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Liverpool climbing back onto the perch

FoxSportsLogoWhen I was an assistant editor, I had an uncanny knack of being right with my sporting predictions. Find the archived version here.

Back in December, I had declared Liverpool could be considered title contenders. Now, it doesn’t seem that far-fetched a statement anymore.

The Reds had just demolished the north Londoners 5-0 at the end of the previous year and they have now completed a double over the same opponents with a four-goal win at Anfield on Sunday.

Attack seems to be the best form of defence in Brendan Rodgers’ notebook and that approach appears to have paid handsome dividends over the past four months.

Chelsea’s capitulation at Selhurst Park on Saturday has seen Rodgers’ men to go top of the table for the fourth time this season.

The visiting defenders, admittedly, put in an abject performance at Anfield on the night but Liverpool’s gung-ho attitude makes you ponder if they can finally deliver Steven Gerrard the one medal he’s been craving throughout his career.

As arch-rivals Manchester United look set to secure their lowest points total in the Premier League era, the Merseysiders could finally get to finish in the one spot Sir Alex Ferguson had famously knocked them off for over two decades.

For now, Liverpool are back on the perch.

Maverick Suarez lives up to his promise

Michael Dawson may have produced a poor first touch, Younes Kaboul may have floundered on the ball but it was ultimately Luis Suarez’s opportunism and a masterful shot that got the Uruguayan his 29th goal of the season.

In doing so, he has now scored the most goals by any Liverpool player within a domestic season in the Premier League era. Imagine how many more he could have scored had he not missed the first six games of the season.

But the past is the past and the mercurial striker has to score just three more goals to break the all-time record for most goals in a season held by Alan Shearer and Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Englishman’s record was achieved while Kenny Dalglish was in charge at Blackburn and the same man was in the stands as his successor at Anfield masterminded an eighth win on the trot.

Both men would gladly point at Suarez’s sterling form as being a key factor in Liverpool’s renaissance.

The star striker has endured a largely injury-free campaign but he deserves all the plaudits for turning a new leaf after a tumultuous two-and-a-half years at the club.

The club have done well to keep Suarez out of the spotlight as well and this has allowed him to concentrate on his football. And the South American has handsomely repaid the club faithful for their support during testing times.

“I signed my new contract because I’m very happy here and I want to stay where I’m enjoying football and life,” he told FourFourTwo magazine recently.

“This is my best season yet. I feel in a very good place, physically and mentally.

“Every day I feel better in this club. I hope to continue down this path because we want Champions League football for Liverpool and, personally speaking, I want to continue that mentality throughout the World Cup with Uruguay.

“I’d actually prefer not to win this Golden Boot and for Liverpool to qualify for the Champions League this season.”

Well, the Golden Boot is his for the taking and with six games left, he could yet lead Liverpool to more than just qualification for the Champions League.

The carefully chosen one

That was written on a banner describing Rodgers in a tongue-in-cheek reference to United’s moniker for their Scottish manager.

Rodgers must be credited for the turnaround in Liverpool’s fortunes. But man, did his methods take time.

At first, his possession-based footballing philosophy failed to stick with a side built by Dalglish where English industry was prized more than nimble-footedness and one-touch passing.

Daniel Sturridge, Philippe Couthinho and Raheem Sterling, however, are players that can understand the Northern Irishman’s ethos.

Furthermore, the focus on bolstering the attack when the defence was in dire need of improvements irked me quite a bit. The acquisitions of Simon Mignolet, Kolo Toure and Mamadou Sakho as well as the emergence of Jon Flanagan, however, has shown that Rodgers has belatedly made strides in that department.

Indeed, although the defence is still a porous one, it’s telling that Lucas Leiva is hardly missed as the Liverpool defenders have perfected the art of instigating counter-attacks and hitting their opponents while they are on the backfoot.

Instead of a midfield enforcer, Rodgers has done well to convert Gerrard into a deep-lying playmaker such that the captain does not tire himself out with box-to-box runs and instead uses his long-range passing ability to produce admirable results.

Can the Reds settle back on the perch?

Despite all the fervour, I still maintain that Manchester City are the favourites to win the title. The Citizens have just too much quality in them and have an easier run of fixtures ahead.

Moreover, an injury to a member of the Liverpool attacking quartet (Suarez, Sturridge, Sterling and Coutinho) may not lessen the goals but they would definitely hamper the winning mentality present within the club.

City also have a much stronger back four and it is a fact that the team with the best defence usually prevails in the end. It can just take a mistake or two at the back with profligacy at the front to derail a side’s hopes as Jose Mourinho discovered earlier in the weekend.

Rodgers’ marauding Reds have already conceded 39 goals and only once has a team that has crossed the 40-goal mark gone on to win the league in the past decade.

The view from the top is a comforting one but only the result of City’s visit to Anfield on April 13 will determine if it’s more than just a temporary stay.

But heck, just as in the aftermath of the previous triumph over Spurs, Liverpool fans can rejoice in a moment that has come far too rarely in all the years of their support.

In any case, they have to remember that time (and a wealthy and supportive holding company) is on their side.

It took Ferguson seven years to knock the Reds off their perch but the fans of the club can take solace in the fact Liverpool are now earnestly on the climb back.

A Tribute to a Cricketing ‘God’

Tendulkar's cover drive

FoxSportsLogoAn editorial written after Indian cricketing great’s final test match in November 2013. (See archived version here).

“Cricket is my religion and Sachin is God” has been the anthem for millions of Indians the past 24 years. Today marks the first day that Indians the world over have to accept the fact that Tendulkar will not be at the crease anymore.

The Mumbai-born batsman brought an end yesterday to a 24-year-long cricketing career that saw him break numerous records – he registered 100 international centuries across one-day internationals (ODIs) and Tests, the first double century in ODIs and the most runs scored in both formats of the game.

So it was fitting that when he gave his farewell speech, the 34,000-strong crowd, as well as many more around the world, broke into tears.

It was not just the end of the career of a brilliant sportsman. It was the end of a narrative that defined the nation across three generations and delineated the virtues of sportsmanship, humility, passion, perseverance and patriotism.

The feelings many experienced were probably similar to the moment when fans saw Pele get off the pitch or Michael Jordan score his final basket.

It was the end of an era – a phrase used too often but thoroughly appropriate on this occasion.

The language of the bat

India is a country synonymous with diversity; it has 1.2 billion people, 415 living languages, six major religions and is home to the second-largest group of billionnaires even as three-tenths of the populace live beneath the poverty line.

Because of its vastness, it is very difficult to reach a consensus and therefore its politics, bureaucracy, the religious, linguistic and regional discourse has been plagued with internal strife and disagreement.

It is hard for any individual to be representative across the strata of society. Hundreds of voices, equipped with metaphorical loudspeakers, seem to be constantly clamouring for attention with the result that noise has pervaded the system.

But in 1989, a 16-year-old Tendulkar rose to the fore becoming India’s youngest debutant, and, over the next decade, somehow brought silence within the room.

His bat did all the talking with the straight drives, the leg glances and the lofted drives when facing spinners. He then broke record after record by becoming the youngest Indian to score a century, scoring the most number of runs in a World Cup and formed a deadly opening partnership with Saurav Ganguly that dominated the best bowlers.

And while Kapil Dev and the 1983 World Cup-winning team had made India a powerhouse, it was widely recognised that Tendulkar had now become the face of Indian cricket.

Differences were erased for the duration of the ‘Little Master’s’ innings and the fervour with which adults watched Tendulkar inspired kids to adopt the man as their sporting role model.

And with Tendulkar’s name on the scorecard, every match was winnable. Tendulkar’s bat spoke for them all.

A paragon of humility

What stands out in Tendulkar’s career, though, is that he never let the fame get to his head. He played simply for the joy of cricket and for the pleasure of gladdening the hearts of his compatriots.

Despite being such a household name, he shied away from sponsorship opportunities in the early part of his career and shunned the limelight for the rest of it.

For a man of his stature, he did not want to utilise his considerable influence in the national arena even as many cricketers, actors and celebrities secured positions of power. This changed last year when he accepted a nomination to the Rajya Sabha (India’s upper house of Parliament) but, in typically Tendulkar-esque fashion, declined a bungalow that came with the position.

Tendulkar provided yet another example of his humble personage yesterday when, amid the backdrop of “Sachin, Sachin” chants that reached deafening levels, the batsman gave a farewell speech that started with: “For the first time in my life I am carrying this list, to remember all the names in case I forget someone. I hope you understand.”

He went on to thank, in his characteristic soft-spoken voice, all of those within his family, friends, colleagues both present and past, coaches, medical staff, fans, managers, journalists, photographers and many others. The list went on and on and the 40-year-old somehow made everyone feel part of his success story.

For a man who has conquered the sport, it still sounded like the fresh-faced boy from Mumbai felt that he had a lot more to learn.

Amitabh Bacchan, a famous Bollywood actor, wrote in similar terms in the Outlook magazine when he explained: “As a person, Sachin is the exact opposite of Sachin the cricketer.”

“If as a performer, he is dominant, aggressive and bold on the field, which are the hallmarks of a real champion, as an individual, he is humble, dignified and rooted.

“He comes across as someone who has not let success transform him and this is indeed incredible considering the scale of his achievements.

“In fact, if you watch his expression when he walks back to the pavilion after he’s out, whether after a low score or after he is out for a century, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.”

Life after Sachin Tendulkar

In a sport obsessed with longevity, whether at the crease or elsewhere on the pitch, Tendulkar has outlasted them all.

He continued to achieve success well into the twilight stage of his career as he helped India win the World Cup in 2011 after five previous unsuccessful attempts, mentored the Mumbai Indians franchise in the Indian Premier League to their first success in 2013 and continued to score runs at an impressive rate.

Now, India has to consider how to move on after the exit of one of its favourite sons from the cricketing landscape.

However, the future is immensely bright.

The likes of Virat Kohli, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Shikhar Dawan and Suresh Raina are ready to don the gloves and score the runs. Tendulkar had stopped being the focal point a while back anyway.

But the men in blue are no longer considered the underdogs and, like Brazil in football, have become constant favourites, espousing a brand of attacking cricket that is feared by opponents.

And this remains the hallmark of Tendulkar’s legacy: His feats left such a strong impression on youngsters that every child secretly dreams of playing for the Indian national team now.

India is assured of a constant stream of talented prospects that will form a team of worldbeaters for some time to come.

Life after Sachin Tendulkar will still never be the same, though.

“Cricket is my religion, Sachin is God”, a quintessentially outlandish Indian slogan filled with hyperbole and exuberance, explains it best.

When ‘God’ disappears from the picture, one can expect to feel a little hollow inside.

All that can be said is thanks for a tremendous career that has brought joy, hope, sadness, inspiration, pain and a cavalcade of other emotions to over a billion people.

It is truly the end of an era and cricket, for many, will never be the same without him.

Rosmin freekick downs brave Geylang


I was a regular reporter at the national football league in Singapore. I reported on two matches every week from various football stadiums for a complete season. Find an archived version of the article here.

Reporting from the Jalan Besar Stadium

Rosmin Kamis scored an 82nd-minute freekick to help DPMM FC secure a 1-0 defeat of a resilient Geylang International side at the Jalan Besar Stadium.

Geylang were without captain Jozef Kaplan as the Slovakian was sent off in his side’s 1-0 win over Hougang United last week. Nevertheless, they gave a good account of themselves in Friday’s Great Eastern-YEO’s S.League encounter and managed to resist a barrage of attacks throughout the game to ensure a respectable scoreline.

Led by Stefan Milojevic, the Eagles threatened first when Khairulnizam Jumahat swung in a free-kick that Wardun Yusoff did well to tip over the post in the third minute.

The DPMM custodian was also called to action a minute later when Wahyudi Wahid went close with a glancing header off a corner from the left.

Captain Rosmin began DPMM’s attack in earnest in the ninth minute when he curled in a free-kick that went over the bar.

It was Joao Moreira, however, who really helped the Bruneian side secure control of the match as the attacker was regularly winning aerial challenges and his flick-ons often helped his team-mates get decent opportunities within the box.

In the 16th minute, the Portuguese even went close to opening the scoring when he controlled Arturas Rimkevicius’ weighted lob and skipped past a defender to get into the box but his fierce drive from the right clattered off the post.

Attacking midfielder Rodrigo Tosi was next to get involved as a quick one-two in the 25th minute enabled him a try his hand with a similar opportunity.

From then on, the Eagles defended deeply inside their own half although they could have turned the tide had Milojevic timed his run to meet an overhanging cross from the left in the 36th minute.

As the half came to a close, Milojevic was also doing his best to maintain possession for his side and the Spaniard did well to shepherd the ball out of his own half in the 42nd minute with an excellent run that took him past three DPMM players.

His industry paid dividends as his side came up with the final attack of the half when Taufiq Ghani reached Jalal’s free-kick from deep; the midfielder somehow angled the ball with a header towards the far corner but Wardun was equal to the challenge.

DPMM came out of the dugout with all guns blazing, though, and Rimkevicius, in particular, appeared determined to see his name registered on the scoresheet on the night.

He started an energetic spell by heading a punt into the box towards Subhi Abdilah but the Bruneian shot the ball straight towards Ito in the Geylang goal.

Rimkevicius was again a nuisance three minutes later when he collected the ball down the left and wound his way into the box, firing a shot that was blocked by his marker.

Shortly thereafter, Moreira was next to threaten as he chested a pass down the right and bore down on goal but his shot was well off target.

Rimkevicius even clamored for a penalty after being unfairly pushed inside the box in the 52nd minute but he nearly made the most of the subsequent corner as a header went marginally over the bar.

And just two minutes later, the Lithuanian again snuck into the box from the left and saw another left-footed shot go wide of the post.

Geylang could do nothing but soak up the pressure and they were lucky that Moreira could not find much accuracy with a shot from outside the box in the 56th minute.

It could have been an altogether different story if Shotaro Ihata had not ruined a perfectly good opportunity two minutes before the hour mark after being picked out at the edge of the box. Instead of utilising the time to shoot at goal, the Japanese inexplicably opted to pass along towards a team-mate, only to see the ball get intercepted.

After the blistering start to the half, both sides made substitutions in the 66th minute as Geylang’s Duncan Elias and DPMM’s Moreira were swapped for Andrew Tan and Azwan Ali respectively.

Azwan made an impact just four minutes after his introduction as he caught the Geylang defence by surprise by collecting a long pass just outside the box. Luckily for V. Kanan’s side, a nearby defender rushed into position to block the substitute’s shot.

A minuter later, Tosi tried his luck as well with a long-range piledriver that just whizzed past the right post.

And as the game entered the final fifteen minutes with the scoreline still goalless, Rimkevicius was replaced by Adi Said but not before going close twice with decent opportunities inside the box.

Ihata also made his final contribution to the game a minute later when he nodded back Tan’s left-wing cross that Yasir Hanapi could only fire well over the bar.

Brunei finally got the goal that their dominant football deserved eight minutes from time, though, when Rosmin succeeded with a free-kick from the 30-yard distance. The DPMM captain did benefit from a huge slice of luck with that opportunity as the ball bounced off a defender in the wall and also earned a deflection off the goalkeeper’s back on its path towards goal.

Geylang did not just give up, though, and Milojevic did his best to level the scoreline when he collected the ball inside the box and made space for himself at the edge of the six-yard box in the 86th minute.

He failed with that attempt but he threaded through a pass to makeshift forward Norihiro Kawakami in the 89th minute, only for the Japanese defender to be denied by his marker.

DPMM kept things simple from then on and held on through three minutes of added time to edge Geylang for the win while also preserving a clean sheet in the process. The Wasps are now just one point behind Home United in seventh place in the S.League table and next face Global FC in the Singapore Cup quarter-finals at the same venue on Wednesday

Geylang remain in ninth place and face Home for the first leg of their cup fixture at the Bedok Stadium on Tuesday.