Saturday, June 21, 2008

Final Round of Group Games

Group A

Germany 1-0 Austria

Very much a David versus Goliath clash, I was desperately hoping for a David victory even though I was convinced this would never happen. The Austrians have performed much better at this tournament than anyone expected and can be proud to have a draw and two one goal losses to their name even if they couldn't repeat the miracle of Cordoba in this crucial fixture. Austria have been an inventive side lacking in scoring ability but players like Korkmaz and Ivanschitz caught the eye. This game was notable for the spat between both managers Low and Hickersberger in which they were both sent to the stands. Michael Ballack had the winning of the game with an absolute thunderbolt of a long range free kick with the Germans proving more intent on defending than attacking.

Croatia 1-0 Poland

Croatia had already just about guaranteed themselves top spot and cemented this with a comfortable victory over the disappointing Poles. After topping their qualifying group one might have expected a little better from them this tournament. Their only goal was against Austria and even this could be disputed for offside. This game had a nice story in that the winning goalscorer Klasnic had undergone a kidney transplant last year. Poland had needed to win by 2+ goals and Austria to lose to Germany in order to progress, this combination of events never going to happen.

Group B

Turkey 3-2 Czech Republic

Going into the match with exactly the same points and goals scored and goals against this was a straight out fight for second spot in the group and a place in the quarter-finals. For the first time ever there was a potential for a group match to end in a penalty shoot-out where this match to finish a draw, thanks to the intricacies of FIFA laws for the tournament. The Czechs would have seemed to be out of reach after a Koller header and a Plasil shot both found the back of the net for a 2-0 lead. However in the 75th minute a nice finish from Turan gave them hope. In the 87th minute Cech, one of the world's best keepers, contrived to drop the ball in a catastrophic moment that allowed Nihat to provide the equaliser. Moments later he stunned everyone with a driving shot from outside the box rattling off the crossbar and into the goal. Turkey had looked willing to attack in this game and played some nice football, however it was harsh on the Czechs who overall would have deserved a victory had they won. It was quite a remarkable comeback - Turkey have now managed two last minute victories in a row and found a quarter-final date with Croatia.

Switzerland 2-0 Portugal.

Portugal rested most of their team having already guaranteed themselves top spot, and Switzerland were able to end their participation in Euro 2008 on a high. Star player Hakin Yakin scored both goals but Switzerland will still be disappointed overall as they deserved at least a point in both of their first 2 games but ended up with nothing. Kuhn departs the National side much revered and loved by his players, and fair enough, I love you too Kobi!!!

Group C

Netherlands 2-0 Romania

Going into this match Romania knew a victory would guarantee them progression into the final eight. However they rarely threatened in what was quite frankly a dreadful performance. The players literally froze when they needed to stand up and be counted. Having finished top of their qualifying group ahead of the Dutch and having recorded victories over them, it wasn't as if they should have been scared. The Dutch may have been on fire in their opening fixtures but they were guaranteed top spot and were resting a few of their players. Passes consistently went astray and they hardly created any shooting opportunities apart from the odd half chance falling to Mutu and Codrea. Even as it became clear that they needed victory with Italy leading in the other game they were still far too cautious in the second half, ultimately paying the price as Huntelaar slipped in a goal and Van Persie smashed in from close range. Even losing 2-0 they could still have gone through if the Italy France game was a draw however with the Italians also two up this wasn't going to happen, and the Romanians seemed content to let the match drift to its conclusion. Romania will rue Mutu's penalty miss against Italy, however overall I was highly disappointed that a team who could offer so much offered so little in at least 2 of their 3 group games.

Italy 2-0 France

Group C appeared to be heading to a mouth watering finish however the 2 final group games played simultaneously did not live up to expectation and with about 20 minutes remaining both games seemed to be heading to their inevitable conclusions of Italy snatching second place. This game was not helped as Ribery was stretchered off in the early stages and Abidal brought down Luca Toni in the box on 25 minutes conceding a penalty and receiving a red card for his troubles. From this point on Italy were rampant and Toni wasteful with chance after chance. Henry had one good chance as he ended up pulling his trademark short across goal and just outside the post. The second goal when it did come was fortuitous as Henry deflected in De Rossi's free kick with his boot. Coupet made a great save from a Grosso free kick and Buffon made a great save from Benzema's curling effort. With Romania's loss to the Netherland's Italy had booked themselves a quarter-final date with Spain. However with the fantastic midfield pair of Pirlo and Zambrotta both suspended they will definitely have their work cut out!

Group D

Russia 2-0 Sweden.

With Sweden requiring only a draw from this fixture to progress it was inexplicable how poorly they played as Russia dominated the game, finally showing what a good team they are. It was no coincidence that this coincided with the return from suspension of their star player Arshavin who had a fantastic game in midfield spraying passes around. He and Pavlyuchenko were the goal scorers, both finishing off wonderful sweeping moves as the Russians moved the ball around with flair, speed and accuracy in what was a delight to behold. Sweden barely threatened until the last quarter when, realising their tournament was in danger of being over, tried to lay siege to the Russian goal. This however merely opened up more counter attacking opportunities for the Russians who could have quite easily added another 2 or 3 goals to their tally.

Spain 2-1 Greece

With the Spanish guaranteed top spot this was the Spanish second string, many of the players eager to impress and fight themselves into the first team for their quarter-final clash with Italy. Many, apart from perhaps Fabregas and Alonso did not take this opportunity. Greece in fact took the lead as the only team from Euro 2008 who had yet failed to score got themselves on the scoresheet with Charisteas heading home from Karagounis' free kick. Nikopolidis in the Greek goal, playing his last international was almost embarassed as Alonso attempted to score from inside his area as he has previously managed to do, however this floated just wide. De la Red and Guiza scored the goals which allowed Spain to claim a come from behind victory and keep up their 100% record thus far in the tournament.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Second Round of Group Games

Group A

Portugal 3-1 Czech Republic

Portugal were red hot, showing why they have been afforded the favourites tag by a number of critics. However they had to be on form to beat a Czech side who improved massively from their dour showing in the first game. It was an entertaining match and Portugal deserved their victory. Scolari was named as Chelsea manager after the match and will no doubt herald in yet another Chelsea revolution in a situation which has almost become farcical.

Turkey 2-1 Switzerland

Very hard luck on the Swiss. Switzerland were in my opinion the better of the two sides and were worth their 1-0 half-time lead with the awesome Yakin finishing off a nice move. Senturk's equaliser was a classic header but Turkey should already have been 2-0 down as Yakin missed a glorious chance from a similar spot to where he scored. Turan broke Swiss hearts with a lucky deflected goal. The Swiss had finished two games with 0 points to show, and yet having deserved far more in both games. I was quite bitter about this! And why does Kuhn never give Yakin a full ninety minutes? That annoys me too. Turkey will go head to head with the Czechs to claim second spot, a draw would yield penalties.

Group B

Croatia 2-1 Germany

In stark contrast to both team's opening games Croatia were excellent, creative and highly dangerous whilst Germany were a shadow of themselves. Germany still created a number of chances but they were wasteful, did not appear composed in defence, and generally did not impress. Srna was composed to open the scoring and their second was a little fortuitous but they were worth their win. Podolski's consolation goal proved yet again his brilliant finishing but frustration was evident as Schweinsteiger was sent off for a push in the latter stages. I'm not sure why Schweinsteiger is not a starter, especially after remembering his brilliant displays in WC06. David Odonkor was brought on as a sub for his pace but ended up doing more than his fair share of defending. My only criticism of Croatia is their inclination to sit back on a lead rather than really stamp their foot down.

Poland 1-1 Austria.

Austria started the game in bulldozing fashion creating chance after chance in a display of fast, skilful and penetrative football. All that was lacking was a finish as chance after chance went begging. Harnik missed great chances as the likes of him and Korkmaz blew the Polish defending apart. But it's in the final shot that they're lacking most and hence what should have been at least a 3-o lead remained goal-less. After such profligacy it was inevitable that the opening goal would be for the Poles, albeit one that perhaps should have been disallowed. It did after all appear offside. After the goal the Austrians never again found such rhythm. However in the final minute they were awarded a penalty causing the Polish PM to admit that he "wanted to kill". Vastic put it away becoming the oldest player to score in the Euros (38) and gave the Austrians a much deserved point. The Austrians are the team who have most touched my heart this comp. They will be looking to claim their most important win over the Germans to potentially reach the knock-out stage ahead of one of the favourites. It will be David against Goliath, come on David!!

Group C

Italy 1-1 Romania

Whilst I criticised Romania in their first game for lacking invention and appearing happy for a draw the same criticism could not be levelled at them this time. They played a really good game as did Italy, in what was a great game. 1-1 was a fair result. Both teams had chances in an entertaining game. Toni had a goal wrongly ruled for offside, and Buffon saved from a Mutu penalty, leaving Mutu absolutely distraught. Lobont pulled off a couple of fantastic saves in the Romanian goal. It must also be noted that Zambrotta was squarely at fault for the Romanian goal.

Holland 4-1 France

The Dutch have now put both World Cup finalists to the sword in consecutive games. Another fantastic display including a remarkable finish from Robben, smashing it in from an acute angle, and a great long-range effort from Sneijder. Henry uncharacteristically missed the perfect opportunity for a lob sending it over the bar. Great counter-attacking from the Dutch, hopefully they haven't peaked too early. A repeat of the World Cup Final in the last round of games will see elimination for at least one of Italy or France, few would have expected that prior to the tournament starting. Romania are the only one of the three to have it in their own hands - a win would take them through.

Group D

Spain 2-1 Sweden

A closely fought game with Villa's clinical winner proving the difference between the sides. Ibrahimovic scored another nice goal but was withdrawn at half-time as a precaution and the Swedish tendency to sit back in the second period proved frustrating for the Spanish. Wilhelmsson suffered an injury that will force him out of the Euro's which is a big blow as he provides telling crosses. The Spanish were not as devastating in this game but still did enough, and this was perhaps indicative of playing a workmanlike and effective side in the Swedes.

Russia 1-0 Greece

Goalkeeper Nikopolidis made the inexplicable decision to come sprinting off his line at the most inappropriate time handing Russia an easy opportunity to take the lead. Russia were clearly the better team and Greece were unable to repeat their European heroics of 2004 as they joined Switzerland as the only teams after the second round of group stage matches to be eliminated. Russia set up a showdown with Sweden in which a draw or win will hand Sweden runner-up spot behind Spain, a Russian win would allow them to advance.

A lot of permutations are possible in the last round of group matches. It's all very exciting. The largest set of permutations, perhaps not surprisingly, appear in group C.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

First Round of Group Games

Summary of First Round of Pool Play

Group A

Czech Republic 1-0 Switzerland

Switzerland were the better side, the Czech Reupublic were very lucky. The Swiss created many chances that they just couldn't finish. Frei had a couple of chances before the talismanic influential skipper was injured and had to come off. Subsequently he has been ruled out of the tournament which should prove to be a knock-out blow to them. Yakin put a free header wide and the Swiss generally played with enthusiasm and inventiveness. The Czechs took the lead against the run of play as Sverkos scored with a clinical finish. And the Swiss still pressed: Barnetta having a good shot blocked by Cech and Vonlanthen hitting the follow up onto the crossbar. Really disappointing start to the tournament, as Swiss manager Kobi Kuhn said: "football is not about justice". Frei's injury was heart-wrenching and the result was undeserved and gut wrenching. And this merely to add to Kuhn's trauma of his wife being ill in hospital...

Portugal 2-0 Turkey

Very comfortable win for the talented Portugese side. It could so easily have been more. Ronaldo showed his class, the Portugese hit the woodwork on more than one occasion and whilst Turkey were willing participants in a vibrant match, they never managed to demonstrate a cutting edge. Emre has since been ruled out of the next match with the Swiss due to injury and thus both teams key men will be missing.

Group B

Croatia 1-0 Austria

Croatia can also count themselves lucky as the unheralded Austrian side picked to do so badly at Euro 2008 showed a lot of pluck and would have been worthy recipients of a point against a Croatian side who largely disappointed. Croatia had to hold on in the second half and never quite lived up to their billing as a potential tournament winner. But they got the points!

Germany 2-0 Poland

Germany looked dangerous throughout and played a generally good game with Frings operating well down the wing and Podolski scoring a double. His second was a smashed volley highlighting his class. Boruc in goal for the Poles proved solid as usual, helping to keep the score down. The Germans showed why they are one of the favourites for Euro 2008

Group C

France 0-0 Romania

Whilst many have argued that Romania played well, contained France, and showed themselves to be a useful side I was personally disappointed. I felt they never attacked with much gumption and were too prone to giving the ball away. I admit I was expecting big things from the Romanians who proved in qualifying how good they are, instead they came across as a team willing to simply soak up French pressure and hold on for a hopes they show more attacking flair in later games. France did OK without Henry and Vieira but ultimately lacked spark, Benzema never really showing quite what he was capable of. Hence the match was a much more drab affair than was surely expected.

Netherlands 3-0 Italy

The Dutch were scintillating on the counter attack. The Italians missed Cannavaro, especially as Materazzi had a poor game. Zambrotta was useful for the Italians, and Pirlo showed off his beautiful passing skills as usual (I absolutely love watching his sweeping crossfield passes that fall so accurately at his team-mates feet) but the Italians had little else to write home about. Holland were pretty electric on the break, and this without the injured Arjen Robben. The first goal appeared offside although later as UEFA clarified the offside rules, was apparently not. The second was sumptuous, crossfield ball from Van Bronckhurst, delightfully flicked on by Kuyt and beautifully finished by Sneijder and the third was a straightforward header which killed off the tie. Prior to the third goal going in Van Der Sar pulled off a couple of stunning saves, none more so than the tremendous save from a Pirlo free kick that looked destined for the goal. Great to see the Dutch humble the Italians as I'll never forget the Euro 2000 semi-final when Holland were clearly deserving, missed two penalties in the game, and were ultimately eliminated.

Group D

Spain 4-1 Russia

Spain were sublime, and looked like scoring all day long. Villa notched the tournament's first hat-trick and Fabregas scored his first international goal (with a scrappy effort resulting from some shoddy defending). Russia were a little lax in defence but looked like a good hard-working team overall, and indeed both hit the post and scored what proved to be a deserved consolation. Strangely the tournament's seventh game was the first one in which both teams scored!

Sweden 2-0 Greece

Greece were disappointing and their defensive tactics that worked wonders at Euro 2004 were undone by a scintillating Ibrahimovic strike. If you haven't seen it just watch it, it's potentially the goal of the tournament. The second goal was very scrappy but a 2-0 victory was a fair result. Unfortunately Wilhelmsson suffered a leg injury which will rule him out for at least the next game. The next two games in this group (Spain - Sweden and Russia - Greece) will be crucial as both victors play each other as do both victors, thereby providing the opportunity for one team to guarantee a quarter-final spot and another to be completely eliminated. Such a situation also has the potential to develop in Group A's next two matches.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

One reason I love big tournaments like Euro 2008

Apart from the passion big tournaments incite for the legions of fans following their team, and the excitement of the neutrals to see a stimulating feast of world class football amongst a backdrop of tension and emotion it is a chance to see in action a number of players who you knew very little about or never new existed.

From my own position as one who loves football, I unfortunately am unable to follow the lesser European leagues such as the Dutch and French leagues - 2 excellent leagues but apart from the few minutes I get to see of these teams in the Champions League, I am devoid of watching domestic games from these places as well as from Germany, Greece, Switzerland (lack of TV access to these countries leagues in New Zealand a big problem etc etc etc). And even the big leagues of Spain and Italy I don't watch too much of. Watching a European Championship acquaints you with a lot more players, who they play for, how they play and all those other pieces of interesting information. It is fascinating to watch international football especially in such a passionate tournament.

P.S. Reviews from the first round of games in the four groups coming soon!!

Friday, June 06, 2008

Preview of Euro 2008!

Qualifying Campaigns... ... ...and then there were 16!

After many months of intensive qualifying campaigns for all European Nations the 16 teams were confirmed a couple of months ago. The disappointing aspect for me was that none of the 5 teams I classify as the Home Nations made it. England faltered at the last against Croatia, Scotland after such a wonderful qualifying campaign against the likes of France, Italy and Ukraine just missed out (perhaps the most gut wrenching), Wales were average, Republic of Ireland whom I love were disappointing and Northern Ireland also had a fantastic campaign including that wonderful Healy hat-trick against Spain but despite probably their best qualifying campaign ever also ended up missing out. However we have to move on from all that, I'm still excited by Euro 2008, the European Championships are the second best sporting event in the world in my opinion so I can't wait to watch the games and follow the action! Whereas the lack of Leeds United from the Premiership makes me lose excitement for the prem, the absence of the Home Nations has not dulled any of my fervent lip wetting for Euro 2008!

Introduction to 2008

For anyone who has been living in a cave of recent times, Euro 2008 is being co-hosted by Switzerland and Austria, considered as the also-rans of the tournament based on their lowly world rankings (Austria at 91 and Switzerland at 44 - the only two outside the top 30). However for me Switzerland conjures up images of beautiful snowy mountains for skiing and Austria makes me thing of old-fashioned, gorgeous architecture and My Fair Lady! Both will be passionate friendly hosts and will hopefully raise their game due to a home advantage. There are four groups of four, and from each group two teams will advance to quarter finals, and then we'll have the semis followed by the final!! Here is a brief preview for each group. I don't like to make predictions but as anyone who reads will expect some predicting, I might as well have a bit of a try. Sometimes it might even be based on hope rather than expectation! And no doubt my guesses for Group C will be almost does one even begin to consider the group of death?

Group A

Czech Republic are always expected to do well in recent times and were stunning in qualifying. They have a strong squad even though they are missing the influential Rosicky through injury and couldn't lure Nedved out of retirement. Cech is immense in goal. The Czechs can be very inconsistent: breathtaking one day, disappointing the next.
Prediction: Runner up

Portugal: A great squad, and Christiano Ronaldo - possibly the world's best player at the moment. Were nervy at times in qualifying but manager Luis Felipe Scolari is very good in big tournaments. Lots of talent. Can they harness this to complete Euro success for the first time?
Prediction: Group Winner

Switzerland: As home nation they might surprise a few people. Frei is their key man. They have a very solid defence and are a technically proficient young side including Arsenal defenders Senderos and Djourou.
Prediction: Third

Turkey: Unfortunately not quite the class of World Cup 02. Their one surviving star from that team is keeper Rustu Recber and he may have to settle for 2nd choice. Did not set the world on fire in qualifying and are unlikely to in Euro 2008 either.
Prediction: Last

Group B

Austria: Ranked 92nd in the world they are considered the worst team at the tournament by far. The son of a famous Austrian footballer was even involved in a petition to get them to voluntarily resign from the tournament from fear of embarassment. However with home support behind them and a bit of luck, who knows.
Prediction: Last

Croatia: An exciting and dangerous team. Even considering the serious injury to main striker Eduardo they are a force to be reckoned with combining team work and a lot of skill. Their is prodigious talent and a good togetherness about this side and can really fancy their chances, especially if the prodigiously talented Modric can shine.
Prediction: Group Winner

Germany: Unusually for the Germans they now play an exciting brand of football and will look to the cut and thrust of Ballack for inspiration and Klose for the goals. Germany always tend to be there or thereabouts in tournaments and as a result are expected to be a force.
Prediction: Runner up

Poland: Stormed their tricky qualifying group and are well blessed in goal with Boruc, Poland may have a better chance than at first glance. Bit lacking in creativity however.
Prediction: Third

Group C (An INSANE group of death)

France: Sometimes take a while to warm up at major tournaments which may prove their downfall in a group of this calibre. They are stacked with fine quality players but having lost to Scotland home and away in qualifying teams will have spotted their fallibility. Nevertheless they are a proven international force with a fine squad.
Prediction: Group Winner

Italy: World Cup winner but without their rock and captain Cannavaro through injury may struggle. However they have a very impressive squad with the creative force of Pirlo complementing bulldog Gattuso in midfield. With Buffon in goal and Luca Toni up front they have an excellent backbone to the side.
Prediction: Last

Netherlands: Usually an exciting team who's defenders can attack they currently have a more conventional style. Unusually they have very good defensive stats. Holland may miss Babel up front but they ooze quality in many areas of the team. Can be quite mercurial at times as well.
Prediction: Third

Romania: Had a fantastic qualifying campaign. Whilst many might say they look out of depth in their group compared with their illustrious opponents underestimate them at your peril. Much will depend on the performances of key man Mutu.
Prediction: Second

Group D

Greece: Unlikely to repeat their feats of 2004 they do have a hard working side, performed very well in qualifying, and retain Otto Rehhagel as manager from 04
Prediction: Last

Spain: As usual Spain have a very talented squad, but can the perennial underachievers of world football perform to the high standards expected of them, or will they flop again? With players like Casillas, Fabregas, Torres and Villa maybe for once it will be the former.
Prediction: Group Winner

Sweden: With the supremely confident striking talents of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and with Larsson again coming out of retirement there are definitely goals in this side. Especially with the quick Wilhelmsson and Ljunberg to set up from the wings. However Ibrahimovic has yet to fire at a major tournament despite his wonderful abilities. Is 2008 his year?
Prediction: Third

Russia: When Guus Hiddink is the manager, also rans can get much further than expected. Even though Pogrebnyak is a major injury doubt and star man Arshavin is suspended for their first two games Hiddink certainly knows how to get the best out of his players.
Prediction: 2nd

Well there ya go, Euro 2008 on on on!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Resurrection of my Blog!

As it is only a couple of sleeps or so until Euro 2008 begins, and this blog was initially started to analyse every moment in the 2006 world cup, it is fitting that after a year away from the blogosphere, I re-start now. Now, so that like for the 06 World Cup, I can freely express my views on the tournament: the teams, the moments, the controversies. Whether or not anyone ever reads my blog again I shall enjoy the process of writing it, and that is indeed all that matters.

There have been a million and one things I should have been blogging about since my last blog post just over a year ago. A lot has happened in politics, make that a huge amount worth putting my tuppence worth of thoughts on paper for. I have had holidays away that I should have reviewed. A number of things have happened in my life that are worth commenting on, and thus linking back to the themes of humanity. A lotta lotta stuff I should have blogged on, and I haven't.

Reading my second to last post on this blog it's pretty ironic. I was expressing my bitter disappointment and sadness over Leeds relegation from the Championship. Who could possibly have imagined that a year on and there would be something I would consider in some ways even worse to cry about regarding my beloved Leeds. I shall leave Leeds United until later, as I shall in the not too distant future write a season review as I have not commented on Leeds on this blog since that relegation.

So anyone and everyone (or indeed no-one) William Fussey is back (he hopes!). And after starting this post he wonders why he was ever away at all. Somehow my posts dried up and I never really thought about starting them back up again, especially as I started using my bebo blog a little. And then as Euro 2008 neared I suddenly remembered this blog! This, methinks, is the appropriate place for my blogging. So sit back, relax and enjoy once more. As once again I hope this to be the place for my many opinions on sport, politics and my philosophies on life :) It will be hard to fit this in over the Euro's in between watching games in the early morning, going to work and doing tutoring in the evening. Not to mention fitting in a social life as well. However sleep is over-rated so I'll do the best I can :p