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.   

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-Nov19:45Czech Republic2-1IcelandPlzen

GROUP B Bosnia-Herzegovina, Belgium, Israel, Wales, Cyprus, Andorra

GROUP C Spain, Ukraine, Slovakia, Belarus, FYR Macedonia, Luxembourg
15-Nov19:45FYR Macedonia0-2SlovakiaSkopje

GROUP D Germany, Republic of Ireland, Poland, Scotland, Georgia, Gibraltar
14-Nov19:45Scotland1-0Republic of IrelandGlasgow

GROUP E England, Switzerland, Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania, San Marino
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-Nov19:45Romania2-0Northern IrelandBucharest

GROUP G Russia, Sweden, Austria, Montenegro, Moldova, Liechtenstein

GROUP H Italy, Croatia, Norway, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, Malta

GROUP I Portugal, Denmark, Serbia, Armenia, Albania, [France]

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


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.

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

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.

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

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-Oct19:45Turkey1-2Czech RepublicIstanbul
13-Oct17:00Kazakhstan2-4Czech RepublicAstana

GROUP B Bosnia-Herzegovina, Belgium, Israel, Wales, Cyprus, Andorra
13-Oct19:45Andorra1-4IsraelAndorra la Vella

GROUP C Spain, Ukraine, Slovakia, Belarus, FYR Macedonia, Luxembourg
09-Oct19:45FYR Macedonia3-2LuxembourgSkopje
12-Oct17:00Ukraine1-0FYR MacedoniaLviv
12-Oct19:45Luxembourg0-4SpainLuxembourg City

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

GROUP E England, Switzerland, Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania, San Marino
09-Oct19:45England5-0San MarinoLondon
12-Oct19:45San Marino0-4SwitzerlandSerravalle

GROUP F Greece, Hungary, Romania, Finland, Northern Ireland, Faroe Islands
11-Oct19:45Northern Ireland2-0Faroe IslandsBelfast
14-Oct19:45Faroe Islands0-1HungaryTorshavn
14-Oct19:45Greece0-2Northern IrelandPiraeus

GROUP G Russia, Sweden, Austria, Montenegro, Moldova, Liechtenstein

GROUP H Italy, Croatia, Norway, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, Malta
10-Oct19:45Malta0-3NorwayTa' Qali
13-Oct19:45Malta0-1ItalyTa' Qali

GROUP I Portugal, Denmark, Serbia, Armenia, Albania, [France]
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.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Mirror faces questions after Newmark honeytrap sting

NEW press watchdog IPSO faces its first major test after a formal complaint by Conservative MP Mark Pritchard against the Sunday Mirror.

Mr Pritchard said the newspaper had used "questionable techniques" to obtain explicit pictures from fellow Conservative Brooks Newmark who resigned from his post in the Cabinet Office.

In the sting, a male freelance reporter adopted the false identity of "Sophie Wittams" and set up a Twitter account describing himself as a "twenty-something Tory PR girl".

Following flattering messages from the mysterious Ms Wittams, Mr Newmark agreed to swap "sexually explicit images".

But, of course, Mr Newmark did not receive an image in return of Ms Wittams, instead receiving a "sunbathing selfie" of Charlene Tyler, a 26-year-old from Boston in Lincolnshire.

Ms Tyler told the Daily Telegraph yesterday it was wrong for the paper to have used her photo without permission, and that Mr Newmark had done nothing wrong.

However, this was not the only image to have been used by the freelancer without permission.

The avatar of the fictional Twitter account with which Mr Newmark communicated was a picture of Swedish model Malin Sahlén.

And she has told Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet: “I do not want to be exploited in this way and that someone has used my image like this feels really awful, both for me and the others involved in this.

“I am shocked and it is unpleasant for someone to use the picture without permission.”

Sunday Mirror editor-in-chief Lloyd Embley has now apologised to both women, explaining: “We thought that pictures used by the investigation were posed by models, but we now know that some real pictures were used.

"At no point has the Sunday Mirror published any of these images, but we would like to apologise to the women involved for their use in the investigation."

Nevertheless, the newspaper boss stood by the story, claiming it was in the public interest.

The public interest defence is much used by newspapers and, in this case, it mainly relates to Mr Newmark's role as co-founder of the Women2Win organisation.

Women2Win is aimed at attracting more Conservative women to Parliament - and the Sunday Mirror will argue Mr Newmark's conduct contradicts this position.

Based on previous rulings, though, the newspaper would appear to have a pretty weak case, if nothing else because of the use of entrapment.

"Fishing expeditions", as they are known, must surely carry a more substantial public interest argument than this. Even the Sun and the Mail have said they turned the story down.

Ultimately, the article has done no favours to any of the parties involved. Mr Newmark has lost his ministerial salary and must try to rebuild trust with his wife and five children.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives have suffered an awful start to their party conference in Birmingham, a double-whammy coming in the form of Mark Reckless's decision to defect to UKIP.

MP for Rochester and Stroud, Mr Reckless became the second Tory to resign and seek re-election on the UKIP platform after Douglas Carswell's move in Clacton just over a month ago.

Finally, this story has done nothing to rebuild the already-pathetically low levels of trust between the national press and the public.

Coincidentally, it came at the end of a week in which it became apparent the same Trinity Mirror group of newspapers was also heavily involved in phone-hacking.

Phone-hacking, fishing expeditions, honey-traps - all of them are bound to produce a juicy story - but are any of them actually news?

Proper journalism sticks to the facts of what has actually happened or discloses serious levels of hypocrisy and/or incompetence.

It does not seek to manufacture the story for its own monetary gain.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Dominant Europe win Ryder Cup again

Europe16½-11½United States
Europe wins the Ryder Cup

Singles (Sunday)
Europe6½-5½United States
Graeme McDowellwon 2&1Jordan Spieth
Henrik Stensonwon 1upPatrick Reed
Rory McIlroywon 5&4Rickie Fowler
Justin RosehalvedHunter Mahan
Stephen Gallacherwon 3&1Phil Mickelson
Martin Kaymerwon 4&2Bubba Watson
Thomas Bjornwon 4&3Matt Kuchar
Sergio Garciawon 1upJim Furyk
Ian PoulterhalvedWebb Simpson
Jamie Donaldsonwon 5&3Keegan Bradley
Lee Westwoodwon 3&2Jimmy Walker
Victor DubuissonhalvedZach Johnson

EUROPE continued their recent dominance of the Ryder Cup after a comprehensive victory over the United States at Gleneagles.

Welsh rookie Jamie Donaldson scored the decisive point as the Europeans made it six wins out of the last seven, and eight out of the last 10 with a 16½-11½ triumph. 

Resuming 10-6 down, the Americans needed the equivalent of the Miracle of Medinah to happen, except this time in their favour - and, to their credit, they started brightly.

Jordan Spieth went three-up after five against Graeme McDowell, while Hunter Mahan was four-up on Justin Rose after just six holes.

The fact that neither Spieth nor Mahan would end up winning their matches, however, says everything about how the day panned out.

Indeed, the whole weekend followed the same pattern of the United States starting well on each day before Europe roared back with an even better performance.

On Friday and Saturday, the Americans won the two morning fourballs sessions by 2½ to 1½ - but Europe utterly dominated the afternoon foursomes contests, winning both 3½-½ for a 7-1 margin overall.

Rose and his Swedish playing partner Henrik Stenson were the form guys over the first two days for Europe, winning each of the three matches they played together.

The pairing of world number one Rory McIlroy and third-ranked Sergio Garcia was less successful, though. 

Defeated 1up by Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley in the fourballs on Friday, McIlroy and Garcia could only manage a half in their first foursomes match against Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker. 

It went slightly better on Saturday as McIlroy and Garcia beat Mahan and Jim Furyk 3&2 in the foursomes - and the bigger tactical errors overall came from American captain Tom Watson

On Saturday, the successful Mickelson and Bradley partnership bizarrely failed to feature in either session.

And earlier, Watson had omitted rookie pairing Spieth and Patrick Reed from the Friday foursomes despite them showing great confidence to beat Ian Poulter and Stephen Gallacher 5&4 in fourballs.

Indeed, if the United States are to take anything from another defeat, it should be the commendable spirit which was on display from their younger players. 

Yes, Reed may have wound up the crowd a little with some of his antics - but he backed up his touch of egotism with a 1up win in the singles over Stenson. 

Spieth was less assured, losing his way horribly in the middle of his match to succumb 2&1 to Graeme McDowell. 

And, by then, fellow Northern Irishman McIlroy had already scored Europe's first point of the day, hitting seven birdies and an eagle to blow away Fowler 5&4. 

Soon afterwards, Martin Kaymer followed this up by collecting another comfortable point for Europe. 

German Kaymer - who made the winning putt in Illinois two years ago - holed a stunning chip on 16 for a far more straight-forward 4&2 victory this time against a low-key Bubba Watson. 

Ever so briefly, the tide turned towards the Americans as Matt Kuchar completed a 4&3 win over Dane Thomas Bjorn, and Mickelson beat local favourite Gallacher 2&1. 

Yet, even at that stage, Europe still held a 13-9 lead and always looked to have enough in reserve. 

Man of the weekend Rose confirmed his half - and a fine unbeaten set of five matches - after Mahan messed up badly on the 18th.

And so, standing a half
-point away from a retention and a point away from an overall win, it had simply become a matter of who would be the man in the right place at the right time for Europe.

It quickly became apparent that the answer would be Donaldson - although it was, of course, more than just sheer blind luck on his part. 

The 38-year-old from Pontypridd had played well all weekend - scoring three points from four - and, in his singles match against Bradley, he established a good, early lead.

He then held it throughout, ultimately winning 5&3 after a magnificent lofted approach shot to within four feet of the pin on the 15th

It was truly a shot worthy of winning the competition and Bradley was forced to concede - meaning Europe had indeed won with four matches to spare.

In the first of those four remaining contests, Poulter won the final hole to finish all-square with Webb Simpson - and, while it was hardly vintage Poulter this weekend, his enduring spirit saw him through two halved matches and one defeat. 

Elsewhere, Spaniard Garcia went five-under for his last five holes to reprise his comeback win over Furyk of two years ago before American rookie Walker defeated Lee Westwood 3&2. 

The final point was halved between Victor Dubuisson and Zach Johnson as the French debutant ensured he remained unbeaten from his first three Ryder Cup contests. 

Match over, the champagne corks could officially be popped with Dubuisson confirming his approval of the bubbly. 

Meanwhile, a beaming Europe skipper Paul McGinley addressed the packed Gleneagles galleries. 

"I'm very proud of every one of these players," the Irishman said. "I couldn't have asked for an ounce more from them."

To cries from the crowd of "Only one Tom Watson", the legendary - but defeated - American captain was as gracious as ever.

However, even his past greatness was nowhere near enough to stem the present European dominance.

Unbeaten at home since 1993, and unbeaten altogether since the 2008 defeat in Valhalla, today's result confirmed that this - undoubtedly - is a European blue era in Ryder Cup golf.  

Fourballs (Friday)
Europe1½-2½United States
Justin Rose/Henrik Stensonwon 5&4Webb Simpson/Bubba Watson
Thomas Bjorn/Martin KaymerhalvedRickie Fowler/Jimmy Walker
Stephen Gallacher/Ian Poulterwon 5&4Jordan Spieth/Patrick Reed
Rory McIlroy/Sergio Garciawon 1upPhil Mickelson/Keegan Bradley

Foursomes (Friday)
Europe3½-½United States
Jamie Donaldson/Lee Westwoodwon 2upJim Furyk/Matt Kuchar
Justin Rose/Henrik Stensonwon 2&1Hunter Mahan/Zach Johnson
Rory McIlroy/Sergio GarciahalvedRickie Fowler/Jimmy Walker
Victor Dubuisson/Graeme McDowellwon 3&2Phil Mickelson/Keegan Bradley

Fourballs (Saturday)
Europe1½-2½United States
Justin Rose/Henrik Stensonwon 3&2Bubba Watson/Matt Kuchar
Jamie Donaldson/Lee Westwoodwon 4&3Jim Furyk/Hunter Mahan
Thomas Bjorn/Martin Kaymerwon 5&3Jordan Spieth/Patrick Reed
Rory McIlroy/Ian PoulterhalvedRickie Fowler/Jimmy Walker

Foursomes (Saturday)
Europe3½-½United States
Jamie Donaldson/Lee Westwoodwon 2&1Zach Johnson/Matt Kuchar
Rory McIlroy/Sergio Garciawon 3&2Jim Furyk/Hunter Mahan
Martin Kaymer/Justin RosehalvedJordan Spieth/Patrick Reed
Victor Dubuisson/Graeme McDowellwon 3&2Rickie Fowler/Jimmy Walker

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Back to Iraq

BRITAIN will take part in air strikes over Iraq after MPs voted overwhelmingly in favour of joining the ongoing military action against ISIS.

Prime Minister David Cameron said the country had a "duty to take part" and that there was "no option to walk on by".

He added: "This is not the stuff of fantasy. It is happening in front of us and we need to face up to it."

Earlier this week, Mr Cameron had returned from his trip to the United Nations headquarters in New York to recall Parliament and raise a motion in favour of the strikes.

And, following a seven-hour debate in the House of Commons yesterday, the proposal was backed by the massive margin of 524 to 43.

That result stands in stark contrast to a similar vote just over a year ago. Back then, Mr Cameron embarrassingly lost in the Commons after proposing to take action against Bashar al-Assad's government in Syria.

This time, though, the mood in Westminster has been rather different. Assurances have been sought that Britain would not commit itself to ground troops or involve itself in the bombing of Syria - which, unlike Iraq, has not appealed for outside help.

And, with the wording of the motion confirming action was being restricted to air strikes over Iraq only, the outcome of the division was pretty obvious from the outset.

Of course, this decision to back military action comes after weeks and weeks of unremittingly grim news from the Middle East with ISIS having taken control of vast areas of Iraq and Syria.

More recently, the group has struck much closer to home, releasing a video this month of the beheading of British aid worker David Haines.

Another volunteer aid worker, Alan Henning from Eccles in Salford, remains in its clutches, his family this week having received an audio file of him pleading for his life.

Unsurprisingly then, it is not just the politicians who are in support of the strikes.

Recent polling shows that the British public are also now far more in favour of action against ISIS than they were of an intervention against Syria last year.

Yet, even these numbers show there is a fair proportion of people who remain war weary from the previous large-scale conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the campaign in Libya in 2011.

Dissenting MPs raised concerns in the debate and questioned the worryingly open-ended length of time which has been committed towards the campaign.

Mr Cameron admitted that the mission "will take not just months, but years" - while some of his other statements further seemed to raise the prospect of mission creep.

After all - if it had been up to the Conservative leader, then British forces would now be preparing to bomb Syria too. It was only a lack of consensus in the Commons which prevented this.

Remarkably then, for the third time in less than 24 years, it is Iraq which is the focus of a bombing campaign including British forces. 

Yes, of course, this is somewhat different to the 2003 invasion in terms of its legality and even in terms of its morality.

But that still does not mean the air strikes will necessarily actually work.

ISIS may now control large swathes of northern Iraq - however, it remains more of an idea and a belief system than a geographical area.

Arguably, the group has been borne out of a hatred of western intervention in Iraq and the wider Middle East.

And so, in this context, yet more air strikes can surely only be considered counter-productive in the long term.

Therefore, as sad and frustrating as it would have been, this was a time which Britain should have engaged in regrettable isolationism.

The engagement of Special Forces with highly specific missions to free trapped British hostages is surely something nobody reasonable would oppose.

But yet another general bombing campaign seems to be a depressingly simplistic fall-back option to a hideously complex problem.

Philosopher George Santayana once said: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

It feels, at the moment, as if we seem condemned to repeat it to fade.

"That this House:
- Condemns the barbaric acts of ISIL against the peoples of Iraq including the Sunni, Shia, Kurds, Christians and Yazidi and the humanitarian crisis this is causing;
- Recognizes the clear threat ISIL pose to the territorial integrity of Iraq and the request from the Government of Iraq for military support from the international community and the specific request to the UK Government for such support;
- Further recognizes the threat ISIL poses to wider international security and the UK directly through its sponsorship of terrorist attacks and its murder of a British hostage;
- Acknowledges the broad coalition contributing to military support of the Government of Iraq, including countries throughout the Middle East;
- Further acknowledges the request of the Government of Iraq for international support to defend itself against the threat ISIL poses to Iraq and its citizens, and the clear legal basis that this provides for action in Iraq;
- Notes that this motion does not endorse UK air strikes in Syria as part of this campaign, and any proposal to do so would be subject to a separate vote in Parliament;
- Accordingly supports Her Majesty’s Government, working with allies, in supporting the Government of Iraq in protecting civilians and restoring its territorial integrity, including the use of UK air strikes to support Iraqi, including Kurdish, security forces’ efforts against ISIL in Iraq;
- Notes that Her Majesty’s Government will not deploy UK troops in ground combat operations;
- Offers its wholehearted support to the men and women of Her Majesty’s armed forces."
Labour (23)
Diane Abbott, Graham Allen, Anne Begg, Ronnie Campbell, Martin Caton, Katy Clark, Ian Davidson, Paul Flynn, Stephen Hepburn, Kate Hoey, Kelvin Hopkins, Sian James, Mark Lazraowicz, John Mc Donnell, Iain McKenzie, Austin Mitchell, Grahame Morris, George Mudie, Linda Riordan, Barry Sheerman, Dennis Skinner, Graham Stringer, Mike Wood, Jeremy Corbyn (Teller).
Conservatives (6)
Richard Bacon, John Baron, Gordon Henderson, Adam Holloway, Nigel Mills, Mark Reckless
Lib Dems (1)
Julian Huppert
Scottish Nationalists (6)
Stewart Hosie, Angus Roberton, Mike Weir, Eilidh Whiteford, Angus Brendan McNeill, Pete Wishart (Teller) 
Others (7)
Mark Durkan, Alasdair McDonnell, Margaret Ritchie, Jonathan Edwards, Hywel Williams, George Galloway, Caroline Lucas

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Ryder Cup 2014: Europe enjoy favourites status

EUROPE begin their quest tomorrow for a remarkable sixth Ryder Cup win in the last seven matches against the United States.

Swede Henrik Stenson and England's Justin Rose are the lead pair for Paul McGinley's European team, and they will take on established pairing of Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson in the first of the morning fourballs at 7.35am.

The second fourballs match-up on the PGA Centenary Course in Gleneagles sees Martin Kaymer and Thomas Bjorn for Europe versus Rickie Fowler and rookie Jimmy Walker at 7.50am.

Then, in the third match, the Americans have boldly named two rookies - Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed - against the Anglo-Scots pairing of Ian Poulter and Stephen Gallacher (8.05).

Finally, in that session, a mammoth clash will see world number one Rory McIlroy and Spanish team-mate Sergio Garcia take on Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley (8.20).

In the afternoon, four foursomes matches will take place. Unlike in fourballs, where the player with the lowest score takes the hole for his team, foursomes features just one ball per pair with the players taking alternate shots.

Weather permitting, the fourballs and foursomes format is repeated on Saturday before 12 head-to-head singles matches on Sunday.

Of course, in each of the separate contests, every hole is played in isolation - and, indeed, the matchplay format is one of the most appealing things about the Ryder Cup.
It means tight matches can turn in a matter of minutes, and momentum often seems to be contagious across the course.

The overall winner is the first team to reach the magic mark of 14½ points - while a 14-14 tie will mean Europe, as holders, retain the trophy.

Now, remarkably, the United States have gone fully 21 years without victory in Europe since winning 15-13 at the Belfry in 1993.

Back then, the Americans' captain was Tom Watson - and, for this 40th edition, the USPGA has turned again to the legendary eight-time major winner in the hope he can revive the visitors' fortunes.

After all, with European wins on American soil in 1995, 2004 and 2010, the United States have actually only won twice in the last nine matches.

Indeed, the Europeans' strong recent record in the competitions means it is no surprise McGinley's men start as odds-on favourites - with the Americans teeing off at 13/8.

It is not only recent history which seems to be against the United States, though.

The visitors' build-up to Gleneagles has been far from ideal with personal issues and injury robbing them of the services of Dustin Johnson and Jason Duffner. Meanwhile, former world number one Tiger Woods will be another notable absentee.

It even led last month to Watson bemoaning the fact his players were "dropping like flies".

However, the Europeans - who, in the past, used to love revelling in the underdog role - need to be careful that complacency does not seep into the team.

Arguably, it did two years ago in Medinah where, at one stage, the holders had collectively played pretty poorly and found themselves 10-4 down.

The sporting miracle which followed cannot be relied upon to happen very often - and another American collapse seems far less likely under the likeable Watson.

After all, the 65-year-old simply loves Scotland having won four of his five Open titles there. Amazingly, he almost added another at the age of 59 at Turnberry in 2009.

Ultimately, that was not to be - he lost in a four-hole playoff to Stewart Cink having had a putt for par at the last hole to win the tournament.

But, despite that defeat, Watson remains a charismatic leader who can impart knowledge of great success in the game.

Europe then may be clear favourites - however, McGinley's team could really do with swiftly backing up this status by making the stronger start.

For, it might not be until then that recent history weighs just that bit too heavily on the American dozen.

Sky Sports 4 (Sky 405)
Friday and Saturday: 7am Fourballs, 1pm Foursomes, 7pm The Verdict/Highlights
Sunday: 10am Singles, 10pm Review
Full coverage on BBC Radio 5Live. Highlights on BBC2 at 8.30pm on Friday and Saturday, and 7.30pm on Sunday.

THE TEAMS (*= captain's wildcard selection)
Europe (Captain: Paul McGinley (IRE), Vice-captains: Des Smyth (IRE), Sam Torrance (SCO), Miguel Angel Jimenez (ESP), Padraig Harrington (IRE), Jose Maria Olazabal (ESP))

Ryder Cup 
record (W-L-H)
World rankingMajors
Rory McIlroy (NI)25114-3-214
Henrik Stenson (SWE)38222-3-250
Victor Dubuisson (FRA)2437Rookie230
Jamie Donaldson (WAL)3848Rookie250
Sergio Garcia (ESP)345316-8-430
Justin Rose (ENG)34746-3-061
Martin Kaymer (GER)29853-2-1122
Thomas Bjorn (DEN)43663-2-1300
Graeme McDowell (NI)351295-5-2181
*Stephen Gallacher (SCO)391110Rookie340
*Ian Poulter (ENG)3891212-3-0380
*Lee Westwood (ENG)41191618-13-6 440

United States (Captain: Tom Watson, Vice-captains: Andy North, Raymond Floyd, Steve Stricker)

AgePoints rank
Ryder Cup record
World rankingMajors
Bubba Watson3613-5-072
Rickie Fowler2520-1-2100
Jim Furyk4439-17-441
Jimmy Walker354Rookie190
Phil Mickelson44514-18-6115
Matt Kuchar3663-2-290
Jordan Spieth217Rookie130
Patrick Reed248Rookie270
Zach Johnson3896-4-1161
*Keegan Bradley28133-1-0261
*Webb Simpson29152-2-0331
*Hunter Mahan32253-2-3 210

PGA Centenary Course, Gleneagles Hotel, Scotland (Par 72, 7262 yards)












Up until 1977, United States had won all but four of the first 22 matches against Great Britain/Great Britain & Ireland. The exceptional years were 1929 (GB won 7-5), 1933 (GB won 6½-5½), 1957 (GB won -4½), and 1969 (a 16-16 tie - USA retained the Cup).  
However, since 1979, Europe has won nine of the 17 matches, and the United States has won seven. Europe has won five of the last six matches, and seven of the last nine since 1995.

Matches 17 
Europe 9
United States
Ties 1


1979The Greenbrier, VAEurope11-17United States   United States
1981Walton Heath, EngEurope-18½United StatesUnited States
1983Palm Beach, FLEurope13½-14½United StatesUnited States
1985The Belfry, EnglandEurope16½-11½United StatesEurope
1987Muirfield Village, OHEurope15-13United StatesEurope
1989The Belfry, EnglandEurope14-14United StatesEurope
1991Kiawah Island, SCEurope13½-14½United StatesUnited States
1993The Belfry, EnglandEurope13-15United StatesUnited States
1995Oak Hill, NYEurope14½-13½United StatesEurope
1997Valderrama, SpainEurope14½-13½United StatesEurope
1999Brookline, MAEurope13½-14½United StatesUnited States
2002*The Belfry, EnglandEurope15½-12½United StatesEurope
2004Oakland Hills, MIEurope18½-9½United StatesEurope
2006K Club, IrelandEurope18½-9½United StatesEurope
2008Valhalla, KYEurope11½-16½United StatesUnited States
2010Celtic Manor, WalesEurope14½-13½United StatesEurope
2012Medinah, ILEurope14½-13½United StatesEurope

*Originally scheduled for 2001 but delayed for a year following the September 11 terrorist attacks. Subsequent tournaments have been played on even-numbered years.