Sheree’s sporting snippets

It’s official Autumn has arrived, I’m now wearing my 3/4 bib shorts and long sleeved jersey. This year I’ve not even transitioned leg and arm warmers. No, I’ve gone straight for the comfort and warmth of roubaix fleece.

Internet service was magically restored late yesterday evening after Orange strenuously denied that there had been any problems. They stated quite emphatically that there was a service and the problem lay with our laptops. If that was the case I argued, why do we have no TV service (also delivered via the internet)? They had no answer for that riposte.

Cycling

At yesterday’s Tour of Lombardy most of my fancied riders featured but there was a fairy tale ending to the race. Switzerland’s 30-year old Oliver Zaugg, who has never, ever won a professional race, slipped free of the Leopard Trek noose 10km from the finish, on the Villa Vegnano climb, and held on to win by 15 seconds. Second-placed, fellow Brummie, Garvelo’s Dan Martin now moves into the Top 10 of the World rankings.

In the 30th Chrono des Nations, a 48.5km route held in the Vendee, HTC’s Tony Martin consolidated his standing in world time-trialling by beating 2nd placed Saxobank rider Gustav Larsson by 2′ 3″. Sky’s Alex Dowsett was third.

MotoGP

Casey Stoner celebrated his 26th birthday with a 5th consecutive home win and this year’s MotoGP Championship, by an unassailable 65 point lead, when he won the Australian GP at Phillip Island. Challenger and former reigning champion, Jorge Lorenzo withdrew with a badly injured finger on his left hand. Yamaha team mate, Ben Spies was also ruled unfit to race after a blow to the head during a high speed crash.

Alex de Angelis took his first Moto2 victory of the season ahead of Stefan Bradl who resumes the championship lead by 3 points over Marc Marquez who, despite starting last on the 38-bike grid as a penalty for taking out a rider in practice, still managed to finish third.

A rain-shortened 125cc race was won by Sandro Cortese from championship leader Nico Terol and challenger Johann Zarco.

Rugby

Much to the astonishment of the great French public, France beat Wales 9-8 and will play home nation New Zealand next week end in the World Cup Final. In truth, having lost already in the competition to the All Blacks, no one is expecting them to win. But stranger things have happened.

Football

Manchester City go top of the Premiership having thrashed my beloved boys in claret and blue 4-1. Of course, one of those goals came from Villa Old Boy, James Milner.

In Nice, OGCN scored 3 goals to beat Bordeaux who it has to be said are not the team they once were and now languish in 17th spot, while my boys are up to 13th.

My particular chouchou, the impossibly good looking Yoann Gourcuff is back playing for Olympique Lyon after a 5-month injury lay off and was their man of the match as they downed Nancy 3-1.

After the successful loan of Liverpool’s Joe Cole to Lille, where he likes nothing better than sitting at one of Lille’s many cafes and reading L’Equipe as he sips his espresso, there’s great excitement that David Beckham may be moving to Paris St Germain.

Fencing

France join the G8, the list of countries which have won 8 consecutive team titles in fencing. Fencing is yet another of those sports at which I have had a go. It’s incredibly tiring and, like lots of sports, way more difficult than it looks. Still, it’s great fun pretending to be one of the Three Musketeers.

Wasteful

As a manager, you always want your team to give of their best. After all, a manager is only as good as the people who work for him or her. Management is not an art, nor is it rocket science. It’s grounded in common sense. In my experience, if someone isn’t performing to the level you expect, you need to sit down with them and try to get to the bottom of the matter. Don’t assume, it’s all down to the individual either, it’s far more likely to be your fault. You cannot expect anyone to work well if they do not know or understand what it is you expect of them. This is true of whomever or whatever you’re managing. Clearly, some managers are better than others in unlocking and developing an individual’s potential.

My chouchou of the French beautiful game is one Yoann Gourcuff who was the subject of several pages of conjecture in L’Equipe this week which may have contributed to him being unfairly whistled at by the French crowd when he was substituted in 86th minute in yesterday’s friendly against Brazil.

My take on the issue is that he feels crushed by the overwhelming burden of expectation. The French public regard Gourcuff as Zizou’s natural successor. Those are mighty boots for anyone to fill, let alone someone who, let’s not forget, is only 24. True he plays in a similar position, behind the strikers, and displays the same kind of creativity and technique as Zidane.
 
He’s the son of Lorient’s manager and until his teen years played tennis to a competitively high standard too but, having been beaten by one Raphael Nadal, he chose to concentrate on his football. After a successful debut in the professional game at Rennes, he moved to  AC Milan in 2006. It was not a good move. He couldn’t get a game. 
 
He returned to France in 2008, initially on loan, to Bordeaux where he flourished under Laurent Blanc leading Les Girondins to the League and League Cup titles as well as being named the French League’s Player of the Year after scoring 12 goals and claiming 11 assists. He continued to play well and was shortlisted for the Ballon d’Or award in 2009.
 
After the departure of Blanc, Gourcuff signed for Olympique Lyonnais in 2010 where he has failed to build on that early promise. Promise that is evident when he plays for France under Blanc. He played well yesterday evening, as did Karim Benzema who scored the only goal of the match. He’s another player who can’t get  a game at his club: Real Madrid.
 
For whatever reason, neither of these players are playing to their full potential at club level. I don’t know why this is and no doubt many columns have been written speculating on the various reasons. It just strikes me as a great shame that their respective managers can’t or won’t make best use of these talented players.
   

Tale of two teams

I wrapped up my English class yesterday evening so that I could get back in time to watch the England v France clash. My class asked me which team I would be supporting. “The French” I replied and then I explained why.

I arrived home in time to watch the game. It unfolded pretty much as I anticipated. The French were tactically and technically superior in every position on the pitch as they outflanked, outmanoeuvred and out-thought their opponents. I accept that England had a number of sacred cows missing from their line up but their replacements did not herald a brighter footballing future as England succumbed to basic route one football.

The French delighted us with the excellence of their spritely passing, good use of possession, their control of and movement on the ball. In fact, the final scoreline of 1-2 flatters to deceive as France struggled to convert their dominance into goals. The reality was far more emphatic than the result suggests. On a personal note I was delighted to see a rejuvenated Gourcuff compliment the excellent play of Nasri, Benzema and Malouda.

Laurent Blanc’s French team demonstrated to the sold-out Wembley crowd that they’ve learned well the lessons from S Africa, underlining all too clearly that the English have not. Now you know why they had my support.

Twinkle, twinkle

Gratifyingly good performances from both England and France yesterday evening as they look to distance the disappointment of the World Cup in South Africa. For Capello it is business as usual, though injuries have prompted (forced) him to give opportunities to some promising players, notably Adam Johnson. Revelations about Wayne Rooney’s off field escapades have fortunately not affected his on-field form, quite the opposite. However, is it only me who thinks Capello might be better off leaving Lampard on the side-lines?  After two resounding wins, England top their Group.

Laurent Blanc has a much harder task with his “blanc piece of paper” but the signs are promising and, once many of his players return from injury and/or suspension, expect more score-lines like yesterday evening. Help may be at hand as I understand that Zinadine Zidane’s eldest is playing for Real Madrid’s youth squad. He’ll be 17 come the European Cup in 2012.

There may soon be a Gallic flavour at Villa Park. Rumour has it that Gerard Houllier is mulling over an offer to step into Martin O’Neill’s shoes. They have a potential banana skin away at Stoke this Sunday, after riding their luck to most recently scrape past Everton. They’ve been a bit of a curate’s egg and, with no additions to the squad following the sale of James Milner, will quickly need to bring on some of their promising youngsters.

OGCN are also playing on Sunday, when they’ll be home to Bordeaux now bereft of my favourite French player Yoann Gourcuff who’s hightailed it to Lyon. However, the first installment from the sale of Loic Remy has finally arrived into the OGCN coffers, allowing them to balance (cook?) the books. Nonetheless, OGCN have done their usual last minute shopping in football’s equivalent of Filene’s basement. Let’s hope they have unearthed some gems.

It’s started

I’d been finding it hard to work up any enthusiasm for the World Cup but once it kicked off on Friday I found myself naturally taking an interest. I watched France v Uruguay, a  tense match with few opportunities for either side. The French played some very attractive football but the tournament will not be decided on artistic impression and technical merit. The French press have castigated the manager and the players for their unimaginative play. In particular, Yoann Gourcuff, who even I admit did not have a good game,  was singled out for some harsh criticism.

This was not the only opener decided by a draw. USA v England, where two of my beloved boys in claret & blue were on England duty, resulted in a 1-1 draw. Emile Heskey played a blinder (technical term), easily his best appearance in an England shirt. While James Milner (being heavily courted by Man City), still suffering from the after-effects of an illness, was off the pace and substituted in the first half. Again, the England boys came in for some criticism from the press.  Take no notice boys, what do they know?

I managed to get tickets for the previous World Cup. My beloved and I saw one of the opening games, Brazil v Croatia, in Berlin. It was a mediocre match, played in a magnificent stadium, with the spectators providing a fantastic atmosphere. Indeed, we spent a long weekend  in Berlin watching matches on the big screen, just soaking up the atmosphere. Everything was brilliantly and efficiently organised by the Germans. The weather was warm and sunny and there was a real sense of carnival and occasion to the proceedings. I’m sure the same can be said of proceedings in South Africa.

The final of that World Cup was played the night before my beloved’s first attempt at l’Etape du Tour. We watched the match in a bar in Briancon, not far from where we were staying. After the match, I was approached by a young French boy in floods of tears. Well, they had just lost to the Italians. However, that wasn’t why he was crying. He’d become detached from his father and sister in the crowds. So I sat with him, calmed him down and tried to contact his father on my mobile. This proved fruitless as he was obviously ringing anyone and everyone to see if they’d seen his son. Fortunately, before too long he was reunited with his elder sister who had retraced her steps to try and find him.

This week I’ve been watching Alberto Contador and the Astana team in the Criterium du Dauphine. Bert said he’d come to test his condition, many thought he was sandbagging. He wasn’t. He won two stages, including the queen stage, which finished on L’Alpe d’Huez, the points jersey and was 2nd on GC. The race was won by Janez Brajkovic who having been let off the leash by Bruyneel, confirmed his earlier promise. However, don’t read too much into this. Come 3 July, Contador will be at the top of his game and primed to retain his Tour crown, ably assisted by his Astana team mates led by Alexandre Vinokourov. While only death and taxes are certainties, Bert to win the Tour isn’t too far off.

Hotch potch

Yesterday, I had a very special, overnight visitor, my neighbour’s daughter. She is a truly delightful child, a credit to her parents and teachers. She came for dinner which we prepared and ate together, before settling down to watch the football match.

We’d already had a lively discussion over dinner about rugby. She’d seen her first match this summer, Toulouse v Brive. So she was more than happy to

Ireland v France
I rest my case

watch the Ireland v France match with me. After Anelka scored in the 72nd minute from a Gourcuff assist, she  promptly fell asleep on the sofa, secure in the knowledge that France were now much more likely to be South Africa bound.

It was a tight match which, frankly, could have gone either way. Tellingly, the man of the match was the French goalkeeper, and ex-OGCN player, Hugo Lloris. Though I should add that the  French scored more heavily in a couple of departments by comparison with the Irish: cooler kit (Adidas) and better looks (IMHO).

Earlier, I had watched an understrength England be dazzled by the Brazilians in Doha, Qatar. Ex-Villan, Gareth Barry was easily England’s best player in their 1-0 defeat.

My overnight guest was collected early this morning to allow me to leave for the pointage in Cannes. As I cycled past the hippodrome, I joined up with a group of cyclists, including a guy I rode with last week. To my surprise I managed to stay with them all the way to the pointage. I had anticipated that at some point I would be joined, and overtaken, by riders from my club. But they hadn’t arrived by the time I departed the pointage, returning home via Mouans Sartoux and Mougins.

I then had a quick turn around as I was meeting a friend for lunch. We were celebrating her new job in New York where, among  other things, she’s going to be looking after shipments of Chanel into the East Coast. I’m truly pleased for her. She’s worked really hard to build the up the company’s operation in Nice and needed another challenge. I will miss her, but have already signaled my intention to visit her next year in the Big Apple.

I’m now in my nightwear contemplating either an evening curled up on the sofa watching the TV or an early night with Jens Voigt’s biography. Reading in bed is another of my guilty pleasures and one which I can indulge only when my beloved is away, and he’s away until Thursday.

Highs and lows

My Premiership side, AVFC, started the season by losing 0-2 at home to Wigan! Wigan! Then lost  in the Europa Cup 0-1 away to Rapid Vienna. All in all not an auspicious start to the season. Last week end, they won 1-3 away at Anfield. We’ve not won there since 2001. Villa nearly always play Liverpool early on in the season and despite  good performances from the lads we would generally be undone by a goal of the month (if not the season).  Things were now looking a whole lot better.

Villa won 2-1 on Thursday in the home leg against Rapid Vienna. They could have, should have won by more. An aggregate score of 2-2, with away goals counting double, meant Villa were out for the count. Not even a case of falling at the first hurdle, more a failure to get out of the blocks. Yesterday they beat Fulham 2-0 at home. Never playing beyond themselves, just doing enough to snuff out Fulham. Nerves steadied once more.

My local French side, OGC Nice  started the season brightly with an away win (0-2) at St Etienne and a home draw against Rennes: so far, so good. Last week end they played away at Bordeaux: last season’s league winners and a team in impressive form. A team who are home to one of the best manager’s in the league and easily (IMHO) the best looking player, Yoan Gourcuff, pictured here.

Yoann Gourcuff
Yoann Gourcuff

OGCN suffered what every commentator agreed was a 4-0 crushing defeat. This Saturday, they were home to Montpelier, a recently promoted side. They lost 0-3! Commentators again concluded that it was a crushing defeat which could have been oh so much worse had it not been for our Columbian goalkeeper, Ospina. The only man to be awarded a score over 5 in the newspapers for his efforts. In fact some commentators went so far as to say that they had never, ever seen such a pathetic performance. The defence went missing. Literally in the case of Apam, usually our most reliable defender, who was sent off for two yellow cards. Remy tried hard, but as the lone striker ahead of a clueless midfield, his efforts were never going to amount to much. I wasn’t there (too busy watching the Vuelta Prologue) but I would guess that they were roundly booed off by the crowd.