bayern - with all their 'experiments'. If Dortmund can snag some silverware this season at the expense of Bayern, will a nice hefty pay rise do the job in keeping him where he is? Or make him choose to go elsewhere?
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EPL Friendlies - Celtic vs. Liverpool
I managed to catch the friendly between Celtic vs. Liverpool as well. Liverpool's possession-based play has improved by leaps and bounds especially with the presence of Philippe Coutinho. The young Brazilian looks the part as Liverpool's '10'. His vision, incisiveness on the pass and on the dribble is impressive. Now, they only just need to get their hands on a reliable finisher for those chances that they can now create with him onboard.
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Liverpool's biggest problem however remains to be Luis Suarez who seems to be deliberately out to become the poster child as Modern Football's Bad Boy. For a club that values its image like Liverpool, it was shocking to read about their now-abandoned pursuit for Altetico Madrid's wind up merchant Diego Costa. Maybe they ought to have gone after ex-Sevilla (now with Cardiff) defensive midfielder Gary Medel La Liga's King of Red Cards too. A Suarez-Costa-Medel teamup at Merseyside would have been the Premier League's ultimate Bad Boy Team. 
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Real Madrid: Bale-ing out on Madness?
Seems like people have forgotten that we have our own wonderkid in Jese.
"Why do we need to talk about Bale when we have Morata and Jese?" - Carlo Ancelotti
"100m for Bale seems much..." -Florentino Perez
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Could it be true? Did Florentino Perez go to Miami not just to see Madrid crush Chelsea and meet with Daniel Levy? That he also went to see a shrink who helped him get past his Daddy (or Mommy) issues? To hear him tell ESPN that 100m for Bale 'seems much' and later on have Carlo Ancelotti draw talk away from Bale and towards our young forwards Morata and Jese are promising signs that Real Madrid are veering away from the childish pissing contest with Barca on signing 'galacticos'. 
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I don't care if it's because Daniel Levy has discovered that Real Madrid is not that liquid and can only pay Bale's fee in installments. If it's true that Real Madrid offered 100m for Levy to reject and in the process, piss Gareth Bale off, Real Madrid must now approach their pursuit of Bale with absolute sense and LOWER their bid to not a cent more than 65m. It ought to be a take-it-or-leave-it offer. If Spurs want to jack up the Bale's price by claiming that Manchester United are in for him, then Madrid ought to call their bluff. Let's REALLY see if United can spend 86m GBP on a player (I have full confidence that there is no way that Man U can outbid us for Bale)... or if Spurs will let him go to another Premier League rival. It is a consequence I as a Madridista am fully prepared to face. And while they're at it, we should tell Levy that we aren NOT accepting a cent less than the 30m Euros we forked out Coentrao when we got him, if Spurs want him.
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In the mean time, I'd rather see Perez, Ancelotti and Zidane place their trust in Morata and Jese. The 2 Castilla products whose success outside of Real Madrid haunt me the most are Samuel Etoo and Juan Mata. If Morata doesn't pan out to be as prolific as Etoo, then he might just turn out to be in the Alvaro Negredo-Roberto Soldado level: very much  worthy of a place in the squad as a second choice striker who can give us 15 goals/season in that role. Jese on the other hand, has the makings of Spain's first choice winger, he moves with pace, dribbles with confidence and is in dire need of trust to perform for Real Madrid's first team to show his true potential. 
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In this regard, I find Real Madrid to be in the crossroads in the way they deal with the 2 youngsters: do we shun them away to quench the unreasonable thirst for an overpriced 'galactico' ? And accept the possibility of seeing them succeed so spectacularly outside of Madrid, to haunt us and remind us of the club's ridiculous short-terminist mindset in player recruitment and development (just as Etoo did and Mata promises to do)? 
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Or do we blood them into the squad, give them minutes and opportunities to grow with the team, develop their talents further and boost their confidence to form the next generation of Real Madrid's core?
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Let us remind ourselves that we are NOT talking about Oscar Minambres, Raul Bravo or just anyone  who can pass as a 'token presence' of the cantera in the squad. We are talking about certifiably talented young players whose capabilities have been affirmed by no less than Ancelotti and Zidane. 
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Barca's Not-So-Friendly Trip to Southeast Asia
"Do You Have Any Idea Who I Am!?!??!" Cesc asks a Malaysian Player
I wondered at first where the photo of an ex-colleague all dolled up in Blaugrana scarves was taken from when it first turned up on Facebook. I soon discovered that it was taken from Barca's recently-concluded trip to Malaysia upon reading the discussion thread: No Messi due to injury.
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It was the same 'friendly' where there were typical Barca complaints about the condition of the pitch (clearly they didn't see the state of the pitch in from the Barclays Asia trophy in Hong Kong some weeks back) - which resulted in a venue change and guaranteed chaos for reserved seating and the organizers. 
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 It was the same 'friendly' Cesc almost had some testy exchanges with the local players... and the same event that endeared Barca to the local fans and media (NOT!). 
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One would think that after the disastrous Messi and Friends exhibition match in the US (where fans paid thousands of dollars for VIP tickets to meet Messi and Friends only to be snubbed), that entities in the club would be more wary with how they deal local organizers. This apparently was not done. As one headline hilariously put it: It was not just Messi, It was Chaos.
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Note to Real Madrid's PR Deparment: Please learn from this. The last thing I want to hear about my club is to have it described as being one comprised of ungracious snobs.

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