FIFA 12 – Review (PS3)

It often gets to the stage with sports games that they become merely annual roster updates, with a huge list of supposed gameplay changes that in actuality make little or no difference at all. However for the first time in a long time FIFA 12 bucks that trend.

This year gamers are treated to a full physics engine that means the end of canned animations for players on the pitch. While that may not sound like a big deal it means that every time two players are involved in a scuffle for the ball the result will be different.

Rather than one player entering into a pre-determined ‘ball winning’ animation and the other a pre-determined ‘losing ball’ animation you get a natural clash and outcome, as you would at a real game. Of course there are still a few teething issues – the occasional pile up of players on the ground as they trip over each other being at the comedy end of the scale – but overall this new feature adds so much more to the game.

As has become expected in recent years the gameplay of FIFA is second to none. You will really feel like you are involved in a real game of football – especially against human opponents locally or online. The AI is a little too good for my liking 😆 but most of my time is spent online anyway.

Last year the main draw online was Ultimate Team, a sort of fantasy football where you build a roster of players and control transfers etc. This remains in FIFA 12 but personally I feel it’s been eclipsed by the awesome new Head To Head league mode. This sees you needing a required amount of points in 10 online games to progress up through the leagues. As you move up through the 10 leagues you need more points to stay in that division and face better players that match your skill level. It is extremely addictive, so be warned.

Have no doubt, FIFA 12 is the ultimate football package both offline and online. There is something here for everyone and if you have any interest in football, this is the game for you. The new physics based gameplay means this title is a genuine step forward for the genre.

Rating: 10/10

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PES 2011: Bouncebackability?

After a few years of disappointment, with titles recycling the same animations and commentary, I switched from PES to FIFA.

I documented the change at the time in several blogs, here and here. It was not a switch made with a light heart – after a decade with PES I’d lost heart and FIFA had essentially caught up.

Looking at the latest released gameplay trailer for PES 2011 it seems a lot of the problems I’d had with the game have now been rectified. Check it out:

The issues I had with the game were as follows:

– The computer deciding where I should pass instead of letting me do what I want.

– No control over the through balls.

– Poor, poor goalkeeper AI (repeatedly just pushing the ball into the path of the oncoming striker etc.)

– Bad referee AI

– same animations as last few versions

– The commentary

If they can fix these then perhaps a return to former glories is on the cards.

Now until we have a chance to actually play it I’ll be reserving judgement but the intial signs are very promising and with rumours of an online Master League (Linkage) also making an appearance might my defection to EA’s juggernaught be short lived?

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England’s 2010 World Cup Debacle Or ‘When Will We Stop Believing We’re Good Enough To Win The World Cup?’

Where to start? As the dust settles on the day after England’s humiliating 4-1 drubbing by an impressive Germany side, I can’t help but come to the conclusion that this is the worst tournament performance I can remember England ever having.

Having been spoilt by a superb domestic season in which my club, Millwall, were involved in a thrilling promotion race that culminated in a playoff victory at Wembley the World Cup has not provided a great deal in the way of entertainment.

And not just from an England perspective – so far only Argentina and Holland have consistently performed at anything like the level expected at a tournament this big.

To be fair Germany were good yesterday but England were so poor it just wasn’t funny. Apart from the ten minute spell after Matthew Upson’s goal we looked like a team lost.

The defence were pulled all over the place, leaving school boy-esque gaps at the back which the German attack exploited ruthlessly. I appreciate it’s at a completely different level but I have not seen defending that poor at club level for years.

You want to see players hassling the opposition – at Millwall we know we don’t have the best players but the most basic of demands is to close the opposing players down quickly and to chase after every ball.

England gave teams too much space and essentially the time to hurt us.

The players looked nervous and like rabbits caught in the headlights from the word go. Why? Fear of failure? From the opening match the passing was sloppy and we gave away possession far too easily. Nerves need to be settled and at some stage you have to look at the captain and manager.

To be fair to Capello once they are on the pitch there isn’t a great deal he can do but who was leading the team? I mean really? Gerrard? Terry?

At The Den we have three or four players, one of which is the captain Paul Robinson, who you see shouting encouragement, or giving struggling teammates a kick up the arse, to get them going.

Perhaps it was just the camera work on the BBC but other than David James (and keepers always shout at the defence when they concede) I saw no agression – no fight. They looked resigned to defeat and slumped further with every goal.

Maybe it’s the fact that the Millwall players aren’t earning millions each year but they certainly seem to actually care and the victories seem to mean much more.

Paul Robinson’s pre-playoff final speech sums it up:

“We’re playing for the people who hate their jobs, who’d love our lives,” said Robinson. “Let’s give them something special.”

Paul Robinson: What you want from a captain.

Can you really imagine an England player coming out with that? Or if they did actually meaning it?

That for me is why Millwall will always come above England – because I know that week in week out it really matters to most of the domestic players.

I will always support England whenever they play but the sooner this country wakes up to the fact that our glory days are behind us the better. England may well go on to win a major tournament but realistically we are a team who should be looking to get beyond the group stage and take it from there.

Now I can kick back and watch some decent international teams play before turning my attention to the forthcoming NPower Championship season.

It might not be glamourous but it’s real and I love it.

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The Firm – Review (Film)

The Firm

Being a Millwall fan brings it’s own prejudices with regard to hooligans and that whole football violence scene.

I’ve never been interested in that side of the game but the unwritten rule is that if you know where to look you can find trouble at or around almost any ground on a Saturday afternoon.

The recent mindless violence between Millwall and West Ham ‘fans’ at their Carling Cup tie was a throwback to the sort of thing seen in the 70’s and 80’s.

The irony of all this for me was that in amongst the condemnation of that night’s events was a trailer for the film The Firm. The story of one lads journey into 80’s hooliganism with the two main firms being… Yep you guessed it, Millwall and West Ham. 😆 You literally couldn’t make it up!

As a rule I’m not a big fan of football violence films but this was certainly the most impressive film I have seen of that ‘genre.’

The Firm 2

The Firm shows things from the perspective of Dom (Calum McNab) who ends up getting in with a bad crowd of lads through charismatic ringleader Bex Bissell (Paul Anderson – superb in his first major role).

This film certainly isn’t all doom and gloom and there is plenty of comedy to be had, both between the lads themselves and also between Dom and his father (Eddie Webber).

The violence is fairly graphic at times but it’s the nasty undercurrent bubbling away that really gets you. The waiting for something terrible to happen is almost as bad as seeing one of the lads get a real kicking.

Having worked on the music for the film I knew what was coming in terms of tracks but the way they handled the music in The Firm was really cool and helped the film maintain it’s impact.

Using licensed tracks for the first half and then switching to a dark, overbearing score for the more sinster second half was a nice touch.

The story itself was standard fare for this sort of tale: boy gets into footie violence, fits in ok, goes through rite of passage, realises he’s out of his depth etc I won’t spoil the end just in case you don’t know how it’ll turn out 🙂

Even if you’re not into this sort of film The Firm is definitely watchable. Hopefully most hooliganism has been left in the past and The Firm serves as a timely reminder of the ‘bad old days.’

Rating: 7/10

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UK Football 2009/10 – Half Term Report

Millwall1                     Steve Morison hustles for the ball for Millwall 

So we’re pretty much a quarter of the way through the football season here in the UK and that seems as good a time as any to have a look at how things progressing across the divisions.

 

Following a thumping 5-0 win over a lacklustre Tranmere Rovers on Saturday, Millwall are heading back in the right direction.

Our inconsisent form has seen us yo-yo around mid table but hopefully we can push on from here and aim for the top six.

Sadly for Tranmere, tipped for the playoffs preseason, things aren’t improving and they remain in the bottom four.

At the top of League One it’s no surprise to see Leeds and Charlton filling the top two spots. I expect Leeds to take the title but Charlton will need to keep their star players fit otherwise they may struggle to maintain the pace.

The main surprise has been Swindon‘s impressive start and it will be interesting to see if they can keep on track throughout the season.

Ricky Lambert      Southampton goal machine Ricky Lambert – 7 goals for the season

At the bottom Southampton have taken a lot longer than we all thought to get out of minus points and along with Tranmere and Wycombe look to be falling away. I suspect the superb signing of Ricky Lambert will see the Saints march up the table though as the season goes on.

The Premier League has been up to it’s usual tricks – the top two look to remain unchanged but as strong as Man Utd have been, I still think Chelsea will take it this year. Their defence seems stronger and less likely to implode.

Tottenham and Man City currently occupy the other Champions League spots – I cannot see Spurs mantaining that however there is a real chance for Man City to break into the top four. Next season may see even more from City, as their defensive partnerships bond – Mark Hughes has made some very shrewd signings.

Joleon Lescott             Joleon Lescott: Will come good for City when settled in

It will be interesting to see what Liverpool and Arsenal can do in response to all this. I suspect Arsenal may take third place but they are often so inconsisent that you can never tell.

There is a real battle at the wrong end of the table and with Portsmouth getting a (first) win at the weekend even they are in with a shout of staying up. If I’m gonna stick my neck out and say one team I think will drop that would be Hull, who seem to have lost all confidence in manager Phil Brown.

In the Championship it’s again as you would expect with the ‘big three’ of Newcastle, West Brom and Middlesbrough filling the top three spots. All three of these teams will be up there at the end of the season. Newcastle’s super start will see them, in my opinion, take the title but second place is up for grabs.

Adam Johnson     Middlesbrough’s Adam Johnson is in great form so far this season 

Lots of great individual performances in this first quarter – Kevin Nolan seems to be on fire for Newcastle, likewise Adam Johnson for Middlesbrough and the standard of the Championship this year is very high.

With lots of teams including Preston, Cardiff and Sheffield Utd also looking strong it makes for an interesting promotion race.

At the other end Reading are a big shock to see so close to the drop zone but it’s early days and they still have time to turn it around. Likewise with bottom of the lot Ipswich. Roy Keane is obviously under pressure but performances have improved and it’s only a matter of time before the positive results come – but will it be enough?

Down in League Two the season was almost overshadowed by the whole Sol Campbell affair at big spending Notts County. In my opinion, disillusioned or not, Campbell’s behaviour has been unacceptable.

County seem to still be going well but have stuttered of late – probably as all their new signings gel together.

AFC Bournemouth            AFC Bournemouth have raced to the top of League Two

No shock to me to see Bournemouth top – after all their recent point deductions I fancied them to have a good run on a level playing field – and Rotherham have also been strong so far.

Another of my tips, Dagenham and Redbridge have been flying and it’s nice to see Aldershot up and around the playoffs, hopefully both of them can maintain that form.

Barnet are also doing well and while Bradford have struggled here and there they will be around the playoffs come the end of the season.

At the bottom it’s as you would’ve thought really, with Grimsby putting up more of a fight than I expected so fair play to them. Darlington really are a long way (8pts) from safety and lots of other clubs could be dragged into the relegation battle.

 

There is still a long way to go and only a few teams are in a position that requires any sort of panic but a lot of people always say you can tell what kind of season you are going to have by where you are after 10 games.

From a personal point of view after the injuries we’ve had I’m happy to see Millwall in 10th – with a bit of luck and some more consistency we can hopefully push on and make the playoffs again this season.

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Football Season Preview 2009/10

NewSeason1

So we’re warming up for the new football season here in the UK, with teams across the country getting in some pre-season friendlies and generally trying to get fit again.

Millwall have the potential hangover of a playoff final defeat lingering but the signs seem good so far in pre-season.

One problem we will have is with our defence depending on how the next few days/weeks pan out.

Zak Whitbread

With our captain Paul Robinson and right back Danny Senda both injured it doesn’t help that Zak Whitbread wants a transfer (not takers so far though) as it effectively leaves us with 4 or 5 defenders to fill 4 positions… which just isn’t enough. Hopefully we may sign a few more players before the season starts on Saturday.

And it’s a tough game, Southampton away – one of the ‘big three’ (Southampton, Norwich, Charlton) who were relegated from the Championship last year.

MK Dons

Add in Leeds, MK Dons, Tranmere and Oldham (amongst others) and League One is shaping up to be very competetive indeed.

I’m tipping Leeds and MK Dons for automatic and hoping we can make the playoffs again and maybe win it this time.

In the Championship it’s all about Newcastle – either they are tipped for the title or generally being laughed at. 🙂 I don’t think they will get automatic but they have enough strength in depth to make the playoffs… depending on who they put in charge.

Alves

For the other teams that came down I expect West Brom will be up there and for Middlesbrough I think it hinges on the impact of Alves and new signing Leroy Lita. If those two fire there is no reason they can’t push for promotion straight back up.

Reading and Derby will both be dangerous and it’ll be interesting to see what Roy Keane gets out of the players at Ipswich.

In the Premier League the apparent loss of Alonso at Liverpool will really hurt their title chances despite the threat of Gerrard and Torres.

NewSeason4

Manchester United will have to work extra hard to retain the title, although the shrewd signing of Michael Owen could tip the balance in their favour if he stays fit. Chelsea‘s new coach has a lot of work to do but has the squad to push even harder for the title in 2010, along with that elusive Champions League trophy.

You can never write off Arsenal but their 4th place is really under threat from the likes of Aston Villa, Everton, Manchester City and even Spurs.

I suspect Hull have had their time in the Premier League unless Jimmy Bullard returns in top form and I’d tip Burnley (as much as I’d love them to stay up) and Wolves or Wigan to join them in the drop – but there will be plenty of teams dragged into the fight.

Jimmy Bullard

Down in League Two it seems to be another competitive, tight league and I suspect you’ll be looking at three from Barnet, Bournemouth, Dagenham & Redbridge, Crewe, Rotherham, and Bradford for the promotion places but I expect Northampton and Port Vale to also be strong.

NewSeason6

Grimsby need a change of fortunes to avoid being sucked out of the league along with Shrewsbury who have been treading water in League Two of late.

It’ll be interesting to see if Burton and Torquay can survive, with the latter looking more likely.

 

It’s looking like a great season ahead in all the leagues and I’ll be keeping an interested eye on everything that’s going on as the season progresses.

Doo Doo Doo, Gary Alexander

playoffs1

Millwall 2 – Scunthorpe 3

What a game. As our hopes of climbing back into the Championship disappeared on Sunday I couldn’t help but be impressed by the occasion.

45,000 odd Millwall fans singing and laughing before kick off, mingling with the Scunthorpe fans – everyone was out to enjoy their clubs day in the sunshine. 🙂

Wembley itself was very impressive and our seats (£60) had a great view of the action.

It was great during the build up to see how much everyone was enjoying the occasion and the Scunthorpe fans, though lower in numbers, did make the odd chant inbetween us lot.

The game started at a fair old pace and Millwall looked like they were still on the team bus – 1-0 down in 5 minutes to a nicely worked goal.

It seemed to take about half an hour for us to get started and then a moment of inspiration from Gary Alexander sent us into rapture.

Chesting a throw in towards goal he struck an exquiste half volley that looped over the Scunthorpe keeper and into the net. 😎

A split second of disbelief hit the crowd before the place erupted. The noise was immense and I think that goal was celebrated just as much as Timmy Cahill’s against Sunderland in the FA Cup semi final back in 2004. Everyone was jumping up and down screaming ‘what a goal! What a goal!’ 😆

All of sudden we were taking the game to Scunthorpe, pressuring them all over the pitch and just two minutes later a cross floated in and Alexander rose highest to nod the ball goalwards. Their keeper spilled it into the goal and again Wembley roared. 😎

We made it to half time intact and the second half started with a quick flurry of Scunthorpe chances. We got back into it again and had a few great chances.

playoffs2

Then came the leveller around the 75 minute mark, some really sloppy defending leaving the Scunthorpe forward with an open goal to pop the ball into. 😡

After that we got back on the offensive and our chance to win it came when Hackett crossed for Alexander, who somehow headed wide from a couple of yards out. I think we knew then it was a chance we should’ve taken.

And with five minutes left some even more shoddy defending let Scunthorpe net the winner, this time a tame shot going under the body of keeper David Forde.

Even then we had a chance to equalise when Neil Harris found himself through but his weak shot was palmed away for a corner and the game was over.

Congratulations to Scunthorpe, I clapped them as they received the trophy. Either team could’ve taken this game and it came down to the chances we missed and the ones Scunthorpe took.

It was quite an odd atmosphere at the final whistle – apart from the players no-one really seemed to care? The singing continued and the applause was great.

All the way home there was singing – all back up Wembley Way and on the tube journey right back to London Bridge. I suspect if passers by didn’t know the score they would’ve thought we’d won! 😆

I suppose it was the effort of the players, we weren’t outplayed or well beaten, just unlucky and if Gary Alexander’s header had skidded into the goal rather than past it we might have been celebrating a win.

Next season will be extremely tough, there are a host of teams who could go for it and I think we’ll struggle.

We have no major goalscorer. Yes, Harris and Alexander will get 10 or 12 each but we’d need a lot more than that to aim for the playoffs.

Realistically I can see Charlton, Norwich, MK Dons, Leeds, Tranmere, Oldham, Brentford and Gillingham all finishing above us. 

If we can make the top ten, consolidate and then push on from there we will be on the right track.

Kenny Jackett is most certainly the right man for us – under him we’ve been great and played some lovely football. It just goes to show what having a proper manager can do for a team.

A good start next season is imperitive though, otherwise we’ll find ourselves dragged into a relegation dogfight. 😮