My Debut on the Vital Football Network

Oh joy! I’ve finally made my debut on the Vital Chelsea site, a part of the Vital Football Network. 🙂

For the uninitiated, the Vital Football Network is one of the most respected football fan-sites on the Internet, which is managed by the fans themselves. It provides a platform for football fans all over the world to share their thoughts, discuss ideas and make their voices heard. I’ve been a member of this site for a long time and there were occasions when I had the urge to contribute something, but nothing materialized. In the wake of the painful defeat on Sunday, I finally made up my mind, wrote a piece and promptly dispatched it to the site editor. Over there, my moniker is ‘blueklaw’ and you can read the article here.

I must admit, the feeling of seeing my work published was amazing!

Yay!! 😀

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Roma vs Chelsea – A Few Rants And The View From The Couch

UEFA Champions League

Anger is not an emotion I normally associate with a Chelsea defeat. Usually it’s bitter disappointment coupled with an unwavering optimism that we’ll bounce back stronger. However, the events that occured on matchday 4 of the UEFA Champions League left me fuming. And it was not just because of the defeat or even the match entirely. Allow me to explain.

In India, the rights for Champions League matches are allotted to Ten Sports and Zee Sports. Now these two channels are like the poor cousins of ESPN-Star Sports, and have to survive on whatever little coverage of European football they are allowed to broadcast in the Indian subcontinent. And how grateful I am, that it’s only a ‘little’. The reasons for this are plenty – poor presentation, lousy commentators (barring a few times when Andy Gray & Martin Tyler commentate), ignorant TV pundits. The list goes on. But the biggest gripe is their shameful bias towards Liverpool and Manchester United. On matchdays, 90% of the time they’ll be showing live mgames of these two teams, while other matches are either delayed or shown Live on Zee Sports. Zee Sports being the poorer of the poor cousins, is not available on my Tata Sky DTH service and hardly any cable operator carries this channel.

So here I was, my DTH box connected to the PC, tuned in to Ten Sports, watching the pre-match scenes at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. They had earlier told us that Liverpool vs Atletico is on Zee Sports, so it was only logical to conclude that Ten Sports will be showing Roma vs Chelsea. You can imagine my surprise when the host informed the viewers, with a sheepish grin I may add, that there’s been a mistake and Roma vs Chelsea is on Zee Sports.

That wasn’t in the script!

Thankfully, I’d noticed a few days ago while channel-surfing, that my cable operator was carrying Zee Sports. I swiftly unplugged the DTH box from my PC and attached the cable wire in its place. A few minutes and adjustments later, I was all set for the match.

However, it just wasn’t going to be my day. At half-time, I left my chair to get myself some refreshments, hoping we’d be able to overturn the 1-0 deficit in the second half. When I returned, i was greeted by a black screen.

What the hell happened?? Arrrghhh!!!

As I switched to another channel, I feared the worst and thought that there must have been a power failure at the operator’s premises. That wasn’t the case. Other channels were there, only Zee Sports had gone missing!! Another channel scan yielded the same result. I’d been left stranded with a stupid cable connection that was of no use to me now.

As a last resort, I fired up my browser and went straight to Justin.tv, hoping they’d have a decent stream for the game. Guess what? They did. And what a stream it was. On my 256kbps connection, it was butter-smooth and re-buffered only 7-8 times during 45 minutes. If only the match had ended in our favour as well.

Dejection

So what are my views about the match?

  • First, we need a proper striker who won’t go missing in crucial matches. Anelka was nothing if not anonymous during the game.
  • A genuine pacy winger is a must-buy in January. Letting Robinho slip from under our noses feels worse with each bad result.
  • Mikel, who has been a revelation this season, had a poor game. First he sold Deco short with a pass, causing the Portuguese to foul Totti. The freekick led to the opening goal for Roma. Then, he lost the ball which led to another goal.

deco

  • Carvalho’s absence in the defence is telling. Alex does not offer the same pace and mobility as Carvalho does.
  • We lack a Plan-B. Sometimes we are too predictable – full-backs will go forward, swing in crosses into the box. Lather, rinse, repeat.
  • The referee had a bad game. Deco’s second yellow was pretty harsh. The ref also missed a couple of dives from the Italian team.

This 3-1 loss is the worst defeat Chelsea have suffered under Scolari so far. That said, I still think we’ll top the group and make it comfortably into the last-16 of the Champions League. I just hope the next time it’s a European night, I don’t have to go through this kind of ordeal again. 😛

FIFA 09 – Quick & Dirty Review

FIFA 09 for the PC

FIFA 09 for the PC

The next instalment of EA’s football game is here. Where you ask? Apparently the game has released in Europe and has rapidly spread all over the bit-torrent network. Some may have pre-ordered their copies while some might be waiting for it to hit the store shelves in their town. However, the ones who couldn’t wait for the game to release and were not afraid to get their hands dirty, got their hands on it through the generous torrent community. So what we have here is a scenario where people were playing the game one day before its scheduled release. Nice.

Anyways, let’s get down to the interesting part, the things most of you would like answers to. Is FIFA 09 really next-gen, as promised? Does it deliver oh-so-realistic visuals? Have the quirks and bugs in previous versions been ironed out? How does it compare to its arch nemesis – Pro Evolution Soccer? All these and more will be answered!

First Impressions

Okay, I’ll skip the installation part as most of you are aware of it. Started the game, and the first screen asks me to select a language. Did that, and the mandatory declarations about the leagues and the copyrights came up.

I waited with bated breath as the opening cinematic began. Looks like EA have stopped making interesting opening videos since FIFA 2004. Even the video quality was not all that impressive. Not at all enticing. Selected my beloved Chelsea as the favourite team and I was all set.

The Interface

The interface is carried over from FIFA 08, with Adidas Live Season being a new addition. It basically allows you to select a league, for which you’ll get periodic updates from EA. For example, if a certain player is performing well in real life, his stats will be affected in the game as well. And if a player has a dip in form, his game stats will be reduced. Cool, innit?

The much-acclaimed Be-A-Pro mode is also there, with a new camera angle that looks better than the one in FIFA 08. This time around, you can opt to play a single Be-A-Pro game rather than a whole season. The other game modes are the same as in previous releases. Enough small-talk, now let’s get down to business.

Gameplay & Visuals

Sadly despite all the hype surrounding the so-called next-gen features incorporated in FIFA 09, the game did not live up to my expectations. What I expected was pretty clear – smooth, stunning visual quality, fluid player movement, ‘intelligent’ AI, engrossing gameplay. In short, I was looking for something which would make me go “Wow!” and make me want to play the game again and again.


But this was not to be. Now please note, I’m expressing my own opinions here, which may or may not correspond to your views. The first time I fired up the game, I set all details to high including 3-D Grass, Depth of Field and Shader Quality. Then I proceeded to set up my cheap PS-2 controller lookalike. But what’s this? Some buttons just would not get mapped and remained ‘EMPTY’! After a little searching on the Internet, I was able to find a solution for this.

Strike One.

Then I started a quick match and waited in anticipation at the loading screen. Ahh!! Looking good! The match began and being the seasoned footballer that I am, I could’t wait to… what the hell??

Why is the game stuttering??? Is something wrong with my setup? Is my 8600GT graphics card unable to handle the next-gen visuals?

Quit the game, reduced the detail level to minimum and started a new match, hoping for better results. Damn. Not again.

After much research on the Internet, I found many unfortunate souls plagued with the same problem. A solution was found, but the game was still not smooth enough, though playable.

Strike Two.

Okay, so I can manage with a handicapped controller and laggy visuals, but glitches in gameplay? Not at all tolerable. The first glitch is, that after managing to get my controller working, whenever I pass the ball to a teammate, the ball bounces off him, as if the right-analog stick is pressed in some direction. Secondly, goalscoring is insanely easy! It’s as if the keepers have been picked up from a pub team!! Then, in a bid to improve the player physics, they’ve made it such that in a crowd of players, the ball just keeps bouncing off players until someone manages to get control of it. Imagine that while trying to clear the ball in front of your own box surrounded by opposition attackers.

Strike Three. You’re OUT.

My Verdict

Let’s start with the good. The players look absolutely breathtaking, much more realistic than ever. The crowds have been considerably improved. Overall visual quality is pretty nice, with some subtle touches such as sweat on the foreheads of players. The ambiance is well-maintained by the chanting of fans and the crowd noises. There are loads of licensed leagues, teams and players to chose from. The Adidas Live Season is a good concept. The ability to use the mouse to play the game is quite innovative.

Now for the not-so-good. The gameplay is definitely not next-gen. Players can still move only in 8 directions and the fluidity in movement is almost absent. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is not so intelligent. Apart from the visual elements, the game is not a big leap from its predecessor. Rather, it seems like 1 step forward, 2 steps backward. After all, it’s not just tricks & flicks that make up a football game. The core element, that is the gameplay, the feeling of actually being in the game, is lacking.

FIFA 09 is a good game, but after so much hype, I was expecting more than just a visual upgrade. There are several bugs that need to be ironed out and more than once, you’ll get the feeling that EA has short-changed PC gamers.

If I had to rate it, I’d give it 7 out of 10.

Issues, Issues!

  1. Where is Andrei Arshavin? One of the best performers of Euro 2008 can’t make it into this game.
  2. Where are the UEFA Cup holders Zenit St. Petersburg? Actually, where is the Russian League?
  3. Klaas Jan Huntelaar, one of the best strikers in Europe, coveted by some of the biggest clubs, does not have a face in this game. But he’s not alone, there are many more like him.
  4. Many gamepads don’t work out-of-the-box with this game.
  5. Graphics on high-end systems are poor, but surprisingly good on mid to low range machines.
  6. Why can’t we assign custom offensive and defensive runs to players?
  7. Where is Mineiro, who has now signed for Chelsea?
  8. When a player is substituted, I couldn’t find out the substitution if no cinematic was played. There could have been at least a simple popup.
  9. The cinematics are all from previous editions of the game.

Okay, so that’s enough FIFA-bashing for now. In short, it’s not a bad game at all, but it’s not great either. So if you love the FIFA series and don’t care too much about gameplay or simply want to soak in all the visual goodness, you can very well go and get this game. Otherwise, in my opinion it would be wise to wait until Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 releases, and compare both games to pick out the one that suits your taste.

More Screenshots!

So, where were we?

It’s been a while. The blog stares at me with a disillusioned look in its eyes.

“You said you’re serious this time. You said you’d take good care of me. What happened to your promises?”

Without saying a word, I click on the ‘New Post’ button, as if overcome by a deep sense of guilt. Words usually don’t come easily, but this time it’s different…

A lot has happened since I last sat down to utter my frivolous thoughts on these pages. So what better way to reignite the flame, than by updating what’s happened in the past few weeks? Here we go, then:

  • In the world of football, or more accurately the Barclays Premier League, Chelsea sit pretty at the top with Liverpool hanging onto their blue coat-tails, separated only by goal-difference. At third are Arsenal Manchester United Manchester City…. Hull City!! No, that is NOT a typo.
  • The PC game FIFA 09 released in Europe with great fanfare, but was leaked onto the bit-torrent network at least 1 day before its official launch.
  • My days as a bored, employed but not yet called up graduate should be coming to an end soon. Yes!!
  • Speaking of bored, I learnt that the Internet is a great way to spend your time. Or rather, waste it.
  • The international break is quite a pain in the neck. No football on the telly.
  • My room has undergone a mini renovation of sorts.
  • My computer still loves me and refuses to let me stay away from it for more than an hour.

And all is well with the world! 🙂

Another Chelsea wallpaper

Well, well, well! What a day it’s been. Not only did I post some of my old creations here, I also started and completed another wallpaper! Normally I take a long time to come up with an idea, and even longer to actually start working on it. But today everything fell into its place effortlessly and the result is here for all to see.

© Abhishek Pancholi

© Abhishek Pancholi

The photograph shows Frank Lampard celebrating his goal in the UEFA Champions League final in May 2008. Initially I had planned to write ‘Frank Lampard’ in the image, but forgot all about it during the actual Photoshopping.

So, what do you think? Not bad for a lazy sloth, eh? 😉

Found two more of my creations!

Yesterday I dug up an old sketch from my hard drive. Today I present to you, two wallpapers I created nearly a year ago using Photoshop. If you’re a Chelsea fan like me, you’ll love ’em!

The first one has been made using the pictures from Chelsea’s FA Cup victory over Manchester United in 2007.

© Abhishek Pancholi

© Abhishek Pancholi

The second one shows fans’ favourite, Joe Cole.

© Abhishek Pancholi

© Abhishek Pancholi

That’s it for now! You lot enjoy these and in the meantime I’ll see if I can find some other interesting stuff hidden away in some corner of my hard disk! 🙂

Barclays Premier League Update – Week 3

Juliano Belletti celebrates his goal against Tottenham

Juliano Belletti celebrates his goal against Tottenham

Okay, so I haven’t been able to post anything in midweek, not even about Paul Scholes’ shocking but utterly hilarious handball incident in the UEFA Super Cup. Call it my lack of interest or my laziness, but I just coud not get myself to post anything meaningful here. All that is about to change though, because the 3rd week of the Barclays Premier League has just ended. This weekend, 18 teams were in action while Manchester United were busy embarassing themselves in Monaco and hence their fixture has been moved to a later date.

A short and sweet wrap-up is right here:

● A stylish Arsenal team swept aside Newcastle United 3-0. Robin Van Persie scored 2 goals before he hobbled off, injured again.

● West Ham United thumped Blackburn Rovers 4-1.

● Yet another own-goal scored by a Middlesbrough player almost cost them two points, but Tuncay Sanli saved their skins with a late goal, as Boro beat Stoke City 2-1.

● Hull City were hammered 0-5 by… Wigan Athletic!!! Wigan’s new Egyptian recruit Zaki scored a brace in that one.

● Everton crashed to a 0-3 defeat at the hands of Portsmouth.

● Bolton Wanderers and West Bromwich Albion played out a drab 0-0 draw.

● Aston Villa and Liverpool were also involved in a 0-0 borefest.

● The prodigal son returns… That’s what they’ll be thinking at Manchester City, as Shaun Wright-Philips returned from his misery at Chelsea and scored 2 goals to inflict a 3-0 defeat on Sunderland.

● Finally, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur drew 1-1, with both goals coming from defensive errors and mistakes.

A look at the table then:

Team standings after Week 3 of the Barclays Premier League 2008-09

Team standings after Week 3 of the Barclays Premier League 2008-09

So that’s about it, then. No change at the top, with Chelsea leading Liverpool on goal difference. Spurs get their first point of the season, so do West Brom. There’s an international break coming up for the World Cup qualifiers, so there’ll be some time before the next update.

Till then, I’ll be hoping to post something useful over here!

Barclays Premier League Update – Week 2

2 games, 2 goals!

2 games, 2 goals!

So another week, another round of matches done and dusted. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will the title be decided after 2 rounds, but early form suggests that Liverpool’s luck might just be an added advantage to them. Despite being second-best for most of the game and going down by a goal, the Reds somehow managed to nick all 3 points in the end. The big four except Arsenal, all won their fixtures this week. Here’s how it all went:

• Fulham shocked Arsenal with a 1-0 victory over the Gunners. Arsenal look very lightweight in midfield and their defense isn’t in great shape either. Arsene knows?

• Everton beat West Bromwich Albion by 2 goals to 1. Despite being very, very good in the Championship and being tipped as the most likely candidates to survive in the Premiership, the first two weeks of the season haven’t exactly given a reassurance to WBA.

• Same old, same old. New faces, same disjointed performance. Tottenham Hotspur lost again. This time going down 1-2 to Sunderland. French stiker Djibril Cisse scored on his debut for Roy Keane’s men.

• Stoke City turned the tables on Aston Villa by beating them 3-2. Villa were coming on the back of a good win against Manchester City, but the newcomers swiftly brought them back to earth.

• Newcastle United beat Bolton 1-0. Michael Owen scored, so apparently he is not injured. Yet.

• As mentioned earlier in this post, Liverpool rode their luck to win 2-1 against a spirited Middlesbrough side that went ahead thanks to the new leaner, meaner Mido. An incredibly lucky deflection brought Liverpool level and Steven Gerrard scored in the dying seconds with a good half-volley to win it.

• Blackburn and Hull City drew 1-1.

• Manchester City bounced back from their on-field and off-the-field problems to hand out a 3-0 thrashing to West Ham United.

• Manchester United beat Portsmouth 1-0. Darren Fletcher on the scoresheet. That tells you a lot, doesn’t it?

• Finally, Chelsea beat a plucky Wigan side 1-0 thanks to a sublime freekick from Deco.

Here’s how things stand at the moment:

Team standings after Week 2 of the Barclays Premier League 2008-09

Team standings after Week 2 of the Barclays Premier League 2008-09

Here are the highlights of the Wigan vs Chelsea game. Don’t miss Deco’s freekick!!

Anoher week gone by. Chelsea on top. Can’t wait for the next round!

Andriy Shevchenko has left the building

Andriy Shevchenko.

AC Milan legend.

British record transfer.

Chelsea flop.

Now back to AC Milan for one last hurrah.

These lines efectively sum up Shevchenko’s career during the past few years. He arrived at Chelsea from AC Milan for a hefty amount and a massive reputation as Europe’s finest striker. He left yesterday with his reputation diminished and his confidence shattered. Not to mention being branded the Premier League’s most expensive flop ever.

The good old times...

The terms of the deal have not been disclosed, but it appears to be a regular sale rather than a loan move. Whatever it is, it’s definitely something which will benefit both parties. Chelsea seem to have offloaded one of the highest earners at the club, thus significantly lowering the wage bill, Shevchenko on the other hand, will be hoping to rediscover his old form on the familiar hunting grounds of Italy.

Like most others, I had pretty high hopes from Shevchenko when he arrived at Stamford Bridge. But he failed to live up to the expectations. Injuries and the team’s unfavourable playing style hindered his game. But no one can point a finger at him for not trying. The man gave his all when playing in a Blue shirt. It wasn’t lack of effort by any means. His first season in English football didn’t go too well, and injuries took their toll on his second. I waited 2 years for him to finally come good and silence his critics, but guess it just wasn’t meant to be. Although he scored some cracking goals, most notably the one against Sp*rs, he just could not justify his price-tag and age was also catching up with him.

Did ya see that? Did ya? Did ya?

Did ya see that? Did ya? Did ya?

Anyways, he was one of my favourite players at the club. Never whined, nor complained about how he was treated at Chelsea. And if there’s one thing that’s missing in today’s footballers, it’s dignity. Sheva may not have shown his true ability, but he carried himself with dignity, unlike a few others at the club (Drogba, I’m looking at you). And now he has left in a dignified manner, without uttering anything against Chelsea, instead just expressing his delight (or was it relief?) on his return to Milan.

Here’s wishing him all the very best for his future and hoping that he’ll be remembered as an AC Milan legend, rather than a Chelsea flop.

Four-Nil, we played like Brazil!

So the first round of the Barclays Premier League is over and most of the results were quite predictable. Here’s a roundup of this weekend’s action:

  • Fulham suffered a 1-2 defeat at the hands of newcomers Hull City. Geovanni scored a corker.
  • Arsenal just edged it 1-0 against another promoted side, West Bromwich Albion, with Samir Nasri marking his BPL debut with a goal.
  • Middlesbrough beat Tottenham(or as some like to say, TopFour-enham) by a score of 2-1.
  • Paul Ince’s Blackburn Rovers got off to a perfect start by beating Everton 3-2. Some very late drama there.
  • Bolton Wanderers reminded Stoke City about the hardships of life in the top flight with a 3-1 win. Great (but a fluke) goal by Steinsson in this one.
  • West Ham United beat Wigan Athletic by 2 goals to 1, thanks to a brace from Dean Ashton, who then got himself injured. Predictably.
  • A lacklustre Liverpool scraped through against Sunderland by 1 goal to nil. Torres to the rescue!
  • Agbonlahor scored a hat-trick as Aston Villa trounced Manchester City. 4-2 the score in that one.
  • The two Uniteds – Manchester United and Newcastle United – played out a 1-1 draw.
  • Ahh, and finally to the best result of the lot. Chelsea thumped Portsmouth 4-0.

And this is how the table looks like after the 1st round of matches:

Team standings after Week 1 of the Barclays Premier League 2008-09

Team standings after Week 1 of the Barclays Premier League 2008-09

As I already mentioned, I’ll be concentrating more on Chelsea and their results. Being a Blues fan, I must say I’m absolutely delighted with the result, but more so because of the way we played. It was total domination. The passing was slick, fluid and the movement was fantastic. 2 players made their competitive debuts for us, namely Jose Bosingwa and Deco.
As Andy Gray would say, "Take a bow, son. Take a bow."

Take a bow, son. Take a bow.

Bosingwa looks like the real deal and could be the solution to the right-back problems that have plagued us for so long. As for Deco, the man has got a point to prove to his former club Barcelona and boy, is he on the right track! A man-of-the-match performance in midfield topped off with a debut goal. What more could you ask for?

Overall, Chelsea were a delight to watch, probably the best performance I’ve seen from them in a long time. Felipao seems to have removed the shackles from the players and given them a lot more freedom to express themselves. And the outcome was there to be seen. As they say, ‘It’s just like watching Brazil!’.

Hopefully there’s a lot more to come from this team over the course of the season and we’ll be at the top again, come May. CAREFREE!!