Words from the Wise: Extra Large sporting clashes loom

Wherever the English side plays, a huge traveling sideshow accompanies them, namely their fans and the media.

By DAVID WISEMAN
February 1, 2006 07:24
3 minute read.

 
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It should be the biggest sporting event ever held in Israel. Far bigger than the recent encounters against Ireland and France. Far bigger than any basketball game or tennis match. Israel against England in soccer is as big as it gets regarding world-class sport taking place in Israel. Drawn together in the same qualifying group for Euro 2008, Israel will take on the 1966 World Cup winners for the first time in a competitive game. The likes of David Beckham, Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard, Michael Owen and Steven Gerrard will bring with them huge hype which will resemble something of a circus. Wherever the English side plays, a huge traveling sideshow accompanies them, namely their fans and the media. Expect Ramat Gan stadium to be littered with the cross of St. George and plenty of other Anglo related flags and banners. Tickets will be elusive and everyone will hope the onfield action will match the build-up. For the Israeli team there will also be massive excitement and anticipation surrounding their first ever appearance at Wembley. In the same group are Croatia, Russia, Macedonia, Estonia and Andorra. The top two from each group qualify for the championships, which will be taking place in Austria and Switzerland. But for Croatia, who Israel drew 3-3 with in a friendly last year, Israel has never met any of the other teams. Israel is a very rough chance of qualifying and to do so will have to be even more consistent than it was in its recent World Cup qualifying campaign. In addition, they will need to look to score more goals while be careful not to concede early. Easier said than done. The European Championships are basically the World Cup minus Argentina and Brazil. It is a very strong tournament and qualifying for it is in turn difficult. Glancing at the groups, Group A's likely qualifiers will be two of Portugal, Poland and Serbia and Montenegro. France, Italy and Ukraine will hold sway in Group B. Greece and Turkey are together once again in Group C with Norway adding some spice. The Group of Death appears to be Group D with the Czech Republic, Germany, Slovakia and Ireland all fighting over those two spots. Denmark finds itself with Spain in Group E along with Sweden, while the Netherlands should be comfortable in Group G with the company of Romania, Bulgaria and Slovenia. Trying to predict who will qualify with any accuracy requires a crystal ball which would also come in handy in for Super Bowl XL forecasts. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks should provide a compelling contest. Both teams enter the game with great form. Pittsburgh has won three straight playoff matches on the road, while Seattle did everything that could be expected from them with two clinical performances at home. If experience counts for anything you would favor the Steelers. They lost last year's conference game after nerves got the better of them and they would have learnt a great deal from it. The franchise has a great pedigree and is trying to become just the third team to win five Super Bowls. The Seahawks have no such history of their own, just one of mediocrity. That is not to say that 30 years of miserable football should prevent them from being successful in Detroit. Whoever wins will be a worthy champion. Likewise there could be no more worthier champion than Roger Federer. With victory in the Australian Open the Swiss maestro joins the likes of Rene Lacoste, John Newcombe, John McEnroe and Mats Wilander with seven Grand Slam titles to his credit. He is well on the way to matching the record 14 set by Pete Sampras. Not only is Federer a champion on the court, but also off it, and his respect and reverence for the traditions of the game is a fitting example for any athlete in any sport.

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