Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

No collapse: BaliPure takes Game One of their semis battle with Pocari Sweat

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No collapse: BaliPure takes Game One of their semis battle with Pocari Sweat
by rick olivares

There were tense moments for BaliPure when it looked like Game One of their semi-finals match versus Pocari Sweat would be a carbon copy of their five-set meltdown that closed out their elimination round meeting.

The crowd favorites soaked in the electric atmosphere that was jumpstarted by their crazy wonderful fans who came out with mosaics greeting Balipure team captain and volleyball wunderkind Alyssa Valdez a happy birthday. Valdez had that volleyball house along Pinaglabanan Street in San Juan rocking when she opened the game with stupendous serves — and three aces — that saw her side go up, 6-0, before a service error gave the ball to Pocari Sweat.

Just as it was in their previous encounter, it seemed like BaliPure could do no wrong. Mae Tajima, resurgent and giving many to pause to wonder why she didn’t play this way in the past UAAP — she ascertains that she wasn’t given a chance -- was a force in the middle. The other two power spikers — Grethcel Soltones and Dzi Gervacio were dropping bombs. Amy Ahomiro was crafty with her attacks and drop shots. 

However, the Pocari Sweat Lady Warriors rebounded behind the smart play of Michelle Gumabao who returned the favor. She scored on a block, served an ace, and inspired her team to come within a point, 8-7. 

After an Elaine Kasilag error stopped the Lady Warriors’ momentum giving the ball back to BaliPure, Soltones was at the service area. her thunderous jump serves that dipped sharply gave Pocari Sweat no chance to set the ball. Over-received, they were sitting ducks for Alyssa Valdez who had rotated into the middle. She whacked the ball on two consecutive over-receives for massive points. 

Pocari Sweat battled back to forge a tie a 17-all behind Myla Pablo Desiree Dadang. Consecutive miscues by middle hitter Lutgarda Malaluan (two touches) and Kasilag (net touch) gave BaliPure a lead they didn’t relinquish. Tajima closed the door on Pocari with a spike down the middle to give the first set to BaliPure, 25-20.

The second set saw BaliPure hold off Pocari Sweat that battled through miscommunication and receiving problems. They fell, 25-19 and looked to be swept. It was at this juncture that utility hitter Janine Marciano, coming off the bench, came in and gave BaliPure a lift with some nifty play. Looking more at ease with the role as Gervacio rotated to the bench, Marciano provided points from the middle and the wing. 

The third set saw the Purest Water Defenders commit awkward errors that had everyone thinking of their elimination round collapse. However, this time, the 26-24 result, went BaliPure’s way as Amy Ahomiro closed out the match with an ace.

BaliPure now has the edge with a chance to close out their semis series on Saturday.

“No collapse,” exhaled BaliPure head coach Charo Soriano while munching on a slice of pizza alongside Valdez in the post-match interview. “Puwede na mag-relax ng konti.”

Soriano later confided that the win is a big one that will contribute to the evolution of the newly-formed volleyball team. "We took two losses -- to Philippine Air Force and to Pocari Sweat. They are the standard in V-League volleyball. If we want to really compete for a championship, you have to get past them. Right now, we've taken one step. We need to take another. But it's a big step."

“Last game we were not getting blocks and touches from Pocari’s open hitters. We were getting a lot of check out balls. They were getting a lot of scores from that. This time, we pressed in with a lot of lower blocks and magpa-delay ng konti. They hit very high but they hit high (going) downwards so if we also block high we will get pulled a lot. Janine Marciano super helped in this game. She was very positive coming in as a middle even if she is an open or utility hitter.”

“This girl,” said Soriano referring to Valdez who led BaliPure with 24 points, “went crazy. What coach wouldn’t like that start?”

Soriano also said she was happy for the games and serves of both Gervacio and Soltones. Soltones was criticized in some quarters with her decision-making on her hitting and that crucial jump serve in the fifth set of their elimination round loss to Pocari Sweat that led to the loss. “As a coach, when you see a player like that (not changing their serves), you can see their confidence and that they don’t doubt themselves. Seeing that from a coaching perspective is good. Everyone was ready and everyone was taking risks. No one was afraid of making mistakes.”

Soriano also commended setter Jem Ferrer for her blocking and her drop shots that wreaked havoc on the Lady Warriors’ defense.

In one of her more vociferous displays of gratitude towards the fans, Valdez was impressed with the fans’ support that buoyed the team. "Sobrang extra effort sila but their presence and effort going into the game helped. Sobrang unconditional yung support."

Soltones added 11 points for BaliPure.

For Pocari Sweat, Michelle Gumabao and Elaine Kasilag both scored 11 points. Myla Pablo who led Pocari with 24 points during their elimination round win over BaliPure was held to 8 points.

Footballer Dani Alves wears #23 as a tribute to LeBron James

Footballer Dani Alves wears #23 as a tribute to LeBron James
by rick olivares

Brazilian footballer Dani Alves celebrated his move from his long-time Spanish club, Barcelona, to Italian giants Juventus, by changing his shirt number from #6 to #23.

During a press conference that introduced him to the Italian media, Alves said that he is changing to #23 because of American basketball superstar LeBron James who inspires him as well. 

“I chose this shirt number because it’s the number of some great champions like LeBron James,” Alves told reporters. “Just like I am doing now, he decided to move teams for a new challenge and reinvent himself. I hope this number can be a real motivation for me to reinvent myself as a Juventus player.”

The Brazilian promised to lead the Turin-based football club, that has won the past five Italian Serie A titles to a UEFA Champions League championship.

Alves, who is also a mainstay of the Brazil national team, enjoyed a sterling career for Barcelona at the right back position. While wearing Barcelona’s colors, Alves was a part of six La Liga, four Copa Del Rey, four Supercopa de España, three UEFA Champions League, three UEFA Super Cups, and three FIFA Club World Cup championships. 

Alves previously wore #2 when he first transferred from Sevilla to Barcelona. He later switched to #22 in honor of former Barcelona teammate Eric Abidal whose career was ended because of liver problems, and last season #6 for former Barcelona teammate Xavi who left his long-time club for Qatari club Al Saad in May of 2015.

Alves isn’t however the only former high profile footballer to switch to #23.

English star David Beckham switched from #7, the number he wore at Manchester United, to #23 when he moved to Real Madrid. Beckham cited Chicago Bulls superstar Michael Jordan as an inspiration. Jordan popularized the #23 as a jersey number.

Beckham continued to sport that number when he joined the Los Angeles Galaxy in Major League soccer. He switched to #2 when he played on loan with AC Milan and later Paris St. Germain. 

France coach Vincent Collet talks about the FIBA OQT

French national team coach Vincent Collet address French media prior to Les Bleus departure from Paris bound for Manila.

France coach Vincent Collet talks about the FIBA OQT
by rick olivares photo by julien guerineau

Before the French National Team flew out of Paris Orly Airport bound for Manila, head coach Vincent Collet in a press conference, explained his line-up and the challenges his team faces.

On the non-inclusion of New Orleans Pelicans center Alexis Ajinca
He was shocked by what happened and was not as comfortable as I expect all the players are. This is done by making sure that the team most corresponds to the objective that was set. At mobility, facing some teams, including the Philippines, Alexis Ajinça ​​would have been in trouble. On the contrary, against Turkey, the size of Erden Asik or may be a concern. For now our best sequences were performed with Boris Diaw to pivot and Joffrey Lauvergne remains the most profitable player on the post.

On his team not being 100% healthy
Antoine Diot is still injured and we uncertain as to his presence at the first training in Manila. Mickael Gelabale is just back and we kept a place for Nicolas Batum. It is prudence to include Edwin Jackson and this will eventually help us deal with a more serious problem since the group of 12 can be changed until the day before the TQO. Yesterday, I congratulated Edwin front of the players. He immediately agreed to continue with us to help.

On the new additions
Adrien Moerman started very well preparation. Kim Tillie really turned a corner. I had the opportunity to see much with Vitoria and he learned a lot with Velimir Perasović. It's interesting for now and for the future.

On the Philippines
We start this Wednesday. The doctors insisted on having sufficient time to adapt to the time zone. Our determination will make the difference and this point of view I'm pretty happy. We must be efficient and focused during the working sessions. Although we will not be fully ready, it will be not the case of our opponents. Playing the host team is a good thing because we will immediately get into the thick of it. The team that I fear most is still Canada. She is young, evolving with Cory Joseph, Tristan Thomson or Anthony Bennett (editor’s note, Bennett isn’t playing). There is no room for error, you have to win every match.

On these games possibly being Tony Parker’s last in a French shirt
A giant prepares to bow out. And Rio must be its ultimate destination.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Post-Euro 2016: A suggestion or two for England in this moment of football soul searching

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A suggestion or two for England in this moment of football soul searching
by rick olivares pic by getty images

Moments after England’s humiliating 2-1 exit to Iceland in Euro 2016, former Liverpool and Bayern Munich star Dietmar Hamann, working as a pundit on RTE (Radio Television Ireland), laid waste to the English game and the Premier League in particular. 

“English people believe the hype of the Premier League,” said Hamann pulling no punches. “They have sold a Skoda for a Lamborghini for the last 15 years. The Premier League is average. If you look at Spain and Germany and the standard of football and look at the quality of football, it’s in a different league to England. Because it’s been watched all over the world, that doesn’t make it the best programme. They’ve created a brand, fair to them, the players earn a lot of money, and all these players should light a candle every time they go to bed at night, because if they were Icelandic, Portuguese, Dutch or German, they would struggle to earn a quarter of the money they’re on now.”

Hamman continued to step on the gas pedal: “It’s not their fault that the clubs are paying that money. But it’s over-inflated; the Premier League is a fraud. Because people generate so much money by watching it on television, people believe that it is the best league in the world.”

“In the Champions League, the English teams have been struggling for a number of years now. There were times, 10-15 years, where we had three teams in the semi-final. But the best players play in Bayern Munich, Barcelona, and Real Madrid, and they pay world-class wages for above average players.”

“If you could look through the team, can you see anyone play for the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Bayern Munich in the next five years? Maybe (John) Stones and (Ross) Barkley, apart from that it’s bang average. And how many of these players would be on the radar of the top clubs right now? You could make a case for (Daniel) Sturridge and (Marcus) Rashford who did more in the five minutes coming on than the rest of the team going forward.”

Scathing, isn’t it? Maybe that is an understatement as well. 

With all due respect to Hamann who I revere as a footballer, he is partly right. But is also off tangent.

Let’s dissect the comments.

"They have sold a Skoda for a Lamborghini for the last 15 years.”

Hamann is implying that the Premier League is not what it is. That because of its popularity, people believe it is the best league in the world.”

First and foremost, comparing a domestic league to how the national team fares is comparing apples to oranges. 

Until Spain won Euro 2008 and 2012 and the 2010 World Cup in between, they were mostly seen like the Netherlands, a country that had some talismanic football clubs but as a country, never won much on an international level.  

The French have been World Cup and European champions, why isn’t Ligue 1 considered one of the top leagues in the world?

Prior to the 2014 World Cup title, Germany only had the 1996 European title to show. There were questions about their domestic game. Weren’t there questions about their 2006 World Cup team that featured non-Aryan Germans on the team? Weren’t there questions about the way they prepared (bringing in fitness and conditioning experts from the US) and the way they played (more attacking football as compared to the boring style that was espoused before that)?

If we follow that line of thinking, let’s move over to basketball. When the US began to lose in 1988, they sent a team of collegians against teams that played pro ball in Europe. How old was Arvydas Sabonis when he took on Hersey Hawkins and company? He was a man playing against boys. But did that mean the NBA wasn’t very good? Even after the US lost in 2004 before the Redeem Team in 2008, did anyone think that Euro basket was better? It was a matter of not taking the opposition seriously and not preparing properly when the world has clearly gotten better at basketball. 

Back to football. 

In the last 16 years (since the start of the new millennium) of La Liga, four clubs have won the title - Barcelona (eight), Real Madrid (five), Valencia (two), and Atletico Madrid (one).

In Germany, in the past 16 years of the Bundesliga, five clubs have won the title - Bayern Munich (10), Borussia Dortmund (three), and Werder Bremen, VfB Stuttgart, and VfL Wolfsburg (one each). Bayern has won two Champions League titles.

In England, also in the past 16 years, five clubs have won the title — Manchester United (seven), Chelsea (four), Manchester City (two), Arsenal and Leicester City (one each). 

Is Hamann equating Premier League success to national team success? 

Let’s break down Bayern Munich’s champion team. Robert Lewandowski is Polish. Franck Ribery is French. Arjen Robben is Dutch. Xabi Alonso and Javi Martinez are Spanish. Sixteen players in their roster are foreign while 13 are German.

How about Barcelona, La Liga champs. Only four key players are Spanish. The rest are German, Argentinean, Croatian, Uruguayan, Brazilian, Chilean, and French. 

If you compare all the major European leagues, all the top clubs usually win because they have a lot of money to pay the top players. The smaller clubs are more homegrown in a sense. 

There have been a few English players who have played with the big clubs — Gary Linker (Everton), Steve McManaman (Liverpool), Michael Owen (Liverpool), David Beckham (Manchester United), Ashley Cole (AS Roma), Jonathan Woodgate (Newcastle United). Some have had success. Others didn’t. Joey Barton played for Marseille where he enjoyed some success but he returned to England after he couldn’t be paid the wages he was accustomed to.

So why have the English underperformed in international competitions?

Despite having talented players, England has had poor managers and poor tactics (you can also argue the same for Brazil and the Netherlands that are going through their own soul searching). I can’t really say about their preparation or frame of mind headed into the major tournaments. Everyone has offered assessments from Hamann to Lineker who said that the team “lacks mental strength” and “are technically not good enough.”

England can learn from what happened to Germany in 2000 and from Italy in recent years.

Made in Germany
During Euro 2000, Germany didn’t make it out of their group that included Romania, Portugal, and England (the Germans lost 1-nil). In their final game of group play, they were soundly beaten by a Luis Figo-led Portugal side, 3-nil. A year earlier, the crown jewel of the Bundesliga, Bayern Munich lost to Manchester United, 2-1, in one of the greatest Champions League finals games ever.

Germany, wrote European newspapers, “was a dying football nation”. 

The German Football Association had a lot of soul searching to do and they went back to basics — developing their youth system and putting up a football academy (worth 15 million Euros) that made high level coaching available to top prospects. The academies are strictly monitored where every single club has to pass a test that has over 800 questions. Only when these academies pass are they given a license to operate. As for the top prospects, they regularly giving young players a spot on the senior national team for experience. They integrated their minorities into the system and the result was a 2006 World Cup team that featured a players of of Ghanaian heritage (Gerald Asamoah and David Odonkor), and a pair of naturalized Polish strikers in Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski. That team finished in third place.

By 2010, they had brought in another player of Ghanian heritage (Jerome Boateng), Turkish ancestry (Mesut Ozil and Serdar Tasci), Tunisian parentage (Sami Khedira), a Spanish mother (Mario Gomez), and a naturalized Brazilian (Cacau). That team once more finished third in the World Cup and come 2014, they won it all.

When Bayern Munich played Borussia Dortmund in the 2013 UEFA Champions League finals, it featured players on the national team and who had come up from their academies.

The Italian Connection
Italian football, at least on a national level, is fine. Domestically, it is a mess. But that is the Italian way, they thrive on adversity. The 1982 World Cup championship was won despite match fixing allegations against star Paolo Rossi and other teammates. The 2006 World Cup — even more match fixing that saw Juventus relegated and their trophies confiscated.

Now, their domestic league is trouble. There isn’t enough money. Attendance is dwindling. Clubs are having a tough time playing in old and dilapidated stadia. Revenue is down. In the latest UEFA rankings for member associations, the Italian Serie A is slotted at fourth (behind Spain, Germany, and England). They are at status quo having ranked fourth two seasons ago after falling to fifth during the 2012-13 season.

After the World Cup win of 2006, the game deteriorated into violence, racism, and poor management. There has been some hope recently with some clubs moving into their own stadiums such as Juventus that moved into Juventus Stadium after years of sharing the Olimpico with Torino.

But what has made Italy successful internationally? It’s playing to their strengths and not what they cannot do. They play a brand of football that is defensive. And that is how they have made their name. Defensive football with lightning counter-attacks.

Having said that, Italy is taking a cue from what makes the English Premier League successful — title sponsors (this past season, it was called the Serie A TIM after Telecom Italia Mobile), better relations with corporate sponsors and media, and dipping into the rich Asian market. 

Incredible, isn’t it? Italy looking to England for inspiration?

Brexit aside, how ironic is it that the nation that invented football should look into other countries that copied their models for their own success? 

Tony Parker plays last game for France on home soil

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Tony Parker plays last game for France on home soil
by rick olivares pic from Federation Francaise De Basketball

French basketball fans watched Les Bleus’ final tune-up match on home soil, a 91-74 victory over Japan at the Kindarena in Rouen, France. It also marked the last time that point guard Tony Parker will play for the national team in front of a home crowd. Should France qualify for the Olympics, Parker’s last game will be in Rio, Brazil.

French basketball officials felt that Japan provided a suitable approximation of the opposition they will face against the Philippines. Except for Japanese center Yuta Tabuse, not much is known about the players who comprise head coach Kenji Hasegawa’s squad.

Japan’s shooters got away with a lot of outside shots in the first half before the French played with much better defensive intensity. Behind Thomas Heurtel and Nado De Colo, Les Bleus closed out the first half with some big shots and a 54-31 lead. Parker had a rather quiet evening in Rouen scoring six points and dishing three assists. The French coasted to a win.

Post-match, Parker with a microphone in hand and accompanied by Mickael Gelabale and Florent Pietrus, praised his fans one and made a promise: “For French basketball, we'll go up 'at the end.”

“We could not imagine a better friendly match than the game against Japan,” pronounced France head coach Vincent Collet post-match. “The Japanese play a very protective zone which explains our numerous shots at three-points. My players didn’t take some shots because I asked them to be patient. These matches are important moments of evaluation but these aren’t the only ones. Tonight, Mickael Gelabale showed us that he was ready to play.”

“The Japanese play a similar game to the Filipinos and I am glad for our defense against the three point shots of which the Filipinos are madmen,” added Collet. “I feel every day we advance a little better."

“This is what you will find in the Philippines,” surmised Parker of the friendly match versus Japan. “A team that will play small and quick basketball and who will try to outsmart us. It was a serious game and a good workout. We will use our experience while respecting everyone. Personally, it was important for me to greet them as they have accompanied me in all my competitions. And what was important is they were here tonight.”

"A giant prepares to bow out. And Rio must be its ultimate destination,” said Collet about Parker.

France 12 to OQT bared

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France 12 to OQT bared
by rick olivares

France head coach Vincent Collet and national technical director Patrick Beesley revealed today, June 29, the 12 players who will be in the roster for the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Manila from July 5-10.

Included in the 12 are forward Nicolas Batum (Charlotte Hornets), combo guard Nando De Colo (CSKA Moscow), power forward-center Boris Diaw (San Antonio Spurs), point guard Antoine Diot (Valencia), small forward Mickael Gelabale (Le Mans), point guard Thomas Huertel (Anadolu Efes Istanbul), small forward Chalres Kahudi (ASVEL Basket),  center Joffrey Lauvergne (Denver Nuggets), power forward Adrien Moerman (Bandirma Banvit), point guard Tony Parker (San Antonio Spurs), power forward Florent Pietrus (Nancy), and center Kim Tillie (Vitoria).

Surprisingly, New Orleans Pelicans center Alexis Ajinca did not make the cut as did shooting guard Edwin Jackson Unicaja). The latter was told to accompany the team to Manila in the event that Antoine Diot does not recover in time from a leg injury. 

Team France will hold a press conference on later today in Paris before flying off to Manila in the evening.

How Iceland defended England

I thought that Iceland played physical defense with a lot of man marking and zonal coverage. The other difference was the Icelanders' willingness to work and move. 

Look at the screen shot from above. Harry Kane finds three defenders in front of him. For much of the match, England could only fire from the outside because of the defensive wall in front of them.

His options?

Dele Alli is in an offside position. 

Wayne Rooney is open while Daniel Sturridge is on the right.

His option would be to pass to Rooney who can either dribble once then fire or make a quick pass to Sturridge who can shoot with either foot.

The thing for England is that they should pass a lot quicker to tear apart Iceland's marking. Excessive dribbling can be troublesome. There isn't anyone on England's team who can approximate the dribbling skills say of Luis Suarez so they should play faster and exploit the close marking.

Take a look at this. Iceland knows that England's players love to dribble the ball. Rooney would have been better served to pass this quickly to Sturridge. Wasted opportunity.

Iceland commits two defenders per England attacker. That means someone is bound to be free. Quick passing, quicker decision making. 

Look at the marking here. Iceland commits several defenders to an English player. Defense forms those triangles to mark attackers. How do you beat this? You need good field vision and an understanding with your teammates on how to beat this ball pressure. A sudden long ball, sprint. Break up those defensive formations. The thing is you have to attack en masse or else those defenders will converge on the few attackers.

Additional reading: Some suggestions for England in this time of soul searching. Yes, it is something I wrote.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Iceland on the verge of another Cinderella European finish?

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Iceland on the verge of another Cinderella European finish?
by rick olivares

Iceland…. tiny tiny Iceland with its two coaches in the retiring Lars Lagerback and Heimir Hallgrimsson who is a part-time dentist knocked Roy Hodgson’s England’s teeth with a shocking 2-1 win in the Round of 16 of the 2016 European Championships at the Stade De Nice, Nice, France. 

Strakarnir okkar, as Iceland’s national team is nicknamed (in English “Our boys”), pulled off the upset of the tournament piping the Republic of Ireland’s 1-nil win over Italy that closed out the group stages.

Did we see Iceland’s stirring triumph coming?

Not at all although they looked good really  after a pair of 1-1 draws with Portugal and Hungary before ending group play with a 2-1 win over Austria. Now, they are in the quarterfinals. 

But that win over England? England twice played Iceland in friendlies. The Three Lions won one and drew the other. They scored seven goals and conceded two. It stood to reason that England would defeat Iceland. 

Except they didn’t.

If you look at Iceland’s masterpiece against England, it was their work rate and defense that made the difference. They swarmed all over the ball carriers and attacking threats.

England might have more possession, more attacks, and corners but this is what made the difference — work rate on defense.

Balls Recovered
England 40
Iceland 49

England 1
Iceland 4

England 0
Iceland 3

England 9
Iceland 20

Plus, Iceland gave up more fouls 15-6, meaning they were more physical and that they also took England out of its comfort zone.

Iceland played a more conventional 4-4-2 that somewhat bothered England’s 4-2-3-1. 

Consider this… 
Iceland’s population of 330, 000 would make it the 207th biggest city…. in China! Comparing it to an English town, they have slightly a bigger population than Coventry.
Iceland has 73 football clubs playing in five levels of football. Yet interestingly, none of their 23-man roster for Euro 2016 plays in Iceland. England has over 7,000 teams stemming from from nearly 5,300 clubs. 
Iceland began participating in European competition in 1976. Forty-years later, they finally qualified (Euro 2016). In their first ever tournament in main European competition, they are now in the quarterfinals with a 2-2 record. England in contrast has been to the semi-finals once, 1996, and they have a record of 10-11-10 since 1968.
In European competition, five Iceland club teams have played in UEFA competition, losing all five by an aggregate score of 17-2.

And next up in the quarterfinals is the host nation, France. 

Iceland can take hope that in the history of the European Championships, there have been two fairy tale endings — Denmark in 1992 and Greece in 2004.

Denmark 1992
The Danes weren’t even supposed to be in Sweden, site of the 1992 European Championships. Yugoslavia, one of the eight countries to qualify for the tournament was disqualified as the Balkan nation disintegrated into a bloody civil war. 

Denmark, second to Yugoslavia in their group qualification was instead given the nod. Incredibly, with only a week’s notice that they were in the competition, Denmark with zero expectations and no pressure to win, placed second in their group and advanced after defeating France, 2-1. 

In the semi-finals, they squeaked past the reigning European champions, the Netherlands when goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel, father of current Leicester City FC keeper Kasper Schmeichel, stopped a Marco Van Basten penalty to send the Danes to a 5-4 shootout win and to the finals where they faced the first ever unified German team. They continued to shock the world when they stunned the powerful Germans, 2-nil, to win their first ever major trophy.

Greece 2004
The stubborn and defensive-minded Greeks pulled a stunner of major proportions when they came out of nowhere to defeated host nation Portugal, 1-nil, the finals! 

Greece opened the tournament with a shocking 2-1 win over Portugal in Group A action. And this despite the Portuguese team boasting of all-world players in Luis Figo, Cristiano Ronaldo, Deco, and Rui Costa. They drew, 1-1, with Spain in their next game then fell to a Russian squad that already eliminated, 2-1, so people still didn’t give them much of a chance.

In the knockout stages, Greece continued its brand of choking defensive football and late goals to defeat France, 1-nil, and the Czech Republic, 1-nil, this time in extra time.

In the finals, Angelos Charisteas scored in the 57th minute Greece held back one Portuguese attack after another to win the trophy. And they did it with defense finishing with clean sheets from the quarterfinals all the way to the finals!

So what do Denmark, Greece, and Iceland all have in common? 

They went into the tournament with no pressure to win. The lack of pressure allowed them to play the game and execute their defensive brand of football to perfection.

And when the Icelanders face the French in the Stade de France in Saint Denis, it will be the homeside playing with pressure.


If you ask an Icelander what pressure is they will associate that with the 30 active volcanoes running through their island nation.

Sadio Mane moves to Liverpool!

Welcome to Anfield, Sadio Mane! 

Mane is the fifth player from Southampton FC to join Liverpool since 2014! So far, Adam Lallana, Dejav Lovren, and Nathaniel Clyne have found their place on the team. Only Rickie Lambert isn't with the Reds anymore. But good luck to Rickie!

Here are Mane's highlights from the past season.

Filipino swimmer to cross English Channel

Filipino swimmer to cross English Channel
by rick olivares

Since 1875, there have been 2005 successful swims (1,340 solo swimmers and 665 relay teams) cross the English Channel that connects the United Kingdom and France.

This coming August, Ingemar Macarine, under the banner of the First Filipino English Channel Swim Team (FFECST) will be the first Filipino to attempt to cross the 21-mile long channel from Dover, England and northern France and to join the hallowed ranks of those who successfully attempted the feat.

The swim is considered the “Mount Everest” of open water swims and will be a test of physical and mental strength and courage. There have been thousands of failures and eight listed deaths.

The First Filipino English Channel Swim Team (FFECST) is captained by Macarine, who is known as the  “Pinoy Aquaman” and is scheduled to attempt the crossing—a distance of 35 kilometers in the icy waters of the North Atlantic—in mid-August. Official open water rules require swimmers to attempt the challenge clad in nothing more than ordinary swimming trunks, swim cap, and goggles. Georgian Honorary Consul Thelmo Cunanan Jr., who founded the First Filipino International Movement in 2014, said the objective of the swim is to celebrate international friendship and to raise awareness of climate change and global warming— core advocacies of the First Filipino International Movement.

The 40-year old Macarine who hails from Bohol, who is a practicing lawyer, has made a name for himself from his swims across the Surigao Strait and from Alcatraz Island to San Francisco to name a very few. The Surigao del Norte native says he “swims through difficult waters not to call attention to himself but to raise awareness for clean seas, environmental toursim, and great climate change awareness."

The objective of the First Filipino International Movement (FFIM) is to organize and support historic achievements and landmark accomplishments by Filipinos all over the world. The organization’s kick-off event took place in South Africa in February 2014, when two of its swimmers, braving the threat of great white sharks and the cold waters of the South Atlantic, became the first Filipinos to cross the Robben Island channel to Cape Town. The swim, a distance of five miles and accomplished in under three hours, was done in honor of the late Nelson Mandela and to thank South Africans for their help in Leyte in the aftermath of the devastating Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda).

Since then, the FFIM has carried out other projects, particularly in the area of heritage and culture, the most recent of which was a three-city European art roadshow (November and December 2015) to promote climate change awareness.

For Macarine’s channel swim, Cunanan expects the Macarine to achieve the feat in approximately 13 - 15 hours, given fair weather conditions and currents.

FFECST and Macarine has already been training for this challenge, with plenty of regular open water swims for Macarine all over the country and multiple sessions in the cold water pool of the Philippine Military Academy in Baguio City. From late June, the team will be based in the seaside city of Folkestone, in the southern United Kingdom, where Macarine will continue cross-training and begin open water trials and temperature acclimatization.

An Italian Job: Ending an era in Spanish football

Did Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini do a Luis Suarez (kissing his wrist) after scoring against Spain?
This appears in the Wednesday, June 29, 2016 edition of the Business Mirror.

An Italian Job: Ending an era in Spanish football
by rick olivares

Following Spain’s 2-0 loss to Italy in the Round of 16, La Roja coach Vicente Del Bosque resigned. And with his departure ends perhaps Spain’s best era ever in football becoming the second team after France to win the World Cup (2010) and the European championship (2012) one after the other (although Spain bests the French, 1998 World Cup and 2000 European champions, by also winning the 2008 Euros).

Italy’s victory somewhat avenges their 4-0 loss to Spain in the finals of Euro 2012.

The question now is, "Are the Italians for real? Do they have a legitimate shot at winning the European championship; something they have not achieved since 1968?"

I will say this for the Azzurri — when they are favored to win it all, they come crashing down; when they aren’t seeded, they play well. So this team plays better without expectations. And perhaps a refreshing chance, playing better without sandal preceding them.

During the 1982 World Cup campaign, star forward Paolo Rossi and several other players were prosecuted for illegal betting and match fixing. Yet the Azzurri defeated West Germany in the finals for their third World Cup.

Before the 2006 World Cup, Italy was hounded by match fixing allegations that saw Juventus dropped to Serie B and the taking back of their trophies. Despite all the distractions, the Italians defeated France in a penalty shootout for their fourth World Cup.

So the answer is yes, the Italians are considered favorites to win it all.

How have they achieved their place in the Round of Eight?

As they always have — with defense and a quick counter where they load up the penalty area with bodies.

Spain have been the masters of possession and use of space passing back and forth then surging forward for a quick strike. 

Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid showed the world how to beat Barcelona, the typified Spain’s play, by closing down those spaces by playing their ball carriers in smothering triangles. The Netherlands perfected that during the 2014 World Cup with a 3-5-2 formation that shut down Del Bosque’s cherished 4-3-3 with an emphatic 5-1 victory. 

Italy’s coach, Antonio Conte (who took over Cesare Prandelli following the 2014 World Cup), was apparently watching because since the start of Euro 2016, he has run that formation for every single game.

Goalkeeper: Gianluigi Buffon
Defenders: Andrea Barzagli  Leonardo Bonucci  Giorgio Chiellini
Midfielders: Antonio Candreva  Marco Parolo  Daniele De Rossi  Emanuele Giaccherini  Matteo Darmian
Forwards: Graziano Pelle  Eder  

Let’s look how they fared against teams thus far:
vs. Belgium that runs a 4-2-3-1 formation. The result — 2-0.
vs. Sweden that runs a 4-4-2 formation. The result — 1-0.
vs. The Republic of Ireland that runs a 4-4-2 formation. The result -- 1-0.
vs. Spain that runs a 4-3-3 formation. The result — 2-0.

The Azzurri had a tough time against teams like Sweden and the Republic of Ireland that play with compact formations; much like theirs. The disparity in the scoring is evident too and the Italians lost to the Irish.

If you look at how the Netherlands dismantled Spain, then head coach Louis Van Gaal took the ball away from their midfield maestros Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets and gave Spain’s defense problems with players with motors for legs like Arjen Robben.

One thing working for the Italians is that their entire back three play for Italian champions, Juventus, five-time consecutive Serie A champions (2011-16). The fact that all three know how to work together along with national goalkeeper Gianlugi Buffon (who is also their teammate with the Turin-based nine) is a massive plus on the defensive end. 

And if Spain did their homework against Antonio Conte, they will know that he made his reputation for his work rate while manning the central midfield for Juventus en route to five Serie A titles. And this Italian team has box-to-box midfielders in Marco Parolo and Emanuele Giaccherini; the same type of player in the mold of Arjen Robben. Furthermore, the way to expose the three-back line of a 3-5-2 is to use the width of the field and place wingbacks with motors. Spain didn’t. And they paid for it.

The Italians may be missing creative sparks in the midfield in Marco Verratti (who plays for French champions Paris Saint Germain) and Claudio Marchisio (another of those Juventus players) due to injuries but they still have the magnificent Daniele De Rossi who is rated by the French sports magazine L’Equipe as one of the 10 best midfielders in the world today.

And who scored — defender Chiellini and Graziano Pelle. No one has even mentioned this tournament that it was Chiellini who was bit by Uruguay’s Luis Suarez during the last World Cup! 

And now, the Italians are marching on to face a German team that makes use of the pitch’s width in Bordeaux.