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Review: Pro Evolution Soccer 2010

It’s one of the most hotly anticipated head-to-heads in football, but it only comes around once a year. PES has the historical advantage, but in recent years FIFA has become the consensus top dog. What have the Konami boys got in store this time?

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Claiming the title: But is PES 2010 really a return to former glories?

It’s been a tough time on next gen consoles for Konami’s once lauded Pro Evolution Soccer franchise. While PES 6 on the Playstation 2 was arguably the finest version of the game to date, sequels on the latest range of consoles have often failed to liveup to the hype.

What is more, their Canadian-based rivals at EA Sports have had no such troubles, with their previously mundane FIFA franchise going from strength-to-strength in recent years. FIFA 09 was arguably the first time in the history of the rivalry that the Wayne Rooney-backed game was better than the Fernando Torres’ preferred — will this year prove that to be a blip, or the state of things to come?

The good news, if Shingo “Seabass” Takatsuka and his team will see it that way, is that on the whole PES 2010 is a superior game to FIFA 09. It’s the same joyful playing experience of old, with passes zipping around with ease and games never feeling the same.

Long range shooting, something that EA have never really managed to get to grips with, is the same blast it has always been. When the ball bobbles free outside the box, the sense of nervous excitement is palpable — anything could happen as the ball is fired goalward — and provides a tension that also contributes greatly to making multiplayer such a great experience.

There are areas for improvement, many that have long need some attention. The typical lack of licences will anger some more than others — especially as things seem to have regressed in recent years with La Liga no longer fully licensed. Goalkeepers are also the same erratic bunch of past versions, and consequently some otherwise good goals feel ‘cheap’ as replays highlight the ‘keeper’s woeful reflexes. Continue reading

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October 30, 2009 Posted by | Reviews, Video Games | | Leave a comment

Scout Report: David de Gea (Atletico Madrid)

The focus shifts from attacking midfielder Javier Pastore to one of the most hotly tipped young goalkeepers in the world, Atletico Madrid prodigy (and Football Manager starlet) David de Gea.

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Full stretch: De Gea's physical attributes make him an imposing presence in goal

Position: Goalkeeper

Age: 18

Clubs: Atletico Madrid

Life is never boring at Atletico Madrid. As Sid Lowe will undoubtedly tell you, there is almost no end to the drama the club is involved in — and usually of its own making.

After the departure of former No. 1 Leo Franco in the summer, Atletico were keen to find a suitable replacement to shore up their defence. With youngster David de Gea considered a huge talent by his coaches, many thought the club would opt for a short-term solution between the sticks.

But after signing Valladolid’s impressive stopper Sergio Asenjo, who many in Spain see as the heir to Iker Casillas, the club now finds itself with two outstanding young keepers who are set to fight over the No. 1 jersey for years to come.

Asenjo cost the club €5 million in the summer, and so unsurprisingly the 20-year-old quickly grabbed the starting role under then-coach Abel Resino. He is likely to keep his place under new main man Quique Flores, but already in his germinating Vicente Calderon career has been challenged by his emerging understudy.

After all, the 19-year-old, nearly 6’3” De Gea has all the physical attributes required of a top goalkeeper. He showed his shot-stopping skills on his debut, where he saved a penalty (that, admittedly, he gave away) in his side’s 2-1 win over Real Zaragoza.

“I made my debut in the Vicente Calderon, and I stopped a penalty,” De Gea said.

“This is a dream for me. We must continue improving from here. This win will allow us to enjoy a peaceful week.” Continue reading

October 28, 2009 Posted by | Sport, Uncategorized, World Football | , , | 1 Comment

Tom Brady gets the job done, but what next for the NFL International Series?

After another successful game on these shores, the NFL seems confident enough in the potential of the International Series to consider taking it to the next level. But, after a sizeable number of fans left Wembley early after the game was already won, is there really a next level to reach?

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Crowd pleaser: UK fans were once again drawn to the NFL's glitz and glamour, as Wembley once again played host

The third NFL International Series match at Wembley went with the form book, as quarterback star Tom Brady led his New England Patriots passed the much-maligned Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Brady’s three touchdown, 308-yard textbook performance was only blotted by two underthrown interceptions. But it was still more than enough for the Patriots to ease to a 37-7 win as Brady’s opposite number, Josh Johnson, struggled to keep pace.

The 22-year-old former fifth round pick threw an interception on just the Buccaneers’ third play of the day, an error that was returned for a touchdown by Pats cornerback Brandon Merriweather.

From then on, the 85,000 strong Wembley crowd knew the result was not in question.

A second interception from Johnson in his very next series allowed Brady to get away with an uncharacteristically slow start, and once the Pats’ considerable offence got rolling they regularly put points on the board.

Indeed, such was the one-sided nature of the game, both teams were able to change their quarterbacks in the fourth quarter. Brady was replaced by his understudy, Bryan Hoyler, after a solid day’s work had been done.

Johnson, on the other hand, was replaced by Josh Freeman, the organisation’s 2009 first round draft pick who head coach Raheem Morris has high hopes for. With Freeman considered the man for the future, Johnson might not get the starting job back when the Bucs return to action in two weeks’ time.

Few of the fans inside Wembley will spare much thought for the No. 11’s plight, however. It was Brady who was the game’s undoubted star attraction, and he said all the right things in the aftermath of a performance that satisfied the expectant crowd, if not quite blow them away.

“It was like a Super Bowl, all the flashbulbs going off and the fans waving their flags for the first five minutes of the game,” Brady said. Continue reading

October 27, 2009 Posted by | NFL, Sport | , , | Leave a comment

Tom Brady ready to live up to expectations at Wembley, as Tampa Bay fear the worst

The third iteration of the NFL’s experiment abroad continues on Sunday as another two teams venture to London for the International Series. 86,000 fans will be looking to one person — Tom Brady…

Focus of attention: Tom Brady will face a bunch of expectations from the UK crowd

Focus of attention: New England Patriots main man Tom Brady will face a bunch of expectations from the UK crowd

Tom Brady is coming off the back of one of the best weeks of his career as his New England Patriots travel to the country that resides in their name to play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Brady threw a franchise record five touchdown passes in the second quarter (six overall) of the Patriot’s 59-0 win over the Tennessee Titans, before being withdrawn in the third quarter with a perfect 158.3 passer rating.

Now he gets to fly across the Atlantic and show off his talent to a different, equally appreciative audience.

“I think this is a game we’ve been looking forward to since we heard we’d be flying across the Atlantic to play,” Brady said in an interview on Tuesday.

“It’s not often we fly east to play a game and to play in Wembley Stadium will be great – it’s as historic a stadium as there is in the entire world and all our team is very excited about that.

“This will be a game we’ll all remember for the next 40 or 50 years of our life so we just want to go out there and play at our best.”

Brady and Indianapolis Colts No. 18 Peyton Manning might be widely considered as the two greatest quarterbacks in the modern game, but Brady will have to perform at his illustrious best if he is to impress an English audience that witnessed two other fine exponents of the position last season. Continue reading

October 21, 2009 Posted by | NFL | , , , | Leave a comment

Scout Report: Javier Pastore (Palermo)

Last week it was Miralem Pjanic, who might well tear Liverpool apart in the Champions League. Now the focus falls on Javier Pastore, a South American arrival in Italy who looks set for big things…

Ready for lift-off: Pastore announced his arrival with Huracan last season

Ready for lift-off: Pastore (c) announced his arrival with Huracan last season

Position: Attacking midfielder

Age: 20

Clubs: Talleres de Colombia, Huracan, Palermo

Young attacking midfielder Javier Pastore is another in a long line of creative Argentinians to travel to Europe and ply their trade in Italy.

Pastore joined Palermo, capital city of Sicily, in the summer for a reported fee of $8 million, after a scintillating season in domestic football with surprise package Huracan. The 20-year-old was a vital cog as ‘el Globo’ made a valiant challenge for their first title in 35 years.

They eventually finished second behind Velez Sarsfield, but Pastore was nevertheless voted player of the season by the Argentinian sports daily Ole in what was an impressive individual campaign.

Courted by some of the giants of European football over the summer, including Manchester United and FC Porto, Pastore eventually decided to sign with Palermo, who had long been interested in the player. The move was complicated by the midfielder’s contract status — Huracan orchestrated their original move of Pastore from junior club Talleres de Colombia by selling 55% of the player’s economic rights to an investment group and leaving Talleres with the remaining 45% (the move was technically a long-term loan).

Many of the big clubs were put off by this situation, on that is becoming increasingly prevalent in South American football. But not Palermo, who believed the 6’2” attacker’s combination of agility, technical proficiency and creativity was worth spending a sizeable amount of to tie down to a five-year contract, one that should see him remain at the club until 2014. Continue reading

October 20, 2009 Posted by | Sport, World Football | , , | 1 Comment

Cincinnati Bengals quickly graduating from school of ‘Hard Knocks’

They finished last season as one of the worst in the NFL. But five games and four wins later, the Bengals are quickly gaining the respect of all around them…

Summer workout: The Bengals in training camp, where every move was followed by the cameras...

Summer workout: The Bengals in training camp, where every move was followed by the 'Hard Knocks' cameras...

With the 2009 NFL regular season hitting its stride, storylines abound. Picking the biggest one is virtually impossible.

Is it Brett Favre, alienating Green Bay Packers fans as he searches for success with arch-rivals the Minnesota Vikings?

Is it the 5-0 Denver Broncos under preposterously young head coach Josh McDaniels, despite trading away star quarterback Jay Cutler in the off-season?

Or is it future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning once again putting up Most Valuable Player numbers with the impressive Indianapolis Colts?

The answer depends greatly on the fan you speak to. Some might even eschew those three options to suggest that it is actually the Cincinnati Bengals that are the story of the season so far. After all, the Bengals are 4-1 and atop the AFC North so far this season, an impressive turnaround from 2008’s disappointing 4-11-1 effort.

Their improvement is all the more notable for the obstacles and issues they have had to overcome since the off-season, a charge-sheet of problems that made the Bengals’ storyline attractive to HBO as they looked for potential teams on which to base the fifth season of the popular series Hard Knocks.

“This is a story perfect for our times,” said Ken Rodgers, one of the show’s producers, when the Bengals agreed to be filmed. “[Football] is not about getting knocked down, but how you get back up.”

Continue reading

October 14, 2009 Posted by | NFL, Sport | , , | Leave a comment

Scout Report: Miralem Pjanic (Olympique Lyonnais / Bosnia & Herzegovina)

So, I haven’t written anything for a while — sue me. But in an attempt to spur me to write more regularly, here is a new series I intend to update every week on the young players seemingly set to make a major splash in world football…

Things looking up: Pjanic has a bright future ahead of him

Things looking up: Pjanic has a bright future ahead of him

Position: Attacking midfielder

Age: 19

Clubs: FC Metz, Olympique Lyonnais

FC Metz might not have the best record on or off the pitch in recent years — in 2007-08 they finished well adrift at the bottom of Ligue 1, and suffered a one point deduction for instances of racist abuse from their fans — but they enjoy widespread respect in the footballing world for their youth system and scouting network.

After all, this is a club that has given untried talents such as Robert Pires, Louis Saha, Emmanuel Adebayor, and Sebastien Bassong their opportunity to break through in professional football, and a club that relies on the recruitment of young players to maintain their league standing.

Unfortunately, all the aforementioned players — as is the accepted way for a provincial club like Metz — moved on to bigger and better clubs in order to continue to fulfil their potential and ambitions.

Miralem Pjanic is just the latest example of such a player. Continue reading

October 13, 2009 Posted by | Sport, World Football | , , | 1 Comment