Champions League – Quarter Finals

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Via WikiCommons

 

Sport is full of unpredictability, which seems like an understatement on a day when the Golden State Warriors squandered a 31-point lead, at the Oracle Arena (home court) against the eighth seed, L.A. Clippers. Yet, this may be the week of sporting upsets with four closely fought Champions League Quarter Finals about to take place over Tuesday and Wednesday across Europe.

Here’s a look at the four games, and where it may be won and lost.

Barcelona vs Manchester United

Barcelona lead 1-0 after winning in Manchester, thanks to an own goal from Luke Shaw. 

Manchester United are returning to the scene of their most memorable triumph in the Champions League (They beat Bayern Munich of Germany in the final of the 1998-99 competition thanks to two late goals from Teddy Sheringham, and current head coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer). The English club will feel confident having knocked out Paris St. Germain in the last round despite losing the first leg in Manchester. However, even the most fanatic United fan could admit that they were a little fortunate in victory.

Similarly, Barcelona haven’t looked all that comfortable despite their 5-1 win against Lyon in the last round. What was once considered to be the best midfield in Europe is starting to show more and more cracks. They are more reliant on their talisman Lionel Messi – 13 goals in his last nine appearances against English sides in the Champions League – who hasn’t really had the support of his teammates. The only player who has played at a high level this year apart from the Argentine, is the Spanish defender Gerard Pique. Long gone are the days when teams would fear the Barcelona midfield. Yes, they can still play keep ball, but they don’t have the same penetration as they once had.

I realise that most people will have ruled out United in this game, and I can understand why, but this Barcelona side can be beaten as long as Solskjaer’s team don’t lose their cool. Barcelona will likely try to use the 90,000+ fans packed into their famous Nou Camp stadium to put pressure on the match officials, and before you know it, Sergio Busquets (Barcelona Midfielder) will start throwing himself all over the ground in his usual heinous way. If the English club can avoid frustration, then they may just be able to upset the odds again, as unlikely as it may be.

Verdict: Barcelona 3 – Manchester United 2 (Barcelona go through 4-2 on aggregate)

Juventus vs Ajax

First leg was a 1-1 draw in Holland. 

Ajax are proving to be the dark horses of the competition this year. They dumped reigning champions Real Madrid out of the tournament with an amazing display of clinical finishing in the previous round. A similar display would have put them clear against Italian champions Juventus in this round. The side from Amsterdam were absolutely fantastic in the first game, but ended up missing chance after chance against a lacklustre Juventus before falling behind to a goal from none other than Cristiano Ronaldo.

These two teams are the complete antithesis of one another, which makes for an interesting match. Juventus have the experienced players, who have proven themselves to be amongst the world’s elite. On the other hand, Ajax will supply the youthful exuberance and in Frenkie De Jong, a player who is seen as the next big player to come out of the Ajax factory.

Verdict: Juventus 1 – Ajax 3 (Ajax go through 4-2 on aggregate)

Porto vs Liverpool

Liverpool lead the tie 2-0 thanks to goals from Naby Keita and Roberto Firminho).

I expect the second-leg in Lisbon to be end-to-end. Both teams definitely favour an attacking style of football, so expect plenty of goals. Although Porto possess some excellent players, well three of them to be precise (Jesus Corona, Octavia and Moussa Marega), they are no match for Liverpool.

Porto, in the last round against Roma, notched up a total of 23 shots (11 on target and 12 off), but ended up needing extra time to make it through. All throughout this year’s competition, they have tried to suffocate teams with their relentless attacking display at home, but Liverpool will be licking their lips at the prospect of seeing the huge spaces that will be left for the likes of Mane, Salah and Firminho to exploit. I expect the tie to be all but over by half-time with Porto coming out to salvage some pride in the second-half.

Verdict: Porto 2 – Liverpool 4 (Liverpool win 6-2 on aggregate)

Manchester City vs Tottenham

Tottenham surprised everyone by winning the first leg 1-0. 

Man City came into the tie as the favourite but were completely outworked in the first leg by a Tottenham side that didn’t stop forcing their will on the opposition throughout the entire 90 minutes. Yet, they only take a slender one-goal advantage into the second-leg which will be played in front of a packed Etihad Stadium. Tottenham will be without captain and top scorer Harry Kane, meaning that the likeable Heung-Min Son will prove the biggest threat to the home side.

Manchester City will definitely come into the game the more nervous out of the two teams as they attempt to achieve a historic quadruple by winning the English Premier League, League Cup, F.A. Cup and Champions League. The omens are not in favour of Pep Guardiola’s team, though. Man City have been eliminated by English clubs on all three occasions and have never managed to over-turn a first-leg defeat.

This is definitely going to be nail-biting tie in which the lack of an away goal for Manchester City will prove costly.

Verdict: Manchester City 2 – Tottenham 1 (Tottenham go through on the away goals rule)

 

Misunderstanding My A*#e

“Kepaze”

Surprisingly, the first word that came into my mind was the Turkish word for “shameful,” and/or “scandalous”. This word has the perfect letters and meaning to describe the actions of Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga.

(Ironically, Kepa’s surname is very similar to the Turkish word Ariza, meaning “defect”.)

Look, we have all have moments in our lives when we haven’t wanted to do something our boss wanted us to do, but like most people, we end up doing it, because that’s what grown-ups do. Yet, football players seem to think that normal rules don’t apply for them.

What happened?

For the people living under a rock, or who have no interest in sport, the basics are that, during the Carabao League Cup Final on Sunday between Chelsea and Manchester City, the Chelsea goalkeeper, in an act of defiance, refused to come off the pitch in the face of head coach Maurizio Sarri’s clear annoyance. Roughly 82,000 fans packed into Wembley Stadium, and the millions watching on television, caught a glimpse of what can only be seen as disrespect.

With extra time coming to a close, and penalties beckoning, Maurizio Sarri and his team wanted to make a tactical substitution by bringing on Willy Caballero. This was clearly a pre-determined decision, and one that could definitely be vindicated when considering Caballero’s excellent reputation as a specialist at saving penalties. The only problem was that Kepa clearly didn’t get the memo, or more likely, didn’t care about the memo.

(Via SkySports Football’s page on Youtube)

Maurizio Sarri was overcome with rage, and who could blame him? He was shown great disrespect in front of millions.

(Via SkySports Football’s page on Youtube)

Sarri wasn’t sure what to do, and he ended up having to give in. This was yet another example of a player’s defiance paying off, and Sarri was not happy about it, to say the least. (The faces of the players on the Chelsea bench say it all.)

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(Via SkySports Football’s page on Youtube)

As soon as the final whistle went, it was clear which team was feeling more like a collective. Kepa wouldn’t even look at Sarri, and Sarri was out for blood. Most importantly, Caballero had to be consoled by the team coaches.

The Outcome and Aftermath

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Man City win the first of a possible FOUR trophies (Via SkySports Football’s page on Youtube)

Man City went on to win 4-3 on penalties. Kepa saved one penalty, but made a huge mess of another, which he should have saved from Sergio Aguero. But the talking point was clear, and the  press were waiting for Sarri with questions about his goalkeeper’s refusal to come off.

Sarri, as expected, came out and faced a bombardment of questions about the incident. He said that Kepa was right to want to stay on, but wrong to conduct himself in the way he did.

Sarri went on to say that it was a substitution based on injury, because he thought Kepa was injured, and he wanted a fully-fit keeper in goal for the penalties. Apparently, Kepa wasn’t injured and hence refused to come off.

Sounds plausible.

Yet, before the penalties, even after the doctor’s words, both Sarri and Caballero were very upset. Caballero was having to be consoled by team coaches, while Sarri was being held back by Anthony Rudiger.

It was clearly a tactical substitution.

Still not convinced?

There is footage before the penalties of Kepa studying information on a phone. I guess he got a very important message from his mother about something. Or, more likely, he was being given the information that Caballero would have memorised and trained for throughout the week leading up to the game.

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Just some revision, maybe… (Via The Ultimate Chelsea Fan TV on YouTube)

After the loss, Sarri reportedly went back to the changing room and sat there by himself for a good amount of time before going to receive his runners-up medal.

What happens next?

Coming into the game, Sarri was under huge pressure. He made changes, and his team played fantastically. But that refusal has over-shadowed the entire performance. In professional football, when your number comes up, you go off and that’s it. What kind of message does this send to the rest of the footballing world?

The Chelsea board have some huge decisions to make regarding Sarri and Kepa Arrizabalaga. They seem to have sided with Maurizio Sarri at first glance, and rightly so. Kepa – Chelsea’s record signing at £71.6m –  has been fined a week’s wages (a reported £195,000), which will be donated to the Chelsea Foundation. An amount that is, truthfully, just a drop-in-the-ocean for the Spanish goalkeeper. But this will not be the end of this debacle, and many people will be interested to see who starts in goal in the next few games.

Next up for Chelsea is a big game against local rivals Tottenham in the league on Wednesday evening (Feb. 27). Tottenham are currently in third, while Sarri’s team – including Kepa, I guess – are in a battle for fourth (the final Champions League spot) with Arsenal and Manchester United. A defeat could signal the end for Sarri, especially after the incident on Sunday.

I guess if Maurizio was to depart, not everybody would be Sarri to see the back of him.

 

Oi Referee, What Was That For?

For any individual who has played sport, there would have been an instance when they were perplexed by a certain decision made by the match official. With a mixture of feelings – anger and injustice to be the most likely – the player in question would likely have approached the official in charge, only to be dismissed with a shrug and a cold-shoulder. If players aren’t given an explanation, then what chance do the fans have?

Well …

That was until a decision was made by the NBA to allow fans to get in touch with NBA officials over Twitter, to ask them any question they have. NBA fans will be able to send their questions over during two live games this week. The first game will be on Monday (Jan. 21), when Golden State Warriors visit the Los Angeles Lakers. The second game will be on Wednesday (Jan. 23) during the San Antonio Spurs and Philadelphia 76ers match-up.

How to get in touch?

Via Twitter, fans will be able to tweet at the account @OfficialNBARefs or use the hashtag #RefWatchParty to garner responses from officials who will be following the games in real time.

Is this a good idea?

I’m a fan of the NBA, and all of the extra-curricular activities that the players are obligated to do. I’d say it’s about time that referees were thrown into the mix, too. It’s no secret that most fans of the league question the integrity and impartiality of those officiating. Although such feelings will still be present, the gains from such a publicity act far outweigh the negatives.

So, can the “World’s Game” learn from other sports?

Personally, I can understand why football referees don’t want to slow up the game. But what I can’t understand is that those same officials are never held accountable for decisions they have made incorrectly. Decisions that have clearly affected the outcome of the game and, in turn, have caused disappointment for a huge group of people – or an entire nation.

Moreover, professional referees are forbidden from addressing the media directly until  they retire. Yet the same geniuses who forbade the referees made it compulsory for the manager of a club to attend press conferences.

Seems fair, right?

Surely it wouldn’t be a bad idea to try something in football that would help eliminate the schism created between officials and the rest …

Having said that, I am very much against the concept of contacting referees via Twitter, as Twitter attracts mindless “trolls” who will just hurl about abuse. (Though admittedly, some referees deserve all the abuse that they get.) If this were the case, the governing body of the sport would surely just shut down the account, and never again entertain such a channel for fans and officials to communicate.

Their reasoning: “We tried it, and it didn’t work!”

Yeah, well the Financial Fair Play (FPP) hasn’t worked either, has it?

Twitter is a no. What else?

Another option could be for referees to speak to the media. After all, it would be a safe environment. The questions would be delivered by a professional sport’s journalist, and the majority of what they are to say would help appease angry players or fans who could then try to understand the official’s point of view.

Win, win and win.

Nigel Owens (one of the best Rugby Union referees) dealing with players.

If this is not possible, then why not mic-up the referees, like they do in rugby and the NHL? In cricket, rugby and NBA, they even mic-up the players, which has led to some amazing moments.

NBA players chatting to one another.

Such a change would allow fans to eavesdrop on what is being said and actually understand what is going on. Eventually, (hopefully) you could begin to see change in football culture. Which, truth be told, is a culture based on bias, abuse, distrust and corruption, from top to bottom.

I realise that one issue this presents is that the language footballers use is atrocious. However, with the referee mic’d-up, the players would be held accountable and fined per F-word. That money could even go to a children’s charity. Even the dumbest footballer would eventually make the connection.

“I say F-word, money go down.”

“I talk nice, money stay.”

Whatever way you look at it, the NBA, NFL, NHL, rugby and cricket have shown that allowing the outside world onto the pitch is both doable and effective. Maybe it’s time for football to take some steps towards allowing the true sufferers of the sport – the fans – a chance to be involved. After all, without the fans, the game wouldn’t exist.

Predicting Football Scores: Luck or Knowledge?

Many people fancy themselves good at predicting the outcome of a sporting event. They’re always giving it the big one about how they knew that team would win.

Well, in a predictions game that I run with five friends/enemies, there’s no room for hindsight. The original predictions game was on the BBC, but unfortunately, at the start of the 2018/19 season, they stopped providing such a game.

Heart-breaking!

So I, with a little convincing (and a small fee), decided to provide the spreadsheet and scoring for our league as we entered our fourth year.

How does it all work?

I send out the weekly fixtures to the other guys, and state the deadline. They’ll fill it out and send it on back. However, this isn’t as simple as just picking a win, loss or draw. Everybody needs to type a score for each game.

For example, a selection may look something like, Liverpool vs Chelsea 2-1. In that instance, if Liverpool win 2-1, the competitor is rewarded three points. If Liverpool win, but it isn’t 2-1, then the competitor is given one point. If the game is a draw or Chelsea wins, then they receive absolutely nothing.

Over the season, each one of us will have predicted the scores  for a total of 380 games. Come the end of the season, one of the six of us will be able to gloat about winning, and yes, there is a small wager involved. Winner takes all.

All pretty simple, right?

So simple, in fact, that my partner, Alexandra, asked if she could join in to see how well she does. It is important to know that Alexandra has practically no knowledge of some of the teams in the Premier League. I commonly hear her say, “I’ve never even heard of these two teams.” I roll my eyes and a bead of sweat trickles down my temple at the thought of her outscoring me. See, she does have a rough idea of more likely results.

We are in the midst of the 10th week of her participation, but before I share her results, I want to introduce the six “knowledgable” members of the “Bonerleague.”

Don’t ask me why we called it that.

I asked each member, including myself, to answer the following questions:

  1. What is your strategy when making predictions?
  2. What do you think is the most important factor when making predictions?
  3. How would you describe your football knowledge?

(Each person was to also provide a photo of themselves)

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Current position: 1st. Chance of winning: 8/10.
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Current position: 2nd. Chance of winning: 8/10.
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Current position: 3rd. Chance of winning: 6/10.
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Current position: 4th. Chance of winning: 4/10.
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Current position: 6th. Chance of winning: 0/10.

(Unfortunately, Bryan, A.K.A Champ & Fav, wasn’t able to respond to the questions. It is partly believed that he is busy after recently becoming a father. However, rumour has it that the media duties that are thrust upon the reigning champion, along with his poor performance this year are the main reasons behind his absence. Current position: 5th. Chances of winning: 2/10)

So, what about Alexandra?

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Chances of winning if in the Bonerleague: Better than Charles

Since Week 13 (we’re currently on Week 22), the table for the seven people mentioned in the article are as follows:

Dean – 70 points
Mehmet – 66 points
Alexandra – 63 points
Ryan – 63 points
Bryan – 61 points
Charles – 58 points
Matt – 53 points

Luck or Knowledge?

So, in conclusion, clearly luck plays a huge part, but knowledge is definitely more important. Football is one of those games that usually goes according to plan, making it easier for someone with knowledge to take the spoils come the end of the season.

After all, football is not like horse-racing, where seasoned punters spend hours reading the form, only to see an old lady pop in, look through the names of the horses, pick one that she likes the sound of and then go home with a nice little win.

Sigh.

The only hope that I have is that eventually luck runs out, and in the game of predictions, as with life, people with knowledge come out on top.

I Can’t Stop Doing 30-Day Challenges!

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Third month of the challenge activated!

Just over a month ago, I talked about my 30-day challenge and how it was going to make me look and feel amazing. For anyone who missed that article, well, here it is: A Better Body, 30 Days at a Time.

As you can imagine, the second month wasn’t as easy. I had decided to up the workload and put in dietary requirements. Yes, it’s just one fruit, but I can never seem to find fruit  anywhere. (Obviously, “anywhere” seems to never be the grocery store. I never seem to have the same difficulties when searching for a chicken wrap. Isn’t that weird …)

So let’s get the basics out of the way:

Yes, I am doing another month.
Yes, it will be even more difficult.
No, the last month wasn’t easy.

You see, the problem with December was that it was going to coincide with Christmas, New Year, a pre-planned trip with Alexandra, my partner, to Harbin, and the below-freezing temperatures that Beijing’s winter had to offer. Despite this “adversity,” I managed to complete the month. It wasn’t all plain sailing, though. The last week was a ball-ache to say the least.

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Last day of the 4th week…

Everything was going very well up until the fourth week. Saturday 29th December 2018, it was -8 degrees Celsius (17.6 degrees Fahrenheit). I was too afraid to scroll down and look at the “Feels like” section. I had run a total of 0 km and was looking at the possibility of endless mocking from a somewhat smug Alexandra, as she had wrapped up her daily challenge earlier on in the day.

The next part I am not proud of, but I will admit that I started bargaining with Alex.

She was having none of it. (See, this is true adversity.)

Holding back the tears, I put on some running attire and hit the streets.

Now, before you start celebrating my success. I have something else to admit. Although I had done my entire day’s workout on the 29th, I had missed a couple of days prior to that. So on the 31st of December, I found myself with five times my normal day’s workout to do.

I know, I know, you can’t make up missed workouts and blah blah blah, but in my defence … shut up.

So, there I was, in my hotel room on the final day of 2018, with a long list of exercises that I needed to do. It took me a while to say the least. However, it was the wake-up call I needed going into the third month.

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Another 30-day challenge completed

Firstly, I reduced the workout, just incase I had any catch-up days. We don’t want a repeat of New Year’s Eve, now do we? Secondly, I increased the run to 10 km per week. I also need to do yoga three times a week, which I have been loving so far. For anyone interested, you should youtube “Yoga With Adriene” or click here. The most difficult aspect of this month will be the “no bread” rule.

For me, bread is like an addiction. I have been brought up eating bread with everything. It’s the one thing that would always be on the dining table. It was only later on in life that I realised bread likes to camp out on the lower level of your belly, making me look big and cuddly.

I hate looking big and cuddly.

As you can imagine, there are some exceptions to the bread rule for this month. Why? Well, simply because I don’t want to die from going cold turkey, or even worse, end up at cafes sucking up the breadcrumbs left from a prior guest’s half-eaten muffin. The fear is real, people!

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So far, so good.

I can happily say that everything is going very well. Then again, this time last month, I was feeling the same. Hopefully by the end of the month I will feel as in control as I do now.

Ha! I just made myself giggle with that line!

 

Title Decider?

We are only half-way through the season, yet the game tonight between Man City and Liverpool has the ring of a title decider.

A win for the Reds (Liverpool) will put them nine points clear of a very inconsistent Tottenham, and ten ahead of Man City, who are the only serious challengers. I realise that there are still 17 games after this one, with a total of 51 points to play for, but that will not be enough for the chasing pack to pass a formidable Liverpool side (that have only failed to obtain six of the 60 available points possible so far).

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Mohamed Salah

More importantly, Liverpool are playing with freedom, and a swagger that no other team seems to have this year. In Salah, Mane, and Firmino, they have goals. Defensively, they are stronger, and there is a lot of force and doggedness in midfield. Shame about the lack of quality on the bench.

Will a win secure the title with half the season to go?

Short answer: Yes, I believe so!

Looking ahead to Liverpool’s fixtures, they play both Chelsea and Tottenham at home, which is a great advantage. The only tough-looking away fixture is to Old Trafford – to face a rejuvenated Manchester United – on February 24th (a trip that Manchester City also have to make on March 16th).

So, if Liverpool win, the title is theirs.

Can Manchester City stop Liverpool?

Manchester City will be defiant going into the game, despite being on a bit of a bad run of late. Three defeats in the last five league games has put them in a bit of a precarious situation in terms of the title, yet they can go into the game knowing that they dominated Liverpool at Anfield. On that day, surprisingly the game ended goalless. The recent lack of points for Manchester City coach Pep Guardiola shouldn’t surprise anyone. Even at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, it was well-known that if you could get past the initial pressure exerted by Pep’s teams, you had a chance to catch the defence short-handed – something that Chelsea, Palace and especially Wolves have done.

Liverpool are a cut above all three of those teams, and have the ability to demolish what feels like an ageing Manchester City side. Fernandinho doesn’t seem to be able to recover as quickly. David Silva is missing more games than usual. De Bruyne isn’t quite fully fit yet, and Aguero isn’t his usual prolific self.

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No time like the present, Sergio!

Recent history isn’t looking favourably on Man City’s chances either. Liverpool beat their rivals three times during the last campaign, and have only lost twice in their last 11 meetings.

What will happen?

Whatever way you look at it, this is a huge game in the title race. Both Man City and Liverpool are gunning for the trophy, and if Liverpool win, they will all but secure it in my eyes. And yet, I see Man City showing up and closing the gap to the top with a convincing 3-1 win. Eventually, Man City will be able to grind down Liverpool as the season progresses. The expected cries from Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool’s coach) will be about how his players are tired, especially if they progress to the latter stages of other competitions. That’s the reason they weren’t able to secure the title.

Or …

Liverpool win tonight.

They then go on to lift the title …

… And I look like a fool!

 

A Better Body, 30 Days at a Time

I was sat at home relaxing when the bringer of bad news walked in …

“Babe, I have something to tell you …”

Those dreaded words!

I realise you lot are probably thinking the worst. But I knew it was even worse than that.

I could tell from the determined entrance and tone of voice that my partner had some genius fitness idea to get us both in to shape.

Note to all: Circle is a shape!!

And then the dreaded words: “Let’s do a 30-day challenge.”

The basic premise of the challenge is to set yourself a daily challenge, which needs to be completed for 30 consecutive days. The challenge needs to be something that you wouldn’t normally do.

Queue the jokes.

My first response was that I would, “Smoke a cigarette a day.”

(Playful slap)

I took it seriously after that.

Now, I realise that this sounds a little like a non-religious version of Lent. Except it is taken more seriously than Lent, but not as serious as fasting during Ramadan.

The Challenge

So, about this 30-day self-torture. I set myself a simple task, as I didn’t want to screw myself over.

Unfortunately, I screwed myself over.

My daily challenge started well, as the workout (50 crunches, 50 ankle touches, 30 push-ups, 10 leg lifts and 10 roll-outs) wasn’t too difficult. Stupidly, though, I designed a set of exercises that would work my stomach – something I hadn’t done in almost a year.

Day 2: It hurt to laugh, cough or do any other movement.
Day 3: I couldn’t sit down properly.
Day 4: I couldn’t tell if I needed the bathroom, or if I was feeling uncomfortable from the workout.

By Day 5, I was looking for ways to alter the workout itself.

By the end of the 30-day challenge, that pain left it’s place to boredom and tediousness because the workout had become a little mundane, and easy. Don’t get me wrong, I am still incredibly happy to have done the challenge and completed it. As the benefits were visible.

I hated Wednesday nights, though. I really did.

It’s tough to get home from two hours of football and hear the dreaded words, “You should do your workout soon and then shower.”

Colouring Squares
Colouring in that final segment to wrap up a successful challenge.

I can proudly say that I stuck to the original set of exercises, and I feel much stronger for it. I’m still far away from a six-pack, but my belly is a powerful one. The best thing is that I get to share another experience with my partner, and become healthier while doing so.

What Next?

I have set myself a new challenge. This time, I wanted to add more elements to my daily goal.

The New Challenge:

50 ankle touches
15 leg raises
30 push-ups
25 dips
30 second side planks
60 second plank
30 second wall sit
1x fruit and 1x vegetable
Run 8km over the week (not including running at football)
No fast food

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Already looking great. 

As you can see, I have kept the workout, but also added weekly cardio and, most importantly, some dietary requirements. I realise the dietary part isn’t very demanding, except, I am absolutely terrible at eating fruit.

Verdict

The challenge was a very good idea, and definitely worth doing, as it gives each individual the chance to decide their own challenge.

So, for anyone who is interested in getting healthier, I would advise the 30-day challenge, but there are some things you should consider:

  • Share the experience with someone, as you will motivate each other.
  • Set goal-orientated challenges and not time-orientated ones.
  • Create a chart that you can colour in on a daily basis. Visually seeing your progress helps keep you motivated.

Good luck!


Quick Note: Portions of this blog previously ran on my partner’s site, as she detailed her own experiences during our 30-day challenges. You can check out her pieces here: