Monday, June 16, 2008

Euro Overload


Yeah, I guess you could say that I enjoyed watching my favorite team in the tournament beat the crap out of my least favorite. I enjoyed being on the right end of a typically disinterested performance by Thierry Henry as opposed to having to root for the guy. (The fact that he interspersed one great finish in with 89 minutes of sulking just makes the sulking harder to take.) I enjoyed the excessively conservative French being totally exposed. Raymond Domenech, you were two goals down in the second half of a game you had to win or at least get a point. What the hell were you doing playing four defenders and two defensive midfielders for the entire second half? Did you enjoy the whole world realizing that you are an excessively defensive tool when Claude Makelele, the player you should have pulled off at the half and certainly when you were down 2-0, fluffed a shot in the box because, you know, he never shoots?

(One aside: in the same way that Roberto Donadoni goofed by deploying the entire AC Milan midfield after a bad season for the Rossoneri, Domemech goofed by deploying all of his Barcelona players in the opener against Romania after the Blaugrana were crap this year.)

Conversely, I loved Marco van Basten being rewarded for going for the jugular. Up a goal at the half, van Basten threw on Arjen Robben (and attacking winger) for Orlando Engelaar (a defensive midfielder). Robben promptly scored one and assisted a second in the second half. Euro '08 has been a terrific tournament and not just because my two favorite teams - Holland and Spain - have been playing well while my least favorite team - England - are watching from vacation. The tournament has been marked time and again by coaches being rewarded for going for the jugular, as opposed to getting a goal and then trying to make it stand up for an hour. After Greece bored the rest of the continent into submission four years ago, this is a useful tonic. Instead, the Cinderellas this time - Croatia and Turkey - have all advanced while playing attractive football. Yay for progress!

The ultimate sign of progress will be if doddering former powers Italy and France play out a meaningless game tomorrow because Romania are beating the Dutch. The match presents an interesting problem for Holland. On the one hand, they ought to try to win because it's the right thing to do. Strategically speaking, the best outcome for Holland would be to force Spain to play France or Italy, both of whom give the Spanish a complex. On the other hand, the Dutch must be concerned with injuries to key players, especially when a number of their attackers - van Nistlerooy, van Persie, Sneijder, and Robben - have been brittle this year. The second choice Dutch attacking four - Huntelaar, Robben, van Persie, and Affellay - would be more than enough to threaten Romania, but does van Basten risk the brittle Robben and van Persie, knowing that they are his super subs? And surely Marco wants a look at a keeper other than van der Sar since Edwin can't play forever.


Spain have never been noted as the kind of team that can gut out a game in which they are playing below their best, so kudos for getting three points on Saturday. That said, the defense still looks shaky. I watch a fair amount of Real Madrid and I don't remember Sergio Ramos being this vulnerable as a defender, so maybe I need to be paying more attention. How he paid so little attention to a striker with Zlatan's reputation is beyond me. Also, Sweden showed future Spanish opponents the gameplan to negate La Furia: overload the middle and harass Xavi every time he gets the ball so he can't get the pendulum started. Sweden did a nice job of nullifying the Dutch. Of course, the fact that they had to sacrifice their own offensive prowess to do so meant that the worst that Spain would do in the game would be 1-1.


I think I speak for most of the non-Greek world in saying that I will shed no tears over the Greece being out of the tournament. The fact that they went out on a defensive blunder is fairly comical.

Turkey-Czech Republic

Simply one of the best games I've ever seen. The first half wasn't great, as the Czechs completely dominated and created all of the good chances. Whatever Fateh Terim said at the half must have worked because the second half was a completely different story, with the exception of the chances that the Czechs created when Turkey was down to ten men. A lot of attention has been devoted to Petr Cech's howler and it was a colossal mistake, but the larger picture is that Turkey was creating all the chances for most of the half. After the Turks got the goal to get back to 2-1, they were coming at the Czechs in waves, stringing great passes together on a consistent basis. Would the Czechs feel better if Cech wouldn't have fumbled a cross, but they would have surrendered the lead on Servet's free header minutes before. It's hard to say that Turkey did not deserve the equalizer, regardless of the way that it arrived. And then Nihat's winner was simply outstanding, both in terms of the timing of his run and the quality of the finish.

You think a Turkey-Germany semifinal might be interesting, given the number of Turks living in Germany?


Jerry Hinnen said...

Not to mention having Andy Gray on the mic for both the France-Holland and Turkey-Czech matches. Going from Healey/Gray to Dellacamera/Harkes for Sunday afternoon's U.S. WC qualifier felt like crashing into a lamppost. I'm hoping that the universal rave reviews for ESPN's (non-Julie Foudy-related) coverage will give them the excuse they need to not subject us to the likes of Dave O'Brien in 2010, but I'm not optimistic.

Hup Holland Hup!

LD said...

Turkey will have trouble making the semifinal without Volkan or Mehmet Aurelio. Croatia will likely not play anyone who runs the risk of missing the next stage because of cards. Similarly, Portugal will have a full complement of players (and well rested in a quick-turnaround tournament). Germany, having to play all their best players today, might end up with a few starters suspended because of cards. What I'm saying is that Germany-Turkey might not be a likely semi. Though I'd be cool with it.

I was happy for the late winner in the Spain match, because the non-call for a penalty at the end of the first half was the single worst call in a tournament of suspect refereeing.

Michael said...

I couldn't watch the Barbados game. After eating filet mignon for a week, I can't go back to rump roast.

I'm hopeful that ESPN will have Andy Gray in two years, but I suspect that Gray was available because England didn't qualify and the English media therefore needed less of a media presence. Gray is outstanding. He combined good tactical analysis with a passion for the game. His call of the end of the Turkey match was perfect.

I generally agree that Portugal and Croatia will have advantages in the quarters, but they could also go stale, a fear that I have about the Dutch.

The missed PK call in the Spain match was dreadful. It reminded me of John Terry running over Leo Messi in the first leg of Barca-Chelsea in '06, only Terry tacked on a handball at the end of his steamroller imitation for good measure. For me, the worst call so far was the offside decision against Italy on Friday.

Jerry Hinnen said...

I wouldn't blame anyone but us hard-core U.S. fans who wonder things like "Hey, is Heath Pearce going to be able to deliver crosses for us or not?" or "Is Beasley's fitness still progressing on schedule?" for skipping the Barbados slaughter. "Rump roast" is actually kind of generous ... more like "McDonald's 99-cent hamburger with extra onions when you asked for no onions."

As much as I enjoyed the Dutch's first two games, it's hard to get too excited about their chances when you remember that the horrific Euro 2000 loss was preceded by that 6-1 thrashing of Yugoslavia that had everyone saying the exact same kind things they're saying about them now.

Kanu said...

The ultimate sign of progress will be if doddering former powers Italy and France play out a meaningless game tomorrow because Romania are beating the Dutch

Romania are tricky, because on the one hand I'd love to see the never given a chance underdog get out of the group, but on the other hand Romania2008=Greece2004, so it's hard on general principle to really get behind a team that plays that way.

Always thought Ramos was one of those defenders whose strength is going forward and playing offensively rather than actually defending, but I'm sure that you see him play for RM much more than I do.

Everyone is going to cream their pants over Portugal-Germany and Spain-2C potentially, but it wouldn't surprise me at all if Croatia-Turkey is the best game of the 4 quarters- really looking forward to that one.

Agreed that the Sweden no-call penalty was the worst of the tournament... thusfar. That was as clear cut a penalty as you will ever see.

I wish all of the Caribbean islands could band together like they do in cricket and play as the West Indies- would make things much more interesting in CONCACAF.

Michael said...

I don't see Romania as being quite as defensive as you do. They created a lot of chances against Italy and Mutu is far better offensively than anyone on '04 Greece. They did play defensively against France, but it took two to tango in that game and France wasn't exactly adventurous either.

Kanu said...

They did create more in the first half today than they did in the prior two matches, but like Rocco against Tiger they didn't seize the opportunities when they presented themselves {middle of fairway, 100 yards out on easiest hole on course both Sunday & Monday and made 2 pars, when a birdie in either situation would have knocked TW out} and it came back to bite then in the ass.

Italy were great today, and France is officially dead now. Fire Domenech and rebuild with the kids.

Kanu said...


At least Greece2004 scored goals, we all have to give them that although they didn't create much they seized their limited opportunities and scored goals on their way to the title.

Romania 2008 scored 1 goal in 3 matches, and that single goal was due in no small part to a massive defensive blunder by Zambrotta.

Just sayin'.

Keep it up, I always enjoy your opinion.

Anonymous said...

Well we've got Germany-Turkey. I hope there are no disturbances in Germany (seriously).

Yeah, the CONCACAF isn't that interesting. Aside from the U.S. and Mexico, basically all the teams are from countries that either 1) don't play soccer (e.g., Canada, Cuba, Dominican Rep.); 2) are really, really small (e.g., all the Lesser Antilles) or 3) are desperately poor and have little to no sports infrastructure (e.g. Haiti, much of Central America).

Haiti seems like it could be a sports sleeping giant. If it could even reach the level of economic development of say, Jamaica, its 8 million people could make a splash in the sports world.