Wednesday, June 28, 2006 | 5:20 pm

No games today... I feel so empty.
So to keep you amused, I present this news snippet from World Cup Karma Headquarters (good riddance!), and a sexy supporter photo for The Brad.

It's a Simple Game

Tuesday, June 27, 2006 | 10:42 am

Pass the ball, shoot, score. Argentina puts on the masterclass to show us how to score brilliant team goals, and brilliant individual goals (in extra time no less). Now that's the way to win a game.

Maxi Rodriguez finishes off the battling Mexicans...

The whole Argentinian side conducts a training clinic. Count the passes...


Monday, June 26, 2006 | 1:36 pm

A 93rd minute decider from a tragically soft penalty proves that it doesn't matter that you're one-man down as long as the man-in-black can make up your numbers.

Once he got inside the box, Grosso was looking for somewhere to fall, and although Lucas Neil's shot blocking slide made no contact at all, Grosso made sure he then cut back to jump over his body, drag a foot, and go sprawling in classic Italian style. Weak weak weak.

I will give credit Italy's defence, which was rock-solid for most of the second half, presenting the Aussies only half chances inside the box, although Cahill's header should have been on target. But to be rampant favourites, play counter football, and then get the last kick of the game handed to you isn't the proudest way to progress. But Italian soccer hasn't had much moments of pride in the last month.

The Kewel-less Socceroos took it to them again, not content to sit back and defend, and although Italy looked more lethal in front of goal, our midfield distributed well and our 3-man defence hustled and stood up the attack admirably, offering only a few half-chances for big man Toni.

But up front we lacked teeth, with Chipperfield coming closest, denied by Buffon, and Viduka acting as a distribution man but failing to provide a killer ball, or create a clear cut shot. Best chances came from headers, and the late-industry of Bresciano who was always willing to cut back in onto his left for a long shot.

The Aussies go home proud, but with that gnawing feeling that they could have snatched the biggest upset of the World Cup. Hopefully that will make them hungry for 2010.

Now I have to barrack for Switzerland/Ukraine to knock out the Iti's! Like England, they are playing poorly, defending well, and keep stumbling through.

Test Of Blue

It seems the Socceroos are the darling underdogs at the moment, getting a lot of credit for their attacking style and lots of love in the press for Guru Guus. Tonight they were chosen by 2 outta 3 Fox Soccer commentators for a win against Italy tomorrow (unfortunately, not the pragmatic Bobby McMahon), and more surprisingly, I saw them chosen by Adult Swim in one of their bumps tonight!

Now, this is more wishful thinking than bookies favourite. In fact, William Hill has Australia at 8-1 for a win tomorrow in regulation time, with 2-0 to Italy the lowest odds.

Crowd Support

These were the odds from William Hill 5 December, just after the prelim draw in 2003.
5-1 Brazil
6-1 France, Italy
7-1 Argentina, Germany
8-1 England
9-1 The Netherlands, Spain
20-1 Portugal
25-1 Czech Rep
50-1 Paraguay
66-1 Cameroon, Mexico, USA

Here's the current odds as of Monday AM...

3.75:1 Brazil
4.33:1 Argentina
6.5:1 Germany, England
8.5:1 Italy
81:1 Australia

Frankly, England are hopelessly overvalued. They looked truly awful today, with even the normally reliable Lampard having a shocker. But they do have the advantage of facing the Portugal B-side after their bloodbath against the Dutch. This next Portugal game is a poorer event without the sublime skills of Deco.

Speaking of shafted, I found out that Brett Emerton's second yellow against Croatia, which suspends one of our best players on tournament form from the Italy game, was due to a innocuous (not innocuous enough though) handball stopping a Simunic through-pass. And at that time, Simunic was on 2 yellow-cards, thanks to referee Graham Poll's disasterous oversight amongst a litany of errors, especially when you consider that Tomas handballed twice in the box, and didn't get a card for either. Australia received only 2 yellows that game, both to Brett–that's a combined team total less than Simunic!

That ain't right. So here's to an upset Monday! Whoever does get through, faces the easier side of the quarter-final draw too.

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Blogged with Flock


Friday, June 23, 2006 | 12:17 am

What a bloody rollercoaster that was! Down one goal before I even got into my seat at the pub, and then glancing over to see Japan go into the lead against Brazil, I was already working on the nails pretty heavily. But that Socceroos seem to prefer being behind, and they pummeled the Croats for the rest of the half. The net was elusive though until the break we needed came as a handball. I had to sit there wondering if Craig Moore had ever taken a penalty before in his life before he calmly slotted it home.

Second half Croatia kicked back into gear, but we carried all the threat until keeper Kalac had a world class blunder, and our resolve could have faltered there. But it didn't. We got the equalizer we wanted, and then it was 13 minutes of nervous defending and back and forth pressure as I gnawed all the way down to my wrists, and history was made. It really was a great 'fun' game to watch, and to say I was animated and vocal at the pub might be an understatement. Whew - that was quite a draw!

Soccernet carried a great review of the game itself, but here were the moments, good and bad that stood out for me:

  • It's all about the Hiddink. A chat with my mates Dave and Mike after the game highlighted the difference in coaching style between Guus and Arena in the USA's earlier loss to Ghana. Up against the wall at half-time, Arena seemed slow to make his attacking substitutions to help poor lonely McBride. Johnson should have been on at the half. The Aussies had 3 strikers and all our attacking midfielders on by the end. In fact, our defense reflected that for a few panicky minutes.
  • The Kalac choice showed that Guus ain't infallible. But here is a direct quote from Kalac quoted in our leading newspaper "I really didn't have much todo - I've taken a world-class goal, I've taken a shit goal". I admire his bluntness, especially to the press, but he won't start next game.
  • Speaking of saves, it seems Stjepan Tomas wants to be a keeper. He handballed to give us the first goal, and then got away with a more blatant one late in the second half that had me screaming at the big-screen.
  • Hooray for Kewell, cause he missed a sitter earlier, so hopefully this gets his confidence up and he isn't offside next time.
  • Tears of sadness for Brett Emerton. Another great game, but the red card stings horribly.
  • English ref Graeme Poll kind of lost control there at the end. At the end we scored, time had apparently been called so the goal didn't count, and then he sent someone off after the game. Odd. But not as odd as the fact that he managed to give Simunic three yellow cards.
  • We really looked nervous once we got that second goal. Croatia came at us, and between the loss of Emerton and all the attackers we had on, failed to slow the game down and even admirably kept pushing for a third goal. This madness was highlighted by us trying to take a quick free quick and hitting our own player.
  • The World Cup really has captured a large slice of the Aussie and American sporting public this time out, countries where it is a poor-cousin to other local sports. Even been getting coverage on The Daily Show and Colbert Report. John Stewarts comment about Australia qualifying tonight was classic: "Australia is like the drunk us". :)

Bring on The Azzuri! Norton Street may never recover!

Images shamelessly borrowed from The Sydney Morning Herald.

Carn You Au(zz)ies!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006 | 11:48 pm

socceroosIt all comes down to this:

90 minutes
2 teams
the brink of history

Get there lads!

And good luck to the Yanks also, facing their must win scenario.

A Break from the Soccer...

Last weekend in Norfolk, it seems summer was declared.

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An Actual Aussie Victory

Monday, June 19, 2006 | 9:21 am

Ogilvy and Trophy And since, as Roy and HG would say, "too much sport is barely enough", quick congrats too Geoff Ogilvy who managed stand tall while Mickelson crumbled in the face of a difficult Winged Foot in yesterdays finale to the US open.

A Worthy Display

Sunday, June 18, 2006 | 2:28 pm

Cahill Leaps a Roberto Carlos tackle A gutsy and unintimidated Australia today had the look of a team that deserves to be in the second round, with just a lack of lethality in front of goal costing them chances that might have forced a deserved draw. They matched the Brazilians with team organization, and much like the USA the day before, outplayed them in terms of effort, but two second half chances (one through the legs of a defender, one a fortutious rebound off the post) saw the underwhelming Samba Boys go through as expected. That sort of display will not get them past Argentina though.

Full credit to Moore and Neil who defended much more sternly than in the Japanese game, and props to Emerton, Cahill, Grella and Sterjovski who were an outstanding midfield that kept Ronaldinho subdued and Kaka as contained as possible. Better yet, we didn't pick up any yellows to players we need Thursday, despite the refs attempt to ensure no 50/50 tackle ever go unpenalized.

Slops to ABC for mispelling Sydney in their captions, and mystifyingly offered Kewell as Australia's only man-of-the-match choice at after he'd been on for 20 minutes, robbing a deserved Brett Emerton.

Anything but a loss will get us past Croatia, and to an unprecedented second round birth. But despite our form today, it will not be a walk in the park. Croatia are hurting for goals, but have a very physical presence. It all comes down to that game. Bravo lads.

Captured For Posterity

Saturday, June 17, 2006 | 2:02 pm

Here it is, captured in blog form, just in case. Who knows how long it may last? (most money says till about Sunday).
World Cup 2006 » Group F Standings » Leaders Australia! Brazil in second place. O-la!

World Cup Group F Standings

And the USA gets a slightly-longer lifeline today after Ghana's impressive win over Croatia. Even more in the US's favour was that Ghana only put in two goals, when it could have been 5 if they could've maintained some composure in front of Cech.

Even if Australia gets whipped on Sunday...

Friday, June 16, 2006 | 5:52 pm

I can still hope for crowd-shots...

Brazil fan

ESPN/ABC Part 3: The Last Bitch

Thursday, June 15, 2006 | 6:10 pm

I swear, last bitch on the telecast! I know I should be grateful, instead of looking the gift-horse in the mouth (and trying to punch his teeth out).

What's with the freakin' pop-up graphics? I know ESPN/ABC aren't getting constant ad revenue due to the lack of "television called time-outs", but seriously! Here's the madness in summary
  • One of the pop-up graphics takes up 1/4 of the bottom right corner of the screen.
  • They don't squeeze the image at all, and they don't always wait till a stoppage in play, so it often covers the bloody ball.
  • It's content is usually pointless. Like what they will be discussing in the half-time show. I can wait till half-time dammit! Are ESPN scared I might switch over to Days Of Our Lives to hear some intelligent dialog?
  • The commentators feel the need to narrate the pop-up also. So not only can't you see the player with the ball anymore, you can't even hear what's going on. But since most self-respecting soccer fans are forced to mute the commentators anyhow (see bitch #1 and bitch #2), this is less of an issue.
  • The top pop-up that descends to show you a player-of-the-moment fact comes from exactly the same colour-commentary script the announcers are using, and you have thus already heard 4 times. If I get told one more time that the Croatian kid is the son of the coach, I may put a pencil through my earhole.
  • The pop-ups appear and leave with an loud-swooshy sound effect. WHAT? DO YOU THINK WE MIGHTN'T NOTICE THAT 1/4-SCREEN HIGH THING COVERING THE F---N BALL????
I had to laugh also at the man-of the-match voting. Your encouraged to text-message your choice of player, a fine revenue-generating idea that, judging by American Idol, works with tons of silly people who want to add to their coffers. But they then skewer the concept by putting up the four choices at the 75th minute of the game! Take the Australia v Japan game for instance - at the 75min mark your choices were Mark Viduka or one of 3 Japanese players. And then Timmy Cahill came on to score two and seal victory.

Alright... I'm taking a breather and letting out the cranky-old-man air. Nothing but positive stuff from here on out (although, that's not easy after watching England struggle against T&T today either...)

(aside: full comedy credit to the Fox Soccer caption shown under an image of the Australian players piling on to congratulate Tim Cahill – "Mountain out of a Cahill" - Hah!)

Addendum: You'll Never Sign Alone

Wednesday, June 14, 2006 | 11:23 am

Seems I am not alone in my comments on the ABC/ESPN commentary below. Following to comments on this blog-site, I found that there is now a petition up to remove O'Brien (who is apparently a baseball commentator as I surmised, and a good one apparently) from the soccer commentary ranks of ABC. More generally, the petition just demands that the world biggest sporting event get some of the worlds greatest commentators - even if they are foreign.

It's unfortunate that every casual soccer watcher here associates soccer coomentators with the over-the-top South American style of "goooooaaaaal", while Uk soccer comentators are amongst the best in the world in any sport I feel.

One poster quoted this gem:
"Because of [David] O'Brien's limited soccer experience, ESPN executive Jed Drake concedes that using O'Brien as the lead voice 'is a bit of a calculated risk.' But he wanted an announcer from a 'more mainstream sport.'"
Soccer - not mainstream enough. At least we see where the commentary team gets it from.

Here's another funny:
"Brazil just doesn't lose. And this is going to be a problem for Croatia..."
Use the comments for this article to post yoru favourite inane commentary moment from this World Cup!

Pity Those Forced to Listen to Commentators

While on the topic of World Cup commentators, the ABC/ESPN folks have a lot to answer for in their coverage. My first impulse to mute came during the ABC coverage of England v Paraguay. Unfortunately, I was at a Scottish mates recently-purchased pub, so muting wasn't an option, and throwing a bacon-sausage sandwich at the widescreen wasn't going to endear me to the crowd either.

I think they pulled the lead guy from baseball: he didn't have the pace of a 90-minute game, and sounded like he hasn't been excited about anything since World War I. V-e-r-y   s-t-e-a-d-y   m-o-n-o-t-o-n-e. The "colour" guy was grating, and they both managed to approach the game from the point of view that "no-one out there has probably ever heard of soccer before". Thus you get US terminology equivalents (the "end line", or the inevitable "this is like the bottom of the ninth with 2 outs") and the side-effect is that any-vaguely knowledgeable part-time fan, of which America has millions, is talked down to like an idiot. Concentrate on yoru demographic lads! They got names wrong (not difficult names, they got Beckham wrong once) and worse was that even with the constant inane chatter, you couldn't find out anything you WANTED to know like who slipped that last pass in, or made that tackle.

All this is forgivable for newbie commentators, but the "colour commentary" was not. They must have had a sheet of factoids prepared for them, which they referred to every five minutes since they didn't know how to effectively talk during a passage of passing. If I had to hear the Paraguayan coach's quote suggesting England are "cheats", or Rooney's injury status, or Beckham's name (and the inevitable "bend-it" joke) one more time, I risk having my large intestine spring up through my throat and strangle me in self-defence.
"That’s a yellow-card. One more like that and he gets a red card, which means he must leave the field."
"That would leave them with only 10 men!"
You don't say.

Last nights Brazil v Croatia commentary had some corkers from JP What’s-his-name and John Harkes. Harkes could play the round-ball game, but talking isn’t his strong suite. JP keeps trying to open the door for Harkes to talk about his time with the US National side, and Harkes hasn't let that door close on him yet. Take this roughly-remembered quote from JP last night referring to a game years ago between USA and Brazil:
"And didn't the Brazilians say about that game John, that Casey Keller had one of the greatest games they had ever seen from a goalkeeper, or something like that?"

It took a loooong time for the commentators last night to give Croatia some credit, it was the all-Brazil show as far as they were concerned, even though Croatia looked strong (too strong for an Australian's liking!). But it was all worth it for this (rough) quote with the game at 1-0 to Brazil in the second half. I am going to attribute this one to JP:
"Take that goal away and you have a tied game right now and a whole different situation!"
And you get paid for this?

Thank god ESPN2 is using Irishman Tommy Smyth occasionally. He may sound annoying (like he is about to launch into a joke that begins "A Catholic, a Protestant, and a Rabbi walk into a bar..."), but at least he knows the game.

Pity The Commentator

Tuesday, June 13, 2006 | 11:20 am

South Korea kicked off their World Cup Finals campaign today against the newboys of Toga. For the only time this World Cup boradcast, my sympathy is with the commentators. South Korea's squad includes 5 x Lee's, 8 x Kim's, and a couple each of Cho's and Park's (go Ji-Sung!). That's gonna be tough for the gits they have commentating for ABC/ESPN!

Super Subs!

Monday, June 12, 2006 | 11:43 am

Cahill Brings Us Back
Tim Cahill and John Aloisi came off the bench to drag a tiring Australia back into their game against Japan, producing three goals in the final 10 minutes of the match to grab their first World Cup Finals win, 3-1!

After a contraversial goal to Japan against the run of play (I put half the blame on Schwarzer, half on the ref), the Aussies started to run out of ideas on how to break down Japan's defence, but all that changed with Gus Hiddink's early second half substitutions. Personally I put a lot of the credit at the feet of the 6'5" Josh Kennedy, who sparked our midfield back to life by giving them a target man in the Peter Crouch style. Baxters NorfolkAnd I cant complain about having somewhere to watch it. Baxters Sports Bar opened early this morning with a breakfast spread to show the 9am game, and it was pretty much me, 3 mates, and 110-televisions. I think I got CRT-burn.

Now pray for a 0-0 draw between Croatia and Japan (or even a small Japan win!), and that Brazil beats everybody by more than they beat us!

Let The Games Begin!

Friday, June 09, 2006 | 1:08 pm

As you can tell by my enhanced sidebar at right, it's World Cup time baby! The biggest single sporting event on earth will dominate my (and most of the rest of the world's) next month as we see if the Aussie Socceroos can score their first World Cup Finals goal, if the USA can live up to it's inflated world ranking, if England can live up to the hype without Rooney, and if Brazil can live up to expectations.

It's gonna be a rollercoaster my friends! Remember, this event has some big implications for national pride. Footballers have been shot dead for missing penalties, and two nations went to war over a match (El Salvador and Honduras).

Here's a World Cup tidbit to whet your appetite:
Estimates put Super Bowl betting at nearly $600 million and wagering on the men's NCAA Basketball Tournament at close to $4 billion. The global nature and tournament structure of the World Cup generates more betting than any other event - British bookmakers *alone* expect to receive over $1.89 billion on the 64-game tournament this year.

X-Men 3: The Last Review

Thursday, June 01, 2006 | 12:55 pm

Mystique leaps In what must surely be last in the line of bloggin' mates who've reviewed X-Men: The Last Stand, I present my humble ramblings. Lets cut straight to it!
Be warned——

The Good:

  • There's a good body count of heroes, which you need in an ensemble cast piece or otherwise you risk being Star Trek.
  • Didn't look nearly as bad as it could have after all the reported problems with directors, budgets, timeframes and such. Special FX credits went for a long time, and were unusual not for their length, but the number of different Fx houses included!
  • I liked Beast. Kesley did a good job playing the big blue diplomat: the good-guys needed another adult around.
  • I thought the Kitty Pryde character (girl who walked through walls) was made to look very weak and insecure, but they made up for it with her final showdown piece.
  • The opening scene with younger versions of Xavier and Eric looked great.In fact, the Magneto/Xavier interplay there and later they confront Bad-Jean was full of great character moments.
The Bad:
  • The body count was a cheap one. Jean was dead already, the boring Cyclops (after finally getting some character development) dies off-screen, Xavier may return, and Magneto may get his powers back. This is like watching a boxing match with "punch-pulling".
  • Storm got some decent lines and screentime this time, but I gotta say that although I like her, Halle Berry here was awful and insipid. Hard to tell who was to blame.
  • The final battle uses too many characters you didn't really know much about if you didn't read the comics – and who are too damn young! It makes you not care who dies (I fully expected one of the kids to buy it, and based on the "least screen-time/character development" principle, I assumed it would be Colossus); it makes the bad guys look inept; and the hard-edged, only-looks-out-for-himself Wolverine seems to be the eternal baby-sitter.
  • I find it hard to believe that Wolverine can heal faster than Phoenix can disassemble atoms. I thought they needed to bring the kid into play here. Nice touch Wolverine having to kill her though.
  • Beasts first scene has him upside down reading, but his hair doesn't move.
  • Why move the whole bridge when you can just levitate a bus over there? Plain and simple showboating, by both Magneto and the director! But that's fine, what really bugged me was that once Magneto stopped holding it, it somehow failed to plummet into the Bay.
  • Why drop the head scientist from the roof? Very uncreative death (I know, a duex-ex-machina for winged-boy), especially when we just saw his assitant get porcupined.
  • Magneto should have been killed in the final explosion. There's no way the old man could have hobbled out of range. At least they should have arrested him at the other end of the bridge, everyone knows what he looks like as he was the terrorist/resistance leader always on TV.

Overall, it didn't suck, although I can't really decide where it falls in the grand scheme of X-Man movies. On the walk home, the Gorgeous Wife and I asked each other the question: If you could have any of their powers, which would it be?
The answer for me was easy - Mystique's shapeshifting. Unlimited possibilities! And unlike my wife, I really don't want to know what everyone is thinking, that would be the end of my faith in humanity.

Leave your superpower choice in the comments section!

The Little Operating System That Couldn't

Six and a half years in the making, delayed five times, descoped so vehemently that Microsoft employee's are pleading for new leadership and a slimming down of their behemoth company, and now even the dyed-in-the-wool PC pundits are clamouring to bad-mouth it:
poor little Windows Vista is having a tough childhood.

The graphics side of the UI has been upgraded with a transparent OS X look and some better graphical transitions. There's even a functionality like Tiger's widgets called gadgets on the desktop. All good improvements, borrowed from the best.

It's under the hood though that they are struggling, as the proposed new file system was abandoned, and the attempts to beef-up security through permissions based metholodgies (as per Unix/OS X) is experiencing growing pains. Too many programmers, not enough UI designers. Here for example, is how to delete a shortcut from your desktop in only 7 steps

The battle for MS is convincing people to upgrade. Outside of early adopters, home users generally dont spend much on operating systems, they usually wait they buy a new machine with the update thrown in. Graphics and security are the two areas that date XP so severely, so they have to be compelling. In the corporate space, no-one moves at the first version (especially when the home version isn't being released till a few months after, much to the xmas consternation of Dell, Gateway etc), and the inherent cost of upgrading large numbers of machines demands a very good business case to show why it is worthwhile for the Outlook/Excel/Word crowd.

It will sell, market share says so, but will it sell well? Could this be the project that forces the reshaping of Microsoft? With Vista aiming for the end of the year, as well as Sony's late & overpriced PS3, it will be an interesting xmas for the old dinosaurs.

UPDATE: Here's some additional links with heaps of review detail on Vista Beta 2. Scott Finnie's article on Computerworld is comprehensive and an interesting read once you get past the eye-catching title, and Ars Technica's review is a little softer, but with lots of screenshots.