Talking Tactics/ Attitude takes Asians ahead
My Choice/ Hasan Sas, a Turkish delight
Long Whistle/ Inzaghi ‘goal’ vs Croatia was legal
In The City
Bangalore Races/ Priceless for Fillies Stakes

June 14: 
Before the ball started rolling in the 17th World Cup, there was speculation whether the hosts would fail to reach the second round for the first time in the history of the tournament. South Korea and Japan have not only dumped that fear into the Pacific but done that in emphatic style, by topping their respective groups.

The joint hosts were impressive in their first outings but their command over the rivals in the subsequent matches was unexpected. They were lucky to be drawn with teams who were not tipped to win the tournament, barring Portugal, but then Belgium, Poland, Russia are richer in football folklore than the Asians. That’s why this achievement is special.

What led to their success? It’s been a blend of few basic things and discipline, dedication, determination and devotion have played a big part. Having been trained under seasoned European coaches, they have learned the finer points of defensive organisation and midfield co-ordination. Tactically, they haven’t shown anything extraordinary and played simple, direct football, keeping errors to the minimum. Physically, they are behind the traditional powers but made up for it with agility and suppleness.

There are no outstanding individuals in their ranks but almost all are capable of replacing each other. Their recovery is exceptional and they chase the opponent all the time. That is the European game and Japan and South Korea have applied this successfully against those very teams. This is their biggest success.

Japan and South Korea are quite similar in approach. The core of their strength lies in the midfield and they move in tandem. At any given point, at least seven or eight of their players are running. These midfielders operate from deep inside their own half and spread the game in such a way that they always have more men around the ball. The key to success in the modern game is to retain numerical advantage near the point of action and Japan and South Korea have done it to perfection thus far.

They have also overcome a major mental impediment. Korean or Japanese greats of the earlier generation thought they couldn’t last 90 minutes against better teams but the current lot has shown they can do it.

Credit for this should go to the coaches who had to work a lot on the psychological aspect and make them believe in themselves. In this World Cup, they have run all the time, set the pace of the game and varied it according to their requirement.

Guus Hiddink and Philip Troussier appear to be in the grip of knowing their team’s strengths and frailties and made adjustments according to the call of the hour. They knew the Japanese or Koreans may not be able to beat the Europeans or other teams in the air and minimised the use of aerial battle, especially when they were on the offensive.

Quick turning and lightning reflexes are their forte and the coaches were quick to understand this could be used with telling effect with the ball mostly on the ground.

Both Japan and South Korea have been positive so far and this was clear in their urge to dominate the illustrious opponents, including Luis Figo and friends. They have attacked the rival defence at high speed and chased them out from their side of the pitch when they ventured upwards. In modern football, a team is finished if it concedes the psychological edge and both Japan and South Korea have tried to establish their authority from an early stage.

More than tactics and plan, attitude has brought Japan and South Korea thus far and they have no reason to shift gear when they resume the battle in the knock-out phase.

This World Cup has already made a mockery of calculations and if Japan and South Korea retain this frame of mind, they can dream for more.


June 14: 
What a week! A show for the best in the soccer business, and most of the men pack up and go home. I’ll have to make do with the boys, I believe. But that’s nice, too. Often some good comes out of a lot of chaos. You get to observe the fresh faces and new talent… and, more importantly, those who have, for some reason, not had the opportunity to grace tabloid centrespreads.

There has been a decent amount of good action. I can’t complain about that, but I am supposed to look out for talent. That narrowed down my search.

As I saw it, group C comprised Brazil, Brazil, Brazil and Turkey. Soccer jerseys are admired in any fancy colour around the world as long as they are yellow. And the Ronaldos and the Rivaldos are the ‘greats’ who need that constant reassurance that the perch is solid. Like such talent that money can’t buy. For everything else there’s Ronaldo.

It gives you so little elbow space. Then, when you watch Turkey, and concentrate on ‘star’ Hakan Sukur, you actually notice his teammate Hasan Sas instead. I did, and was surprised by this hard-working attacking medio from Galatasaray who fit in like a natural. He snatches, he distributes, he works the left, and he scores too. He plays alone, and he plays with the team.

If I was a bit worried with diminishing star returns, I realised Sukur’s reputation actually went against him, being marked out of the matches. It had to happen, because Sukur wasn’t always generally down, and if you try to do a Paolo Rossi bin today’s world you will be out cold.

And Sas was making the best of it. I liked that. While Sukur was acting the tragic hero, Sas was moving the team, soaking in the sun. He likes the left, and I hear he is a right-footer, while I notice how sweetly lefty he has been. He has become comfortable with the idea of scoring on an international scenario — the Galatasaray action has helped surely — and the shaven-headed 26-year-old has taken a sharp turn towards maturity.

He rounds off his bio-data with his ball control and fine temperament, and with the tremendous load that he takes on quite willingly. Watch him grow.

Japan’s Junichi Inamoto has kept the scanners on him. He is in the thick of things, and keeps a close second on my weekly list. I find it pretty amusing that Arsenal could even think of wanting to release this player. He is young yet. Just let the maturity spice do its work.

I have also been rather impressed with the strong feeling for the country that the Japanese have shown. It is a national character we may one day try and taste a bit.

I also keep a slot for Danish playmaker-forward Jon Dahl Tomasson in my notebook. Not just because he can score, but because how he does it.

He has this turn and speed and carries a brain that works pretty fine. That is what gives him ideas in anticipation and keeps him in the limelight.


June 14: 
The group league stage is over, the World Cup has reached its business end. There was been no dearth of controversies in the second week, quite a few of them involving match officials. My view is, the refereeing has been a mixed bag. We have seen some excellent supervision as well as some extremely questionable decisions.

Mexican Ramos Rizo showed great courage in sending off Thierry Henry for his tackle on Marcelo Romero. The Frenchman’s reckless challenge could have dismantled the Uruguayan medio’s right ankle. Within a few minutes, though, the same referee overlooked an almost identical tackle by Dario Silva on French ace Patrick Vieira.

Englishman Graham Poll’s over-dependance on Danish assistant Jens Larsen hurt Italy against Croatia. With Italy trailing 1-2, Filippo Inzaghi seemed to have got the equaliser in stoppage time following a long pass from Marco Materazzi. The goal was disallowed as Inzaghi was pulled up by Larsen for elbowing a Croat.

Strangely, the assistant referee was a good 25 yards from the incident which happened inside the Croat six-yard area. The referee himself was closer to the incident but still went by his assistant’s judgment.

It was good to see referees taking action against cheating. Several key players were shown the yellow card but there was one instance where the referee missed out. Senegal’s Hadji Diouf fooled Dutch referee Jan Wagereef by diving into Uruguayan goalkeeper Fabian Carini.

The ‘keeper had stretched out his left arm to push the ball away, but subsequently withdrew himself and didn’t even touch Hadji. Yet, Senegal were awarded a penalty and the Africans opened their account. If that wasn’t enough, they got another controversial goal from a seemingly off-side position. Uruguay fought bravely to earn a draw but that wasn’t enough to take them through.

That match produced 12 yellow cards, breaking the earlier record of 10 in the Bulgaria-Mexico encounter in 1994.

But that record lasted just a few hours as Spaniard Antonio Lopez Neito brought the yellow card out 15 times and the red twice later that day in the Germany-Cameroon duel.

The Spanish gentleman couldn’t keep count properly as he forgot to march off Cameroon’s Lauren despite cautioning him twice — in the 72nd and 81st minute.

Turkey’s Hakan Unsal should consider himself unlucky for not having his one-match punishment revoked. He was sent off in the match against Brazil but the whole world knows he was a victim of Rivaldo’s play-acting. Now the International Football Association Board, the law-makers of soccer, had recommended at its 116th annual general meeting (on March 16 in Zermatt, Switzerland) that if video evidence clearly showed a player had been unjustly sent off, the Fifa Disciplinary Committee would have the right to review the case sympathetically and not automatically impose a one-match suspension.

Unfortunately, Unsal was not allowed to play in Turkey’s next match against Costa Rica.

There were at least three cases of off-the-pitch disciplinary measures which were spot-on. Slovenia coach Srecko Katanec was expelled in the game against South Africa for arguing with the referee (Angel Sanchez). Argentne veteran Claudio Cannigia met the same fate for making an adverse comment against referee Ali Busjaim from the substitute bench. Turkish midfielder Belozoghu was shown the yellow for abusing the assistant coach of Costa Rica.

This review will be incomplete without mentioning the name of that Italian, Pierluigi Collina. He controlled the potentially explosive match between England and Argentina with great authority and skill.


Calcutta, June 14: 

Paes, Bhupathi in quarters

Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi continue to do well with different partners. Fresh from their semi-final showing at Roland Garros, the doubles experts reached the quarters of the Stella Artois grasscourt meet inLondon.

According to information received here, third seeds Mahesh Bhupathi and Max Mirnyi fought off Alexander Kitinov and Johann Landsberg 6-3, 6-7 (6-8), 7-5. Sixth seeds Paes and Michael Llodra thrashed British wild cards Martin Lee and Arvind Parmar 6-3, 6-2.

Paes has chosen 22-year-old Llodra for the grasscourt season.

School regatta

Cathedral Mission beat Chetla Boys to enter the senior boys final of the Indian Oil Servo inter-school regatta meet.

Other results

Senior boys semis: National High bt MP Birla. Senior girls semis: Modern High bt La Martiniere; Gokhale Memorial bt Birla Girls. Junior girls semis: Modern High bt Mahadevi Birla; GD Birla bt Deshabandhu Balika Vidyalaya. Junior boys: St Xavier’s bt Don Bosco; Lake View bt South Point.


ROWING: 30th Indian Oil servo meet: Finals at Lake Club from 3.45 pm.    

Bangalore, June 14: 
The 1,600m Fillies Trial Stakes, the first classic of the season and the main attraction on Saturday here, looks a walkover for the S. Ganapathy-trainee Priceless, a winner of her last four starts.

Maintaining her unstoppable form, B. Prakash partners the Placerville-Queen To Conquer filly.


2 pm: Rebelwithacause 1. Tal 2. Crown Ice 3.
2.30 pm: Cold Fire 1. Airworthy 2. Plumage 3.
3 pm: Royal Contender 1. Rizer 2. Mehvish 3.
3.30 pm: Society Dream 1. Allespagne 2. Parisien Belle 3.
4 pm: Priceless 1. Free Radical 2. Marmalade 3.
4.30 pm: Misty Charms 1. Moonlight Rays 2. Ek Ek Ek 3.
5 pm: Iflookscouldkill 1. Whatmore 2. Spark of Life 3.
5.30 pm: Cool Jazz 1. Astrocharm 2. Forest Fragrance 3.

Day’s Best: Priceless

Double: Cold Fire & Iflookscouldkill.

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