Manfriend’s Mumblings | Sports Chat: The Champions League 2018

[Hey everyone! Manfriend, here. So, I’m sure people have been worried about my absence, but I decided to take a short break off from blogging after this summer’s awesome World Cup. I wasn’t really sure when to start back up again, but then I got a request from my partner about writing something for the Champions League, so here I am! Let’s get to it.]

The Champions League.

In 1955, what was originally named the European Cup was established. In 1992, the tournament changed its name to Champions League. Today (and in all the years of its history), this tournament is one that excites most football fans around the globe. It is Europe’s No. 1 club competition, and it gives every football club on the continent a “chance” to lift the trophy. Whether you are from one of the big footballing nations, such as, England, Spain, Italy or Germany, or from minnows like Luxembourg or Andorra, as long as you have a recognized domestic league, your clubs have an opportunity to be victorious.

Well, kind of.

Let me explain this thing.

First, how to qualify:

This takes care of itself, really. Every recognized European nation, apart from Liechtenstein (who don’t have a domestic league) will be assigned places in the two European competitions, the other being Europa League, Europe’s second-tier club competition. The allocations are based on the performances of that nation’s domestic clubs over the last five seasons. So, the better your teams perform in Europe, the better your ranking is as a nation, which leads to more spots in the larger competitions. As a result, England and Spain are given four spots apiece, whereas San Marino only get one.

Those allocated spots are filled by clubs who win their domestic leagues or finish in the top four. This all also depends on how many places you have been allocated. For example, the top four teams from England qualify, whereas only the champion from San Marino gets a spot.

On its surface, it may seem unfair. However, it may also be OK. Ultimately, though, the chances are that you will never see that team from San Marino compete, as they have to enter in at the qualification rounds. Think of it as a “getting rid of the trash” round. A nation with one qualifier will need that team to play three to five home and away matches in order to get to the competition proper, while three-quarters of the teams from England qualify automatically for the group stage, with the fourth team having to play just one home and one away tie to make it.

Alas, that’s just how it goes.

(Still don’t get it? Here’s my friend, Wikipedia, to help explain.)

Anyway, once you get to the group stage, that’s when the competition really sets in. Groups are decided with a random draw based on seedings. Once assigned, things kick off!

Eight groups of four teams play in a league format. Each team plays the other three teams both at home and away. The points system is as follows: 0 for a loss, 1 for a draw and 3 for a win. The games are played on a weekly or fortnightly (that’s every two weeks for friends in America) basis, with the top two teams advancing to the knockout stages. The third team drops down to play in the knockout phases of the Europa League. The fourth team is eliminated.

Then there’s a winter break from December to February.

Once we reach the knockout phase, all eight teams who finished first will play the eight teams that finished second, in accordance with another random draw. The games take place at home and away, with the advancing team being decided on by an aggregate score. Winners go into the quarters. The draw repeats, and things go on until there are two left for the final. This year, that match will take place in Madrid.

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Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid, where this season’s final will be held. (WikiCommons)

I realize the Champions League may sound no different to any other football tournament, and that’s partly true. But once again, the drama, talent and unpredictability makes this a great spectacle. The past has seen teams like Nottingham Forest, Aston Villa, Celtic, Red Star Belgrade, Feyenoord and Steaua Bucharest achieve greatness. Unfortunately, these teams will be very unlikely to repeat such triumphs again, as money has taken over. That doesn’t mean, though, that predicting the winner is easy. It’s predicting the country of origin that’s not so difficult. The last time a team from outside the top four nations (England, Spain, Italy, Germany) won was in 2003/04: Porto of Portugal.

Since then, the top four nations have monopolized victory:

  • England took home three, with Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool;
  • Spain nabbed eight, with Barcelona and Real Madrid each winning four times;
  • Italy took two, with AC Milan and Inter Milan;
  • Germany won one with Bayern Munich.

The last time a club outside one of those four countries even reached the final was in 2003/04, when Monaco lost to Porto. This year, the only chance of it happening will be if PSG (Paris Saint Germain) make it (which wouldn’t shock anyone, as they are filthy rich). Money has completely eradicated the “fairytale ending,” yet, as always, I’m excited.

Why?

Just look at the teams that are involved: Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus, Bayern Munich, and the list goes on.

More importantly, my team, Galatasaray from Turkey, are involved again, following some tumultuous years for the club.

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Galatasaray fans in London, cheering the team on in a 2004 match against Chelsea. (WikiCommons)

(Much to my partner’s chagrin,) I will be up at 3 a.m. with my club’s colors on, willing the boys on to victory through the screen of my iPad. I hope you will join me and my team from wherever you are, ideally all the way through the knockout phases (but more likely to the end of the group phase.)

The Champions League is exciting, with a caliber of football skill on show that’s no less fantastic than that of the World Cup. Matches can be full of drama. If that isn’t enough to hook you, then maybe you should listen to the best intro music of any sporting event!

I mean honestly, how could anyone not be a fan of the Champions League?


As of this article’s publishing (Sept. 18, 2018), the Champions League is set to begin. Find information on the tournament here. And from our little home in Beijing: Go Galatasaray!

Manfriend’s Mumblings | Sports Chat: Cricket

Ever heard people describe sports as boring, or say that nothing happens? It kind of frustrates an avid sports lover such as myself. Especially when those aforementioned people will happily waste hours playing useless phone games or watching pointless TV shows for the sake of entertainment.

So, why defend sports off the “bat”? The simple reason is, most people who hear the word cricket will immediately say:

“It’s so boring!”
“Some of the players don’t do anything!”
“Five days?!”

All, very educated responses, obviously, especially as they are given after a gargantuan two minutes of hearing about the sport. (All that is needed for a valuable opinion nowadays.) Yet, for over two billion people – a number taken from a very creditable source: Manfriend’s mind – it’s a huge deal. Of course, Indians do make up the majority of that number.

If you are from one of the Commonwealth countries – India, Australia, South Africa etc. –  then you are familiar with the sport. It was designed by the British in the late 16th century – another sport we created and then allowed others to be better at. Yet cricket is an unknown in Russia, China and the U.S.

Now, there are three versions of the game: test match; one-day; Twenty20 (T20). I’ve always dreamed of explaining the test match to Americans and seeing their facial expressions when they find out that it takes five days and can still finish as a draw. Telling Americans that a sporting event can finish as a draw is worse than insulting them, or on par, at least. Of course, the test match is the true form of the game, but let’s begin with baby steps.

I appreciate that many people will compare cricket to baseball, but that would be silly. So, let’s look at the basics first, fielding positions.

Cricketfieldingpositions
(Via WikiCommons)

There are two positions that never change: the wicket keeper (similar to a catcher,) who is the only player that wears gloves; the bowler, who delivers the ball. Even though the two positions never change, the bowling personnel does after every six legal deliveries. This is known as an over. The types of bowlers available throughout the world of cricket are as follows:

 

  • Fast bowler
  • Swing bowler
  • Medium pace bowler
  • Off-spin bowler
  • Leg spinner
  • Wrist spinner

Do remember that every one of these bowlers have different variations of what they do, making some of them almost impossible to hit. Also, most of the spinners have a bowling action that is very difficult to read, which causes problems for the batsmen, as they don’t really know which way the ball is going to spin.

The remaining nine players are controlled by the captain. In no other sport is the captain more important than in cricket. He needs to select the next bowler and advise on what he wants from him, as well as arrange the field in order to get the batsman out.

cricketbatter1
(Via Royal Challengers Bangalore’s Flickr page) “Royal Challengers Bangalore player AB De Villiers plays a shot during match 57 of the Indian Premier League 2012 between The Pune Warriors India and the Royal Challengers Bangalore.” https://www.flickr.com/photos/royalchallengers/8009082874

So, how do you score runs? Well, there are quite a few ways. A batsman can hit the ball and then run. A run is scored when the two batsman, one of them facing the bowler and the other at the non-striker’s end, run to other end. If both batsman get to the ‘popping crease’ at the other end, then it constitutes a run. You must remember that there’s a fielding team that’s retrieving the ball, so you better make it quick. You can also score a run if the bowler sends down a wide delivery, oversteps the popping crease (no ball) or if the bowler bowls it so short that the ball bounces over the head of the batsman by a considerable margin.

cricketball
(Via WikiCommons)

If that’s not exciting enough, then you can smack the ball out of the field. All around the playing field there is a boundary rope. If the batsman hits the small leather ball that’s stuffed with cork, and it bounces inside the field before going out of bounds, then that’s four runs. If it goes out without bouncing, then it’s six. The batsman will continue to accumulate runs until he is out.

So, how do you get a player out?

  • He can be bowled out, when the ball is delivered and it hits the wickets.
  • The ball is caught. Self explanatory.
  • He’s stumped. If a batsman misses the ball and happens to be outside of the popping crease, then the wicketkeeper can catch the ball and hit the wickets immediately, resulting in a stumping.
  • They’re run out. A fielder will hit the wickets with a throw before the batsman completes a run.
  • A hit wicket. The unfortunate time when a batsman hits his own wickets with his bat or body part.
  • LBW (leg before wicket). If you decide to stop the ball from hitting your wickets by using your legs as an obstacle, then you can also be out.
Cricketpitchmswd
(Via WikiCommons)

Now that you’ve got the basics, let’s move on.

Despite the lore and magnitude of international cricket, I want to introduce a domestic competition to you instead: the IPL (Indian Premier League). As previously mentioned the Indians are crazy about their cricket. In a country of over 1.5 billion people, it’s their No. 1 sport, and they know how to put on a show.

 

To begin with, there’s the player auction. I realise this sounds like something from the Dark Ages, with people being auctioned off to the highest bidder. In this case, though, the money goes to the player and not to his agent. So how does this work? Any player who wants to take part in the IPL puts their name into a pool and waits to find out if any of the eight franchise owners are willing to put in a bid.

The kind of bids that are going around are mind-boggling. Basically, it’s a group of rich people who buy their favorite players for their own team. I bet you’re wondering how much the top bid was. Well, it was for the English all-rounder – a term used to describe someone who can bat and bowl – Ben Stokes. He fetched a whopping 125,000,000 Indian Rupees (£1,364,748 €1,560,938 $1,837,833, as of 20.05.2018). That’s a lot of money for a player who I never expected to be a leading star at the tournament (and I can confirm that I was very much correct). I hope the Rajasthan Royals kept the receipt.

Once all of that is over, the tournament begins. Eight franchises, located all across India, play home and away, totaling 14 games per team, with the top four advancing to the knockout stages. No other competition, in any sport, is as hotly contested as the IPL. This year, the pre-tournament favorite, Royal Challengers Bangalore, ended up finishing 6th.

Check out the final table.

After numerous tight games, amazing displays of batting, bowling, incredible fielding and catches that leave you open-mouthed, you’re left with just four teams. This year, those include: my favourites, Sunrisers Hyderabad; Chennai Super Kings, captained by Mahendra Singh Dhoni, a man who is a legend in India – think Lebron James, David Beckham and Stephen Hawking all in one; Kolkata Knight Riders; Rajasthan Royals, who are going to be without the aforementioned Ben Stokes and fellow Englishman Jos Buttler. Both had to return to join up with the English National team.

So how does the knockout work? Well, this year, the top two in the group stage play on May 22nd at 9 p.m. IST (Indian Summer Time). This is Qualifier 1. The winner goes straight to the final. May 23rd sees Eliminator 1 between the teams who have finished 3rd and 4th respectively. The loser is out, and the winner goes through to Qualifier 2, played on May 25th, against the team who lost in Qualifier 1, for a chance to make it to the final on May 27th.

If all of this doesn’t help get your interest, then maybe you would be interested in knowing: during the matches, there are dancers performing around the field; the commentators are hilarious; there are some amazing names on show. Unfortunately, Jasprit Bumrah and Mandeep Singh and Ankit Rajpoot are out, but Apporv Wankhade (pronounced: wank-ha-day) could still feature. *insert immature giggles at players’ names*

This sport is full of skill, power hitting, clever bowling and magnificent banter. Nothing beats the sound of a ball coming off the middle of the bat, and being followed by an excited middle aged man shouting, “Woooooah, what a shot that is … ” Still not convinced? Then why not watch a few highlights and see what you think? It will take less of your time than it took to read this article.

Highlights from the IPL.

Magic Moments from the IPL.


A huge thanks to Manfriend for walking us through cricket. Keep your eye out for more sports updates. Have other sports you’d like to hear more about? Write us, and we’ll set Manfriend on it!