Off The Mark

By Ollie Field

The English Premier League has been dubbed as the best football league in the world for the past six years or so, but what makes it one of the most followed sporting events around the world? Well, a quick look at the UEFA Champions League’s last 16 results should give you a clue.Liverpool and Manchester United cruised through against two of the best teams in the world at the moment, Real Madrid and Inter Milan. The Reds’ performance at Anfield confirms Rafael Benitez’s status as a European competition genius. United were never really troubled by Inter, since they didn’t concede a goal in the two legs. Chelsea, and particularly Arsenal, were made to work to make it to the quarter-finals, but they both showed great temperament to continue the English dominance in the Champions League.

So, for the second year running, there are four English teams in the final eight. What does this mean for European football as a whole? Are the giants of Spain and Italy simply not up to scratch when compared to the big teams of England?

Bayern Munich and Barcelona are the saving graces for the rest of Europe, with both teams obliterating Sporting Lisbon and Lyon respectively. Bayern scored 12 goals against Sporting in two legs, an unbelievable achievement that has suddenly made them near favourites for this year’s title. Whatever happens, and even if the tournament continues to be dominated by the English teams, it still promises entertaining football, and that’s why it’s such a popular extravaganza of the beautiful game.

Then, there’s the sad story about the test series against Australia. Yesterday I saw the headline of the Sports Illustrated “Why we won and how we going to keep on winning” or something similar. Well, our over-confidence and misreading of the situation has certainly cost us. Our best journos in the country were WRONG!

Australia destroyed us both at the Wanderers and in Durban. They batted better, bowled better lines and lengths and fielded better. The area we all thought we were going to be far superior would be in the bowling department. I heard myself and others say, “they will never be able to take 20 wickets in a match”. Well they did, comfortably. And considering their two most experienced bowlers (Clark and Lee) didn’t even make the tour, South Africa really can’t complain.

Mitchell Johnson was incredible. He completely out-showed Steyn, Nitini and Morkel. Especially Morkel, who was woeful with short and wide bowling. I know that he’s talented, or so I’m told, but the truth is he’s simply not good enough. Not yet. Drop him. I don’t really know what to say about our batting. At times we were unlucky. At times we were just plain shocking. But what I really want to know is: why is our tail so long? Boucher’s not making runs. Morkel is useless and Harris is worse. Steyn isn’t the most talented batsman, but he makes up for it in concentration and commitment. And Ntini? Well he’s just Ntini.

So where to now? I think the 3rd test is going to be tough. I don’t think we’re going to win. But hopefully Prince can add some stability into the top order as an opener. And hopefully Johnson gets food poisoning and can’t play. Otherwise, 3-0 may be a reality. At least there’s still the ODIs.

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