Wednesday, 26 November 2014

F1 2014 review: Magnificent Mercedes find no equal

MERCEDES - 701 points
01Lewis Hamilton (Gbr)Mercedes384 (11 wins)
02Nico Rosberg (Ger)Mercedes317 (5 wins)
Clearly having developed the best car on the grid by a distance following a regulations overhaul, Mercedes pair Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg quickly realised the title battle was between themselves.
And what a battle it proved to be - with the prediction of more to come after Monaco one of the easiest to make all year. After all, when there is a world championship on the line, even long-standing friendships will feel the strain and there were various flashpoints across the season.
In Monte Carlo, Hamilton felt Rosberg had denied him the chance to his improve on his best time in qualifying after parking up in Mirabeau. On a street circuit where it is notoriously difficult to overtake, Hamilton duly finished the race in second to his German team-mate.
In Hungary, Hamilton got revenge of sorts - refusing a team order to let Rosberg through - but, by the time the Belgian Grand Prix in Spa had finished later in the summer, Rosberg held a 29-point advantage, with Hamilton having been forced to retire as a result of a clash between the pair.
Then Rosberg seemed to crack - a rudimentary mistake at a chicane in Monza gifted Hamilton the Italian Grand Prix and, thereafter, the Briton stepped it up, winning five consecutive races to stretch his lead from Singapore onwards. Double points at Abu Dhabi kept Rosberg's hopes alive - but, as a result of Hamilton's great start and Rosberg's subsequent mechanical problems the much-anticipated Duel in the Desert never materialised. 

RED BULL-RENAULT - 405 points
03Daniel Ricciardo (Aus)Red Bull-Renault238 (3 wins)
05Sebastian Vettel (Ger)Red Bull-Renault167
So, Red Bull's RB10 was perhaps not as bad a car as it was made out to be in pre-season. Certainly, the ever-smiling Australian Daniel Ricciardo thought so - as he made good on move up the grid from sister team Toro Rosso in being the only driver not in a Mercedes to win a Grand Prix.
Not only that, he did it three times - in Canada, where he overtook an ailing Rosberg with two laps to go, and then in Hungary and Belgium where he took advantage of Mercedes infighting. Yes, there was perhaps an element of fortune to each of his wins - but five third-place finishes and regular scoring across the season ensured Ricciardo comfortably finished the best of the rest.
Sadly, the same could not be said of defending champion Sebastian Vettel after a difficult season which featured only four podium visits, with none of them coming on the top step. Beaten 12-7 in qualifying by his less experienced team-mate, the four-time champion cut a frustrated figure and, one year short of the end of his contract, ended up moving to Ferrari. An eighth-placed finish at Abu Dhabi was hardly a vintage way to go out from a team in which he had enjoyed record-breaking success - but anything else would have been atypical of his season. 

WILLIAMS-MERCEDES - 320 points
04Valtteri Bottas (Fin)Williams-Mercedes 186
07Felipe Massa (Brz)Williams-Mercedes134
Williams-Mercedes enjoyed their best season in years - and appropriately finished on a high with the double podium in Abu Dhabi being their first since Nick Heidfeld and Mark Webber finished second and third at Monaco in 2005.
Of course, the Mercedes engines helped - but, in Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa, the Grove-based outfit also benefited from two highly-motivated drivers. For Bottas, the motivation presumably stemmed from the fact that he is only in his second season as an F1 driver - and yet, despite his relative inexperience, the Finn has already shown a lot desire to succeed. A mid-season run of four podium finishes out of five between the Grand Prix in Austria and Belgium was the highlight of a campaign in which he regularly carried most threat to the Mercedes pair.
For Massa, meanwhile, the move to Williams was meant to be a liberation from playing second fiddle to Fernando Alonso. Sadly, it did not quite work out like that - and Bottas out-qualified his Brazilian team-mate by 13-6. Nevertheless, Massa also suffered some dreadful luck on race day, being crashed into through no fault of his own on more than one occasion. Thankfully, the second half of the season proved more fruitful than with a second-placed finish in Abu Dhabi and third-placed finishes in Italy and, emotionally, at his home Grand Prix in Brazil.

FERRARI - 216 points
06Fernando Alonso (Spa)Ferrari161
12Kimi Räikkönen (Fin)Ferrari55
Ferrari got it all wrong yet again with the F14 T, producing another bang-average car. Nevertheless, it was the difference in attitude between two former world champions Fernando Alonso and Kimi Räikkönen which was more startling.
Alonso has long been the standard-bearer for the Italian giants and, once again this season, strived to do as well as he could in an almost impossible position. Visits to the podium in China and Hungary were phenomenal drives - and, altogether, the Spaniard still recorded 14 top-six finishes to earn sixth place in the overall standings. Ninth at Abu Dhabi is not how Alonso would have wanted to go out - but it really comes as no surprise that, after years of title-less trying, he has moved to pastures new.
Räikkönen, by contrast, has been retained despite being out-qualified by Alonso by 16-3 and driving around as if he has already taken an early retirement. Generally saving his best moments for his often hilarious communication with his team over the radio, his fourth place in Spa was a complete an anomaly in terms of his performance on the track. For, while he retired just once all season, in Silverstone, the Flying Finn finished outside of the points on no fewer than five occasions. 

MCLAREN-MERCEDES - 181 points
08Jenson Button (Gbr)McLaren-Mercedes126
11*Kevin Magnussen (Den)McLaren-Mercedes55
Oh dear. There can be few false dawns as bright as the one McLaren produced at the Australian Grand Prix eight months ago. 
With the disqualification of Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo, Danish debutant Kevin Magnussen was deemed to have finished second - the best finish by a rookie on debut since Jacques Villeneuve in 1996. Meanwhile, Jenson Button was also promoted to the podium in third - and, ever so briefly, it looked as if the Woking-based team might be the one likely to provide the closest challenge to the dominant Mercedes.
In the long run, though, the MP4-29 proved no better than the MP4-28 as McLaren chalked up consecutive fifth-placed finishes on what could sadly be Button's swansong. Yet, despite the doubts over his position for next year, the Frome flyer was absolutely key even to them achieving this modest target as he earned himself a creditable eighth place in the overall standings having had 12 other points finishes after Melbourne.
Indeed, the Briton's form in the last couple of months - two fourth places and two fifth in the last five races - was good enough to lift McLaren above Force India in an unexpected mid-table tussle. And, as he admitted himself, the fifth in Abu Dhabi was pretty much as good as it was going to get.
For Magnussen, the season unsurprisingly got no better than the second place in Australia as he finished with less than half the points of his vastly more experienced team-mate. Nevertheless, among the usual rookie errors, there were flashes of talent. He matched Button in qualifying - and secured a fifth-placed finish in Russia among his 12 points-based finishes altogether.

FORCE INDIA-MERCEDES - 155 points
09Nico Hulkenberg (Ger)Force India-Mercedes96
10Sergio Pérez (Mex)Force India-Mercedes59
Force India will keep faith in Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Pérez after both drivers scored consistently enough across the season to keep this solidly mid-table team solidly in mid-table. In fact, this is the third season in the last four that Force India have finished sixth in the Constructors' Championship - and, even then, the exceptional year was a seventh-placed finish.
Referring solely to 2014, the undoubted highlight was Pérez's podium visit in Bahrain - only the team's second ever top-three finish - but, in the final reckoning, it was actually team-mate Hulkenberg who could boast the better overall stats.
The German finished the season with more points, more points finishes, and a qualifying record which was 12-7 in his favour. Indeed, he started the season with 10 consecutive points finishes and only missed out on four occasions, twice through retirement.
Ultimately, thanks mainly to Jenson Button's late-season form for McLaren, the efforts of Hulkenberg, in particular, and Pérez were not quite good enough to cause a surprise and break Force India into that top five. But they were not too far away either - and, in fact, held the position above McLaren as late as mid-October.

TORO ROSSO-RENAULT - 30 points
13Jean-Eric Vergne (Fra)Toro-Rosso-Renault22
15*Daniil Kyvat (Rus)Toro-Rosso-Renault8
Russian rookie Daniil Kyvat provided some early-season excitement by finishing in the points positions in three of the opening four Grand Prix - but, in the end, it was his slightly more experienced team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne who picked up more points across the season. 
For, while Kyvat would only feature in the top 10 twice more from the Spanish Grand Prix onwards, Vergne enjoyed seven points-based finishes across the campaign including a sixth place under the lights in Singapore.
Still, perhaps as a result of him out-qualifying Vergne by 12-7, Kyvat has ended up being the ultimate victor in this tussle, the Russian having been fast-tracked to support Daniel Ricciardo at Toro Rosso's big brother Red Bull. Vergne today announced he will no longer race for Toro Rosso so it remains to be seen who will partner 17-year-old rookie Max Verstappen next year.

LOTUS-RENAULT - 10 points
14Romain Grosjean (Fra)Lotus-Renault8
16Pastor Maldonado (Ven)Lotus-Renault2
For Lotus, who finished fourth in the Constructors' Championship in 2013, the season had gone into a stall before it had even properly begun. In pre-season testing, their car ran fewer laps than any other - and at the opening race in Australia, it showed. 
Both cars qualified behind Marussia and Caterham with Pastor Maldonado not even able to set a time and Romain Grosjean was then forced to start from the pit-lane due to making car modifications under parc ferme conditions. Finally, in the race itself, the two cars retired within a lap of one another with the same power unit problem.
It did get slightly better - Grosjean finished eighth in consecutive races in Spain and Monaco, while crash-happy Maldonado eventually stayed out of trouble at antepenultimate race in the United States to finish ninth. But these were the only points finishes of the season - and, with cash-strapped Lotus retaining the same driver line-up for 2015, all hope is being pinned on the acquisition of a Mercedes engine. 

MARUSSIA-FERRARI - 2 points
17Jules Bianchi (Fra)Marussia-Ferrari2
21Max Chilton (Gbr)Marussia-Ferrari0
From glory to despair via still possibly tragic circumstances, Marussia have endured a bizarrely notorious season for a back-marker, failing to make it to end before going out of business. 
The highlight came at Monaco where Frenchman Jules Bianchi finished ninth to earn the team their first ever points at their 83rd attempt and his 25th. It was a deserved outcome for Bianchi who had regularly finished further up the classification than he ought to - his future looked bright, even if the same could not be said of Marussia.
Then, in Japan, in extremely wet conditions, Bianchi suffered a horrific crash head-first into a crane rescuing the stricken Sauber of Adrian Sutil. It was a reminder of just how dangerous Formula One can be, even with the great advances in safety since the death of Ayrton Senna 20 years ago. Yet, as the paddock admirably rallied together, the Bianchi accident also demonstrated just how much this sport means to the drivers that they willingly continue to subject themselves to such possible outcomes. Bianchi remains unconscious and in a critical condition - and, for what little it is worth, this report still hopes for the best.
Team-mate Max Chilton only competed in one more race, retiring from the Russian Grand Prix on lap nine with a suspension problem. It was a rare retirement for the Briton - but, having been out-qualified 12-3 by Bianchi, the youngster from Reigate has just as rarely shown the raw pace of his team-mate. The demise of Marussia leaves him without a seat in 2015.

SAUBER-FERRARI - 0 points
18Adrian Sutil (Ger)Sauber-Ferrari0
20Esteban Gutiérrez (Mex)Sauber-Ferrari0
Sauber-Ferrari suffered their worst ever season in 22 years of involvement in Formula One, failing to score across a whole campaign for the first time ever. 
Kept off the bottom only thanks to Adrian Sutil's two 11th-placed finishes in Australia and Hungary, this was as good as it got for a usually solidly mid-table team.
Mexican team-mate Esteban Gutiérrez could only manage a best of 13th - once at Suzuka in Japan - and so it is no surprise to see Swiss owner Peter Sauber bring in a whole new line-up for 2015 with former Caterham driver Marcus Ericsson being joined by Brazilian rookie Felipe Nasr.

CATERHAM-RENAULT - 0 points
19*Marcus Ericsson (Swe)Caterham-Renault0
22Kamui Kobayashi (Jpn)Caterham-Renault0
23*Will Stevens (Gbr)Caterham-Renault0
Caterham-Renault were the only team to use more than two drivers across the season - and, just as none of their choices scored any points at all, the whole team effectively stumbled over the finish line in Abu Dhabi.
Forced into administration after the Russian Grand Prix with the loss of 230 jobs, Caterham missed two Grand Prix altogether in United States and Brazil. They then only made it to the season-closer in the United Arab Emirates thanks to an effective crowd-sourcing campaign.
For the record, Caterham's best finish was 11th from Swedish rookie Marcus Ericsson in Monaco while Japanese driver Kamui Kobayashi managed two 13th-placed finishes in Malaysia and Monaco again.
British youngster Will Stevens was 17th and last to finish on his Grand Prix debut in Abu Dhabi (replacing Ericsson) - but now the hard work for Caterham really begins as they seek some secure backing to salvage their position on the grid.

FORMULA ONE 2014 REPORTS
14.03 Season preview: Ripe for renewal
29.05 More to come from Mercedes pair
07.07 Hamilton shines at Silverstone
22.09 Hamilton leads the way under the Singapore lights
24.11 Hamilton reaches another level

Monday, 24 November 2014

F1 2014: Hamilton reaches another level

LEWIS HAMILTON secured a second world title with an 11th win of the season at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix yesterday.

Hamilton qualified second behind Mercedes team-mate and title rival Nico Rosberg - but made perhaps the best start of his whole career to lead going into the first corner.

It was so good it looked almost as if he had been thrown out of a slingshot and, thanks to regulation pit stops on laps 10 and 31, this was ultimately a pretty straightforward victory.

Coming fully six years after his last world title, Hamilton maybe feared this day would never arrive.

After all, only three previous Britons - Jim Clark, Graham Hill and Sir Jackie Stewart - had gone onto to become multiple world champions, Scotsman Stewart most recently back in 1971.

But Hamilton has now changed all of that on the "greatest day of [his] life".

The 29-year-old added: "2008 was a great year in my life. The feeling I have now is way, way past that. The greatest feeling ever."

For, let there be no doubt, this was a deserved triumph. For the record, Hamilton's 11 wins came in Malaysia, Bahrain, China, Spain, Great Britain, Italy, Singapore, Japan, Russia, the United States, and finally Abu Dhabi.

This was more than twice as many as Rosberg, and thankfully the horrible spectre of double points in Abu Dhabi did not prove decisive.

Instead, Rosberg suffered a series of mechanical failures yesterday to limp home down in 14th.

Still, at least, he was granted the opportunity to finish the race by a team preparing to retire him with just two laps to go.

And, after a title rivalry which had been quite tetchy at times this year, Rosberg was extremely sporting in his concession.

"I'm very disappointed but all in all Lewis deserved to win the championship. That's clear," the German said. "All in all he just did a better job than me, especially in the races."

Yes, for Rosberg, this was perhaps a slight case of what might have been. He out-qualified Hamilton 12 times to seven, and led the Championship by 29 points on two occasions.

But, for the most part, Hamilton acted more decisively in the Grand Prix themselves - and, in a blistering run of form, won six out of the last seven including five in a row.

In the only exception, he finished second in Brazil - and so dropped just seven points from his retirement in Spa onwards.

With the performance of a true champion, Hamilton has at last achieved what his talent had threatened for so long.

He has become only the 16th driver to become a multiple world champion - he has joined the pantheon of Formula One greats.

FORMULA ONE 2014
DateTV
Pole positionFastest lapWinner
16 MarchSkyAustralian Grand PrixHamiltonRosbergRosberg
30 MarchBBCMalaysian Grand PrixHamiltonHamiltonHamilton
6 AprilSkyBahrain Grand PrixRosbergRosbergHamilton
20 AprilSkyChinese Grand PrixHamiltonRosbergHamilton
11 MayBBCSpanish Grand PrixHamiltonVettelHamilton
25 MaySkyMonaco Grand PrixRosbergRäikkönenRosberg
8 JuneBBCCanadian Grand PrixRosbergMassaRicciardo
22 JuneSkyAustrian Grand PrixMassaPerezRosberg
6 JulyBBCBritish Grand PrixRosbergHamiltonHamilton
20 JulySkyGerman Grand PrixRosbergHamiltonRosberg
27 JulySkyHungarian Grand PrixRosbergRosbergRicciardo
24 AugustBBCBelgian Grand PrixRosbergRosbergRicciardo
7 SeptemberBBCItalian Grand PrixHamiltonHamiltonHamilton
21 SeptemberSkySingapore Grand PrixHamiltonHamiltonHamilton
5 OctoberBBCJapanese Grand PrixRosbergHamiltonHamilton
12 OctoberBBCRussian Grand PrixHamiltonBottasHamilton
2 NovemberSkyUnited States Grand PrixRosbergVettelHamilton
9 NovemberSkyBrazilian Grand PrixRosbergHamiltonRosberg
23 NovemberBBCAbu Dhabi Grand PrixRosbergRicciardoHamilton

STANDINGS
Drivers' Championship
PDriverTeamPoints
01Lewis Hamilton (Gbr)Mercedes384 (11 wins)
02Nico Rosberg (Ger)Mercedes317 (5 wins)
03Daniel Ricciardo (Aus)Red Bull-Renault238 (3 wins)
04Valtteri Bottas (Fin)Williams-Mercedes 186
05Sebastian Vettel (Ger)Red Bull-Renault167
06Fernando Alonso (Spa)Ferrari161
07Felipe Massa (Brz)Williams-Mercedes134
08Jenson Button (Gbr)McLaren-Mercedes126
09Nico Hulkenberg (Ger)Force India-Mercedes96
10Sergio Pérez (Mex)Force India-Mercedes59
11*Kevin Magnussen (Den)McLaren-Mercedes55
12Kimi Räikkönen (Fin)Ferrari55
13Jean-Eric Vergne (Fra)Toro-Rosso-Renault22
14Romain Grosjean (Fra)Lotus-Renault8
15*Daniil Kyvat (Rus)Toro-Rosso-Renault8
16Pastor Maldonado (Ven)Lotus-Renault2
17Jules Bianchi (Fra)Marussia-Ferrari2
18Adrian Sutil (Ger)Sauber-Ferrari0
19*Marcus Ericsson (Swe)Caterham-Renault0
20Esteban Gutiérrez (Mex)Sauber-Ferrari0
21Max Chilton (Gbr)Marussia-Ferrari0
22Kamui Kobayashi (Jpn)Caterham-Renault0
23*Will Stevens (Gbr)Caterham-Renault0
*= Debut season in F1

Constructors' Championship
PTeamPoints
01Mercedes701 (16 wins)
02Red Bull-Renault405 (3 wins)
03Williams-Mercedes320
04Ferrari216
05McLaren-Mercedes181
06Force India-Mercedes155
07Toro Rosso-Renault30
08Lotus-Renault10
09Marussia-Ferrari2
10Sauber-Ferrari0
11Caterham-Renault0

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Rise of UKIP continues unabated

ROCHESTER AND STROODUKIP gain

Mark Reckless UKIP16,86742.1%(+42.1%)
Kelly Tolhurst Conservatives13,94734.8% (-14.4%)
Naushabah Khan Labour6,71316.8%(-11.7%)
Clive Gregory Green1,6924.2%(+2.7%)
Geoff Juby Lib Dems3490.8%(-15.4%)
Others4971.2%(-3.3%)
Total votes: 40,065 Turnout: 50.7% Majority: 2,920

UKIP gained its second MP in just over a month after Mark Reckless easily won back the Rochester and Strood seat which he had previously held for the Conservatives.

Mr Reckless polled 16,867 votes (42.1%) for a majority of almost 3,000 over the Tories' replacement candidate Kelly Tolhurst.

Labour, meanwhile, finished down in third having achieved the seemingly impossible by becoming the main story on a night Prime Minister David Cameron's party lost again to the insurgent UKIP. 

For, just as the polls closed in the Kent constituency, shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry was forced to resign at the behest of her leader Ed Miliband.

Earlier in the day, Ms Thornberry had tweeted a picture of a modern terraced house adorned with St George's flags in the window.  A white Ford Transit van was parked outside.

Her caption simply read - "Image from Rochester" - and, at first, the Labour press office and Islington South MP saw fit to defend the photograph.

But that line of thinking did not last long.

Mr Miliband, whose leadership has come under serious scrutiny in recent weeks, was clearly terrified at the prospect of snobbish inferences being drawn from the photo. Indeed, his assessment today of the picture was that it "conveyed a sense of disrespect".

He added: "I was angry because I thought her tweet gave a misleading impression, when she photographed the house in which the family lived, that somehow Labour had the wrong view of that family."

The damage, though, was already done. The Sun newspaper had picked up on the tweet and headlined today's front page: "Here for the Sneers".

It was a monumental Labour own goal but the Conservatives hardly had anything to crow about either.

Following Douglas Carswell's defection and subsequent re-election as a UKIP MP in Clacton last month, Conservative Central Office made it clear the party was going to do everything it could to prevent a repeat.

Mr Cameron himself visited the constituency on five separate occasions, and he ordered each of his MPs to make at least three separate trips.

But the feeling is that, whatever the Prime Minister tried, it would not have worked due to the prevailing political weather.

First, the European Union sent Britain a bill of £1.7billion after growth in the UK economy had been recalculated to take into account prostitution and drugs.

Then, a couple of days later, there was chaos in the House of Commons when the motion for a debate intended to be about the European Arrest Warrant made no mention of it at all.

Instead, MPs were offered a vote on just 11 of 35 European justice measures which did not include the arrest warrant. It was as if UKIP was writing the news agenda themselves.

Nevertheless, at target seat number 270, this was still a seriously impressive victory for Nigel Farage's party and, unsurprisingly, the UKIP leader was in a bullish mood, predicting more gains in the general election next May.

There, Mr Farage hopes his party will hold the balance of power - and he has said he will do a "deal with the devil" for an in-out EU referendum.

For now, though, it remains unclear with exactly whom that deal will be.

The electoral maths are generally unfavourable for the Conservatives - but Mr Miliband has recently recorded the worst personal rating of any leader since records began, and the Labour poll lead has just about vanished.

Adding an extra layer of unpredictability ahead of the general election is the continuing collapse of the Liberal Democrats.

In Rochester, there were even rumours of the party being beaten by the Monster Raving Loony Party and humiliated by dominatrix Charlotte Rose who was standing as an independent.

But, while those rumours proved false, the Lib Dem candidate Geoff Juby finished comfortably behind the Greens on just 0.8% of the vote.

It all means that, unless the Lib Dems retain a core support in just about all of the areas where they still hold seats in 2015, then a coalition of Nick Clegg's party plus either the Conservatives or Labour may not be mathematically viable.

Yes, indeed - our glorious First Past the Post system, which is meant to produce strong majority governments, could instead end up delivering a three-party coalition.

And so, for now, the only thing which is certain is uncertainty.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

England easily shrug off Scotland


Scotland 1 Robertson 83
England 3 Oxlade-Chamberlain 32, Rooney 47, 85

Scotland Marshall (Gordon 45), Whittaker, R Martin, Hanley (May 66), Robertson, Maloney (Russell 81), Mulgrew, Brown (Fletcher 45), Anya (Bannan 61), C Martin, Naismith (Morrison 45). Subs not used Bryson, Berra, Dorrans, Greer, Burke, Macleod, Forsyth, Paterson, Gilks
Booked Mulgrew
England Forster, Clyne, Cahill (Jagielka 45), Smalling, Shaw (Gibbs 66), Oxlade-Chamberlain (Lambert 80), Wilshere (Barkley 87), Downing (Lallana 45), Milner, Welbeck (Sterling 66), Rooney. Subs not used Foster, Chambers, Henderson, Walcott, Berahino.
Attendance 49,526 at Celtic Park, Glasgow Referee Jonas Eriksson (Sweden)
Kick-off 8pm. Live on ITV1 and Skysports 1.


IN-FORM Wayne Rooney closed in on the England goalscoring record as the Three Lions eased past Scotland at Celtic Park in Glasgow.

Rooney scored twice in the second half for his 45th and 46th international goals, a tally which leaves him just two behind Gary Lineker and three off the current record holder Sir Bobby Charlton.

And, having hit a rich recent vein of form in an England shirt, it now seems unfeasible that he will not make it past Charlton's total.

Of course, last night's match in general was never meant to be as easy as it ended up being. 

Scotland had arrived into the fixture in impressive form having lost just once in 10 games under Gordon Strachan. Meanwhile, a ferocious atmosphere had been cooked up in the cauldron that is Celtic Park. 

Paradoxically, though, the din seemed to have a positive effect on England, and they played at a good tempo throughout to rack up a sixth win in the last seven games in this fixture. 

From the start, indeed, England refreshingly revelled in the noise and the sense of occasion rather than being cowed by it. 

In the first five minutes, Gary Cahill put an early chance from a corner just wide before Danny Welbeck stung the fingers of Scottish goalkeeper David Marshall. 

Nevertheless, gradually, Scotland found their footing. Hull City left-back Andrew Robertson drove deep into the England half and almost pulled the ball back for Scott Brown - and then, after a couple of meaty challenges, there followed the first lull.

It lasted for just a few minutes though until Jack Wilshere - picking up the ball just inside the Scotland half - flighted a beautiful diagonal ball towards the penalty area.

A well-timed run and glance of the head from Arsenal team-mate Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and suddenly - just after the half-hour mark - it was 1-0 to England.

Scotland struggled to launch much of a response before the break with Friday's hero against Ireland, Shaun Maloney, hitting an effort horribly wide.

And then, after the break, it got much, much worse for the hosts. A defensive mix-up ended with the unlucky Robertson unwittingly diverting the ball to Rooney.

The Manchester United striker was just eight yards out and opportunistically poached his first to double the Three Lions' lead with a stooping header.

At this point, it was a long way back for the tired-looking Scots - and England could have actually gone further clear if Chris Smalling had diverted his header from just five yards out on target.

A belated response did eventually come from Strachan's men and it was no surprise to see the impressive Robertson involved.

The left-back easily slipped past a half-hearted challenge from Raheem Sterling before playing a lovely one-two with Johnny Russell and finishing neatly in the bottom corner. Game on.

Except as soon as Scotland had given the home fans some new found hope, Rooney promptly snuffed it out, this time applying the finish to a blistering counter-attack led by Adam Lallana.

England had won 3-1 and, in doing so, retained an unbeaten streak north of the border which goes back to 1985.

Looking at the overall record, this victory took England up to 47 wins with Scotland having enjoyed 41 and there having been 24 draws.

And, while last year's marvellous season-opener at Wembley suggested this fixture should be played more often than once every 15 years, tonight's cakewalk confirmed restoring an annual contest would probably be a waste of time.

Of course, the pair could resume their rivalry on neutral territory at Euro 2016 with, in fact, all of the Home Nations still in decent shape after last week's qualifiers.

England top their group with four wins out of four after a lacklustre first half and an own goal from Jordan Henderson prompted a decent comeback against Slovenia.

Meanwhile, in Brussels, Wales also remained unbeaten in their group following an excellent backs-to-the-wall 0-0 draw against Belgium.

In perhaps the most fascinating of the Euro 2016 sections, the aforementioned Maloney scored a gem of a goal as Scotland beat Ireland at home for the first time since 1961.

However, Northern Ireland could not make it a clean sweep, going down 2-0 to Romania in Bucharest.

Nevertheless, three previous wins should stand them in good stead for some time yet with the next Euro 2016 qualifiers taking place at the end of March 2015.   


MATCHDAY FOUR FIXTURES
14-Nov Group D, Group F, Group I
15-Nov Group C, Group E, Group G
16-Nov Group A, Group B, Group H

GROUP A Netherlands, Czech Republic, Turkey, Latvia, Iceland, Kazakhstan
16-Nov17:00Netherlands6-0LatviaAmsterdam
16-Nov19:45Czech Republic2-1IcelandPlzen
16-Nov19:45Turkey3-1KazakhstanIstanbul

GROUP B Bosnia-Herzegovina, Belgium, Israel, Wales, Cyprus, Andorra
16-Nov17:00Belgium0-0WalesBrussels
16-Nov17:00Cyprus5-0AndorraNicosia
16-Nov19:45Israel3-0Bosnia-HerzegovinaHaifa

GROUP C Spain, Ukraine, Slovakia, Belarus, FYR Macedonia, Luxembourg
15-Nov17:00Luxembourg0-3UkraineLuxembourg
15-Nov19:45FYR Macedonia0-2SlovakiaSkopje
15-Nov19:45Spain3-0BelarusHuelva

GROUP D Germany, Republic of Ireland, Poland, Scotland, Georgia, Gibraltar
14-Nov17:00Georgia0-4PolandTbilisi
14-Nov19:45Germany4-0GibraltarNuremberg
14-Nov19:45Scotland1-0Republic of IrelandGlasgow

GROUP E England, Switzerland, Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania, San Marino
15-Nov17:00England3-1SloveniaLondon
15-Nov17:00San Marino0-0EstoniaSerraville
15-Nov19:45Switzerland4-0LithuaniaSt Gallen

GROUP F Greece, Hungary, Romania, Finland, Northern Ireland, Faroe Islands
14-Nov19:45Greece0-1Faroe IslandsPiraeus
14-Nov19:45Hungary1-0FinlandBudapest
14-Nov19:45Romania2-0Northern IrelandBucharest

GROUP G Russia, Sweden, Austria, Montenegro, Moldova, Liechtenstein
15-Nov17:00Austria1-0RussiaVienna
15-Nov17:00Moldova0-1LiechtensteinChisinau
15-Nov19:45Montenegro1-1SwedenPodgorica

GROUP H Italy, Croatia, Norway, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, Malta
16-Nov17:00Azerbaijan0-1NorwayBaku
16-Nov19:45Bulgaria1-1MaltaSofia
16-Nov19:45Italy1-1CroatiaMilan

GROUP I Portugal, Denmark, Serbia, Armenia, Albania, [France]
14-Nov19:45Portugal1-0ArmeniaFaro
14-Nov19:45Serbia1-3DenmarkBelgrade
14-Nov19:45France1-1AlbaniaRennes

Thursday, 13 November 2014

FIFA farce set to run and run


FIFA thought it was over. The summary of its report into the bids for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups had cleared the eventual winners Russia and Qatar of any wrongdoing.

"Move along, nothing to see here" seemed to be the official line coming from its headquarters in Zurich.

But the world governing body had not anticipated Michael Garcia, the American lawyer who had conducted the two-year inquiry, distancing himself from the summary, written by German judge Hans-Joachim Eckert.

Indeed, Mr Garcia says the report "contains numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations" of his own work and that he will now appeal to FIFA itself.

No doubt Sepp Blatter and his cronies will find a way to whitewash that process and it would be better at this stage if Mr Garcia would forget about due process and just publish his own findings in full.

For only then might we get anywhere nearer to the truth in this matter.

Incredibly, albeit rather predictably, the English Football Association is the only organisation to have been accused of flouting the bidding rules as it stands.

Now, of course, it would be naive to think that the FA was not perhaps in any way culpable even if it has vehemently denied the charge.

Why else, after all, would England play an end-of-season friendly against Trinidad & Tobago if it was not to butter up former FIFA vice-president Jack Warner?

Nevertheless, today's report seemed content to sweep greater wrongdoings under the carpet.

As England's FA chairman Greg Dyke said: “Those who co-operated the most seemed to be the ones that gave them the information by which they were then criticised, like the FA.

"Others, who didn’t co-operate, didn’t get criticised at all. Well, there’s a surprise.”

For a start, the investigation into the 2018 bid winners Russia cannot have been too detailed given that the report states its committee had lost its evidence after returning rented computers which were subsequently destroyed.

Meanwhile, in terms of the 2022 decision, it notes that illegal payments were made by Qatari official Mohamed Bin Hammam - but that these were somehow not linked to country’s World Cup bid.

Bin Hammam, it may be recalled, was the only man willing to stand against Blatter in his last election in 2011, only for allegations to cause him to step down.

Instead, Blatter was re-elected unopposed for a fourth term, and the Swiss has since announced he intends to stand yet again next year.

Yes, at the end of the day, FIFA is his plaything and, despite having turned 78 in March, it seems unlikely he will relinquish control any time soon.

That means Russian supremo Vladimir Putin will get another major propaganda event in 2018, and it also means 2022 going ahead in Qatar - despite the fact that no one can agree which part of the year to put it.

But, most shamefully of all, the latest reports from Doha confirm the Qatar World Cup is effectively being built on the back of the efforts of slave labour.

Particularly implicated was Kim Jong-un's North Korean government which has sent workers to the Gulf, only for the coffers in Pyongyang to keep the majority of the money they earn.

Of course, by keeping the World Cup in Qatar, FIFA does more than simply turn a blind eye to such matters.

And yet, despite Mr Garcia breaking ranks today, it is difficult to see anything really changing unless FIFA loses all of its sponsors and the support of the majority of associations.

That is unlikely to happen as there is simply too much money in it for them - and, when it comes to anything connected with FIFA, self-interest always overrules principles.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Lest we forget

AN EXCERPT from An Utterly Impartial History of Britain (or 2000 Years of Upper Class Idiots in Charge) by John O'Farrell.

The excerpt begins with a fictionalised conversation between an officer and his general:

'Message from reconnaissance, sir. The Germans are digging a trench.'
'A what?'
'A trench. You know, like a long hole in the ground, big enough for them all to take cover. Oh, and they've put a machine gun on the top.'
'OK. Well, why don't we dig one of those, and then we'll just take it from there.'

The Germans had made the discovery that became the key to the First World War: that the combination of trench and machine gun created a barrier that was even harder to get past than a GP's receptionist. The solution was simple; just go round the side. 

But then they build another trench. When the Germans attempted a counter-attack, the British and French built trenches too and then tried to bypass the Germans and thus occurred the so-called "race to the sea", during which each side repeatedly attempted to outflank the other until there was a line of trenches all the way from Switzerland to the English Channel.

'So now what do we do?'
'Er, hang on, let me read the orders from HQ... ah, here we are: we are all to "sit here for three-and-a-half years firing shells at each other until millions of people have died".'
'Well thank God our commanders know what they're doing.'

It is really quite difficult to extract any sort of humour from a conflict which would go on to kill 16 million people - but O'Farrell does well in these few paragraphs to highlight the sheer ridiculousness of the First World War.

By November 1914, 100 years ago, the early German offensive had failed and the Race to the Sea had finished. Trenches did indeed stretch from Switzerland to the North Sea across 400 miles of land, and casualties were already in their hundreds of thousands.

There was nowhere to go and the war should have ended there and then as a horrible idea, with questions asked as to whether it should have even started at all.

Instead, incredibly, the industrial-scale carnage continued hopelessly for another four years. By the end of it, nine million soldiers and seven millions civilians had died.

The poppy soon became a symbol to represent the lives which had been lost, its red hue having somehow sprung from the blood-scorched earth in the days after the guns fell silent.

It is in this way then that, while the poppy commemorates the dead, it also acts as a symbol of the promise of life and peace prevailing.

But, sadly, as present day conflicts rumble on around the world, it is a lesson which humankind is yet to heed.

And this is why we must revisit the Armistice each year in the hope that there will eventually be an end to war.

Lest we forget what that poppy is actually for.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

US midterms: Republicans add Senate to House

US MID-TERM ELECTION LATEST RESULTS 2014
Senate
(/100)
52-45
House
(/435)
246-180

REPUBLICANS made several gains last night to take control of the Senate, meaning that they hold majorities in both Houses of Congress for the first time since 2006.

The Grand Old Party picked up senators in West Virginia, Arkansas, South Dakota, Montana, Colorado, North Carolina, and Iowa from the Democrats.

Counting in Virginia and Alaska has yet to be completed while Louisiana faces a run-off poll in December after no candidate achieved 50% of the vote.

Eventually, though, all of those states could replace their Democrat incumbents with a Republican, and so further increase the Senate majority to 55-45.

In the House, too, the Republicans enjoyed a good night, extending the majority which they gained in the last midterm elections in 2010.

And so it really was a rather miserable night for President Barack Obama and the Democrats.

Since his re-election in 2012, Mr Obama's personal poll rating has gone through the floor - despite an improved economic outlook with better growth and lower unemployment.

Indeed, so poor have been the ratings for Mr Obama that Democrat candidates all across America were distancing themselves from his time in charge during the campaign.

Kentucky Senate challenger Alison Grimes refused even to confirm in an interview if she had voted in 2008 and 2012 for the incumbent President.

Not that her coyness ultimately did her any good. Seen as a cowardly act, Ms Grimes went onto lose to Mitch McConnell in the first big result of the night.

Mr McConnell, who has spent the last eight years as the Republicans' minority leader in the Senate, will now become its majority leader when it reconvenes in January.

Back to last night and pick-ups in West Virginia and Arkansas quickly followed the success in Kentucky.

And, once Georgia senator David Perdue won without a run-off and Pat Roberts beat independent Greg Orman in Kansas, the GOP was left with many different pathways for a swift victory.

A gain in North Carolina tipped the Republicans' over the edge and, with another in Iowa not long behind, this crushing victory came before the polls in Alaska had even closed.

So what now for Congress? Well, there are two main theories.

The first is that the political gridlock in Washington, which went as far as a government shutdown for two weeks in 2013, will be exacerbated with Republican majorities in both Houses and a Democrat President.

Thankfully, the other possibility is more palatable and takes into account the context of these elections.

Republicans are well aware that this election cycle was always going to be pretty good for them.

Opposition parties almost always do well in the midterms and, along with an unpopular President, the GOP had the further added bonus of knocking out several incumbent Democrat senators in so-called red states.

In 2016, the ground is less fertile. Turnout, which traditionally favours the Democrats, will undoubtedly increase because, in two years, the big prize is also on offer: the keys to the White House.

By then, the Republicans will hope to have shown they can govern in Congress by finding some common ground with Mr Obama so to pass some bills.

Mr Obama retains an executive veto but he will want to use this sparingly if he wishes to build up any sort of relationship with his adversaries to get anything done in his last two years in power.

For there can be no doubt about it: this was the beginning of the end for the Obama presidency.
 
STATE-BY-STATE RESULTS
StateHouseSenateGovernor
ALABAMARRRRRRDRRR
ALASKARRDR
ARIZONARRRRRDDDDRRR
ARKANSASRRRRRRR
CALIFORNIARRRRRRRRRR
RRRRRDDDD
DDDDDDDDD
DDDDDDDDD
DDDDDDDDD
DDDDDDD
DDD
COLORADORRRRDDDRDD
CONNECTICUTDDDDDDDD
DELAWAREDDDD
FLORIDARRRRRRRRRR
RRRRRRRDD
DDDDDDDD
RDR
GEORGIARRRRRRRRR
RDDDD
RRR
HAWAIIRDDDD
IDAHORRRRR
ILLINOISRRRRRRRRD
DDDDDDDDD
RDD
INDIANARRRRRRRDDRDR
IOWARRRDRRR
KANSASRRRRRRR
KENTUCKYRRRRRDRRD
LOUISIANARRRRRDRVR
MAINEDDRIR
MARYLANDRDDDDDDDDDD
MASSACHUSETTSRRRRRRRRR
DDDDDDDDD
DDD
MICHIGANDDDDDDDR
MINNESOTARRRDDDDDDDD
MISSISSIPPIRRRDRRR
MISSOURIRRRRRRDDRDD
MONTANARRDD
NEBRASKARRRRRR
NEVADARRRDRDR
NEW HAMPSHIRERDRDD
NEW JERSEYRRRRRRDDD
DDD
DDR
NEW MEXICORDDDDR
NEW YORKRRRRRRRRR
DDDDDDDDD
DDDDDDDDD
DDD
NORTH CAROLINARRRRRRRRR
DDDD
RRR
NORTH DAKOTARRDR
OHIORRRRRRRRRR
RRDDDD
RDR
OKLAHOMARRRRRRRR
OREGONRDDDDDDD
PENNSYLVANIARRRRRRRRRR
RRRDDDDD
RDD
RHODE ISLANDDDDDD
SOUTH CAROLINARRRRRRDRRR
SOUTH DAKOTARRRR
TENNESSEERRRRRRRDDRRR
TEXASRRRRRRRRRR
RRRRRRRRRR
RRRRRDDDD
DDDDDDD
RRR
UTAHRRRRRRR
VERMONTDDID
VIRGINIARRRRRRRRD
DD
DDD
WASHINGTONRRRRDDDDD
D
DDD
WEST VIRGINIARRRRDD
WISCONSINRRRRRDDDRDR
WYOMINGRRRR

COMPETITIVE SEATS
House (bold=gain)
AZ-01 AZ-02, CA-07, CA-26, CA-52 FL-02 FL-26 GA-12 IL-10 IL-12 IA-03 ME-02, MN-08, NE-02 NH-01 NY-11 WV-03
Likely/Lean Dem (23) AZ-09, CA-03, CA-31 CA-36 CT-05 HI-01 IL-08 IL-11 IL-17 IA-01 IA-02 MA-06 MN-01 MN-07 NV-04 NH-02 NY-01 NY-04 NY-18 NY-24 TX-23 WA-01
Likely/Lean Rep (22) AR-02 AR-04 CA-21 CO-06 IL-13 IA-04 KS-02 KS-03 MI-01 MI-11 MT-AL NV-03 NJ-03 NY-19 NY-21 NC-07 ND-AL PA-06 UT-04 VA-10 WV-02 WI-06

Senate
Rep hold: Kentucky, South Carolina (x2), Maine, Tennessee, Mississippi, Oklahoma (x2), Alabama, Texas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas
Rep gain: West Virginia, Arkansas, South Dakota, Montana, Colorado, North Carolina, Iowa
Dem hold: Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Delaware, New Hampshire, Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan, Hawaii, Oregon, New Mexico
Still to declare: Alaska, Virginia
Run-off: Louisiana

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Euro 2016: Wembley should share the wealth

ENGLAND head into this week's Euro 2016 qualifiers against the might of San Marino and Estonia well aware that last month's win in Switzerland has already gone a long way to secure a place at the finals. 

The ludicrous expansion of the Championships to 24 teams means the Three Lions can finish third in their group and still make it through. 

And, with six points surely coming in these two games against opponents ranked 208th and 81st respectively, there would seem to be very little to get excited about.  

Just as much was admitted by head coach Roy Hodgson at the start of the season when he said: "We'll find it hard to bring attendances back because the opponents we're playing won't excite the public."

Hodgson was speaking after a 1-0 friendly win over Norway only attracted 40,181 fans to the National Stadium. The crowd for San Marino is not expected to be much higher.

Of course, not all of this is the fault of England or the Football Association. 

Part of the reason for the low crowd will be down to the intolerably tedious nature of these qualifiers, as organised by UEFA.

Meanwhile, another UEFA initiative for Euro 2016 has been to spread the qualifiers out in a 'Week of Football' - naturally, all geared towards the television audience.

But kick-offs on midweek evenings are not much good for England fans living far outside of the radius of the M25.

Here, then, is where the FA should step in by taking some of the national team's matches back up north. 

After all, the atmosphere of around 40-50,000 in Anfield or St James Park would be immeasurably better than the lost cries of a few rattling voices in a half-empty Wembley. 

There is also the desperate need for the England team to reconnect to all of its supporters, including those in the north, following the drab World Cup exit - and matches outside the capital would, at least, be a start.

Sadly, this is not going to happen any time soon. The £757m debt incurred from building Wembley means the Three Lions are committed to play all of their home games at the stadium for the next eight or nine years.

But, surely a restructuring of the repayments could be considered if such an arrangement allowed England to go on tour every now and then.

For every now and then is all it would be - as I am not actually against the National Stadium.

Indeed, I personally admire the redesign of Wembley and its impressive arch - coincidentally, one of the first London landmarks that can be seen from the north on the M1.

It is just as clear, though, that the growing divide between the capital and the rest of the country has already also seeped into perceptions of the national team.

"London FC", a derisive Twitter nickname for the national team, is beginning to stick, no matter how many players from Liverpool or other northern teams are in the squad.

Meanwhile, the regular and unseemly sight of the empty Club Wembley seats near the tunnel can only cause a further disconnect.

And so, while England are already in no peril of missing out on a place at Euro 2016, the Football Association seems to be playing its own dangerous game with its failure to engage the whole of the nation.

Yes, London proudly stands one of the world's most important cities - but England always has been, and always should be about more than its capital.

MATCHDAY TWO FIXTURES
09-Oct Group C, Group E, Group G
10-Oct Group A, Group B, Group H
11-Oct Group D, Group F, Group I

MATCHDAY THREE FIXTURES
12-Oct Group C, Group E, Group G
13-Oct Group A, Group B, Group H
14-Oct Group D, Group F, Group I

GROUP A Netherlands, Czech Republic, Turkey, Latvia, Iceland, Kazakhstan
10-Oct19:45Latvia0-3IcelandRiga
10-Oct19:45Netherlands3-1KazakhstanAmsterdam
10-Oct19:45Turkey1-2Czech RepublicIstanbul
13-Oct17:00Kazakhstan2-4Czech RepublicAstana
13-Oct19:45Iceland2-0NetherlandsReykjavik
13-Oct19:45Latvia1-1TurkeyRiga

GROUP B Bosnia-Herzegovina, Belgium, Israel, Wales, Cyprus, Andorra
10-Oct19:45Belgium6-0AndorraBrussels
10-Oct19:45Cyprus1-2IsraelNicosia
10-Oct19:45Wales0-0Bosnia-HerzegovinaCardiff
13-Oct19:45Andorra1-4IsraelAndorra la Vella
13-Oct19:45Bosnia-Herzegovina1-1BelgiumZenica
13-Oct19:45Wales2-1CyprusCardiff

GROUP C Spain, Ukraine, Slovakia, Belarus, FYR Macedonia, Luxembourg
09-Oct19:45Belarus0-2UkraineBarysaw
09-Oct19:45FYR Macedonia3-2LuxembourgSkopje
09-Oct19:45Slovakia2-1SpainZilina
12-Oct17:00Ukraine1-0FYR MacedoniaLviv
12-Oct19:45Belarus1-3SlovakiaBarysaw
12-Oct19:45Luxembourg0-4SpainLuxembourg City

GROUP D Germany, Republic of Ireland, Poland, Scotland, Georgia, Gibraltar
11-Oct17:00Republic of Ireland7-0GibraltarDublin
11-Oct17:00Scotland1-0GeorgiaGlasgow
11-Oct19:45Poland2-0GermanyWarsaw
14-Oct19:45Germany1-1Republic of IrelandGelsenkirchen
14-Oct19:45Gibraltar0-3GeorgiaFaro, Portugal
14-Oct19:45Poland2-2ScotlandWarsaw

GROUP E England, Switzerland, Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania, San Marino
09-Oct19:45England5-0San MarinoLondon
09-Oct19:45Lithuania1-0EstoniaVilnius
09-Oct19:45Slovenia1-0SwitzerlandMaribor
12-Oct17:00Estonia0-1EnglandTallinn
12-Oct19:45Lithuania0-2SloveniaVilnius
12-Oct19:45San Marino0-4SwitzerlandSerravalle

GROUP F Greece, Hungary, Romania, Finland, Northern Ireland, Faroe Islands
11-Oct17:00Romania1-1HungaryBucharest
11-Oct19:45Finland1-1GreeceHelsinki
11-Oct19:45Northern Ireland2-0Faroe IslandsBelfast
14-Oct19:45Faroe Islands0-1HungaryTorshavn
14-Oct19:45Finland0-2RomaniaHelsinki
14-Oct19:45Greece0-2Northern IrelandPiraeus

GROUP G Russia, Sweden, Austria, Montenegro, Moldova, Liechtenstein
09-Oct19:45Liechtenstein0-0MontenegroVaduz
09-Oct19:45Moldova1-2AustriaChisinau
09-Oct19:45Sweden1-1RussiaSolna
12-Oct17:00Austria1-0MontenegroVienna
12-Oct17:00Russia1-1MoldovaMoscow
12-Oct19:45Sweden2-0LiechtensteinSolna

GROUP H Italy, Croatia, Norway, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, Malta
10-Oct19:45Bulgaria0-1CroatiaSofia
10-Oct19:45Italy2-1AzerbaijanPalermo
10-Oct19:45Malta0-3NorwayTa' Qali
13-Oct19:45Croatia6-0AzerbaijanOsijek
13-Oct19:45Malta0-1ItalyTa' Qali
13-Oct19:45Norway2-1BulgariaOslo

GROUP I Portugal, Denmark, Serbia, Armenia, Albania, [France]
11-Oct17:00Armenia1-1SerbiaYerevan
11-Oct19:45Albania1-1DenmarkElbasan
11-Oct19:45France2-1PortugalSaint-Denis
14-Oct17:00Armenia0-3FranceYerevan
14-Oct19:45Denmark0-1PortugalCopenhagen
14-Oct19:45SerbiaA-AAlbaniaBelgrade
Match abandoned on 40 minutes after a flag promoting Greater Albania flew over the pitch. The flag was seized by a Serbia player, which led to a brief scuffle between players from both sides and major violence involving Serbian fans. The score was 0–0.

Counter