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Diego Maradona – Argentina’s flawed football icon

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Dazzling, infamous, extraordinary, genius, outrageous. Diego Maradona. A flawed football icon.

One of the game’s most gifted players, the Argentine boasted a rare combination of flair, flamboyance, vision and speed which mesmerised fans.

He also outraged supporters with his controversial ‘Hand of God’ goal and plunged into a mire of drug abuse and personal crises off the pitch.

Born 60 years ago in a Buenos Aires shanty town, Diego Armando Maradona escaped the poverty of his youth to become a football superstar considered by some to be even greater than Brazil’s Pele.

The Argentine, who scored 259 goals in 491 matches, pipped his South American rival in a poll to determine the greatest player of the 20th Century, before Fifa changed the voting rules so both players were honoured.

Maradona showed prodigious ability from a young age, leading Los Cebollitas youth team to a 136-game unbeaten streak and going on to make his international debut aged just 16 years and 120 days.

Short and stocky, at just 5ft 5in, he was not your typical athlete.

But his silky skills, agility, vision, ball control, dribbling and passing more than compensated for lack of pace and occasional weight problems.

He may have been a whizz at running rings round hostile defenders but he found it harder to dodge trouble.

Maradona’s 34 goals in 91 appearances for Argentina tell only part of the story of his rollercoaster international career.

He led his country to victory at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico and a place in the final four years later.

In the quarter-final of the earlier tournament, there was a foretaste of the controversy that would later engulf his life.

The match against England already had an extra friction, with the Falklands War between the two countries having taken place only four years beforehand. That on-field edge was to become even more intense.

With 51 minutes gone and the game goalless, Maradona jumped with opposing goalkeeper Peter Shilton and scored by punching the ball into the net.

He later said the goal came thanks to “a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God”.

Four minutes later, he scored what has been described as the ‘goal of the century’ – collecting the ball in his own half before embarking on a bewitching, mazy run that left several players trailing before he rounded Shilton to score.

“You have to say that is magnificent. There is no doubt about that goal. That was just pure football genius,” said BBC commentator Barry Davies.

England pulled one back but Argentina went through, with Maradona saying it was “much more than winning a match, it was about knocking out the English”.

Maradona broke the world transfer record twice – leaving Boca Juniors in his home country for Spanish side Barcelona for £3m in 1982 and joining Italian club Napoli two years later for £5m.

There were more than 80,000 fans in the Stadio San Paolo when he arrived by helicopter. A new hero.

He played the best club football of his career in Italy, feted by supporters as he inspired the side to their first league titles in 1987 and 1990 and the Uefa Cup in 1989.

A party to celebrate the first triumph lasted five days with hundreds of thousands on the streets, but Maradona was suffocated by the attention and expectation.

“This is a great city but I can hardly breathe. I want to be free to walk around. I’m a lad like any other,” he said.

He became inextricably linked to the Camorra crime syndicate, dragged down by a cocaine addiction and embroiled in a paternity suit.

After losing 1-0 to Germany in the final of Italia 90, a positive dope test the following year triggered a 15-month ban.

He returned and arrested his slide, appearing to get his act together to play in the 1994 World Cup in the USA.

But he alarmed viewers with a maniacal full-face goal celebration into a camera and was withdrawn midway through the tournament after he was found to have taken the banned substance ephedrin. (BBC Sport)

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Enjoy James Anderson’s skills for one last time

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 Rex Clementine at Galle Fort

Spinners dominate in Asia and fast bowlers have their work cut out in unresponsive and flat pitches. There are those of course who are crafty enough to overcome challenges and do their best to the team. James Anderson is one such. He was nicely setting up Sri Lankan batsmen on the opening day of the second Test in Galle that got underway on Friday.

With the new ball, he reduced Sri Lanka to seven for two– accounting for Kusal Perera (6) and Oshada Fernando (0) early in the innings.

Lahiru Thirimanne and Angelo Mathews ensured that there was not a repeat of the first Test – a collapse. Thirimanne was beginning to breathe easy. He added 69 runs for the third wicket with Angelo Mathews and Sri Lanka were 76 for lunch. In the second ball after lunch, Anderson struck again. His line and length were impeccable.

It was hot and humid in Galle. Anderson barely sent down a loose ball. Of his 19 overs on day one, ten were maiden. Such efficiency in Asia is rarely seen by a seamer. The likes of Sir Richard Hadlee, Wasim Akram and Mitchell Starc had done it before. Anderson is doing the job for England and that’s one reason why they have not lost a series in Sri Lanka since 2007.

Fast bowlers last a maximum of a decade and half. Rarely do they go beyond 15 years. Anderson has defied those numbers. Super fit at the age of 38, the Lancastrian is on his 19th year of international cricket and he may stretch it to two decades.

This is Anderson’s fifth tour to Sri Lanka. It is unlikely that he will visit the island again. So we must enjoy his art for one last time. He gets wickets with the new ball with his impeccable line and length and once the ball gets softer, he is deadlier reverse swinging the ball expertly.

Anderson is the world’s fourth highest wicket taker. The top three wicket takers are spinners and he is the leading fast bowler with 606 wickets so far. He has featured in a ‘small number’ of 158 Test matches.  No fast bowler has featured in that many games.

When our fast bowlers are breaking down frequently barely lasting a full series, they have a lot to learn from Anderson who has gone onto achieve some remarkable feats.

Let’s enjoy Anderson’s skills for one last time.

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Majestic Mathews overcomes Anderson threat  

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Angelo Mathews scored an unbeaten hundred to help Sri Lanka consolidate in the second Test against England in Galle yesterday

Rex Clementine at Galle Fort

It was a superb day of Test match cricket in Galle yesterday as Sri Lanka were made to fight tooth and nail to seize the initiative and square the two match series against England. James Anderson, fresh after being rested for the opening Test, returned in place of Stuart Broad and he was on the money, rarely bowling a loose ball.

It was a battle between the two teams’ most experienced players – Anderson and Mathews. The 38-year-old Lancastrian set it up all dismissing Kusal Perera (6) and Oshada Fernando (0) in the space of five deliveries. KJP attempted a wild stroke without moving his feet and was snapped up by a leaping Joe Root at first slip. Oshada dragged one onto the stumps setting the stage for Mathews to walk in with the side in trouble at seven for two

Sri Lanka were under pressure having been shot out for 135 runs in the first Test and the batsmen needed to apply themselves to avoid a repeat. With Anderson his tail up, this was hard work.

Mathews first ensured that he saw off the new ball and then cashed in with spinners getting no assistance whatsoever. Partnerships were crucial for Sri Lanka. The third wicket stand between Mathews and Thirimanne was worth 69 runs.

Sri Lanka appeared to have recovered at lunch having reached 76 for two. But with Anderson you can not afford to relax. Thirimanne did and paid the price – caught behind for 43 in the second ball after lunch.

Mark Wood bowled a couple of lively spells, not seen here since Mitchell Starc ran through the batting in 2016. His hostile bowling saw Dinesh Chandimal being hit on the head and Mathews nearly gloving one but the ball landed where there was no fielder.

Mathews added 117 runs for the fourth wicket with Chandimal, who posted his 20th Test half-century. Wood had his man finally when he trapped Chandimal leg before wicket, a decision the batsman contested unsuccessfully.

Anderson barely bowled a bad ball with 10 of his 19 overs being maidens. He got the ball to reverse swing as well but Sri Lanka did well not to give away any more wickets to him.

England took the new ball immediately after it was available. But Mathews and Niroshan Dickwella added  36 runs for the fifth wicket to ensure Sri Lanka finished on 229 for four at stumps.

 

 

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NSSF provides electronic target facility to national shooters at a provisional range

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The electronic target facility has been setup at a provisional facility owned by the President of NSSF, Shirantha Peries near Kohuwala.

Asian Online Shooting Championship 2021

The National Shooting Sport Federation (NSSF) of Sri Lanka has made arrangements to introduce electronic target facilities to national shooters as it gears up to form a strong team for the upcoming inaugural Asian Online Shooting Championship 2021, which will be held on January 29 and 30.

The electronic target facility has been setup at a provisional facility owned by the President of NSSF, Shirantha Peries near Kohuwala.

“We have been craving for a permanent national shooting range since 2015, but so far nothing has materialised in favour of the sport. There were requests made to several Sports Ministers who were in and out of office during this period, but the NSSF had to finally make a crucial decision to setup this temporary shooting range in early 2019. Now the electronic targets are placed here for the use of national shooters,” Pradeep Edirisinghe, the General Secretary of NSSF said in a statement.

The introduction of electronic targets has several objectives. It will come handy to shooters of the national squad to train prior to any important international meet, which have been not held globally since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

More importantly, the introduction of electronic targets will facilitate the upcoming inaugural Asian Online Shooting Championship 2021, which will be held on January 29 and 30. Currently members of the national shooting squad are engaged in a qualifier trial meet in the 10m Air Rifle and 10m Air Pistol individual events for men and women.

“The trials are a good lead up to the NSSF as this is the first time Sri Lanka is taking part in an online Asian competition. Unlike at our local competitions where the whole process is done manually, the outcome at electronic targets happens in real time. We can fully rely on the accuracy of the process, as during the competitions the Asian Shooting Federation will monitor the whole course from Kuwait,” Edirisinghe explained.

According to the guidelines issued by the Kuwait Shooting Federation, the organisers of the competition, three participants each per discipline from each country, will be given the opportunity to compete. In Air Rifle and Air Pistol for both Men and Women, three shooters each must qualify based on the minimum qualifying standards set by the organisers.

“In addition skeet and trap events will take place during the same period, but Sri Lanka will be able to take part only in the skeet because we are having the NSSF Skeet Open this weekend and the top three shooters will automatically qualify for that. Air Rifle and Air Pistol shooters from all countries must qualify,” said Edirisinghe.

The Asian Online competition will start at 10.00am local time in each country at their respective shooting ranges and updates will be monitored in real time by the organisers based in Kuwait. The respective countries taking part must provide facilities to shooters under strict health guidelines, and ISSF qualified independent judges in each country will officiate the matches, before submitting the approved report with results to Kuwait.

“We will begin shooting at these competitions starting from 10.00am as instructed at this temporary facility in Kohuwala and at the Clay Target Shooting Club of Colombo’s shotgun range facility in Payagala. We, as the NSSF must take the responsibility for an honest report and these results are totally based on mutual understanding,” he further explained.

The NSSF intends to continue this exercise during the coming months as international meets are yet to resume since early 2020, due to the pandemic and global travel restrictions. However the introduction of electronic targets to Sri Lanka is a welcome sign for NSSF, as it will have the ability to provide its shooters a facility they could only experience overseas.

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