Another final between Murray and Djokovic: The rivalry continues…

Tennis fans should prepare for something special tomorrow when Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic meet in Miami for the Sony Ericsson Open Final. Why? Because I think that so far this is the tennis rivalry of 2012. Djokovic and Murray have already played one of the best matches of the tennis season in their epic semi final encounter at the Australian Open. This was not a unique occasion, their rivalry has been developing for several years. In fact, their match last year in the clay tournament at Rome was arguably the best match of 2011.

You may disagree, and say that the competition between Nadal and Djokovic has been the best so far, purely because of their gruelling tie at the Australian Open Final this year. At the moment though, I think that the competition between Murray and Djokovic is more finely balanced because they have both beaten each other this year. Nadal has failed to beat Djokovic since the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in 2010.

Whatever your view, the final in Miami is another chance to put our opinions to the test. For now, here’s just one point to savour from their Australian Open meeting this year:

Click here to see my prediction for the 2012 tennis season.


Countdown to London 2012: Should there be a Team GB football team?

Since the announcement that Team GB would field a team for London 2012 there has been much debate about the selection process, especially regarding whether non-English players will participate. The resistance of Welsh, Northern Irish and Scottish representatives is understandable; their independant status within FIFA could be threatened as a result. However, I still think that there are many positives to be taken from Team GB’s involvement and these will outweigh the negatives. So, I’ve put together my thoughts on why football and Team GB deserve their shot at Olympic Glory.

The two Team GB football coaches: Hope Powell and Stuart Pearce

Football is the most watched sport in the UK and so there should be a team to represent that fact. London 2012 will show Great Britain as a true sporting nation and football is such a major part of this. This is why Team GB is right to acknowlegde Britain’s love for the game and put a team forward.

The Olympic event will also highlight the popularity of  Women’s football in the UK. In terms of participation, Women’s football is one of the fastest growing sports in Britain and this should be celebrated. Since the first inclusion of the event at the Olympics in 1996 there has never been a women’s team chosen to represent Great Britain. What a fantastic opportunity to show the talent of the Team GB women to the world.

Team GB stand together in the Beijing opening ceremony

The men’s tournament will also, as Stuart Pearce has rightly pointed out, provide invaluable experience for the youngsters who will be playing with the constant support of a home crowd. In fact, without the overbearing pressure from the media that so often surrounds our Home Nations in the big tournaments, Team GB could do well in this competition.

On that note, I have to discuss the opinion of certain critics who say that the Olympic football tournament should not be included at all. Their main reason is that the World Cup and European Championships represent the pinnacle of the international game and that the Olympic football event does not. I think that this comment can only stem from a football commentary as it disregards the spirit of the Olympic games.  The Olympics is the pinnacle of the sporting world; the inclusion of the many sports that take part are what makes it so special.  The football tournament may not be on the front pages daily but this does not make it less worthy as an Olympic event. Even so, if Team GB play well the British public will support them and they might even win Team GB a medal!

Countdown to London 2012

Whilst reading Play With Flair, you might have noticed an image to the right of my posts, titled ‘Countdown to London 2012’, that looks like this:

I have created this countdown as a reminder of how tantalisingly close London is to hosting this landmark event! With only four months to go, I am becoming increasingly excited about what is in store for us, even if there are many (including me) that have not received Olympic tickets. From now on, I will be posting my thoughts on all the build-up to this year’s Olympics and I will also be sharing a few ‘Play with Flair Olympic Greats’ so that we are all ready for London 2012.

So, the Olympic kit for Great Britain was released last week and I have been quite surprised by the uproar that it has created.  It is completely understandable that people should have differing opinions on Great Britain’s new attire. However, the general level of discontent must be dispiriting for the organisers and athletes alike. It seems that every time the London 2012 team unveil something new it is surrounded by negativity; this was clearly the case with the London 2012 logo.

The Official Team GB kit for London 2012

On a personal note, I respect that the organisers are brave enough to think creatively about these decisions. For instance, using a Stella McCartney design for the Team GB kit is an obvious attempt to connect London 2012 with Britain’s fashion industry. Even so, surely what matters most is how the British athletes perform in these outfits? I am sure that when Jessica Ennis or Mo Farah begin their bid for an Olympic medal, their first thought won’t be to question why their outfit does not have a touch more red than blue.

Formula One shows its racing flair

After a tame start in Australia, today’s Malaysian Grand Prix felt like the real start to the 2012 Formula One Season. There’s nothing like a good thunderstorm to make a predictable race become essential viewing.

The Malaysian Grand Prix is stopped due to the dangerous weather conditions.

For Ferrari, Fernando Alonso showed his World Championship credentials. His display was imperious. To take pole in a Ferrari car that is clearly not the pick of the bunch  (just look at Felipe Massa) is an unbelievable achievement, especially in only the second race of the season. The emotional reaction from the Ferrari garage told its own story.

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LIVE EVENT: The HPA Gaucho International Polo

On Wednesday night the O2 arena, which is now world-renowned as a music entertainment venue, hosted something slightly different and in my opinion a little bit special. The HPA Gaucho International Polo Event delivered two interesting ties for the arena crowd: Ireland vs Scotland and England vs Argentina. Even though certain newspapers may have only been interested in those who were in the crowd at the O2, (Katie Price and members of the cast of TOWIE were there, if you have to know) what happened on the playing field was much more exciting.

Source: 'The HPA Gaucho International Polo: The Official Guide 2012'

The first match, between Scotland and Ireland, was closely contested but admittedly it felt like the supporting act before the main event. The match allowed spectators to adjust to the rapid pace of the live game and any newcomers were introduced to the rules of Arena Polo by the commentary, which was played to the audience through the speaker system. This was a good addition, even if the commentator’s claim that this match was ‘just like the Six Nations’ was slightly far-fetched. The final score was a win for Scotland by 15 goals to 12.

Source: 'The HPA Gaucho International Polo: The Official Guide 2012'

So, after a musical interval, it was time for England vs Argentina; a match to win The Churchill Cup. If you are a fan of the high drama that International Football provides, then this game of Polo was great entertainment. There were missed penalties and spectacular goals, and England came to win with a remarkable comeback. The Argentinian team certainly deserve a place on Play with Flair, they are extremely talented. Argentina’s Nacho Figueras is without doubt the star attraction, as a Ralph Lauren model he gets a lot of female attention from the crowd . Yet, his scoring ability is incredible; at one point he managed to score directly from the corner of the field, an angle that appeared impossible. Argentina had a 4-goal advantage on numerous occasions but England came back to level the match at 15-15. The England team, led by Jamie Morrison, miraculously completed their comeback in the penalty shootout.

This was the first time that I have attended any Polo event and the matches themselves were enjoyable. Watching the flair of Argentina is something that I won’t forget in a hurry, I’m still not sure how England won. However, it’s a shame that the portrayal of Polo as a game for the wealthy hasn’t appeared to have changed. The game itself is as entertaining as many of the other popular sports, but I can see how the luxury that surrounds the game would be off-putting for many sports fans. I want to encourage everyone to watch a Polo match for themselves; most of the tickets for this event were actually much cheaper than for most Premier League football matches. Who knows? One day Polo may become a game for the masses but there is a long way to go.

Take a look at the action below:

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McLaren’s MP4-27 – fit to win the title?

Although we have only seen the first race of the Formula One season, Jenson Button’s victory for McLaren in Melbourne has already sparked debate over whether the McLaren MP4-27 is the best in the field. In fact, there has been an incredible amount of discussion based purely on its appearance. There is no doubt that McLaren’s car is aesthetically the best on the track, but does this lead to success?

I would have to say yes. This may appear slightly ignorant, as the focus for everyone involved in Formula One is to create a car that can beat the rest. It is why engineering work and meticulous tests on the mechanics of the cars are continuously carried out. However, design and engineering go hand in hand; so if the car appears perfectly symmetrical, finely balanced and is wonderful to watch glide across the track this is no coincidence; it leads to titles.

Here is my pick of some of the greatest Formula One cars ever to grace the sport, let’s see how they compare:

A little prediction…

After some advice from a colleague in the office, (albeit he told me to place a bet on my predictions, which I’ve yet to do) I have decided to display publicly my thoughts on who will win the remaining Grand Slams of the tennis season. I haven’t chosen a winner for the 2012 Olympics yet, although I think that Del Potro might take it.

So here goes:
Firstly, Nadal will win the French Open. Some might say that naming the ‘King of Clay’ as champion for the seventh time is hardly a remarkable statement. Yet, his loss in this year’s epic Australian Open final to Novak Djokovic was worrying for the Rafa fan club. He was unable to grind down his opponent in his signature style. In fact, the relentless nature of Djokovic’s attack and defence left the Spaniard exhausted. Likelihood rating 9/10

The honour of winning Wimbledon this year will return to the living legend that is Roger Federer. He may not have won a Major title since 2010 but that is testament to the opponents that he has faced. A 16-time Grand Slam winner knows how it is done and with superb victories over Murray and Nadal already this season, another victory at his most succesful tournament will certainly be one of his greatest achievements in the game. Likelihood rating 7/10

The US Open trophy is waiting at Flushing Meadows for a certain Mr Murray. With no pressure from a home crowd this is the year for Murray to win at his self-proclaimed favourite tournament. He has been extremely close for several years, Federer has been the main obstacle, but with Ivan Lendl at his side Murray will be ready. Likelihood rating 6/10


One Major title for each of the Top Four, can it happen?

The Champions League gives us a Knockout Stage to remember.

It’s been a great month at the top of European football. In my opinion, the Knockout Stage of the UEFA Champions League provided the drama and competition that this stage has needed in the past. Perhaps, the lack of English dominance in the draw has left the European competition much healthier and open to an exciting unpredictability. There were still one-sided encounters, with Bayern Munich easing past TSG Hoffenheim and Barcelona continuing their imperious form, both scoring 7 goals in the second leg. However, an exception can be made for the latter, a team who are quite simply the best footballing side of our generation. Even Messi managed to shock, by scoring 5 goals in a Champions League match, with another record to add to the list. This performance demonstrated how Barcelona are not only the team to beat, but as always they are the team to watch, and enjoy.

On top of this, we were treated to several great comebacks and a true fairy tale. Arguably, Chelsea provided us with the greatest turnaround result with their 4-1 (agg 5-4) second leg win over Napoli. Their display was spirited considering the troublesome fortnight that they have endured. The match contained some perfect irony, with the three main men of the night being the senior players that dominated the discussion on the back-pages towards the end of AVB’s tenure: Drogba, Terry and Lampard. Unfortunately, Arsenal did not have the same fortune a week earlier, in a match that seemed firmly set for the Champions League Hall of Fame. Yet, with such a poor first leg performance Arsenal will have learnt their lesson.

Finally, Apoel Nicosia have firmly written their name in the Champions League history books, as the first Cypriot team to reach the quarter-final. A proud moment for Cyprus and not an undeserved one. Of course, Apoel were extremely lucky to escape the first leg with only a 1-0 deficit but Lyon were the team who did not take their chances. With a home crowd, Apoel gave their fans a greatly improved performance that should be merited.

Now that the draw for the next round has been made, let’s hope for more of the same!

The UEFA Champions League Knockout Stage in pictures: