Category: Casino Reviews

Westwood fighting

Westwood fighting the odds for success at Pebble Beach

This weekend sees the start of the US Open, held this year at the scenic Pebble Beach course in California. Hopes of seeing a rare European victory in this event (the last European winner came in 1970 courtesy of Englishman Tony Jacklin) improved at the weekend when Lee Westwood recorded a somewhat unlikely victory in the St Jude’s Classic in Memphis.

The Englishman was handed the chance of victory by a Jean Van De Velde-esque collapse on the final hole by American Robert Garrigus. Standing on the 18th tee, the American held a 3 shot advantage but somehow contrived to fritter this lead away, driving the ball into the water and finding the trees with his third shot, to card a three-over-par 7 at the last hole to force a play-off between himself, Robert Karlsson and Westwood; A playoff which the in-form Englishman duly won after four tough extra holes.

The omens of a repeat success this week in California however don’t seem to be on Westwood’s side… Or do they?

Certainly it is a rarity for a golfer to win the week before a major tournament and then go on to win the major itself seven days later. Ernie Els won two tournaments in a row earlier this season, but in the history of the four major Championships, only ten Golfers have won the week before a major and then followed that up with victory in the major itself, the last being, unsurprisingly, Tiger Woods in 2007, who won the Bridgestone Invitational before lifting the US PGA Championship. Indeed in the field that is likely to tee off at Pebble Beach on Thursday, there will only likely be Woods and Phil Mickelson (who won the BellSouth Classic in 2006 the week before lifting the Masters) who have achieved the rare feat.

So the odds don’t look too promising for Westwood on that score. Those odds get worse when you consider that no golfer has ever won the week before the US Open and then gone on to lift the prize itself.

Then of course, Westwood will also be fighting nearly 100 years of almost total American dominance in the event itself. Europe has provided the winner for the US Open a grand total of four times since 1911; the last being Tony Jacklin in 1970. This is an event that European golfers in particular have had enormous difficulty winning.

However Westwood fans can take hope from other indicators. The Worksop born golfer has always enjoyed playing on the West Coast, particularly in the US Open. In 1998, at Olympic he finished seventh, and in 2000 at Pebble Beach he was fifth. Torrey Pine in 2007 saw Westwood finish third. There is a natural progression in that sequence that sees Westwood crowned US Open champion come Sunday night!

Then of course there is Westwood’s form over the past 12 months or so, particularly in the majors. The consensus of opinion is that Westwood is due a major win sooner rather than later after some spectacularly consistent performances in golf’s biggest event. A fact which has been recognised in the betting as Westwood is now a clear third favourite (behind Woods and Mickelson) with Betfair at 10/3. Westwood is now clearly one of the best players in World Golf, ranked 3rd in the world with both Mickelson and Woods firmly in his sights.

Upsetting the odds, tradition, the history books and trends to lift the US Open trophy on Sunday night, would be a fitting way for Westwood to close the gap still further on the two American’s who sit above him in the World Rankings.

Don’t Support

Don’t Support Murray to Win Wimbledon

Once every four years, in the couple of weeks leading up to the start of Wimbledon, we are spared the somewhat odd idea that the country is actually all consumed by the game of Tennis for a month as we endure the several Wimbledon warm up tournaments, and then of course the two weeks of poor weather that usually follows when the All England Club Championship begins in earnest.

The reason? Quite simply, it is a World Cup year and England have qualified, though so far they are doing their damndest, it seems, to make sure that they are back home as soon as is humanly possible. In such circumstances, Wimbledon could start with Roger Federer taking to the centre court, performing cartwheels and naked but for a strategically placed tube of Tennis balls and the Sporting paparazzi would hardly merit it noteworthy in their daily dispatches.

This is the problem for sporting events that happen in a World Cup year and particularly those that are run while the World Cup is in full flow. Even though this World Cup has, by and large, been a little disappointing, it is still far more ‘important’ to the vast majority of sports fans in the UK, than how Andy Murray or Laura Robson and co will perform.

Indeed the sneaky feeling I had yesterday was that it wasn’t just the fans and press that have relegated Wimbledon to the small columns. When I heard that Roger Federer was two sets to love down to his unseeded Colombian opponent, Alejandro Falla, in the first round, I did wonder if the Swiss genius had decided to get the first round out of the way quickly so he could catch the second half of the Switzerland-Chile game.

In a country when football is unquestionably the king, Wimbledon tends to occupy a sensible place in the Sporting schedule. Late June. This is well after the season has ended and well before the new one begins. Pre-season training won’t have got under way for most clubs. Football fans, desperate for something to cheer for, will see the BBC coverage and declare their support for our next great British hope. What we did in the 20 years between Virginia Wade and Tim Henman I don’t know, but at least since Tim, we’ve also had Greg Rusedksi (who we borrowed from Canada, a bit like Lennox Lewis) and now Andy Murray.

This support is unwavering of course; well it is until they lose and then we put our Tennis rackets back in the cupboard for another year, the council courts across the country empty and we begin nervously pacing, waiting for the new season’s soccer kit to be put in the shops ready to be worn for the first pre-season friendly.

However when a World Cup is on, Wimbledon stands no chance. Andy Murray’s game today (Tuesday) would normally have been hyped as another great chance for a British star to finally win a Grand Slam for the first time in probably 31,237 years or something like that. We’d all be ‘doing a Murray’, wearing clothes that seem slightly dishevelled and looking as if we are in desperate need of a wash and a trip to the barbers.

Now? It’s all Fabio and John Terry’s spat. Can England actually be bothered to play against Slovenia tomorrow? Who can beat Argentina or Brazil? Are Spain back to their best? And perhaps best and most enjoyable of all, has any team made as much of a complete balls-up of a World Cup finals appearance than the French have done this year?

You know it’s a World Cup year when newscasters report that the wife of Chilean star Valdivia reported incorrectly that he had a thigh muscle tear, instead of just cramp, well ahead of Andy Murray’s first round clash…

The thing is, without the hype and fevered support; I think Murray stands a better chance of doing something at Wimbledon. The Scot always looks weighed down with the collective hope and expectation of a nation, in much the same way Tim Henman was, at Wimbledon.

I don’t think it is simply a question of the type of surface being why Murray has tended to perform better away from Wimbledon, especially in Grand Slam tournaments.

So for Andy’s sake, let’s hope that England can stay in the tournament on Wednesday afternoon. The less hype and pressure on the Scot, then the more chance he has, in my view, of ending Roger Federer’s reign on grass. Not that the chances are that great anyway, but we’ll take any help we can get to be honest.

Because as soon as the country gets behind one of our sporting stars or teams, that is when the wheels seem to spectacularly fall off…

Viva La Revolution!

Viva La Revolution!

Not since Madame Defarge knitted furiously and Sidney Carton professed it was a far far better thing that he was about to throw himself metaphorically on his sword, has France witnessed a revolution like it, but even Dickens would have been hard put to have written a story as utterly compelling, and yet utterly inept as the France World Cup story of 2010.

Even before their lugubrious qualifying campaign, where the hand of Thierry reduced the Irish and the Danish referee following the game to tears, and gifted the French an undeserved finals berth, the reign of manager Raymond Domenech has been something of an uneasy period in French football.

All the more surprising is that he was given more time than any other manager in France’s illustrious history to get it right.

There were rumours of Domenech being effectively overruled by senior players within the team as far back as 2006, when a Zinedine Zidane inspired France reached the final of the World Cup, losing only on penalties to eventual winners Italy. Zidane’s influence was reportedly seen as much off the field as it was on it, with the midfielder reckoned to be the dominant, leading force of the French team, rather than the manager.

Zidane’s retirement after 2006 would leave a hole in French football that has proved impossible to fill. In the 2008 European Championships, France were sent home early humiliated in the group stages and Domenech, once again, caused a degree of consternation by proposing to his girlfriend live on television, moments after the final whistle had blown to eliminate his team.

He’d already admitted that he consulted the stars to help him decide his teams, arguing that certain star signs worked better to promote team harmony.

It sounds a facile argument and given the startling lack of harmony on show within the French squad in South Africa, I think the French public has every right to view such nonsense as precisely that.

Domenech hung on despite an ordinary and uninspiring 2010 qualifying campaign. He caused a surprise by leaving Samir Nasri, Patrick Vieira and Karim Benzema out of his finals squad. Three absences in particular that would come back to haunt him given the lack of drive so often provided by Vieira, guile from Nasri and goal threat from Benzema, that France displayed in their three games.

However Domenech became nothing more than a figure of ridicule after the argument with Florent Malouda revealed deep rifts within the squad. Nicolas Anelka, with the characteristic petulance we’ve all come to know, had a stand up row with the manager after being subbed in the first two games and was sent home for his foul-mouthed rebuke of the manager. What followed was as comical as it was farcical. Players on strike, fitness coaches resigning, French Football Federation officials quitting and the sight of a manager reading a statement to the press was as saddening for a once great nation, as it must have been humiliating for the manager.

The final game defeat to South Africa was the perfect finish to a miserable tournament, where player power and managerial ineptitude effectively ended any chance France had of success. Without the cement of Zidane to hold the team together, the team ripped itself apart. Five ‘experienced’ professionals, Henry, Evra, Abidal, Ribery and Gallas seemingly being the chief instigators of the player revolt which divided the camp, undermined Domenech and provided such woeful performances that so blighted the French campaign.

With Laurent Blanc coming in as a new manager following the finals and French football now at its nadir, you can only hope that the former national team skipper can galvanise a shell-shocked nation. He can take comfort in the fact that things can only improve.

But for all Domenech’s many and varied failings, the lack of support he was given by senior players in the French squad should be a great concern for Blanc and it is difficult to know if the former Bordeaux manager will want to have an entirely fresh start as manager of Les Bleus. Anelka’s already announced his international retirement. It seems likely that Gallas, Abidal and Henry will most likely follow suit.

How Domenech has gone from the quirky saviour of French football to an almost Clouseau-esque tragic-comedy figure is partly down to his managerial style and lack of authority, however to lay the blame solely at his door is wrong. The support he received from senior players was feeble and the fact the French FA chose to ignore this and let it fester is equally culpable for the current state of affairs.

Les Bleus will be hoping their Euro 2012 campaign is a big improvement, having a manager who does not pick his team based upon star signs will probably help, but having a squad that is going to pull together and work for the manager will be of far more value to Blanc in the long term.

And to achieve that, a few more big names, alongside the reviled Domenech, may well find their names in Madame Defarge’s knitting, facing La Guillotine…

World Cup of Shocks?

The World Cup of Shocks? I’m backing the favourites…

So, it’s over for another year for twenty teams. Mexico and England joined the United States and South Korea as second round losers yesterday, adding to the sixteen teams already eliminated from the competition.

Surprises? Not one really. Uruguay took advantage of a good draw to book their place in the quarter finals, where they will be rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of facing Ghana. The United States were too naive against the African side in their quarter final and paid the penalty. England? The less said the better and Mexico were undone partly by the brilliance of Tevez and also partly by some woeful officiating.

So has it been a World Cup of shocks and surprises?

ESTABLISHED TEAMS FALL BY THE WAYSIDE…

Certainly it has in one sense; That of established teams being inept. France and Italy didn’t make it out of the first phase and finished bottom of their groups, this is a shattering blow for the finalists of 2006 but on the positive side they may be results which can serve as a catalyst for positive change for both teams.

England followed that trend in their first two games, found some form in the third to qualify for the second phase, but then reverted to type against Germany in embarrassing fashion. 4-1 barely covers how inept England were defensively. It was an embarrassment of epic proportions.

So apart from three teams massively under-achieving, are there any more shocks on the horizon?

I’ll be honest, I can’t see it.

WHO WILL MAKE THE SEMI FINALS?

Brazil will be too strong for Chile, Holland will get past Slovakia, Paraguay will edge out Japan and I think Spain will just edge out Portugal. Then in the quarters, I’d expect Uruguay, Brazil, Spain and Argentina to triumph.

It would be only right too. Uruguay should take advantage of their relatively gentle route to the semi final and edge out Ghana who are spirited, but limited and with the Uruguayan attack in great form at the moment, they have the firepower to reach the semis.

Argentina V Germany is arguably the clash of the tournament between the two most in form teams. As good as Germany were against England, Argentina’s defending won’t be so accommodating and I think the Argentineans extra flair in attack will just edge this one.

From the other side of the draw, I’d expect Brazil and Spain to progress to the semi finals. Brazil will edge out Chile and then Holland in two tight games but this is a World Cup finals and Brazil will always get the result they need. Holland have the ability to beat them, but I wonder if they have the belief. Spain will edge out Portugal before they then knock out Paraguay to set up a semi final clash with Uruguay, while the two South American giants will contest the second semi final.

Spain, Brazil and Argentina in the semis? Hardly a surprise is it?

GOOD NEWS FOR PUNTERS!

Still punters will be happy. Spain and Brazil were rightly favourites before the tournament began. Argentina’s odds shortened markedly after the first couple of games, so much so that with some bookmakers they were favourites. Fortunately, some of us got onto Argentina when they were much better odds and if you’ve been reading the World Cup articles from a few months back and took my advice, you’d have had a decent price on them too!

Punters seeking a shock bet to earn a few bob? I can only pinpoint one possible shock as such and that would be Holland defeating Brazil, but I’ll be honest, I’ll be keeping my money in my wallet for that one.

My top bets? Get on Spain to reach the final. Their draw has now become much easier given the elimination of some teams and once they have got past Portugal, they will have games against Paraguay or Japan and then Uruguay or Ghana to reach the final. Can you see them slipping up again? No I can’t either. They won’t be great odds, but they have a great chance.

 

The World Cup

The World Cup Quarter Finals : A Punters Guide

Netherlands V Brazil

The first of the Semi Finals throws up an intriguing clash between two of the most in form sides in World Football. Both have remained unbeaten and unbowed throughout the tournament. Brazil have certainly impressed the most of the pair and will be favourites for the win here. The Dutch have been solid rather than spectacular and they will need to find another gear if they are to beat Brazil.  One factor in the favour of the Dutch will be the Port Elizabeth pitch, which has been by far the worst surface in the tournament thus far. Brazil should still be good enough to overcome this to record the win.

Top Bet:  Take Brazil to win the game at Even money on Betfair.

Also Consider: Brazil to score in both halves at 12/5 on Betfair.

Uruguay V Ghana

Of all the four games, this is certainly the most difficult to forecast. Both sides are surprise quarter finalists and both have their own strengths and weaknesses. Bookmakers have made Uruguay favourites for the game, arguably because of their strong strike force but Ghana have proven in their games with Germany and the United States in particular, that they are no pushovers. This looks like being a very close game between two sides who are not the best defensively and are stronger in attack. Who wins could be decided by extra time or penalties. As such I’d be tempted to look for value in markets which reflect that and the fact that this game looks to have goals in it due to the attacking strength and defensive frailties of both sides.

Top Bet: 4 Goals or More in the Game at 9/2 on Betfair

Also Consider: Half Time/Full time : Uruguay/Draw  18/1 on Betfair

Argentina V Germany

Two of the giants of the world game will clash on 3rd July in what looks like being one of the games of the tournament. Argentina will be fired up, having lost to Germany in the quarter final stages of the tournament in 2006 while Germany will be buoyed after their 4-1 demolition of England in the previous round. Both sides look excellent going forward but perhaps lacking a little stability at the back and far from being a negative, dour game, this looks like having goals in it. I think Argentina have the edge in terms of quality and with Lionel Messi, they have the player who can turn the game their way with one moment of genius. Argentina look the best bet to me and this is a game which looks likely to me to have plenty of goals and plenty for the referee to do, given the fractious history of the two nations.

Top Bet: Half Time Score : Argentina 2 Germany 1  29/1 on Betfair

Also Consider: Will there be a sending off during the game? Yes at 5/2 on Betfair.

Paraguay V Spain

There’s little value to be had in this tie backing Spain for victory. Most bookmakers have the European champions as odds on favourites for the tie and it is not difficult to see why, given Paraguay’s laborious win on penalties over Japan. While Spain should win this game, and win easily, there is better value available in markets not to do with predicting the result. David Villa looks in frightening form at the moment and it is hard to see how the Paraguayan defence is going to be able to cope with the Spanish strikers, pace, mobility and unerring accuracy in front of goal. It could be a good day for Spain and a good day in particular for David Villa.

Top Bet: 3 Goals or more during the game 7/5 on Betfair

Also Consider: Any player to score a hattrick 15-1 on Betfair

Will Tiger Roar

In a little over two weeks time, fans of golf will focus their attention once again on the spiritual home of the game, St Andrews, where the top golfers from around the globe will congregate hoping to win the 150th Open Championship.

The Old Course still stands as a testament to the rules of golf and has not been radically altered since Tiger Woods lifted the 2005 championship, the last time the event was contested over the old course.

Why Woods makes Perfect Sense…

Indeed punters wishing to back Woods may need to give the American genius some weighty consideration. Two of Woods four Open Championship victories, those in 2000 and 2005, have come over the rolling hills of the old course. Despite having well documented off course problems and not playing much competitive golf, Woods still forced his way into contention at the US Open last month, finishing tied in 4th spot with Phil Mickelson.

The Old Course will once again suit his expansive game and with wayward driving not so severely punished as on other major championships courses and accurate putting on St Andrews huge greens clearly an advantage, Woods is certainly worthy of serious consideration as the outright winner this summer.

Indeed the bookmakers think so, Woods is as short as 13/5 with Bet365 while the best available odds currently come from Betfair where the American is a 4/1 shot.

The Best of the Rest?

With Woods out of the equation, the betting on the next Open Champion is much more open. Lee Westwood (18/1 on Betfair), Ernie Els (25/1 on Betfair), Padraig Harrington (26/1 on Betfair), Phil Mickelson (18/1 on Betfair) and Rory McIlroy (21/1 on Betfair)  are all considered to be amongst the second favourites to become champion. Odds on US Open winner Graeme McDowell have been slashed too, with the Northern Irishman now just 31/1 with Betfair.

If you fancy an Englishman other than Westwood to become the first Open Champion since Sir Nick Faldo in 1992, then you have a quartet to pick from in Justin Rose, Luke Donald, Paul Casey and Ian Poulter who are all reckoned to be around the 40-1 mark for the victory. Given the form shown by all four players in recent weeks, they are odds not to be sniffed at.

Golden Oldies who Shouldn’t be Written off just yet!

However consideration needs to be given to the return to form of two of Golf’s golden older generation, especially considering Tom Watson’s heroics at Turnberry in 2009. Ernie Els has enjoyed something of a resurgence in 2010 and the likeable South African will be hoping to add another victory to his already impressive list of performances this year, which has included victories in the WGC-CA Championship at Doral followed by success in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill just two weeks later. Els then followed that up by finishing in a tie for third place at the US Open at Pebble Beach and it seems foolhardy to contend that the Big Easy will be anything other than in the reckoning, come the final Sunday afternoon at St Andrews.

Finally, many British fans may have a soft spot for current Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie. Arguably one of the greatest ever golfers to never lift a major, Montgomerie’s chances seemed to have slipped by as he lost his form over the past couple of years. Despite suffering from a torn calf muscle, he qualified for the tournament on the back of a stunning, course record 62 at Sunningdale and after finishing second to Woods in 2005, Montgomerie will come to the Old Course with nothing to lose and no expectations.

The Championship starts in on Thursday 15th July and golfing fans across the world cannot wait for the third major Championship of 2010 and the prospect of Tiger finally rediscovering his roar.

Germany to brush

Germany to brush aside Spain?
On the face of it, Spain don’t have much hope against the Germans in the World Cup Semi Finals later today, do they?
With Fernando Torres out of sorts and the team becoming increasingly reliant on David Villa (for me the outstanding performer in the finals thus far), the Spanish team has struggled to find the fluid form that made them long term favourites for the World Cup before a Jabulani ball was kicked in anger this summer. Defensively they have also been far too reliant on the brilliant Iker Casillas and goals have been hard to come by.
In contrast, Germany have swept almost all before them. They began the competition with a 4-0 demolition of Australia, before some inept refereeing reduced them to ten men and eventual defeat against Serbia. The Germans bounced back against Ghana, but showed their class really in their two knockout phase games, demolishing England and then Argentina to book a fully deserved semi final place.
So much so that from 16/1 outsiders before the tournament began, the Germans are now hot favourites with many bookmakers to lift the trophy outright.
Such has been the quality of the German’s counter attacking football that Wednesday nights game is a mere formality. Germany will go 1-0 up, Spain will try to bounce back and they will get caught on the counter attack as England and Argentina succumbed before them.
Right?
I’m not so sure.
While recognising the talent that the Germans have shown, I still maintain that they can only play one way. On the counter attack, although they do this exceptionally well and it makes them hugely dangerous.
I think though the game with Serbia is being overlooked for a variety of reasons. Klose was sent off admittedly, but even before that Serbia were looking capable of scoring. Even when they were a goal down (and admittedly a man down) Germany struggled to create anything of note and their penalty was eventually gifted them by a piece of laughable defending by Nemanja Vidic.
When they were forced to go on the offensive, they were lacking and this, I feel, is Spain’s best chance.
For me the Semi final will be decided by the first goal. If Germany score it, as they did with Argentina, then I think they will win. However if Spain score it, then I think Germany’s chances of victory greatly diminish and Spain’s increase.
It isn’t so much the goal, but how that will affect how each team will be forced to play. If Spain score first then Germany then will be forced to come out onto the attack. This will then expose their defence (which I believe is a real weakness, that is yet to be fully exploited) and I can see the likes of Xavi, Iniesta and in particular David Villa causing the Germans untold problems on the break, in much the same way Muller, Oezil and Klose did to England and Argentina.
If Germany score first, then we could well end up with the semi final going the way of the two previous knockout games involving Germany before it.
But, here’s the salient point, Spain are a far more accomplished team than either England or Argentina. They are European Champions, they have a strength in depth that most teams can only dream about. They have Fernando Torres and David Villa and the heart of Barcelona and Real Madrid’s midfield (plus Cesc Fabregas) beating steadily behind them. That is a quality that even Argentina cannot claim to match yet.
So this could be a special one and although it’s never wise to back against the Germans, that’s what I’d do. I think Spain have what it takes to take this one against the odds.

But, that first goal is going to be so crucial.