Archive for Millennium Stadium

Match Day

Posted in Biographical, Sport with tags , , , , , , , , on February 13, 2010 by telescoper

Unusually for a saturday, I’ve been a bit busy today and I’m also going out later, so I’ll refrain from one of my discursive weekend posts and keep it brief (but not necessarily to any particular point).

Today, of course, is the date of Wales’ first home match in this year’s RBS Six Nations Rugby competition. They lost to England 30-17 last week (at Twickenham) largely because of a bit of indiscipline by Alan Wyn Jones who got himself sent off the field for ten minutes after tripping an England player. England forged ahead during the time Wales were down to 14 men and although Wales fought back later on I thought England deserved to win. It wasn’t, however, a very good game to watch.

The scene was thus set for a home game for Wales in Cardiff  today against Scotland (who lost at home to France last week). It’s really impossible to describe how special it is to be in this city when Wales are playing rugby. The Millennium Stadium can hold about 75,000 which is large compared to Cardiff’s population of around 330,000. The Scottish fans, easily identified by the kilts and the smell of alcohol, were out on the townin large numbers last night. No doubt many of them woke with substantial hangovers this morning, but it has been a beautiful sunny day and the sight of the Scots – blue and tartan – mixing with the Welsh – red and green with a liberal sprinkling of dragons- was marvellous to see as I walked around this morning running a few errands.

The atmosphere in town was just sensational, unique to Cardiff, and enough to make you just want to walk around and soak it up. Actually, enough to make you wish you had a ticket for the match too, which unfortunately I didn’t. Still, it was live on TV.

When I got home the crowds were already walking down past my house towards the stadium, which is only a mile or so away,  for the 2pm kickoff. Among them was the sizeable frame of legendary Welsh rugby hero JPR Williams. He’s quite  old now – a quick look on wikipedia reveals that he was born in 1949 – but he hasn’t changed much at all since his heyday in the 1970s.  Taller than I had imagined.

Anyway, I did a little gardening in the sunshine just before the match started and, standing outside, I could hear the sound of Land of my Fathers being sung before the kickoff all the way from the Stadium. It made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. Tremendous.

The match itself was strangely disjointed to begin with but ended in extremely exciting fashion. Wales playing surprisingly poorly in the first half and Scotland surprisingly well. Wales appeared nervous and a bit disorganised and the two Scottish tries both involved defensive errors by the Welsh. The half-time score of  Wales 9 Scotland 18 was not what I would have expected before the start of the game, but was a fair reflection of the balance of play at that point.

The second half initially followed a similar pattern, Scotland edging 21-9 ahead at one point,  but Wales gradually crept back into it. However, it was a yellow card for a Scottish infringement that led to Wales gaining enough momentum to claw their way back to 21-24 with a try created by Shane Willians and scored by Leigh Halfpenny. Then, with less than a minute to play,  Scotland lost another player for a cynical piece of foul play that prevented another Welsh try. Wales decided to take the penalty kick to tie the game at 24-24 with just 40 seconds left. The Scots restarted with only 13 men on the field and only seconds left to play, hoping to run down the clock and finish with a draw. However the Welsh were scenting an unlikely victory and the Scots were very tired. The Welsh managed to keep the ball alive – the next dead ball would have been the end of the game – and, unbelievably, Shane Williams popped in to score a try. The match ended Wales 31 Scotland 24.

It wasn’t the best rugby I’ve ever seen in terms of quality, but it’s definitely the most dramatic final ten minutes! I’m not sure the referee was right to allow the restart after the kick to level it at 24-24 as it seemed to me the time was up then. I’m sure the rugby fans in Cardiff  tonight won’t be quibbling, though. The city will be buzzing tonight!

Today was also the day for two important footall matches. In the FA Cup, Cardiff City travelled to Premiership leaders Chelsea and, predictably, got thrashed 4-1. The other match that interested me was Swansea City versus Newcastle United in the Championship. That finished 1-1, a result I was happy with since Swansea are playing well and Newcastle had lost in feeble fashion 3-0 away at Derby County earlier in the week. They go back top, if only by one point.

All in all, a most satisfactory day, and it’s not over yet. Tonight I’m off to the Opera (for the first time in what seems like ages). So guess what tomorrow’s post will be about….

Wales 1 Russia 3

Posted in Football with tags , , on September 10, 2009 by telescoper

I went last night (9th September) to a mixed group of folks from the department (and various of their relatives) to see the FIFA World Cup “Qualifying” game between Wales and Russia at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. I put “qualifying” in inverted commas because, even before last night’s game, Wales were in a situation from which they could no longer qualify from their group. Russia, on the other hand, have a good chance – although they will have to beat Germany to be sure – of making it to the finals in South Africa next year.

When we arrived at the stadium (capacity 74,500), it was clear it was going to be pretty empty for this fixture even though the tickets were only £15 each. In fact the crowd numbered less than 12,000, a majority of which were probably Russian supporters, making the atmosphere inside somewhat eery.

To be honest I expected Russia to win the game fairly comfortably, but Wales had much the better of the opening exchanges and had quite a few chances in the first half an hour. Craig Bellamy (captain for the night) always looked lively, but the Welsh attacks usually lacked incisiveness in the final third of the pitch. Frequently resorting to long-range crosses,  but lacking the finish touch of a natural centre-forward, their sorties were usually dealt with fairly comfortably by a well-organized Russian defence.  Russia’s cagier approach meant that they didn’t get inside the Welsh penalty area so often, but when they did they looked threatening, with Hennessey being forced into two excellent saves during the first half.

In possession, Russia generally tried to slow the game down and pass the ball around waiting for a mistake. This wasn’t all that successful because their passing wasn’t particularly accurate and some of their players lacked the composure necessary to make this strategy work. Wales were much more direct and played  at a higher tempo when they had the ball; their players, however, were generally not as skilful as those in the Russian team. The result was an interesting but rather fragmented game.

On 36 minutes, a little against the run of play, a  bit of magic by Andrei Arshavin – by far the best player on the pitch – took him away from his marker and he released Igor Semshov whose perfectly timed run left him clear through on goal. He finished clinically from close range to put the visitors a goal up, which is how it stayed until half time.

About ten minutes into the second half, Wales were back on level terms. Aaron Ramsey’s poorly struck corner kick seemed to surprise the Russian defence who stood like statues as the ball went to James Collins. He jabbed it home between the Russian goalkeeper and the defender on the line who seemed to get in each other’s way.

After that the game opened up a bit but the quality of play deteriorated as Russia seemed to lose patience with its own passing game. Both sides had chances, but as the game wore on Russia seemed the more likely to score. Eventually, about 71 minutes in, clumsy tackling gave Russia  a free kick. It looked too far out to be threatening, but the Welsh wall melted away as Sergei Ignashevich’s accurate but harmless-looking shot approached. The ball could easily have been dealt with had the wall stayed in place, but it passed through and left the goalkeeper Hennessey with no chance.

Wales tried to salvage a draw in the remaining twenty minutes or so.  They were clearly lacking firepower upfront but the manager John Toshack resisted calls from the crowd to put on an extra attacker. In these final stages it was Russia that looked more likely to get another goal. Finally, in injury time, a comical mix-up in the Welsh defence led to a third for Russia, from Roman Pavlyuchenko.

Overall, I think the score flattered Russia quite a lot. They weren’t as good as I had expected them to be and Wales weren’t as anywhere near as bad as I’d feared.  Russia will definitely have to play a lot better than that if they’re going to make any impression at all in South Africa. Wales, on the other hand, should be reasonably pleased with the way they played for most of the game, given the number of inexperienced players in their side.

No doubt, though, that Russia deserved to win.

You can find a fuller report of the match here.