Bittersweet Weekend on the Road Continues Cycling Fever across GB

Following Danny Boyle’s brilliantly bonkers Opening Ceremony on Friday night, hopes were high across Britain that one of our glory boys of recent times would cash-in on the wave of euphoria and kick-start our Olympic campaign with a gold medal. Sadly though, Saturday’s Men’s Cycling Road Race failed to deliver the result we were all hoping for when our great hope Mark Cavendish failed to ever seriously threaten a podium finish.

However, from the ashes of Cav’s failed attempt to get Team GB off the mark rose Lizzie Armitstead’s quite magnificent ride to a silver medal finish in the Women’s Road Race and this first medal of the Games was arguably made all the sweeter by the disappointment that Cavendish, his team mates and the entire sporting fan-base of Great Britain had suffered on the opening day.

Armitstead Silver Medal

The whole of GB was holding out for a Cavendish victory in the Men’s Road Race but instead we were able to celebrate a silver in the Women’s race for Lizzie Armitstead

I was one of many who was fortunate enough to see first hand the efforts both of the men and of the women in the road races and having never been a real fan of cycling before recent British successes (call me a glory supporter if you will…) I must admit that I am well on the path to conversion.

Don’t get me wrong, you are unlikely to find me gripped to my television screen watching road cycling events all year round but the monumental achievements of the likes of Mark Cavendish, Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and Lizzie Armitstead on the road over the past couple of years have certainly gone a long way towards inspiring a passion within me for the sport as a whole.

In order to break the back of learning both to watch and to enjoy road cycling I have found it helpful to compare it to test cricket which is a sporting discipline I have always had an enormous affection for.

Sure, some stages of test cricket can be an absolute bore as can some stages of the Tour De France but the beauty of both comes in the moments of sheer excitement that emerge from these lengthy spells of monotony and tedium.

Just as Cavendish’s disappointment made Armitstead’s success so thrilling, the dull and at times dismal periods of test cricket and road cycling make the great spells of play all the more memorable.

I can accept that road cycling will never be on a par with something like the 100m sprint at the Olympics in terms of sheer and complete excitement but where it does excel is in it’s ability to drag viewers through the seemingly more boring moments with captivating tactical battles which can only be fully appreciated as a result of an increased understanding.

Until recently I have never tried to properly understand the real gritty and at times enthralling tactical side to top-level cycling and though I am a million miles away from being an expert on the subject now, my knowledge has certainly improved and I can say with undoubted integrity that I am much more appreciative of the skill of road cycling for having spent some time taking an active interest in it.

It is also immensely helpful to me as a spectator of road cycling that I have now had the opportunity to see before my very eyes the world’s finest road cyclists’s taking on roads and landscapes with which I am well acquainted. Even if the route had taken in merely 250 km of straightforwards roads in my local area I would have gained a greater appreciation for their talents for having a more enhanced knowledge of the route, but for the male competitors in particular to have had to conquered Box Hill nine times in a row in the middle of their race is truly phenomenal and it has earned all my respect.

I myself am sporty and would consider myself to be reasonably fit but I would happily wager that I couldn’t manage one round of Box Hill in isolation without doing myself a serious mischief along the way. So, for them to have completed nine straight circuits of the area as just the focal point of their gruelling ride is totally astounding as it is a tricky enough ascent when walking on foot let alone when trying to force an unwilling bike up there.

As for the women’s race, they may only have had to conquer Box Hill twice in a shortened version of the men’s route but I have a very sizeable amount of respect for their efforts too in what was still an enormously demanding race which was also played out in some of Britain’s very filthiest summertime weather, unlike the men’s race which was awash with sunshine.

As I mentioned I was road side to see Armitstead and co whizz down Hampton Court Way on their route back towards The Mall and as I stood observing the latter stages of the race the conditions ranged from bellowing thunder, to huge bolts of lightning and then most joyously of all to a storm of hailstones.

That spell of vile weather was enough to make me feel terribly sorry for myself for just having to stand there getting soaked and stung by the hail let alone cycle into it at 50 kph for hours on end. Therefore I have nothing but the highest of praise and admiration for Lizzie Armitstead as she rustled up a whole lifetime’s worth of my capacity for bravery and resolve in just one day of phenomenal effort on the roads of London and Surrey.

Though Team GB’s plans may have gone a little awry in the men’s race, the women’s plans were implemented and executed superbly off the back of the knowledge provided by the previous day’s efforts and Lizzie Armitstead demonstrated tremendous skill, power and determination to force home a splendid finish and to grab a hold of Team GB’s first medal of our third Olympic Games.

Armitstead’s awesome show on the roads will undoubtedly see her go down in pub quiz folklore for the rest of her existence and beyond and the honour of becoming Team GB’s first medalist of our home games must surely be beyond her comprehension.

Hopefully over the next few days Armitstead’s opening medal for Team GB will inspire further success both on the bikes and in the many other varied sporting disciplines in which we are battling for medal success and just as an aside, congratulations to Rebecca Adlington for facing up to the enormous weight of expectation in grabbing a bronze medal in the Women’s 400m Freestyle. It has been a slow start for Team GB but the best is still to come…

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London 2012: 10 Days To Go, 10 Team GB Stories In The Making

With time running out until the start of the biggest and best celebration of world sport that Great Britain has arguably ever had the honour of hosting, the pre-Games excitement is reaching fever-pitch as the athletes flock to the Olympic Village and to the various other parts of the country where they’re required to be for their parts in proceedings.

There will undoubtedly be a wealth of huge stories to emerge over the next few weeks both in London and across other parts of the British Isles but with just 10 days to go until the official start of the Games I have picked out 10 big stories that could be set to unfold within Team GB.

Adam Gemili (Men’s 100m):

He may not be tipped to be in the dog-fight for medals in his first ever Games but many are tipping Gemili to break the 10 second barrier at the Olympics and if he does so it would make for a phenomenal story.

Gemili World Juniors

Gemili is one of the rising stars of British athletics and could be set to further enhance what has been stunning summer of personal achievement

It is enough already that the 18 year old has made the Team GB squad having barely taken the sport seriously up until the past twelve months or so, but if Gemili can plot a way through the heats then a time of less than 10 seconds may well be on the cards and that would represent yet another phenomenal achievement for the youngster.

Gemili has also made himself practically un-ignorable in terms of selection for the 4x100m relay squad with his recent form and perhaps he could make the difference and help push the team towards medal contention.

Bradley Wiggins (Men’s Cycling, Time Trial):

Wiggins Le Tour

‘Wiggo’ is well on course to win Le Tour, could another gold medal follow?

With Wiggins currently breaking records in the Tour De France and with him looking set to become Britain’s first ever winner of cycling’s showpiece event, this could prove to be yet another huge summer for British cycling and that is before we even reach the Olympic Games where we will once again be expected to blow away much of the competition in several different disciplines.

If Wiggins were to win Le Tour and then come back to London and win another Olympic gold medal it would be hard for anybody to rival him in terms of British sporting hero status this year.

Team GB Football (Men’s and Women’s):

This is not a sport which Team GB are particularly well acquainted with given that we have never entered a Women’s team and that we haven’t entered a Men’s side in a very long time but if either of our sides make it out of the group stages at the Games then they will fancy their chances of getting themselves into serious medal-winning contention.

Pearce GB

Pearce courted with controversy when he left David Beckham out of his squad for the Olympics

The only tickets I have for the Games are for the Men’s final of the football at Wembley Stadium so lets hope for my benefit at least that Team GB can do the business!

Robbie Grabarz (Men’s High Jump):

Grabarz High Jump

Grabarz is amongst Team GB’s greatest hopes in the field events

Since the days of Jonathan Edwards dominating the triple jump and Steve Backley simultaneously competing with the likes of Jan Zelezny in the javelin, Team GB have struggled to produce much in terms of major male competition for medals in field events but with Robbie Grabarz tipped for a medal at this summer’s Games things could well be about to change.

Christine Ohuruogu (Women’s 400m):

Reigning Women’s 400m Olympic champion Ohuruogu hasn’t exactly enjoyed the best years of her career since Beijing in 2008 but recent signs suggest that she could well be timing her charge for further Olympic glory rather well.

Ohuruogu London Grand Prix

Ohuruogu is not quite at her best but her recent form has been encouraging

She may well be a little way off the world’s leading times for this year but her performance in the 400 at the London Grand Prix over the past weekend suggests that she could well still have a hope of getting herself into contention for the medals in spite of the injury and confidence problems she has suffered since her lasting outing at the Games.

The strength she demonstrated to power through the field over the last 5o metres of Saturday’s race at Crystal Palace had all the hallmarks of a classic Ohuruogu triumph and if the weather is as bad as it was the other day when the Women’s 400m final takes place at the Olympic Stadium in a couple of weeks time then she would have to be considered a serious threat.

Lutalo Muhammad (Men’s Taekwondo):

Arguably the most controversial of all the decisions made by the panel of selectors for Team GB was the omission of World Number One Aaron Cook for the Men’s Taekwondo squad.

Muhammad London 2012

Lutalo Muhammad’s controversial selection at Aaron Cook’s expense has the makings of a classic Olympic story

Instead, the selectors have opted for Lutalo Muhammad who is ranked just 59 in the world but many who know far more about the ins and outs of Taekwondo than myself are tipping him to make a big impression this summer. He may not be as strong as Cook on paper but those in the know think he could well be a major medal contender and who am I to disagree?

We will no doubt never hear the end of it if Muhammad doesn’t win a gold medal, so lets just hope he does even if just for the sake of the selectors!

Phillips Idowu (Men’s Triple Jump):

Idowu is undoubtedly one of Team GB’s most decorated track and field stars of recent times but four years ago in Beijing he was on the end of a shock result when he managed just a silver medal in the Men’s Triple Jump when many expected him to land gold and now he could well be cruelly denied the chance to avenge this missed opportunity because of injury.

Idowu Silver Medal

Idowu has a point to prove after his disappointment in Beijing but injury could yet prevent him from showing his best

With such little time remaining before the Games get under way and with such little time to go until Phillips will be called into action, he is probably the most high profile injury concern of the entire Team GB squad. He is though still set to try and compete and perhaps the dampened expectations of him due to his current injury struggles will help him go under the radar and land the gold medal he so craves.

Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis (Men’s 5,000/10,000m and Women’s Heptathlon):

The evening session of August the 4th is set to be arguably the biggest night of the Games for Team GB as it plays host to poster-girl Jess Ennis’ efforts to try and win the Women’s Heptathlon and also to one of our greatest gold medal hopes in men’s athletics when Mo Farah is set to compete in the Men’s 10,000m final.

Farah Ennis London 2012

Farah and Ennis are arguably Britain’s two greatest hopes for gold medals in the Olympic Stadium

This evening session of athletics will undoubtedly be one the most sought after tickets for all Team GB fans and the prospect of us landing two track golds in the space of an hour is truly mouth-watering.

Ben Ainslie (Men’s Sailing, Finn):

Ben Ainslie

Ben Ainslie begun the Olympic Torch’s journey around Britain at Lands End and now he is search of a fourth Olympic gold

He is already considered one of of Great Britain’s all-time greatest Olympians for having won gold medals at each of the last three Olympic Games as well as a silver medal in Atlanta in 1996 but if Ainslie were to win yet another gold this summer then he may well jump even higher up the list.

Surely only the likes of Sir Steve Redgrave still stand between him and the title of being our greatest ever Olympian and it would be interesting to see whether he will get the praise he deserves if he triumphs yet again, as he is often the forgotten man in such debates.

Andy Murray (Men’s Tennis Singles and Doubles):

Having endeared himself to much of the British public who still had their reservations about him with his run to the Wimbledon final this summer, Andy Murray now has a great chance to go one step closer to becoming a fully-certified national hero in the Men’s Singles competition at the Olympics.

Andy Murray Wimbledon 2012

Murray performed brilliantly at the All England Club a couple of weeks ago and now he is aiming to produce a similar level of form and grab a first Olympic medal

Even if he doesn’t fare well in the Singles he has the lifeline of competing alongside his brother Jamie Murray in the Men’s Doubles  at the Games and they as a pair would have to be considered serious contenders for a medal.

Boxing finally triumphs in Haye-Chisora freak-show but all is not forgotten

After months of idiocy and immaturity David Haye and Dereck Chisora have finally found themselves face-to-face in the ring and Haye’s victory tonight marks what would appear to be the final act in what has for the most-part been a pretty sorry affair both for British Boxing and for British sport as a whole.

It is almost unfair though to group tonight’s fight between the pair in with the rest of the frustratingly moronic pre-fight saga, as the fight itself was fast, fierce, compelling and generally speaking fought in completely the right manner.

Haye and Chisora embrace

Finally Haye and Chisora demonstrated a hint of decency towards one another after Haye defeated him tonight

Boxing is meant to be a sport of honour, bravery and skill and thankfully all three of these were on show tonight. David Haye, the eventual winner by way of knock-out, may have looked a little ring-rusty in terms of his fight-night fitness but his hands were as quick and as strong as ever and Chisora, bustling as usual, was busy, focused and intent on trying to fight on the front foot and on his own terms.

Haye’s tactics may well have proved successful courtesy of the extra fire, speed and conviction that he possesses and Chisora lacks a little but credit must be given to ‘Del-Boy’ for a brave performance which may have been a little too strategically predictable but still showcased an admirable faith in his own ability and perhaps more skill than we have seen from him on occasion, which thankfully Haye was quick to recognise in his physical and verbal post-fight reactions.

All too often boxing matches are remembered for moments of mindless behaviour, rule-breaking or controversial results and though many may have expected this fight to be up there with the most memorable in terms of indiscretions, it was a great relief to see both fighters concentrating on what they’re actually both very good at; Boxing.

The problem with Haye and Chisora though is that in spite of one night of admirable boxing and sportsmanship there still remains a streak of stupidity about the pair and it isn’t easy to forget just how appallingly they behaved at times in the lead up to the fight.

Chisora has always flirted with unjustifiable arrogance and petulance but never more so than when he stepped from behind the interview desk at last year’s Press Conference in Munich and physically fought with Haye before hurling a torrent of disgusting verbal threats at his ‘nemesis the particular highlight of which, or lowlight as the case may be, came when he said he would “physically burn” Haye.

Haye Chisora Brawl

The embarrassing events of Munich will live all too long in the memory and it will be hard for Chisora and Haye to recover their reputations in spite of tonight’s entertaining fight

This enormous lack of grace and dignity has though at times been matched by Haye who was provocative and completely irresponsible in his approach to verbally inciting Chisora’s advances in Munich before too getting too hefty a rush of blood and of monumental lunacy to the head when physically brawling with Chisora.

For all his talent, which much to my personal delight he demonstrated on fight-night against Chisora, Haye is still a sore loser and remains at times painfully wedged firmly up his own rear-end. Tonight he may have done the business with the gloves and with his ability to demonstrate the ‘gift of the gab’, but all too often in the past he has made a complete and utter backside of himself when really he is capable of great eloquence when compared to the vast majority of competitors in his sport.

I am able to get my head around boxing’s pre-fight fanfares and the need for talking a big-game and causing a stir in order to get a push up the ladder, after all had Haye not got through his full range of tomfoolery when he decided it was time to step up to the Heavyweight Division then he wouldn’t have got such a swift shot at the title and he may not have become a World Heavyweight Champion. What does bug me beyond belief though is the level of thuggery, impetuousness and ignorance that both Haye and Chisora obviously felt it necessary to demonstrate on that fateful day in Munich which led to tonight’s battle.

If they both wanted a fight with one another then they could have had one. What I mean to say is that they could simply have left it at verbals in Munich and arranged a fight themselves, to be carried out in a ring with a referee and a scoring panel of judges just as they experienced tonight. It could have been that easy and both men would come out of tonight with their head’s held high, with the reputation of British Heavyweight Boxing still well in tact and with a far greater chance of fulfilling their remaining ambitions in the world of boxing.

As it is though, they tonight have managed only to perform some damage limitation. The damage to their own names and that of British Boxing was already done after ‘Munich-Gate’ and in terms of their personal reputations the damage may well prove to be irreversible. Haye has tonight managed to prove he is still a very talented boxer no matter what weight division he fights in and Chisora has further enhanced his reputation as an offensive and exciting boxer to watch but will this be enough to secure them the fights they desire against the Klitschko’s?

I enjoyed tonight and was glad to see Haye and Chisora demonstrate something dangerously close to sanity and dignity but I hope the Klitschko’s turn down any future opportunities to fight against the pair. The fights would surely make compelling viewing and I happen to think that they have a good chance of materialising over the next year but as far as I’m concerned Haye and Chisora have both disgraced themselves too greatly over the past twelve months for them to be deserving of a shot at the titles of the sometimes annoyingly squeaky-clean Ukranian brothers.

For all their high and mighty nonsense it is hard to deny that the Klitschko’s are still the men to beat in the Heavyweight division and it is  more than fair to say that their teachers-pet like behaviour is by far the lesser of two evils when compared with some of the disgusting behaviour of the two protagonists of the current British Heavyweight scene.

We now await to see whether tonight’s showing has earned bad boys Chisora and Haye enough brownie points for them to get the fights they so desire, only time will tell.

Wimbledon 2012: Piecing Together The Tournament’s Best Male Player

Every year our TV screens are awash with a Stat-Attack throughout Wimbledon fortnight so I have used the official Wimbledon statistics website to piece together the men’s tournaments most successful players in all areas of the game and tried to come up with a resulting amalgamation of a player that would be unbeatable on the courts of the All England Club. Here goes nothing…

Federer wins Wimbledon

Roger now has seven titles to his name at Wimbledon and he features heavily in the component list for my imaginary hybrid player…

Serving Power: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga topped the charts with the tournament’s fastest individual serve when he rattled an 140 mph-er past Andy Murray in the Semi-Finals.

Aces: Philipp Kolschreiber produced the most aces in tournament with an impressive total of 98 at an average of around 20 per match on his journey to the Quarter-Finals where he was beaten by Tsonga.

Serving Accuracy: The tournament’s highest serving accuracy statistic belongs to Albert Montanes who landed 80% of his 1st serves in play. The Spaniard did however have little else to cheer about in his tournament as he fell at the very first hurdle.

Winning Points On 1st Serve: The big-serving Croat Ivo Karlovic produced a percentage of first serve points won of 86%, which is hardly surprising given the speed and angle his enormous frame helps him generate when his first serves find their required destinations.

Winning Points On 2nd Serve: Ernest Gulbis produced the tournament’s finest record in terms of winning points on his own 2nd serve with an impressive 66%. Sadly though this impressive stat couldn’t save him from an early second round exit from the competition.

Winning Points Against The 1st Serve: The now seven-time champion of the All England Club, Roger Federer, managed an impressive tournament topping total of 186 points won against his opponents 1st serves, which is of course a statistic aided by the fact that he played more matches than any other player in the tournament other than Andy Murray who also played seven times but his average of around 27 points won against the first serve per match is also superior to all other players in the draw.

Winning Points Against The 2nd Serve: Andy Murray, the beaten finalist at this year’s championships, topped the charts in this category with an enormous tally of 192 points won against his opponents 2nd serves throughout the tournament. His nearest challenger in this category was Federer who beat him in the final but the gap between the two in this department was a gaping 40 points.

Break Points Won: The tournament’s most prolific breaker of serve was unsurprisingly it’s champion, Roger Federer. Rodge notched up 38 breaks of serve in his seven matches in the tournament, 8 more breaks than his nearest challenger both in this category and in the tournament as a whole, Andy Murray, who managed 30 breaks of serve.

Break Point Conversion: Without a pause for thought you might just assume that the tournament’s strongest performers in this department would have the highest percentage of break point conversion but actually logic prevails and two first-round flops Simone Bolelli and Thomas Berdych share the honour of having converted 100% of their break points in the Championships. This, if you think about it, is an unsurprising outcome as they only managed one break a-piece in their only matches of the tournament.

(All stats provided by the official Wimbledon website: http://www.wimbledon.com/en_GB/scores/extrastats/rally_count_ms.htm

The Conclusion:

So, according the official stats for the tournament the make-up of this year’s perfect men’s player at Wimbledon would be the serving power of Tsonga, the Ace-making ability of Kolschreiber, the 1st serve accuracy of Montanes, the 1st serve points conversion of  Karlovic, the 2nd serve points conversion of Gulbis, the 1st serve returning talents of Roger Federer, the 2nd serve returning talents of Andy Murray, Federer’s prolific serve-breaking powers and finally the break point conversion and ruthlessness of Berdych and Bolelli.

Unsurprisingly, it is Federer that has dominated proceedings in the creation of this Wimbledon ruling hybrid player make-up but there were also a fair few surprises thrown into the mix. The fact that Federer topped the most categories though goes a long way towards explaining why he won his seventh Wimbledon crown and why he could yet go on to win even more, he has an exceptional all-round game and over the past fortnight very few challengers have been able to live with him! Surely, he can for now be labelled at very least the equal best player of all time?


Maturing Murray the Protagonist in British Tennis’ best fortnight in 35 years

Andy Murray’s four-set defeat to Roger Federer in the men’s singles final at Wimbledon may have been a bitter blow for Murray and his ever-growing fan-base to take but his well navigated journey through to the final, in which he gave his all, proved to arguably be the highlight in what was ultimately a very encouraging couple of weeks for British tennis.

Murray Wimbledon 2012

Murray took another step closer to Grandslam glory but was denied by the wonderful Roger Federer

He may have been the star of Britain’s Wimbledon fortnight but for a change he wasn’t alone in bringing joy to the ever-faithful British tennis following who battled through some of the worst conditions the All England Club has ever had to deal with during their busiest period of the year. Thank god we now have a roof on Centre!

In the women’s championship the British fans were treated to predictable opening round victories for Anne Keothavong and Elena Baltacha before second round exits for the pair and to the equally predictable host of first round exits but among the first round exits was that of Laura Robson who continues to look more and more adept at Grandslam level in spite of her loss.

Topping Robson’s efforts though was Heather Watson who played as well as we have ever seen the youngster manage at Grandslam level in convincing straight-sets victories in the opening two rounds, even if she did then go on to get firmly put in her place by eventual ladies finalist Agnieszka Radwanska in round three. It may not seem that exciting on the face of it that one of our female competitors managed to make the third round but she was the first to do so in a decade which was great to see from one so green.

In the men’s championship there was also a couple of rays of light to accompany Watson’s showing and Murray’s best performance at Wimbledon to date. These came from youngster Oliver Golding who threatened an opening round victory over the very experienced Igor Andreev before losing in four sets on his Wimbledon men’s debut and James Ward who managed a victory in the opening round of his Wimbledon bow before losing in five sets to 10th seed Mardy Fish.

The fact that Golding’s tight opening round loss, Ward’s debut victory and Watson’s run to the third round are being seen as encouraging signs may reek of desperation amongst British tennis fans to see the good in what is really a disappointing crop of players but it does seem that British tennis is slowly improving across the board and that our group of British females in particular are beginning to make more of an impression at the highest level.

The two genuine success stories though for British tennis during Wimbledon fortnight were those of Johnny Marray who became the most unlikely of victors in the men’s doubles with parter Frederik Nielsen and of Andy Murray who took his quest for Wimbledon and Grandslam glory a step further in reaching his first Wimbledon final and in winning his first ever set in the final of a Grandslam event.

Marray Nielsen

Who had honestly seen Marray play before Wimbledon fortnight? I know I hadn’t!

Marray and Nielsen’s win in the men’s double may not match up to what might have been had Murray landed the men’s singles title but it is an achievement which must lift the heart of all real British fans. It really has made for an astonishing tale of triumph against all the odds and it was a pleasure to watch Marray become the first British man in over 70 years to lift  the men’s doubles trophy and the first Brit to win a senior’s Wimbledon title since Jamie Murray won the mixed with Jelena Jankovic a few years back.

It was genuinely exciting as a British tennis fan to get to watch two of our players make the finals of their respective competitions this weekend and though Marray’s triumph would have been sacrificed by nearly all British fans in exchange for a Murray triumph in his final it was still an enormous pleasure to behold both matches and Murray far from undersold himself in his defeat.

Though we have still been left longing for a winner of a men’s singles victory in one of the four Grandslam events, Murray’s performance in the final and the performances he produced in the previous rounds of the tournament were beyond anything that we have seen from a male competitor in a Grandslam since Fred Perry way back in the 1930’s and the demeanour which Murray has shown throughout the competition was so much more positive and endearing than anything we have seen before from the young Scotsman.

I have always been frustrated by the criticism which Murray has been targeted with by many Brits in that he is a professional sportsman and not a comedian or a tv personality but I concede that it would be beneficial for Murray to become more endearing and engaging as a public persona and I hope that not only his interview blubbing episode but also his on-court and off-court character, throughout the entirety of this tournament in particular, has helped him in becoming so.

I personally have always managed to see something beyond the ‘dour’ and ‘bleak’ public persona which people have attributed to Murray but the past couple of weeks in particular have definitely seen him become a little more at ease with the glare of the media and of the expectant British nation and perhaps it is this sense of Murray maturing and becoming more comfortable with the limelight which has made him get closer than ever before to winning a Grandslam title.

Hopefully this perceived improvement and greater demonstration of his emotions will continue to have a positive effect on his game and I think it is clear to most now that Murray can win a Grandslam title and that he probably will do at some point. If he needs any greater source of belief to cling to than his own undoubted ability in his unrelenting quest to become a Grandslam winner, then he would do well to look to Johhny Marray’s success story for inspiration.

Marray and Nielsen’s win may have been something of a ‘freak’ victory but perhaps it will take something freaky for Murray to finally get past the awesome trio of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in a Grandslam event, which I for one think he will do at some point in the next couple of years.

Call me deluded but I honestly think he will not only go the distance once in a slam but that he will still go on to win more than one. Perhaps this is far too much wishful thinking on my part though… We can but dream….

Euro 2012: My Team of the Tournament

Last night’s resounding 4-0 win for Spain sealed their third straight major tournament victory and furthered their case to be considered the greatest international team of all time and as such it is no surprise at all that they have dominated my team of the tournament.

Spain Win Euros

Spain answered their critics with an outstanding performance en-route to a 4-0 win in last night’s final

The team is as follows…

Formation: (4-3-3)

Iker Casillas:

It is very hard to argue with Casillas’ stunning record of five clean-sheets in six games and with him now homing in on a staggering 140 caps  for his country one might be forgiven for thinking that he could yet go on to reach an even more unbelievable total of over 200 caps! His form has been terrific and he has fully justified his continuing superiority over and above the likes of Pepe Reina and Victor Valdes in Spain’s goalkeeping pecking order which is littered with an embarrassment of riches.

Mathieu Debuchy:

Until he was played out of position in the quarter-final against Spain, Debuchy had looked a very useful attacking right back and it is easy to see why several clubs appear to be interested in acquiring his services in time for the new season.

Mats Hummels:

Having heard much about Hummels’ development at Borussia Dortmund but having not actually seen much of him play myself I looked forward to seeing what he had to offer and he didn’t let me down. He looks strong, comfortable on the ball and very assured in the challenge whether it be aerial or on the deck and I think he proved that he has the makings of one the world’s finest centre-halves.

Sergio Ramos:

Ramos may have spent much of his career as a right back but he looked very assured in the central role and he grew in stature throughout the tournament. His contribution to five straight clean-sheets was immense and it will be hard to see Carles Puyol getting his place back in the side if he were to choose to keep playing international football.

Jordi Alba:

Alba deserves a place in this side even if only for the remarkable off the ball run he produced to score the second goal in the final. He has had a fine tournament and he deserves an enormous amount of praise not only for his attacking value at full-back but also for proving that his defensive abilities are right up there too.

Xabi Alonso:

I think Alonso might well be the most underrated player in the Spanish side. As well as providing a tremendous work-rate and a bit of steel in the Spain’s sextet of midfielders, his passing ability sometimes goes under the radar when playing alongside the likes of Xavi, Iniesta, Silva and Fabregas but it is supremely good over both short and long distances. Alonso also deserves great credit for his two well taken goals in the game against France and the composure he demonstrated in scoring his penalty in the semi-final shootout with Portugal.

Bastien Schweinsteiger:

Like Alonso, Schweinsteiger gets through a hell of a lot of work in the ‘engine room’ of his side’s midfield and his ability to play a slick, slide-rule pass is second to none (…well, very few anyway…) Gomez’s prowess in front of goal impressed in the group stages for the Germans and it was  mainly Schweinsteiger’s hard work which earned the front man his best opportunities.

Andrea Pirlo:

If it weren’t for the outcome of the final then he would be a runaway winner of the player of the tournament award as he was at the heart of all that was great about a surprisingly strong showing from an Italian side that few people fancied to make a huge impact on this tournament. Against England and Germany in particular Pirlo played wonderfully well from deep in the Italian midfield and his exemplary displays of passing football demonstrated exactly what many of the sides at this tournament lack; a midfielder with so much class and ability that they can create space for themselves and dictate the play from multiple positions on the field.

Andres Iniesta:

Iniesta had a fabulous tournament and even though he may not have scored any goals he was a constant threat to all opposition that Spain came up against and the pressure built by his passing play and smart movement contributed significantly to Spain’s third straight major tournament success. He has been named the player of the tournament by Uefa having not managed to get himself on the scoresheet at any point in the tournament and this speaks volumes about his contributions.

Cristiano Ronaldo:

Love him or hate him, you have to respect him. I definitely and unashamedly veer on the side of ‘love him’ and was pleased to see him have a major impact on a major tournament in international football, as it has put many of his doubters to shame and it demonstrated that he does indeed possess the leadership skills necessary to captain a Portugal side who impressed throughout much of this tournament. He may not quite have inspired his side to make it all the way to the final but he goes home with a share of the ‘golden boot’ award having bagged three goals.

Mario Balotelli:

As is the case with Ronaldo you may well love or hate Balotelli, but regardless of which side of the fence you sit on it is hard to deny that he isn’t a joy to watch one way or another. Throughout lengthy periods of this tournament Balotelli was superb and his behaviour was generally pretty decent by his standards which perhaps showed signs of increased maturity in the unpredictable young front-man. He too will return home with a share of the ‘golden boot’ and one would hope that he can look back on this tournament as the start of a more consistent and reliable stage of his developing career.

Euro 2012: Prediction for The Final

Spain Vs. Italy:

So, here we are. It is time for the final and time for us to find out who will be crowned either the kings of Europe or the new kings of Europe.

Spain Vs Italy

Spain will of course go into the game as favourites but Italy should be hopeful that they can cause an upset

Spain head into the final hunting a third straight success in major tournament football, a feat which has never before been achieved and Italy are looking forward to trying to prevent the Spaniards from taking the title and also continuing their uncanny run of achieving major tournament success in the wake of or in the midst of major match-fixing scandals within their national game.

So far many have deemed Spain’s performances a little lacklustre when considering their enormously high standards but such thoughts and pessimism regarding the Spanish must be unfair given that they have once again made it all the way through the tournament and into the final.

Italy on the other hand have been the recipients of an enormous amount of praise for the way in which they have surprised people not only with their ability to carve out important results but also the way in which they have gone about their business on the pitch, playing with perhaps a greater emphasis on the attacking side of the game than has been evident in former Italian sides in major tournaments.

The man behind most of Italy’s attacking play has been Andrea Pirlo who has had an astonishingly good tournament and who has shone above the likes of Xavi and Iniesta of Spain each of whom have become the benchmark for creative midfielders to aspire to over the past few years. Pirlo’s range of passing has been at the forefront of Italy’s success in each and every one of their matches thus far and Spain will have to deal far better with the threat he poses from deep in the Italian midfield than either England or Germany managed to do in the previous two rounds.

Contrastingly, Spain have struggled to decide upon their ‘go-to man’ in this tournament and perhaps that is why they haven’t been quite so fluent as people have come to expect them to be. Some of their best attacking play has though been provided by Andres Iniesta who has been given a more forward-thinking role over the past couple of years by the Spanish coaching team and they will need him to be at his very best if they are to make history this weekend.

I have a feeling that this will be a very close game indeed and I think that things will unfold in similar fashion to how they did when these two sides met in their opening group game where Italy took the lead and were pegged back by Spain. I think that normal time will again see these two sides locked at 1-1 and I think Spain will win in extra-time in spite of a brave Italian performance.

I actually think that Italy could well be the side creating the bulk of the game’s best chances but I am backing Spain to fight their way to the narrowest of victories courtesy of some clinical finishing.