olympics
Hasan Sardar weaves his way through to bring Pakistan hockey gold
The all-conquering Australian team came to Los Angeles as favourites, not realising that they were destined for another disappointment and probably under-estimating the challenge from Pakistan
By Gul Hameed Bhatti
When Pakistan took part in the Los Angeles Olympic Games of 1984, much time had elapsed since their last participation at Montreal 1976. The country had joined another 61 nations of the world in the United States of America-led boycott of the Moscow Olympiad in 1980, as a mark of protest against the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan, and thus they were making a reappearance at the Olympic Games -- technically -- after an absence of eight years.

cricket
Why can't cricket players guarantee injury-free careers?
If the money on offer is good they would be willing to go wherever and whenever their sponsors want them to go. So there's no point in complaining about 'too much cricket'
By Khurram Mahmood
Injuries to leading players in cricket are a common phenomenon now and many countries are facing this type of a crisis. Such injuries take place just because of mismanagement of the relevant boards or the players themselves.

Euro 2008: Spain breaks the hoodoo, at last
England's absence wasn't felt too much as the other big guns such as the Netherlands, Portugal, Germany, Spain, Italy and France were in top gear
By Muhammad Shahbaz Zahid
Spain, one of the powerhouses of world football, have finally buried their tag of being underachievers on the international stage and have now won a major title after beating Germany 1-0 in the final of European Football Championship -- the 2008 edition.

Pakistan cricket:
Bane of the paranoiacs?
Amidst all this there is good news for the current regime.
Asia Cup defeats against India and Sri Lanka haven't plunged the nation into deep depression because they had started to believe that cricket is finished
By Dr Nauman Niaz
If a top director was sacked and then reinstated with the Punjab High Court staying the Chairman PCB's decision, someone at the board is duty bound to provide an explanation for terminating the services of General Manager Finance and a few others or accept failure and not blame the victims as they had already been doing. It is not only insensitive, it is dangerous.

 

olympics
Hasan Sardar weaves his way through to bring Pakistan hockey gold

By Gul Hameed Bhatti

When Pakistan took part in the Los Angeles Olympic Games of 1984, much time had elapsed since their last participation at Montreal 1976. The country had joined another 61 nations of the world in the United States of America-led boycott of the Moscow Olympiad in 1980, as a mark of protest against the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan, and thus they were making a reappearance at the Olympic Games -- technically -- after an absence of eight years.

Soon, Pakistan ended up rejoicing a triumph in the hockey final at the Los Angeles Olympiad, defeating the Federal Republic (West) of Germany team by a 2-1 margin in the decider and thus won their third gold medal in the sport, after having claimed the previous two at Rome in 1960 and at Mexico City in 1968.

Unfortunately, in about a quarter of a century since, Pakistan have been unable to add to that third gold medal. In fact, the last time they clinched an Olympic Games hockey medal was back at Barcelona in 1992, that too being only a bronze. From the last three Olympiads, starting from Atlanta 1996, the hockey team has always returned home empty handed. At Atlanta, in fact, they had finished sixth, which has been their lowest position ever since they began taking part at this level at London in the year 1948.

But Pakistan's victory in Los Angeles in 1984 was a well deserved one. Centre-forward Hasan Sardar, playing in his only Olympiad, weaved his way through the opposition with as many as 10 goals in the tournament, nine of them through field efforts and the remaining one after converting a penalty corner. Hasan emerged as the highest individual scorer of the contest and he surely proved to be the difference between Pakistan and the other participants of the hockey competition.

Pakistan played hockey extensively at the international level during the years between Montreal 1976 and Los Angeles 1984. They had done so strongly too and one wonders if they had pocketed another gold medal had they agreed to make an appearance at Moscow in 1980. Since they had suffered a slump in fortunes following their last gold medal at Tokyo 1964, India had their best opportunity to pick up their eighth gold at Moscow and they did exactly that in a tournament restricted to just six teams.

Only two teams were available in Moscow 1980 for the hockey event as compared to the 11 which took part at Montreal four years earlier. Argentina, Canada, Malaysia, Pakistan and West Germany were among the nations that boycotted the Olympic Games. Australia, Belgium, Netherlands and New Zealand sent other athletes to Moscow but declined participation in the hockey tournament. Great Britain, too, who could have played decided against doing so almost at the last moment.

With only 80 nations at Moscow, the 1980 Olympic Games had the lowest number of countries taking part at this level since Melbourne 1956. The hockey competition almost fell through but the International Hockey Federation (FIH) eventually managed to save it. India and Spain were the predicted finalists, winning gold and silver, respectively, with the bronze medal going to hosts USSR. The other three teams were Poland, Cuba and Tanzania.

Moscow also saw the introduction of the women's event in hockey at the Olympic Games. Zimbabwe sprung a surprise by winning the gold, with Czechoslovakia and USSR finishing at the next two places. Interestingly, 177,880 spectators watched the 33 matches of the hockey tournament at the stadiums used.

 

AN ENTIRE GENERATION CONSUMED BY EIGHT-YEAR ABSENCE

Although only eight years had gone by before Pakistan got back into the Olympic Games mode, it seemed a whole generation of hockey players had been consumed by this absence. Outside-right Islahuddin, who was vice-captain at Montreal 1976, had emerged as one of Pakistan hockey's most successful captains when he led Pakistan Colours to victory over Netherlands in the final of the Quaid-e-Azam Centenary Celebrations Tournament in Lahore in 1976. Then, in 1978, he was again at the helm when Pakistan won the Test series against India 3-1, played at home and away in India.

Pakistan clinched a wonderful triumph under Islahuddin when they won the World Cup title in Buenos Aires in Argentina, also in 1978. Pakistan also picked up the first Champions Trophy, at Lahore in 1978, and Islahuddin was again the captain.

Islahuddin's stint as Pakistan hockey skipper ended in a blaze of glory. Under him, his team defeated arch-rivals India in the final of the Asian Games at Bangkok in 1978 through a 1-0 win. It was Pakistan's fifth gold medal in six tournaments at this level.

By 1980, the senior team's leadership had passed on to left full-back Munawwaruz Zaman, under whom Pakistan retained the Champions Trophy title in Karachi. Centre-half Akhtar Rasool was captain when Pakistan won the Champions Trophy for a third successive time at Karachi in 1981.

Akhtar Rasool was captain at the World Cup played in Bombay in 1982, which Pakistan won. Outside-left 'The Flying Horse' Samiullah was in charge when Pakistan won the inaugural Asia Cup title at Karachi in 1982.

Under Samiullah, Pakistan ended fourth at the Champions Trophy played in Amsterdam, also in 1982 but the Asian Games title later the same year was claimed in no uncertain fashion, when Pakistan defeated India by the massive margin of 7-1 at Delhi.

Inside-left Hanif Khan was captain when Pakistan ended at second place, on both occasions to Australia, in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Kuala Lumpur in 1983 and in the Champions Trophy event in Karachi the same year. Australia again beat Pakistan in the final, with Hanif still at the helm, in the 10-Nation Golden Jubilee Tournament in Hong Kong in 1983.

Pakistan had done extremely well in those early years in the 1980s. They had claimed all major hockey titles -- the World Cup, Champions Trophy, the event at the Asian Games and the Asia Cup. Now, they were going to take yet another Olympic Games gold medal.

By the Los Angeles Games came about, the captaincy had gone to inside-right Manzoor Hussain, popularly known as Manzoor Junior. Hanif was now the vice-captain. Manzoor, who was captain when Pakistan won the first Junior World Cup in Versailles, France, in 1979, had led the country's hockey outfit in the Pakistan-India Test series in Kuwait and Doha and the extensive tour of Europe, that covered six nations, in the year 1984.

 

ONLY TWO SURVIVORS

FROM MONTREAL

Only two players had survived from the Olympic Games in Montreal eight years earlier -- skipper Manzoor Junior and his deputy Hanif Khan. Three families provided more of their hockey exponents at Los Angeles. Tauqeer Dar's father (Munir Dar) and uncle (Tanvir Dar) had represented Pakistan at previous Olympiads and so had the brothers of Kalimullah (Samiullah in 1976) and Rashidul Hasan (Manzoorul Hasan, also in Montreal).

The other members of the team in Los Angeles were Syed Ghulam Moinuddin and Shahid Ali Khan, the two goalkeepers, in addition to Mushtaq Ahmed, Ishtiaq Ahmed, Naeem Akhtar, Nasir Ali, Khalid Hameed, Ayaz Mahmood, Hasan Sardar, Qasim Zia and Saleem Sherwani, a striker who had the same name as Pakistan's goalkeeper in the last two Olympic Games.

The manager's job was still in the possession of Manzoor Hussain Atif, who had served in the same capacity at Mexico City 1968 and Montreal 1976 also. He himself played in four consecutive Olympic Games starting from Helsinki 1952. Khawaja Zakauddin regained the coach's spot after having done the same at Munich 1972.

After the boycott by 62 nations at Moscow 1980, it was now time for a Soviet bloc withdrawal at Los Angeles 1984. Sydney Friskin wrote in his celebrated book 'Pakistan Hockey: Going for Gold' -- "Political undercurrents at the Olympic Games, however, did not end there (with the Moscow boycott). In retaliation, the Soviet Union, in fact almost the whole of the Eastern Bloc, pulled out of the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles citing a lack of security as the reason for the withdrawal. Fortunately hockey was not seriously affected and Great Britain gratefully gained entry as reserve nation eventually to win the bronze medal.

"The all-conquering Australian team came to Los Angeles as favourites, not realising that they were destined for another disappointment and probably under-estimating the challenge from Pakistan.

"The Pakistan team, full of talent and experience, had a somewhat precarious passage into the semifinals. The first match against New Zealand ended in a 3-3 draw after a tantalising fluctuation in fortune. The scales were tilted in favour of Pakistan after Hasan Sardar had scored three goals in answer to Peter Daji's early goal for New Zealand. Daji reduced the lead with only three minutes to go and levelled the score when thirty seconds were left on the clock.

"Pakistan then dropped another point in a 3-3 draw with Holland, coming back from 2-0 down and then drawing level with a somewhat soft goal by Manzoor Hussain. A goalless draw with Great Britain in the presence of Princess Anne then put Pakistan in a quandary. It meant waiting for the result of the match between Holland and Kenya.

"Holland had lost 4-3 to Great Britain and needed to beat Kenya by a margin of five goals for a place in the semifinals. The Dutch, in spite of all their talent and experience, were held goalless up to the interval and had a lucky escape when their goalkeeper Alex Bos saved a penalty stroke.

"Holland's anxiety was partly relieved when Theodoor Doyer opened the scoring in the second half; but Kenya conceded only two more goals which meant that a 3-0 victory was insufficient for Holland and fate once again had played a hand.

"Pakistan finished second in the pool to Great Britain with seven points and, like Britain, with an unbeaten record. Holland also had seven points but was displaced in goal difference.

"Meanwhile the rampaging Australians had made a clean sweep of all five matches in the other pool to finish on top with ten points. West Germany was second. The Australians, however, were halted in their tracks in the semifinals with a 1-0 defeat by Pakistan in consequence of a goal by Hasan Sardar shortly before half-time with a splendid shot from the top of the circle.

"The match played at a fast pace was interrupted three times for treatment to injured Pakistani players; but the worst injury was suffered by the Australian full-back Craig Davies, who continued in spite of a cut over one of his eyes. At one time blood was streaming down his face.

"Australia fought desperately to save the match but failed to score and Pakistan qualified for the final. Great Britain's hopes were dashed after a 1-0 defeat by West Germany in the other semifinal, Ekhard Schmidt having scored from a well worked penalty corner midway in the second half.

"Visions of the 1972 final in Munich flashed vividly to mind as West Germany and Pakistan faced one another again. The pattern was all too familiar with the Germans taking control in midfield and Pakistan moving in high gear.

"The first half ended blank, but the deadlock was broken ten minutes after the resumption of play when Michael Peter scored for West Germany. The German hold on the match was soon broken with a goal by Hasan Sardar, his tenth of the tournament, from a penalty corner.

"As there was no further score, the match moved into extra time and, in the second spell, the Germans, visibly tired, conceded a penalty corner which was cleverly converted by the outside-right Kalimullah for a 2-1 win. The gold medal was back in Pakistan's hands after sixteen years."

 

PAKISTAN YACHTSMEN

MAKE AN APPEARANCE

While there were three men sent for the track and field events in addition to four boxers and two wrestlers, the Los Angeles Games were significant for the participation of a Pakistan yachting (now known as sailing since the year 2000) squad at the event.

Encouraged by the three gold medals that the country won at the Asian Games at Bangkok 1978 and Delhi 1982 -- the yachting event in the latter Games was held in Bombay though due to the city's proximity to the ocean -- the authorities here felt that it was time to make a debut at the Olympic Games also. The results were disastrous.

There was no Enterprise Class, or the OK Dinghy race, at the 1984 Olympiad in which Pakistan had done so well at the Asian Games level. In the Soling Class, the Pakistan trio led by Khalid Mahmood Akhtar, who had won gold at Bombay two years earlier, finished 20th out of 22 teams.

Arshad Chaudhry ended a poor 24th out of 28 sailors in the Finn Class. Munir Sadiq, who with hotel magnate Byram D Avari had won the Asian Games Enterprise gold at Bangkok 1978, teamed up with his Pakistan Navy colleague Mohammad Zakaullah at Los Angeles. The two finished 22nd out of 28 in the 470 Class.

Of the wrestlers, Abdul Majeed Maruwala gave a good account of himself in the light heavyweight class. He was eventually beaten by the United States' Ed Banach in the fourth round, with the latter going on to win the gold medal.             

 

RECORD 140 NATIONS

IN SPITE OF BOYCOTT

Although a revenge boycott led by the Soviet Union depleted the field in certain sports, a record 140 nations took part. Joan Benoit won the inaugural women's marathon and Connie Carpenter-Phinney the first women's cycling road race. Carl Lewis won both sprints and the long jump and earned a fourth gold in the 4x100m relay.

Pertti Karppinen won single sculls rowing for the third time. Sebastian Coe became the first repeat winner of the men's 1,500m. Archer Neroli Fairhall was the first paraplegic athlete to take part in a medal event. She competed in a wheelchair.

A total of 6,829 athletes -- 1,566 women and 5,263 men -- took part in the 221 events held in 23 sports. In view of the American-led boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, the Soviet-led counter-boycott caused 14 Eastern Bloc countries and allies including the Soviet Union, Cuba and East Germany (but not Romania) to boycott these Olympics. For differing reasons, Iran and Libya also boycotted.

With USSR absent, the Games of the XXIII Olympiad were dominated by United States with a total of 174 medals, that comprised 83 gold, 61 silver and 30 bronze. Romania were second with a tally of 53 with 20 gold and West Germany third with 59 that included 17 gold medals.

The remaining nations among the top ten medal winners were China 32 (15-8-9), Italy 32 (14-6-12), Canada 44 (10-18-16), Japan 32 (10-8-14), New Zealand 11 (8-1-2), Yugoslavia 18 (7-4-7) and South Korea 19 (6-6-7).

 

 

NEXT WEEK: Pakistan at 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul

 

The writer is Group Editor Sports of 'The News'

gulhbhatti@hotmail.com

bhatti.gulhameed@gmail.com

 

PAKISTAN AT 1984 OLYMPIC GAMES: ALL RESULTS

ATHLETICS

100 metres: Round 1 heat 6 Mohammad Mansha 10.87sec 7th out of 7

200 metres: Round 1 heat 3 Mohammad Mansha 22.04sec 6th out of 8

400 metres: Round 1 heat 3 Syed Meesaq Rizvi 49.58sec 7th out of 7

800 metres: Round 1 heat 6 Syed Meesaq Rizvi 1:51.29min 5th out of 7

Javelin throw: Qualifying Group 2 Mohammad Rasheed 74.58m 9th out of 13

 

BOXING

Bantamweight (54kg): 1/32 bye. 1/16 bout 142 Babar Ali Khan beat Firmin Abissi (Benin) on points 5:0, 1/8 bout 211 lost to Robinson Pitalua Tamara (Colombia) on points 5:0

Lightweight (60kg): 1/32 bout 14 Asif Kamran Dar beat Shlomo Niazov (Israel) on points 5:0, 1/16 bout 172 lost to Leopoldo Cantancio (Philippines) on points 5:0

Welterweight (67kg): 1/32 bye. 1/16 bout 106 Syed Abrar Hussain lost to Vesa Koskela (Sweden) on points 4:1

Super Heavyweight (+91kg): 1/8 bout 165 Mohammad Yousuf lost to Lennox Lewis (Canada) RSC in third round

 

HOCKEY

Pool B: Pakistan drew with New Zealand 3-3 (half-time 1-1), beat Kenya 3-0 (h-t 3-0), drew with Holland 3-3 (h-t Holland 2-1), beat Canada 7-1 (h-t 5-0), drew with Great Britain 0-0 (h-t 0-0). Pakistan finished second after Great Britain in Pool B 5 played, 2 won, 3 drawn, GF 16, GA 7, points 7. Semifinals Pakistan beat Australia 1-0 (h-t 1-0). Final Pakistan beat FR Germany 2-1 (h-t 0-0). Pakistan won the gold medal

 

WRESTLING (FREESTYLE)

74kg (middleweight): Group A round 1 Gul Mohammad lost to Ali Faris (Iraq) by fall, round 2 bye, round 3 lost to Myung-Woo Han (Korea) by fall

90kg (light heavyweight): Group A round 1 Abdul Majeed Maruwala beat Ilie Matei (Romania) on points 12:0, round 2 beat Edwin Lins (Austria) on points 11:6, round 3 lost to Ismail Temiz (Turkey) on technical points after drawing 3:3, round 4 lost to Ed Banach (USA) by fall

 

YACHTING

Soling Class: Pakistan (Khalid M Akhtar/Adnan Yousuf/Naseem Anwar Khan) points 172.00, net points 145.00 20th out of 22

Finn Class: Arshad Chaudhry points 198.00, net points 168.00 24th out of 28

470 Class: Pakistan (Munir Sadiq/Mohammad Zakaullah) points 182.00, net points 147.00 22nd out of 28

PAKISTAN WON A GOLD MEDAL

 

 

Injuries to leading players in cricket are a common phenomenon now and many countries are facing this type of a crisis. Such injuries take place just because of mismanagement of the relevant boards or the players themselves.

Players are human beings after all and need rest along with today's excessive cricket. Throughout the year in this world, Test series, ODI tournaments, county cricket and now Twenty20 are played regularly and there is not much of a gap, which a player must require.

These days cricket is played throughout the year with short breaks only due to which the injury ratio among the players has increased. Fast bowlers receive more injuries; Shoaib Akhtar, Steve Harmison, Andrew Flintoff, Sreesanth, Irfan Pathan, Mohammad Asif and recently Umar Gul are the current examples. But huge financial benefits encourage the players to participate in every game.

Over the past few years, it has been the same list of injuries: Shoaib Malik's ankle, Umar Gul's back, Shoaib Akhtar's foot or hamstring or knee, Inzamam's back and so on and on and on.

In the ongoing Asia Cup during an important game against India, Pakistan's main strike bowler Umar Gul left the field after bowling just eight deliveries due to a rib cartilage injury and he has been ruled out for around two weeks due to which he is out of the remaining Asia Cup matches.

Not only fast bowlers, but Pakistan batsmen too are facing fitness problems. Last month opener Salman Butt retired hurt after scoring a century against India in the tri-series final in Bangladesh and last week skipper Shoaib Malik failed to continue his innings also against India during the match in the Asia Cup after scoring a century.

This level of fitness clearly shows that batsmen are not fully fit to play full 50 overs game and their fitness level and stamina are not upto the international standard.

On important occasion these mishaps have not happened only recently. On the last tour of England the then Pakistan skipper Inzamam-ul-Haq faced worries regarding the fitness of some key players on the crucial tour. Fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar and the in-form Rana Naved-ul-Hasan were ruled out for the series as they failed to recover from their ankle injury and hamstring damage, respectively.

Obviously, it was a great setback for the Pakistani team. Rana Naved was in good form and his contribution for Sussex had fetched him 34 wickets in his last five matches. He was a bowler ideally suited for English conditions where swing bowlers get more wickets than the bowlers who depends only on pace.

Now the question is: Why do the players tend to figure in Twenty20 and county games in spite of complaining about too many international assignments? Of course, money is the most important factor.

At least senior players should withdraw from Twenty20 cricket as Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly do. But promises of huge sums of money make it difficult for them to resist such offers. When they're not on national duty they can do as they please. Nobody can force them to put more burden on their already weary bodies, but it is the players themselves who are to be blamed.

If the money on offer is good they would be willing to go wherever and whenever their sponsors want them to go. So there's no point in complaining about 'too much cricket'.

Players are getting handsome amounts from the board after signing central contracts, receiving millions as match fees, daily allowance, winning bonus etc, etc. So how much do they want to earn and why are they taking risks like injuries for playing without rest?

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) should also take notice of the players' excessive cricket for counties, the new Twenty20 format or any other commitment except national duty. They are our national assets and the board is paying them salary and other benefits along with heavy expenditure for their treatment when required just to keep them fit for national duties. But at the time when the team needs a 100 percent fit player -- they find them injured and not available for the national side.

Many players don't take part in domestic cricket for 'personal reasons' but always remain available for money making matches abroad even in non-Test playing countries.

Senior players should skip matches against low ranked or weak sides so they will remain fit and fresh for against the tough opposition. The second advantage of the senior players' exclusion would be that junior players could be tested for gaining some international experience. In the absence of such practices, most of the time the Pakistan cricket management is trying young players against good opposition or in crunch matches where junior players get their confidence shattered instead.

The medical panel of PCB must take notice for the players' regular injuries. The panel should set a higher standard for the players and when a player is injured after a short time again the medical panel and the board must take notice and find out the reasons.

 

The writer works in the art department in 'The News on Sunday' in Karachi

khurrams87@yahoo.com




Euro 2008: Spain breaks the hoodoo, at last

Spain, one of the powerhouses of world football, have finally buried their tag of being underachievers on the international stage and have now won a major title after beating Germany 1-0 in the final of European Football Championship -- the 2008 edition.

This triumph came for Spain after remaining without a trophy for a huge period of 44 years. And this they did after performing impressively in the European Football Championship which was held simultaneously in Austria and Switzerland from 7th to 29th June.

Sixteen European outfits participated in the tourney and were divided into four groups. The best of the European footballers displayed their class and charisma in the event which is considered as the second biggest football tournament in the world after the FIFA World Cup.

The stature of football in Europe has been growing by the day. This statement can be seconded by the fact that the best footballers from around the world play their club football in Europe -- which has leagues in its kitty such as the English Premier League, Spanish league (La Liga), German league (Bundesliga), Italian league (Serie A) and the French league (Ligue 1) among others.

This year's tournament however missed the likes of England who failed to qualify for the event. This was a major blow for English football as their club team -- Manchester United -- won two titles the previous season which included the UEFA Champions League crown as well.

But England's absence wasn't felt too much as the other big guns -- such as the Netherlands, Portugal, Germany, Spain, Italy and France -- were in top gear.

The tournament was off to a flyer as the former world No 3, the Czech Republic, eased past co-hosts Switzerland while the star-studded Portugal overcame Turkey in Group A in their first matches.

Group B had Austria in its line-up, the other co-host, and they felt the same pain as Switzerland after losing their first match to Croatia. Germany was off to a winning start as well after downing Poland in their first tie.

The Group of Death -- Group C -- was the one to watch for. This group included the likes of 1998 world champions France, 2006 World Cup winners Italy and ever-dangerous Netherlands. The fourth side in the line-up was that of Romania.

There were surprises in the store for most of the teams as France were held to a nil-nil draw in their first match against Romania while Netherlands thrashed Italy 3-0 in their tie -- a result that surprised many.

Group D had the likes of Spain, Russia, Sweden and 2004 Euro champions Greece. The Spanish team thrashed Russia 4-1 in their opening encounter while Sweden upset Greece in their fixture.

After the opening matches in every group, it looked like that the minnows of European football would again make early exits and the big names in the game would qualify for the knock-out stages.

But things took a sudden change soon.

Turkey, after losing their first match, came back strongly and stunned the Czechs and Switzerland to qualify for the quarter-finals. Alongside them qualified favourites Portugal.

In Group B, Germany and Croatia easily sailed into the quarter-finals. The Germans at that time looked serious contenders for the title and they did prove their worth after making the finals. This was the first time after 1996 that the Germans had made the Euro finals.

The Group of Death lived up to the hype which was created before the event. The Netherlands looked in supreme form and easily qualified for the quarters after winning all three of their matches.

The second spot was at stake. And Italy, France and Romania gave their best shot to secure the spot. In the end, it was the mighty Italian team who beat France 2-0 in their last match to seal their place.

What Turkey did in Group A was done by the Russians in Group D. After being overwhelmed by Spain in their first match, Russia hit back hard and beat Sweden and Greece to silence their critics. They did this under the dynamic coaching of Guus Hiddink.

The first quarter-final was a mouth-watering contest between the Portuguese and Germany. Portugal had a slight edge over the Germans but the Ballack-led team defended and attacked very strongly and won the match 3-2 in the end.

It was a huge disappointment for Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portuguese superstar, who was looking to make it three titles in the season after winning the EPL and Champions League titles with Manchester United.

The Croatians and Turks faced off against each other in the second quarter-final and this match was the one to remember. Turkey were the comeback kings again as they defeated Croatia on penalties to make semifinals for the first time in their history.

Spain and Italy were up against each other in the third quarter-final. This match went to the wire after remaining goalless in the first 90 minutes and then in extra time.

The match was decided on penalties then and Spain held on to their nerves to clinch the match. The Italians went out of the tournament after losing 2-4 on penalties. This lost triggered a change in the Italian camp and now their coach has been changed. Roberto Donadoni has now been replaced by World Cup-winning coach Marcello Lippi.

The shocker of the tournament came in the fourth quarter-final when Russia beat the Netherlands. It was a strange result keeping in view the performances of the Dutch team. They had absolutely hammered their opponents and were in top form through out the event.

But Russia had other things on their mind. Hiddink, a Dutchman himself, knew all about the way Holland play their game and took full advantage of this. Russia won 3-1 after extra time.

Germany faced Turkey in the first semifinal and it was one-way traffic in the match. The Turks dominated the match throughout and never allowed the Germans to settle down. They took the lead first but suddenly succumbed to the pressure of the match. Luck went against them as well and the Germans took full advantage of it. Phillip Lahm scored the winner in the 90th minute for Germany making the scoreline 3-2.

The second semifinal turned out to be completely different from the first one as Spain outclassed Russia to win the match 3-0. Though Russia and Turkey bowed out in different fashions, one positive thing that came out of this tournament was the emergence of European minnows in this major event.

There was a time when teams like Turkey and Russia would lose all their group matches and would never qualify for the knock-out stages. But things have changed now. Europe has now seen two new outfits challenging for the title of best European football team.

Spain and Germany then faced each other in one of the most exciting Euro finals in recent history.

In front of a capacity crowd, Spain made a better start and went all out to attack the German defence. Missing star striker David Villa from their line-up due to an injury, Spain still had enough firepower to rattle the German back-four.

And they took the lead in the 33rd minute after Fernando Torres, the Liverpool striker, scored a beautifully executed goal. This was Torres's second goal of the tournament.

Germany then tried their level best to equalise the match. Michael Ballack, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mario Gomez, Miroslav Klose, Lukas Podolski and Kevin Kuranyi all tried to get onto the scoresheet but couldn't do so. The first half ended 1-0 in Spain's favour.

The second half saw more aggressive football being played on the pitch. The Germans, at times, started losing their cool and committed foul after foul. They attacked again and again but Spain's captain and goalkeeper Iker Casillas stood firm.

If Barcelona defender Carles Puyol was strong in the defence, his club teammates Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez were equally impressive. Xavi was in such supreme form that he emerged as Euro's top man after the final.

Along with them, Arsenal playmaker Cesc Fabregas, Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos and Liverpool's Xabi Alonso played their part as well.

But the story of the final belonged to Torres who rattled up the German defence through out the match. And his lone strike was enough to give Spain a famous win after Germany failed to equalise in regular time.

Spain didn't lose a single match in the tournament and were the topscorers as well with 12. Their attacking nature of the game was exposed when they took a total of 117 shots in the tournament. And it wasn't only Torres who was lethal upfront. Villa, before getting injured, was equally impressive as well.

Spain, now, are the European champions for the next four years. Their club league is one of the best, if not the best, league in the world. With teams like Real Madrid and Barcelona in their ranks, Spain certainly has the gas in the tank to improve further.

Their next target should be the 2010 World Cup title in South Africa. And if they are able to win this coveted title as well, they will long be remembered as the best footballing nation in the world.

 

The writer is a freelance contributor

shehnu@gmail.com



Pakistan cricket:
Bane of the paranoiacs?

If a top director was sacked and then reinstated with the Punjab High Court staying the Chairman PCB's decision, someone at the board is duty bound to provide an explanation for terminating the services of General Manager Finance and a few others or accept failure and not blame the victims as they had already been doing. It is not only insensitive, it is dangerous.

It would further inflame the sentiments of paranoiacs like us, the diehard cricket enthusiasts and well-wishers from whom the sequence of such events have become raw wounds. PCB should simply stop taking impulsive decisions pouring oil on fire and then lament when there is a reaction.

I suppose it is in the nature of things that the PCB hierarchy should have difficulty understanding the public mood. Running the PCB or being apt in man-management, feelings of grandiosity and power is not their business. It is in this context that I take my hat off to Saleem Altaf.

He rushed out of the PCB office, once he was unlawfully exterminated and then got back using the legal platform. On television, in a show hosted by his brother the celebrated Naeem Bokhari, his expression of grief was obvious, palpable and spontaneous. It was not a political show designed for public consumption it was rather an appearance of a man irked and rattled to the hilt, about how bad the things were in Pakistan cricket. During the programme, and in his talk that night, the choice of words, the expression of hurt, captured the public mood.

It seemed as if he was the man who was trying to stand up to all the wrong things happening within the PCB -- that's one view. Someone legitimately asked a question that why Altaf stayed at the PCB once he was removed from the coveted post of Director Cricket Operations and dumped into nothingness (Director Special Projects).

A gentleman, an ex-player, on a fateful Friday questioned that why Altaf decided to stand by the rightful only during his own hour of trial. That I would like to ask him once we meet in Lahore because it would surely be insensitive and risky to talk on telephone, with everything being bugged and tapped, even micro-cameras installed outside his office at the Gaddafi Stadium.

It is also very much possible that the PCB, as they may well be thinking going to the Supreme Court against the stay order that permitted Altaf not only to return to his office but also left the Chairman reddened with embarrassment. Whatever the decision, whether Altaf manages to hang on or leaves, the fact is that impulsive happenings have made the current cricket regime look like crashing into parochial sentiments.

Next Shoaib Malik, Pakistan's in-form batsman but a lacklustre captain, often helpless and hapless hasn't seen his team creating ripples, cyclones and rains, rather having brought down the much-trumpeted cricket renaissance claims in the same fashion as collapsing billboards. Malik, after Pakistan's enigmatic or more realistically a humiliating loss against India at the picturesque National Stadium in Karachi condemned the selectors, opining that he had been handed over the playing eleven.

To him, or to any sane captain, obviously the right of choice of the final eleven rested with the captain or to some extent with the team management. Salahuddin Sallu, a seasoned chief selector, who has been selected more as a selector than he was ever as a player, contradicted Malik's claims.

In an interview he contested Shoaib's allegations maintaining that the team had been signed by the captain and that he had no legitimate right to shift the blame once Pakistan had lost to India. Nonetheless, such skirmishes and shifting of blame does happen but no one had any right to wash the dirty linen in public; to some the linen had become so badly stained that wherever it is washed, the horrible smell travels everywhere, through both permeable and impermeable openings.

It's not about arguments, disagreements and contentious battles between the captain and selectors, that is not so uncommon even in the developed countries, it's about giving people the space to mock on us; why shouldn't we be mocked at?

Why just can't we defend ourselves, we just can't set our priorities right. In the given circumstances, we are having illusions that cricket is developing. This cricket government by its ham-handed actions has shown that nothing is sacred, whether the team or the players. Its hapless spin doctoring with its simple credo of denial and lies, has added insult to injury.

Amidst all this there is good news for the current regime. Asia Cup defeats against India and Sri Lanka haven't plunged the nation into deep depression because they had started to believe that cricket is finished, lost in rhetoric and fanciful claims and also in the whirl of billions of rupees allocated for future development. Which development?

In a tough and a do or die match against Sri Lanka, Mansoor Amjad, barely setting his feet in international cricket was promoted and asked to bat ahead of Sohail Tanvir and despite incessant failures Shahid Afridi being persisted with -- complete lack of planning, it is for sure. Here one hasn't been attempting to confuse the team's performance with bad management of the board rather it was Dr Nasim Ashraf who set the precedence by sending an e-mail asking the manager to address various issues emerging before Pakistan defeated India to annex the Kitply Cup at Dhaka in Bangladesh.

If the PCB could take the credit for pepping up the side in adverse circumstances, they should also be ready to take all blames.

To PCB's ill-luck, the television channels in particular by their wall-to-wall coverage have brought about a paradigm shift in the 'here and now' reporting. This has not only had a far-reaching impact on popular opinion, it has changed forever the way cricket government handles all cricketing affairs.

With yearly budgets running into billions of rupees, we have only seen Pakistan cricket plunging into humiliation. They have prevailed over teams like Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and Hong Kong. Why have we spiralled into mediocrity is a question that needs valid explanations, not the usual rhetoric.

Those people who are willing to destroy our precious sport are not only philistines but fundamentally sinners. They neither understand nor care for what they are inflicting on cricket. And the damage is not only being done within the premise of the national team, but all over.

When Pakistan won at Dhaka against India, it seemed that Shoaib Malik's players had just woken up to smell the coffee. Its umbrage at the result had the innocence of a child whose chocolates had been purloined. What an interesting word, purloined. It is theft through a sleight of the hand or a heist on false pretences. To be successful it relies on naivete and it seemed that the PCB had it in dollops.

What does this tell us if anything? A lot but who will buy it in Pakistan cricket's powerful establishment where decisions have always been made on the whims of one man and a rubber stamping Board of Governors and regrettably never in the larger public good. Meanwhile as the soap opera unfolds daily, more and more makes less and less sense.

Who is with whom and if not, why not, is just one of the perplexing questions quickly shoved aside by even more perplexing questions. What has happened so far could only be comprehended by Maxmillian, Mr Asif Ali Zardari's favourite German Shepherd? It seems things are now even more bewildering.

And into this quagmire of floating corpses of cricket is our reusable patience, with big patches to cover up the punctured postures. It is bad enough to watch from the middle of the national manhole PCB rising again, and still managing to survive. And give it a miss, if our fast bowlers, some dehydrated, some held at Dubai and some banned, Saleem Altaf could still be a viable choice, bowling unplayable bouncers?

 

 

 

 

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