12 Days of Something II: I Timed This So Badly

Shockingly, Nisemonogatari doesn't make the list.

Shockingly, Nisemonogatari doesn’t make the list.

What you are reading here is the beginning of this blog’s 500th post. I worked it out so amazingly well that it falls dead in the middle of another bunch of posts and so it will be buried for weeks on end. So in that spirit, I’ve decided to do a list of my top anime. The humiliation won’t last all that long because of when this is scheduled thankfully.

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Pointless Debate #24: On Her Majesty’s Secret (Fan)Service

The helicopter drop, a definite head-scratcher.

Fanservice is always a debatable topic around here, but it generally fits in with the whole concept of Pointless Debate. Mainly in the fact that real fanservice is wholly determined by the person watching, but I hardly ever seem to write on the topic anyway. This post will generally cover 2 parts, my own interpretation of how the most obvious type of fanservice isn’t necessarily fanservice to me and secondly stuff that I’ve found that fit in that qualifies as hidden in my case.

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Pointless Debate #21: The Suggestion Box

Will this cake make up for what follows?

It can be said that using something like a mailbox for a post is really scraping the bottom of the barrel. In that spirit I have grabbed a spoon and am prepared to dive right in on various topics that were sent in over the last day or 2.

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Giant Killing 26

Much like Gino's former manager, I have to scramble to find something to fill the void left by this series.

Spending six months blogging this series has brought much more than I thought it would. Through the end of the European domestic season and the World Cup into the start of the new season, Giant Killing provided me the brief chance to combine two of my passions in this one space as we followed East Tokyo United through half of a season. Of course I hope for additional seasons of this as the entertainment value of the show was incredibly high as it weighed realism with professional sport. As DVD sales of the show seem disappointing and the inevitable sad conclusion to the story anyway probably mean this is the last we see of this team.

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Giant Killing 25 – Nearing the End

I don't recall Argentinians being on the master list of pictures, but I couldn't resist including "Kun" Agüero.

Traditionally, bigger clubs tend to impose their will on smaller clubs, and when the opposite happens it usually ends in disaster. This is the story of a manager who was able to do so with some success.

In the early 1990s, Zdenek Zeman’s Foggia side went up to Serie A playing an extremely attacking style inspired largely by handball and which ran counter to the prevailing strategies in Italian football. In the 1991-92 season, the conceded the 2nd most goals of anyone while scoring the second most. The odd 5-2 or 8-2 defeat could hardly be surprising, but they finished in the top half playing all-out attacking football. The following 2 seasons, while stripped of their best players they continued to finish mid table even as the goals began to dry up. When Zeman left, the club were relegated in 1995 and have gone between the lower divisions. Now 15 years later, Zeman has returned to Foggia, and the attacking style is back.

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Giant Killing 24 – Fatigue

Kaka must be tired of many things. Injuries, Ronaldo, poor play since joining Real Madrid, Ronaldo, Sergio Canales...

Even the best managers sometimes make mistakes with their substitutions. Back in 2005, with Chelsea chasing an unprecedented quadruple, manager Jose Mourinho made such a mistake in an FA Cup game at Newcastle.

Trailing 1-0 at halftime and unhappy at his side’s performance, Mourinho elected to use all three of his substitutions to start the 2nd half. Within 2 minutes of the restart, their fullback Wayne Bridge had to be stretchered off with an injury. With ten men, Chelsea continued to try to find an equalizer, but were further hindered when Damien Duff picked up an injury and had to continue playing. Finally, goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini was sent off late and nine-man Chelsea were eliminated from the cup.

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Giant Killing 23 – Striker’s Mentality

I have no idea what this celebration is either, but it allows me to check off 2 Spaniards from my checklist of top pics.

The past decade has seen the reputation of leading strikers diminish significantly. Where awards used to be handed to strikers who scored tons of goals for the leading clubs, now they are handed out to attacking midfielders and wingers who increasingly score more goals. The leading egotistical strikers of the present, the likes of Samuel Eto’o, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Didier Drogba, have become pantomime villains to a certain extent to neutrals. With that in mind, who would want to fulfill that role in the future?

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Giant Killing 22 – Halftime

One of the suggestions I had for top pics were pics like this. I will now check off the item for a picture of a Norwegian player.

The 2005 Champions League final was witness to one of the great second half comebacks of all time. Down 3-0 at the break against a rampant Milan side, Liverpool stormed back with 3 quick goals and held on for a penalty shootout they ultimately won. In retrospect, it is easy to say that Liverpool did not deserve to win. While the first goal was legitimate, Vladimir Smicer’s goal probably should have been kept out by Milan keeper Dida, and the equalizer came from a penalty won by a Steven Gerrard dive.

This still did not change the fact that Liverpool were a changed side in the second half. Whether it was due to an attitude that they had nothing to lose, or anything else will probably never be fully known. That hasn’t stopped theories about what happened in the dressing room at halftime. Rumors that manager Rafa Benitez went to work diagramming Liverpool’s tactics with 12 men were quick to emerge, but were ultimately squashed by several players. Comedian Dave Kirby parodied some of the rumors in a short film about the halftime team talk (below). I for one think the more interesting and forgotten angle may be what happened in the other dressing room in those 15 minutes.

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Giant Killing 21 – Goal Scoring Euphoria

The second time this man has been the featured image, this time much younger.

Sometimes it takes time to find a proper position for some younger players. Former Mexico goalkeeper Jorge Campos wanted to play in the first team at Pumas early in his career, and that meant he had to play as a striker though his haul of 35 goals at the position meant he definitely had some talent up front. Alan Shearer, the top goalscorer in the Premier League era, was supposedly rejected by Newcastle as a goalkeeper early in his career before signing at Southampton. Less memorable was Paul Warhurst, a defender who scored 12 times in 12 matches as an emergency striker earning him a call-up to the England squad as a striker.

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Giant Killing 20 – Overwhelmed

The defender Kakuda Makoto can probably relate to one of the themes of this episode.

For most of the last four years, the Spanish national team has been the best national team in the world. That period has coincided with the development of a playing style known as tiki-taka which is characterized by a short passing game and most importantly, dominance of possession. Opinions vary on its true nature though. It has been described by critics as negative football disguised by beautiful passing intended to protect a weak defense. Others call it as an upgrade from Total Football. Few doubt, however, the ability of Spain (and Barcelona at club level) to dominate both the ball and the opposition playing this way.

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Giant Killing 19 – Buildup to the Big Match

Footballers and their obsession with hair go back some ways

Footballers can tend to be a very self-conscious bunch. There are the likes David Beckham and Robbie Savage trying to craft media-friendly personas near the end of their playing careers. Then there are those who are associated with their hair. Bobby Charlton seemed to fix his comb over hundreds of times every match, while more recently Carles Puyol, dubbed Captain Caveman by one journalist, adopted his hairstyle because he was worried about the size of his ears. Adding to the frenzy are the inevitable rankings of best hairstyles at every World Cup, which can make a player more memorable for channeling Travis Bickle than anything they did on the pitch.

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Giant Killing 18 – Retro Football

The most controversial incident of the 1966 World Cup final, but proof that bad decisions even out over 44 years.

For all of the fanfare that is given to football in England, surprisingly few tactical innovations have been made in the country. With financial ruin threatening the clubs that try and fail to innovate, it’s pretty understandable that any new ideas introduced have to be proven outside of England. The days when Ossie Ardiles could try to play five strikers at the same time at Tottenham and utterly fail are long gone now. This wasn’t always the case though.

After Brazil’s success in adapting a 4-2-4 formation that had emerged from Hungarian football in winning consecutive World Cups in 1958 and 1962, it was not long before every major team was playing some variant of 4-2-4. As hosts for the 1966 World Cup, Alf Ramsey’s England did not have to worry about qualification, which allowed them to experiment. Most of the buildup, England played a lopsided 4-3-3 formation with wingers, though it was ultimately a distraction to what Ramsey really wanted to play.

Finally he introduced what would become the 4-4-2 formation in their final warmup game against Poland, though it was really a 4-1-3-2. Ramsey went back to the 4-3-3 formation for the group matches at World Cup, but reintroduced his new formation in the quarterfinal against Argentina. Narrow wins against Argentina and Portugal followed before they triumphed in 4-2 in the final against West Germany behind Geoff Hurst’s hat-trick.

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Giant Killing 17 – Return from Injury

Ending up as the star signing for a club in the Ukraine was probably not what he had in mind a few years ago

In February 2008, Arsenal’s Croatian international striker Eduardo was beginning to adapt to life in the Premier League after his summer move. After a slow start, the holiday period had seen him scoring for Arsenal for the first time in the league, while in the following weeks his goals and chances he created had put Arsenal at the top of the league. A trip to Birmingham seemed to provide a chance for him to add to his tally and extend Arsenal’s 5-point lead at the top.

Unfortunately 3 minutes in, Eduardo was on the receiving and of a horrific tackle by Birmingham’s Martin Taylor which broke his leg. After an extended period out, Eduardo returned to full action 18 months later. He clearly was not the same player he was before as injury-prone Robin van Persie and the inconsistent Nicklas Bendtner were preferred to him whenever they were fit. With another striker arriving this summer, Arsenal took a loss on his transfer fee and sold him to Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk. Continue reading

Pointless Debate #11: Favorite Characters

I was really close to putting one of these 2 for a favorite character, but I didn't pull the trigger

After ghostlightning once again set the agenda over at the creatively named THAT Anime Blog, and with followups from Rakuen at Borderline Hikikomori and Caraniel’s…Ramblings, I thought I may as well have a go at something like this too. Categorization of the characters in these posts have broken down into words like admirable, complex, entertaining and relatable. I would also think there are other ways to have favorite characters, which could even be in reaction to the favorites of others; positively or negatively. One could even have characters that are favorites for irony.

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Giant Killing 16 – Lone Striker

Heskey. Wide open goal. The end result is typical of his career.

This past week, Emile Heskey announced his retirement from international football with very little fanfare. Comments ranged from his being used in the wrong role for his entire career, to completely dismissing him for paltry return of 7 goals in 62 appearances for England. Teammates have praised him for his linkup career, the shift he put in as a central defender in one match kept Wigan in the Premier League and he created what is called by many the “Heskey role”. At 32, there are definitely better players at doing what he does at his club and for his country, but many within the game saw what he did was important. For everyone else, all that mattered was his goal tally.

The 16th episode of Giant Killing sees the continued struggle Sera has with his confidence. In this episode, ETU faced Yokohama in their 5th league match and the return match against Shimizu in the cup.

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Giant Killing 15 – Recovery

I believe I was obligated to use a picture like this

Canadian-born England midfielder Owen Hargreaves has had a rough two seasons. After signing for Manchester United from Bayern Munich, he enjoyed success in aiding the Red Devils to the 2nd of 3 consecutive titles in 2007-08. Then the injuries began accumulating to a great degree, as tendonitis led to surgery that ruled him out for almost all of the following season. Then his rehab did not go as well as expected as his return continued to be delayed. Reserve appearances continued to be pushed back until finally he made his return at the end of last season for a brief substitute appearance. Of course, fate continues to be cruel to him as he once again finds himself injured.

The 15th episode of Giant Killing sees the return of an ETU player from injury. He was vital before the injury, but could his return damage the club?

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Giant Killing 14 – Real Life

Just to show that there is no end in this sport, here's a picture from a Europa League qualifier in Luxembourg last week.

Over the past three months, I’ve used the start of these episodic plots to talk about various anecdotes in the football world and while they may not have tied entirely into the plot of the episodes, I’ve tried to make them have some relevance. As this week’s episode had all of a minute of actual action on the pitch I’ve decided to go with something entirely different.

A few weeks ago, I drove 2 hours to go to a specific place I watched World Cup matches four years ago. At a place like this I could talk to people I would probably never meet again about Argentina’s defensive woes and England’s chances. This happens to be a much different from my everyday life where I have to explain such things as why David Beckham can’t play for the United States even though he plays for LA Galaxy. So the part of the episode where Goro and the rest of the Edomae crew try to round up additional members is something I can relate to a bit.

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Giant Killing 13 – Goals Breed Confidence

Before their fourth round FA Cup replay against Premier League side Wolverhampton Wanderers back in February, Crystal Palace were a side in crisis, and would continue to be a club in crisis to the present time. Administration had meant the sale of one of their young starts, and the 10 point penalty put them in danger of relegation. It also meant some reshuffling of players to cover for massive holes in the team sheet. Most importantly on this occasion it meant moving right-back Danny Butterfield up to striker.

Butterfield had shown no signs of what was to come on the night. A 30-year-old who had spent most of his career in the Football League with Grimsby and Palace, prolific scorer would definitely not be a label attached to him, with 10 professional goals in over 350 appearances. Then something interesting happened in the 61st minute of the match. A rebound sat up for him and he was able to head in a goal from one yard out. Four minutes later, he was put through on goal and his scuffed right-footed shot slipped under the goalkeeper to make it 2-0. Then a couple of minutes after that, he found some space in the penalty area and hit a smooth left-footed shot beyond the keeper to complete the most unlikely “perfect” hat-trick in the space of 6 minutes, 48 seconds.

Most of today’s post is going to be devoted mainly to Tsubaki’s emergence as a star player in the space of this episode and how it exactly came to pass in the aftermath of his goal. Also, there will be a little on Itagaki’s decision to do things on his own and what will happen to ETU in the wake of their first victory of the campaign.

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Giant Killing 12: Smash-and-Grab

Claudio Caniggia scores the lone goal as Argentina beats Brazil in Turin 20 years ago.

Argentina went into the 1990 World Cup as defending champions, but a disappointing group stage saw them barely advance as one of the best 3rd-placed sides. Their 2nd round match against Brazil was about was completely one-sided. Brazil created chance after chance after chance, but Argentina were repeatedly bailed out by a combination of the goal frame, and the heroics of Sergio Goycochea in the Argentine goal. However, with 10 minutes to go, Diego Maradona picked up the ball at midfield, skipped through a couple of challenges before slipping Claudio Caniggia in to score Argentina’s only chance of the match. Brazil were unable to find an answer and were knocked out. Argentina would go on to grind out 2 more victories before losing the final to West Germany.

Over the course of the current story arc of Giant Killing, it has taken on a bit of a shounen feel. The heroes gradually gaining in confidence as the villains are unable to deliver the killer blow. In that sense, there is no surprise which side made the breakthrough in this episode. Overall, this episode gets a fairly high rating for entertainment, but there was still something that concerned me. The three themes I want to touch on this weeks episode are revisiting the makeup of Nagoya’s side, dramatic structure in ETU’s counterattack and Tatsumi’s interaction with the rest of his staff.
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Giant Killing 11 – The Following Takes Place Between the 30th and 60th Minutes

We are unlikely to ever see anything like Celtic's Lisbon Lions again

Before the 1967 European Cup final, the two teams provided a complete contrast in styles. Inter relied on the famed catenaccio tactic in relying on low scoring victories. Manager Helenio Herrera also strictly monitored his players, to the point of sending club staff to make sure they were at home on some nights, while also pioneering the practice of sending the squad to training retreats during the week of important matches. This was no exception, and after many years the players were beginning to resent living in fear of failure and having their private lives under constant scrutiny.

Celtic, on the other hand, were an entirely different bunch. With the squad composed entirely of players born within 30 miles of Glasgow, and despite having scored 198 goals in 63 prior matches that season, Celtic were expected to lose. Manager Jock Stein told his players in the team talk to go out and enjoy themselves.

After Inter scored from an early penalty, they found themselves under constant siege. The halftime break brought them little relief as the onslaught continued as eventually equalized and scored the winner 7 minutes from time.

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Giant Killing 10 – Individual Matchups

Despite having 75% of the possession against 10-man Inter, Barcelona were unable to score the 2 goals they needed against the eventual winners

One of the most interesting stories I’ve read about football tactics involved Arrigo Sacchi convincing the expensively assembled squad at Milan of the merits of his ideas. The star players on that team were Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten, and Sacchi told them in a training exercise that five defenders could stop ten players of their choice from scoring. After fifteen minutes, they never came close to scoring and the Dutch imports were firmly on board. What followed was a league title and 2 European Cups in 3 seasons.

The 10th episode of Giant Killing isn’t nearly as interesting as that, but since this episode is devoted entirely to part of ETU’s match against Nagoya, I’ve decided to focus on the individual matchups the series seems to create within the games.

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Giant Killing 9 – Joga Bonito

Marcus Tulio Tanaka celebrates with Makoto Hasebe after scoring the opener against England

Who is to say foreign-born players are a bad thing? Oh wait, he scored at both ends.

A lot can be said about hardcore support for certain teams in nearly empty stadia. Periodically, it can cross over the line, and the 9th episode of Giant Killing tries to provide such a scenario. Stopping a bus from departing doesn’t really compare that badly to dropping flaming mopeds from the 2nd tier of a stand, tossing a pig’s head at a player taking a corner because he left your club for your rivals or rioting because the referee did not give your team a penalty. That was just one little aspect of this particular episode.

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Giant Killing 8 – The Non-Importance of a Manager

West Brom's Gianni Zuiverloon fights Arsenal's Samir Nasri for the ball during the 2008-09 season

In 4 previous seasons in the Premier League, West Brom's highest finish is 17th.

During the 2008/09 season in the English Premier League, West Bromwich Albion were probably the most patronized team in the league in many circles. Many heralded the way Tony Mowbray’s team played football the “right way”1 even as they were heading to yet another relegation finishing bottom of the league table. Mowbray’s reputation was somehow enhanced by this whole experience and Celtic were willing to pay West Brom to have him manage their team in a Champions League campaign and what should have been an easy league title. Nine months later, Mowbray had been sacked and West Brom cruised to another easy promotion back to the Premier League.

The 8th episode of Giant Killing sees the likely conclusion of Tatsumi’s engineering of the squad and probably finding a settled lineup. It also reveals a real method to his madness in the process. However, football is a results business, and Tatsumi will eventually have to get some results out of his vision.

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Giant Killing 7 – Man Management

Manchester United players celebrate after scoring the only goal of a 1-0 win over Nottingham Forest

Back in 1990, a surprise win over Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup proved to be a launching pad for something much greater

When Alex Ferguson took charge of Manchester United in November of 1986, he inherited a team that sat 19th out of the 22 teams in the First Division table. His first match in charge was a 2-0 defeat to Oxford United. They would only win once away from Old Trafford that season in finishing 11th. After finishing 2nd the following season, they fell back to 13th. At the beginning of 1990, Manchester United sat 15th in the league table, and Ferguson was seemingly on the verge of the sack. A run to win the FA Cup was enough to save him that season. Twenty years, 11 league titles and 2 European Cups later; Sir Alex Ferguson is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest managers ever.

The 7th episode of Giant Killing sees ETU off to a bit of a rough start to the league campaign. The first 3 matches of the season bring 0 points and no sign of optimism as Tatsumi’s methods begin to wear on the media, the ETU staff and the more established first team players.

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Giant Killing 6 – The Start of a Journey

Tottenham players celebrate with Benoît Assou-Ekotto after scoring on the opening day of the season

Liverpool went into the season with championship ambitions, Spurs instead took their Champions League place

At the beginning of the Premier League season which finished yesterday, Liverpool were expected by many to challenge for the title. They had finished 2nd the year before, added Glen Johnson and Alberto Aquilani to add more to an attack that had struggled to break down weaker teams, and the other contenders were supposedly weaker. By the end of the season, Liverpool had been knocked out of the Europa League, manager Rafa Benitez’s contract made him unsackable and they had surrendered their Champions League place by finishing 7th. Liverpool’s problems and ambitions were changed within the first 45 minutes of the season, when it suddenly dawned on many that Liverpool had a limited squad in comparison to their opponents on the day, Tottenham Hotspur.1

The 6th episode of Giant Killing is focused on Tatsumi dealing with the media and other managers, and not so much on his own players. What I really got out of this was the lessons in managing expectations. Let’s just say it’s starting to resemble that Cliff Hangers game on The Price Is Right.

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