Monday, 2 July 2012

Game 31: Passed and Present

What a climax. Spain finished the tournament with a two-fingers salute to me and eveyone else who'd yawned at them in previous rounds. Xavi and Iniesta were unstoppable, with their every pass measured to perfection. Jordi Alba put on a turbo-heeled display, and Torres, despite only having 20 minutes of game time, looked the part.

Spain were deserved winners of a tournament that was, on balance, pretty good. Definitely a 7/10 tournament for me; with some good games and good goals. I think the only thing it really lacked were any big turnarounds.

So life returns to normal and we wait 2 years for the next binge.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Italy or Spain?

Who to support?

On the positive side:

  • Spain remain excellent. Their touch, skill, ball-retention, ability to adapt is second to none. They could make history by achieving 3 straight tournament wins. In many ways they deserve it, such a talented group of player.
  • Italy, from adversity (squad depleted due to the match fixing scandal) they have played well throughout the tournament, from holding Spain in the first match, onwards. In beating the Germans, they put in a tournament winning display.
On the negative side:

  • Spain, utterly boring, always playing within themselves. No bleedin' strikers. Hope they lose.
  • Italy, corrupt, hope they lose.
On balance - I hope Italy win, Balotelli scores the winner, abuses the ref, hugs his adopted mum and then throws a firework celebration in his broom cupboard.

Bets for the final:

  • Italy to win
  • Balotelli to score
  • Balotelli to be sent off

Game 30: Marioooo

Football is back! Shock of the tournament (apart from Russia capitulating to Greece). Italy did what no-one expected, and produced a replica performance, dismantling Germany in the way that they basically did against England.

Super-Mario scored two good goals, the second a fierce wonder volley and a celebration to dwarf Ginola's shirt-off effort a few years back.

The Germans threatened a comeback, but didn't actually look that good. And so we have Italy v Spain in the exciting game in prospect.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Game 29: Snore

I think the players are experiencing the same lethargy that I am as the tournament reaches its closing stages. I could barely keep my eyes open for this one (mainly down to tiredness and hay-fever) but the footy did nothing to wake me.

Spain served up something different, opting to hoof the ball for a change, to zero effect. Portugal looked well organised and were unlucky not to get a result.

The only real entertainment was seeing Ronaldo shooting himself in the foot by insisting he went last in the penalties, thus missing out entirely on the chance to influence the shoot-out. Actually a shame though, as he'd been threatening to set the tournament alight but was back to his old ways, blazing free kick after free kick into the stands and then trying to take centre stage there at the end.

I think the last two matches should be decent though, with Germany I expect to prevail.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Game 28: Two banks of five!

Ah, the bi-annual dose of abject disappointment. The post mortem now begins with forensic analysis of what went wrong and the usual calls for root-and-branch changes to the game from top to bottom.

My take - well we got beaten, in a game, by a team who played better. It was pretty good for the first half hour - De Rossi hitting hte post from range, Johnson having a good effort at the other. Parker was a monster, tackling, bursting forward and really competing. Balotelli fluffed a few chances, England were passing slickly - it was all set up for a classic.

But then it all went rather wrong. England tired early after their initial burst. Italy took control of hte game, and but for a stunning Terry performance would have run away with it. We held on and on in the hope of penalties only at that point remembering how much we fear and detest them. And so we are out.

I think Hodgson did well with a limited bunch of player. QFs is a respectable achievement; and actually winning a tournament with this generation of players would actually send out the wrong message. I don't want youngsters of the nation aspiring to be like Terry, Rooney, Gerrard (with their sense of entitlement)- and think that the next generation of Milner, Welbeck, Hart (with their ethic of work)  are more deserving and I hope more likely to succeed.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Game 27: Striker-less Spain

So again Spain went with this false-nine nonsense. A brilliant team, guaranteed to boss possession; gifted with incisiveness and creativity; deciding to blunten their tools by not selecting anyone to finish off the good work. So frustrating, and so anti-football. Only because Spain are Spain can this even begin to be understood - but nonetheless it is a ridiculously negative approach. For this reason (and the generous odds on France) I decided to support France. I say "support France", but you know what I mean...

My missus rightly piped up that Del Bosque looks rather like Rene from Allo Allo. That only furthered my conviction that Spain shouldn't win this tournament.

And so it began, Spain seemingly out of sorts, but France not much better. Alonso gloriously nodded home (from the striker position, to invalidate my argument about the striker thing, and so Spain looked set. France did little in response. Ribery is a big game bottler. Nasri had a sulk on, and the French went out with a whimper (with Alonso rounding off his 100th cap with a brace)

Game 26: Germany do a Germany

Like the first Quarter Final, I struggled to get too excited about this one, it was just so hard to see how Greece would compete, let alone get a result. That said, it didn't stop me putting 50p on them to win; at an astonishing 9-1 odds (surely unheard of in a Euro QF). This together with the potential of England facing the winners led me to strongly support the embattled Greeks.

So, with my investment made I sat down to see the McLeish inspired 10-0-0 formation of the Greeks in action. Like a training game of attack v defence it inspired no confidence whatsoever, and was literally a matter of "when rather than if". 

The only note I made for the first half (yes, I have a small notebook dedicated to these championships) read as follows: "Germany absolutely shat on Greece". As a wannabee journalist I hope that kind of frank insight is what head-hunters want to see!

So when Lahm brilliantly slotted the opener for Germany just before half time, it was pretty much match over. He's not looked so much a threat going forward so far this tournament, but this goal was a timely reminder of the menace he poses.

The second half, remarkably saw Greece equalise - and like every other game where they have needed to recover, they have somehow looked more menacing - the equaliser was deserved rather than fluke - Samaras poking home after good work from Salpingidis down the right. This, however, only seemed to spur the Germans on, with Kadeira and Reus both smashing unstoppable volleys, either side of a Klose header to take the game out of sight.

A sympathy penalty for Greece made the score look more flattering, but Germany sent out their usual message. 

The good news, from now on, every game is definitely one to look forward to.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Game 25: Portugal beat the Czechs

Little to surprise us here. Portugal were odds on favourites and despite a spirited effort by the Czechs, the result was not greatly in doubt. The game ticked along okay, but didn't get my pulse racing - but the right team went through in terms of keeping the tournament exciting. The Czechs lack real class up front and would have struggled with a semi-final; whereas Ronaldo and Nani have the talent to really light up the latter stages of the tournament.

Germany v Greece tomorrow, which has the potential to be rather one sided...but you just never know..

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Games 23 & 24: Group D deciders

As soon as I saw Rooney singing the anthem (the actual words) I knew we were in for a treat. and on the simulcast of France vs Sweden, Mellberg's beard alone gave me confidence in the Swedes.

And so it began, both games turned on their heads, with England and Frnace both looking second best, in open games. After 24 minutes in the England match, Ukraine had taken seven shots to England's none. The midfield was standing off by five yards, allowing Ukraine space to pass fluidly and cause us quite a few problems; Yarmalenko in particular. Hodgson remained calm, whereas his counterpart Laurent Blanc took to dressing like a snooker player.

In the space of a few second half minutes, the whole group came to life. Rooney nodded home from impossibly close, netting me a fiver and putting England ahead. Almost at the same time Ibrahimovioc scored an absolute pearler - like Balotelli's goal the night before only from twice the distance. and then as England flapped, faltered and stumbled over the line, Seb Larsson bagged a slick second to guarantee england topped the group, avoiding Spain in the process, thus opening up a very real possibility that we will once again get dispatched by Germany in the latter stages of a tournament. Oh football, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Come on England

We're through!

Thank you goal-line ref thing for being utterly ineffectual.
Thank you Rooney for winning me a fiver.
Thank you Sweden for being heroic with only pride to play for.
Thank you Hodgson for making good decisions and acting with class and dignity.

Full 'report' tomorrow.

Games 21 & 22: Group C deciders

The first thing to note is that only 10 matches remain now that these two have been played, so footy addicts like me need to start preparing for cold turkey.

I wasn't as excited about this pair of games as any of the other groups, simply because I was certain that Spain and Italy would prevail. That was until kickoff - when it seemed there was at least a chance of an upset. Ireland looked fully fired up and determined to at least score, if not win. Croatia were more cautious and seemed to be going for the "let's keep it level and see what happens" approach. Spain were a little off the boil and so the approach worked for the first hour at least. Then as the second half progressed, Croatia put more men forward and were unlucky on several occasions not to take the lead.

Meanwhile, Italy had inevitably scored against Ireland - Given again having a few troubles. Having flapped a random shot past his own post, he was then beaten to the ball from the resulting corner, and so it was 1-0. I for one hope that he doesn't carry this form into the new season for Villa.

Spain were taking passing to a new level, beyond ineffectual into downright farting about -  and it looked for a while like it would cost them, with the risk that a single Croatia goal would know them out. That until Navas hammered home from point blank range, the ball having been passed around the entire Croat defence and goalie.

And so Spain & Italy progress - Balotelli got a goal and threw a mard at the coach for not having started him. Great stuff.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Games 19 & 20: Group B deciders

This promised to be an absolute feast of footy, and it delivered. Fully set up with multiscreen simul-watching, I sat down to this convinced that Holland and Germany would prevail. And so it seemed to be, when both took early leads, Podolski smashing home for Germany and Van der Vaart with a goal of the tournament contender for the Dutch.

But then things went weird. The Portuguese woke up, Ronaldo in particular seemed to suddenly realise that he was drifting aimlessly through the tournament and suddenly sparked to life - full of energy and life and much more composure. He equalised just as Denmark did likewise (Krone-Delhi nodding home from Bendtner's towering header.

When Portugal scored again (Ronaldo) there emerged the ridiculous possibility that the Germans could be knocked out entirely with just one more Danish goal. It was a very real prospect for 5-10 minutes until the Germans squashed the possibility as only they could, with the ludicrously named Bender poking home to make things safe and see the Germans come through the group of death with a stunning maximum nine point haul. They truly are something else.

So Holland, like Russia have blown it; only far more ingloriously.

Games 17 & 18: Group A deciders

Well, today I found out that pressing some key or other, whilst in Blogger, deletes the entire post irrecoverably. I haven't the energy to retype what I said but to summarise.

Russia - idiots, clearly the group's strongest team and they massively bottled it.
Greece - fair play to them for being economical (yes, seriously!) getting maximum return from minimum talent.
Poland - tryers, energetic but ultimately not good enough.
Czech Republic - won two games, so can't argue - but I do think they will be thumped in the quarters.

Tips for Group B - Germany to do the Dutch a favour by winning. The Dutch to find form and oust Portugal and snatch second.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Game 16: Sweden 2 - England 3

Eng-er-laaand. What a game. It started off a bit hectic and tight, but from the moment Carroll belted his monstrous header, it really caught fire. Sweden were excellent - full of energy, good passing and posed a real threat. Its a shame they'll not have anything to play for against France, as a similar performance would have seen them threaten.

Mellberg - former Villa hero, was enormous. Sporting that grizzly nordic beard, he was tackling and heading everything, and but for the tight fisted dubious goal committe would have had himself a brace (Johnson creditted with an own goal for one of them).

Pace made the difference, and Walcott having been slated by Mark Lawrenson as he prepared to come on, put in a match winning cameo. Lawro no doubt felt a bit of a tool.

So England march on - but in truth it looks as though the result againsrt Sweden was actually irrelevant as a win vs Ukraine would have seen us qualify second in any case...which is, it seems, what will happen in any case.

Good comeback though - and so nice to see us win.

Game 15: Ukraine 0 - France 2

A match that will go down in history for the electrical storm that greeted the start. I thought a bomb had gone off during the anthems, the thunderclap was deafening.

In the match itself, Ukraine looked quite menacing for a while, before eventually falling victim to two smart French moves. First Menez, who was Menezing throughout, and then Cabaye slotted the goals to put France very much in charge of the group.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Game 14: Ireland 0 - Spain 4

Pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, GOAL!

Pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, GOAL!

Pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, GOAL!

Pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, GOAL!

Spain were awesome. With Torres in as a proper #9 they were instantly likeable again.

Ireland's highlight: their fans Ole Ole-ing once the greens put more than one pass together!

Game 13: Italy 1 - Croatia 1

One of the most entertaining games of hte tournament this one. Good to see Italy sticking with their positive front line; and nice to see managers showing paitience with players in the tournament generally, even if they're not immediately firing (Balotelli, Kerzhakov, Postiga).

Pirlo buried a peach of a free kick, the first of the tournament I think and this sparked Croatia to life as a defeat would really leave them vulnerable. In the second half, Modric advanced from a deeper role to support the front two and it made all the difference, Croatia hitting back with a smartly taken goal form Mandzukic, controlling instantly, close to goal, before lashing home.

Balotelli was replaced after an hour, after having gradually become more sulky and anonymous. The result leaves the group well poised, but Croatia will regret not going for it a bit more, as they now really need a win against Spain to progress, I think.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Game 12: Netherlands 1 - Germany 2

A cracker of a prospect this one; one which I really thought would reveal what Holland are all about. I thought they'd be more attacking and really go for the win. a surprise then to see the midfield and forwards unchanged.

Van Persie began the game in the "Kerzhakov club" and had been training down at "shank camp", missing chances again. By contrast, Gomez - who had missed a hat-full in the European Cup Final, seemed to have packed his shooting boots, slotting two really accomplished goals that put the tie beyond the Dutch.

The commentators predictably launched into an "aren't Holland terrible/in disarray" diatribe; seemingly ignoring the fact that they actually looked pretty accomplished and were just being outdone by an extremely strong German side.

The game nearly came to life after Van Persie swapped feet and scored with his right foot, giving them hope for the final part of the game. Robben stropped off, Bender got another 'outing' but the points were Germany's.

The group is left poised with seemingly all to play for. with Germany on 6, Denmark and Portugal on 3 and Holland on 0 points, it seems any 3 teams could still win the group, and any 3 could qualify second...all to play for and I don't have the energy to work out what results derive the different eventualities.

Next up could be the first tournament massacre - as Spain take on Ireland...

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Game 11: Portugal 3 - Denmark 2

Portugal got the fixture off to a rousing start with the tournament's most out of key anthem singing to date, but nonetheless boldly sung.  You may have noticed that I am using this as the primary indicator of match outcome, and so my money went on a Portugal win.

This, like with the Czech Republic game yesterday seemed very much on the cards, as Portugal took a 2 goal lead thanks to Pepe and Postiga (who with 20 goals in 51 internationals gets a pretty tough press about being a "non-scoring" striker). But, as with the Czech game, there was more to come.

Ronaldo made his bid to enter the Kerzhakiv club, with a series of misses and scuffs, before Bendtner made his bid to join the Shevchenko club, with two heroic headers to draw the game level.

It just left time for Valera to pull off a classic rags to riches move (air shot, ball cannoning into backside, and then unleash a cracking finish with the other foot) to snatch the game and leave door open for a potential dead heat in the group: should Holland get the win they need next, all 4 teams will be locked on 3 points, making sundays game 'unmissable' (which is an admitedly weak statement from me; as San Marino vs Switzerland would be unmissable to me!)


Game 10: Poland 1 - Russia 1

Cracking game this one. Stirring anthems (Poland scored an England matching 11 out of 11 singers), a fired up Poland team, fans a-fighting, Kerzahakov in the team for Russia - it was all set to be a belter, and so it proved.

Poland came out all guns blazing and looked pretty threatening. They played like a team needing to win; whereas Russia, unsurprisingly played like a team who would be pretty happy with a draw.

Lewandowski looked even more handy than in the first match, good touch and pace. The Russians gradually got themselves into the game with their slick passing, always well weighted, and always to the space and not the man (in a good way). Arshavin again was on fire. Determined, tricky, pacy and with brilliant distribution. He swung across the free kick that Dzaghoev showboated into the goal with his shoulder.

Poland battled well and the second half was probably the 'half of the tournament' so far. Blaszczykowski scored an absolute screamer and earned the draw, thus plunging the group into deciding day meltdown with all four teams potential qualifiers.

1) I would not want to live next door to Anyukov - he looks like he definitely keeps an array of weapons and torture tools at his house; a proper old fashioned nutter.
2) Have the refs been given a directive to charge aggressively towards the perpetrator of fouls or something? They're all doing it and it makes me thing that everyone is going to be sent off or punched by the ref.

Game 9: Greece 1: Czech Republic 2

This had the prospect of being quite a tasty game; with the Czechs risking elimination with a defeat and the Greeks missing their two first choice centre backs; but in truth the game pretty much died in the first 6 minutes as the Greek defence made like its economy and fell apart.

The Czechs proved what we have all suspected all along - they are talented but lazy, and more than capable of playing excellent football if only they can be ar$ed. Well today they could be and looked like they'd score a hatful; until they were leading comfortably of course, when they decided they could no longer be bothered.

Peter Cech was so not bothered that he didn't have the energy to lift his hands to the ball, thus gifting what will surely be the worst goal of the tournament to the Greeks. This sparked a genuine risk of Greece coming back and getting  something form the game, which would have brought a whole new meaning to the word travesty.

Expect to see another "interested" display form the Czechs against Poland on Saturday.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Euroblabber's anti-flab workout

As I settled down for matches seven and eight this evening I became acutely aware of the potential to turn into a blob. 24 consecutive days of sitting glued to the telly, snacking, quaffing the occasional beer is not a recipe for slick health - so I daydreamt my way to a new fitness regime. True, it probably won't sell many DVDs, but it'll probably just about keep me from having the body of a man who has spent a month in front of the telly drinking beer.

So what is it I hear you ask? Euroblabber's anti-flab workout is as follows:

  • For every minute of football watched (including stoppages), you need to do one situp, pressup, curl or other repetitious exercise. 
  • These don't need to be completed on the minute, they can be done in batches of any suitable size. 
  • The only proviso is that they must be completed after the first kick and prior to the final whistle.
The combination of high carbohydrate snack diet, together with excessive anaerobic exercise could have amusing results...

Game 8: Ukraine 2 - Sweden 1

Sheva, Sheva, Sheva!

Not the most appealing of fixtures, made a little more interesting by Ukraine being the hosts. And the fact that everyone in the stadium was dressed in yellow. And the fact that it was a pretty good game.

And who else but Shevchenko (only six months my junior) to grab a brace for Ukraine. Heroic stuff, and its always nice to see the hosts do well.

Both teams showed enough promise to make a damaging result against England (or France) a real possibility, and both played very positively. I'm hoping this was more in the desperation of knowing this was each others best chance for three points.

So that's eight games played now with no goal-less draws and very little negative play. The tournament is hotting up nicely.

Game 7: England 1 - France 1

Buoyed by the news of Oxlade-Chamberlain being preferred to Downing on the left, I settled down to watch this match, confident that England would lose and that there would be a gross media overreaction to that defeat, ultimately culminating in the usual tournament downward spiral. Positive outlook huh?

The first indication that things were not as they seem was in the national anthems. All eleven England players were singing the anthem. Even Cole and Young - who clearly struggled with the words - were giving it a blast. This was the first sign that something special could be happening.

And so to the match. It quickly established itself into the pattern that would remain. France with the lions share of possession, England menacing on the break. Milner could have given us the lead on 14, rounding the keeper but failing to finish from a tight angle on his left foot. The "two banks of four" (which is surely to become our trademark) held tight for another ten minutes before Lescott's perfectly shaped forehead nutted in the opener. I'm a big fan of scoring centre-backs, so well done him.

France naturally came back, and Nasri's finish was class, though his celebration not-so; I rather hope whoever knocks France out gives him a "sshh-celebration" in return.

The second half was one of the most tense I have seen. England tried heroically; got nothing from the ref, and gave it everything. Parker and Gerrard were totally destroyed by the end and the point was hard earned against  what in truth is a better side. I'm proud - and I really think the point will serve us well.

Game 6: Ireland 1 - Croatia 3

Due to the strong Villa connection I was keen for Ireland to do well/due to the strong Villa connection I was not so confident of Ireland doing well.

The highlight of the day was Irish fans being interviewed by ITV in a generic town square a couple of hours prior to kickoff. They'd clearly arrived 24 hours earlier for some pre-match sharpeners, and had no idea what day or time it was; with one lad repeatedly instructing viewers to bet their house on Dunne scoring the opener. He didn't.

The match was effectively over  after 3 minutes with a soft Mandzukic header beating a disappointing dive from Given. This sapped the spirit of the Irish, who looked second best thereafter.

The sharp Croatian passing (on a slick surface) was doing almost as much damage to the game as the phantom crowd whistle, which someone blew every time the ball was floated into the penalty area - really offputting and I'm amazed it didn't cause more problems.

Ireland briefly threatened a fightback, and were denied a definite penalty about 10 mins from time that may have seen a spirited fightback; but with Spain and Italy to come, their tournament looks done.

The Irish are getting smashed (in every sense).

Game 5: Spain 1 - Italy 1

I'm normally a huge fan of Spain and their classic style of football, but I'd turned against them before the kick-off here when they announced their 4-6-0 formation. Whilst I accept that each of those front six is more than capable of scoring, it just seems such an odd setup when the likes of Llorente and Torres are in the squad to add goals. It just smacked of arrogance; a message that continued into the national anthems, with precisely zero of the Spanish player actually muttering the words. Too cool for school.

As the match unfolded of course, it became evident why Torres hadn't been picked. after coming on as a 74th minute sub, he proceeded to give an object lesson in how to not get selected-  missing a one on one immediately and then proceeding to misplace passes and miss chances pretty much consistently until the final whilstle. 

Italy, by contrast, picked their two maniac strikers, Balotelli and Casano in a real display of intent. They also sang their anthems, so I was supporting them.

As the match unfolded, Italy looked dangerous, but Spain did their boa-constrictor thing where their grip tightened minute by minute; so despite the Italians taking the lead (fine goal by Di Natale) - it was inevitable that Spain would get something, with Fabregas slotting the equaliser.

The point suits both teams nicely, with easier games to follow.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Game 4: Germany 1 - Portugal 0

A deserved, but by no means comfortable win for tournament experts Germany tonight. The game was bookended with moments of amusement. At the start, Ronaldo revealed his latest 'look' - strangely opting for the Brian Dowling look, which will do little to put off his detractors. Then at the end, Germany brought on their substitute 'Bender', presumably to raise a smile for the TV audience, rather than see out the remaining minutes of the game.

The first half was not particularly compelling, pretty cagey in fact but nowhere near as dull as the BBC tried to claim. It is often as if they write the script before kickoff, and stick to it. Either that or they're tired of their jobs. I for one found it pretty gripping, if admittedly quite tight.

The first half saw the first 'crowd warnings' and threats of match abandonment that the press have been so obsessed with. But thankfully it wasn't for racist abuse or fatal hooliganism, but instead the spectre of rolled up paper reared its ugly head. Paper ball after paper ball rained down on the Portuguese as they prepared to take a corner. Admittedly not great, but there was never really any threat of the water cannons and sonic wave coming out.

Podolski for Germany showed how he'll be a real rival to Chamakh and Gervinho at Arsenal in the "errant left sided striker" role; shinning and scuffing his way through the match. To be fair, in tournaments he normally hits form, but looked pretty wayward tonight. The rest of hte team looked slick though. Good passing. Ozil looked pacy as well as skilled, and Muller and Schweinsteiger both were classy. Gomez scored a cracking header, and looked 100% improved on the player who missed a bagful of chances in the champions league.

Portugal looked good once they went for it - which bodes well for the rest of the group games; they should be very exciting, none more so that the Germany v Netherlands game on Wednesday. That will either deliver a shock that effectively sends Netherlands out...or will open up the group completely. Can't wait.

Game 3: Netherlands 0 - Denmark 1

The first tournament shock saw a far superior Dutch team turned over by the Danes. Perhaps it is indeed destiny that Niclas Bendtner will become the world's greatest player; as he seems to think. It was not dissimilar to watching Chelsea sneaking their wins versus Barcelona and Bayern; basically lucking it, but in doing so exposing the fact that the Dutch are pretty vulnerable at the back. This won't escape Portugal and Germany, both of whom have the firepower to expose this further.

Robben seemed to have an off day; sometimes he's unstoppable, and sometimes bereft of confidence, and hitting the post aside, he didn't create much. Van Persie seemed to have a dose of the Kerzhakov's (see Russia game yesterday), generally shanking or striking air rather than slotting chances.

The Dutch manager may yet be forced to be more positive. The fact that Huntelaar (ludicrously prolific) and Van der Vaart (class, and too dangerous to leave on the bench, remember that?) were not in the team suggests a caution that could cost the team progression to the quarters.

Krohn-Delhi (not a very Danish sounding name) scored a decent goal. Simon Poulson stood out (you know what to do Paul Lambert) and it is good to see the Rory Delap effect spreading from Stoke to Copenhagen, Kvist launching the long through ins.

If nothing else this result really spices up the group.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Game 2: Russia 4 - Czech Republic 1

Most footballers have a knack of making me feel old. I watch them play a few major tournaments and then they retire, reminding me that if I were a footballer that I'd be well and truly over the hill. Tonight though, a footballer did the opposite. Milan Baros. He's still going and seems to have featured in pretty much every tournament I can remember. Thanks Milan (though to be fair, on tonight's performance, retirement might not be a bad shout).

Strange game this one. The Czechs looked right on top for about fifteen minutes and then Russia just blew them away, slick passing and good finishing putting paid to their early efforts. Dzagoev, as expected was a real threat, and took two very nice goals. Arshavin, as captain, was excellent. It is so refreshing to see players who give more for their country than their club.

The weight of passing from the Russian front 6 was just excellent - and I think that, coupled with a fairly solid defence, could see them pose a real threat to the group of death runners up in the QFs. But for Kerzhakov's repeated shanks, they could have had 2 or 3 more goals.

Other observations:

  • Howard Webb and his baldie lookalike assistant did well and let the game flow - surely a better way to do things than his Spanish couterpart's stern efforts in the match before.
  • Russia changed their flag. Now I appreciate this probably happened some time back, when the Soviet Union disbanded, but I hadn't really properly noticed until I saw the new tricolor flag emblazened on the cheek of a rather attractive blonde fan.
  • No obvious signs of racism or trouble in the ground (I sincerely hope it is going to be a subtext played out in the media, rather than a reality). 

Looking forward to Holland v Denmark and Germany v Portugal tomorrow...

Game 1: Poland 1 - Greece 1

Ah, the joys of tournament football. Nervous nations fearing that first defeat; referees proving their technical excellence to the detriment of common sense, random sendings off and defensive disorganisation in abundance. Great. 

A decent first game. Poland looked to have some menace to go along with their energy; and rightfully took the lead early on. After Greece were reduced to 10-men in the first half (Papastathopoulos punished for first jumping and then falling over)  it looked like the result was in no doubt; but strangely Poland seemed to lose confidence as the game went on. Szczesny, who's name surely needs an additional vowel somewhere, got himself sent off and but for the resultant penalty miss by Greece, would have lost his team the game.

So; a 1-1 result that Greece will be far happier about than Poland; but both have room for improvement.

Observations include:
  • the Greek manager looking more like their finance minister; head in hands, despairing head shakes, a man tormented by the slowness of his own team.
  • Samaras showing quite a few bits of tekkers - though at the same time making the likes of Mata and Parker look like Hussain Bolt - my he is slowwww
Next up; Czech Republic and Russia - should be a good one.

Here we go

Case of beer secured and now undergoing refrigeration. Cushions plumped. Telly on HD. Quid bets placed on Greece and Russia to win tonight. It starts!

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

England 1, Belgium 0

A good warm up game this one - with Belgium, on paper at least, looking like quite a tricky proposition. I think it was the first England game I've actually looked forward to since the World Cup! Hodgson set up the team in a similar way to the Norway game. Organised and solid. The performance wasn't mesmeric, but a classy finish from Welbeck saw us run out winners and also secured our second clean sheet in a row under Hodgson.

Negatives included Cahill doing his jaw in (and thus missing the tournament), Gerrard and Parker looking a bit pedestrian, and our lack of ability to dominate a game.

Positives included Welbeck stating his case (we will surely be easier on the eye with him in the team instead of Carroll) and the defence looking solid again (a fact which seems to be getting particularly overlooked in the media led 'Ferdinand clamour')

Our squad is probably now in its final state, with the team having flown out this morning. The loss of Cahill and Barry, whilst a blow, is not fundamentally going to affect our chances I don't think. Gerrard and Parker are looking totally adept in the ponderous midfielder role already, without the need for backup. Cahill I like as a player, but Jagielka will be able to cover him ably - especially if he ends up alongside Lescott. As for Kelly being drafted in,, I have no strong opinion. I've not seen much of him and think it is a shame Richards is not there - but agree 100% with Hodgson's stance there.

Having tried to come across all principled by refusing to go on a standby list, Micah Richards has essentially opted out of representing England in a major tournament. I expect he will be feeling like a bit of a tool now.

Any further injuries, I expect, will need to be carried through the tournament.

Now into the final couple of days before it all starts - time to get a couple of bets on and to stock up the fridge!

Monday, 28 May 2012

Norway 0, England 1

So the Hodgson era got off to a winning start. Such is the low-key nature of our preparations, I'd not even clocked that this warm up match was happening, until the morning of the game itself. It immediately gave me a viewing dilemna - the match or the Eurovision - which is a fixture in my TV calendar. The modern, and brilliant solution of multi-screening (which will doubtless come into its own during the final round of group games), solved my problem; Eurovision on the telly with the England game on the laptop.

Observations from the game:

1. We need Hart to stay fit.
2. We have plenty of options at centre-half; and the Terry thing needn't have been such a big deal (i.e. we could have just left him out of the squad. That said, on recent form he'd have probably put his replica kit on, flown to Poland and pretended in any case.)
3. Hodgson puts out an organised team, though they did have a tendency to sit back rather a lot, which may hurt us against more potent opposition.
4. Young and Downing can both be very effective at international level - and both could be key players.
5. We could really do have done without Rooney being banned
6. Having Gerrard as nominated captain may prevent us playing the best midfield (Lampard looks a better player right now)

All in all a decent result in a pretty meaningless match - but the clean sheet and the win will certainly help the preparations along. Next up, Belgium at Wembley..

Sunday, 20 May 2012


The Tango 12. Classic ball.

Hopefully no nonsense about it being too light, heavy, misshapen, round and whatever other hoo-har there normally is. The main thing is that we see it nestled in the back of a French, Swedish, Ukrainian goal!

Predictions: Group D

And so to Group D, England's group. Of all the groups, this one looks like one we should get through. The group opens up with England vs France and Ukraine vs Sweden and I think those matches will pretty much determine the final group placings.

1. England. Not sure if I'd had a drink when I put together my predications, but England are there at the top of the group; perhaps playing with a bit more freedom and passion after a horribly lacklustre World Cup in 2010

2. France. In qualifying they have really turned things around (much like England) and if they keep that form together should qualify with ease. For England's sake we of course hope that the gallic mist will once again descend and that mutiny in the camp will help us get through, but I expect Laurent Blanc will run a tighter ship than that.

3. Sweden. Complete with Mellberg and other warrior like players I expect Sweden to battle hard have lots of horn-hatted support but ultimately to bow out without having troubled the opposition too much.

4. Ukraine. By all accounts their fans will be too busy beating the bejesus out of anything that moves to enjoy the football. I hope those reports turn out to be scaremongering, as the Euros does have the potential to be an absolute bloodbath. As co-hosts, Ukraine haven't had to qualify - which is just as well as I expect they wouldn't have. I just can't see them doing much.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Predictions: Group C

This one is pretty straight forward for me. Two stand-out teams (in the shape of Spain and Italy), and two underdogs, Croatia and the Republic of Ireland. I'm not really sticking my neck out and predicting anything out of the ordinary, but the group does have the potential for a surprise along the way.

1. Spain. I have to back them to top the group. They will likely do so with around 70%+ of possession in their games. Whilst some might argue that Xavi and Iniesta are not quite the force they were 2 and 4 years ago, they seem, in my mind to have beome more of a unit - and will be mightily hard to beat. I even think Torres will have a big impact as his form has improved as the season has gone on.

2. Italy. Basically the same as England, only better looking. I generally go into tournaments looking forward to seeing them, and expecting them to be good - only to be utterly disappointed. I hear they've made an improvement and play with a little more urgency; and so I expect them to be strong and possibly bag a semi final spot. The risk is that both Ireland and Croatia will be massively targeting them.

3. Croatia. Plenty of flair, but I think not enough about them to progress. There is the upset potential, but I think it is more likely that one of their defenders, loses the plot and sees the team slump to defeat with 10 men.

4. Republic of Ireland. Aha pluck time. Its been 20 years since they last qualified for a major tournament, and they have enough about them to have a real go. Looking forward to seeing Dunne and Keane get their chance to make an impact at this level, and the Irish have enough about them not to be whipping boys. Trap does tend to set them up rather defensively though, and I expect this might see them getting turned over by both Spain and  Italy.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Predictions: Group B

The yang to Group A's yin, this is a titanic group containing three of the five most likely team to win the tournament. It is an absolute belter and is evidence in itself why the Euros are often more fun to watch than a World Cup. 

This one should have goals and needle in equal portions and its just a shame that only 2 of the teams can progress. Here's how I think it will pan out.

1. Holland. They've got a great squad of players, who seem far less inclined to have the mass fallouts that blighted their tournament efforts in the past. They are my favourites to win the whole tournament, marking an evolution (having been runners-up to Spain in the World Cup). They are solid in defence, have a classy midfield and two of the three most prolific strikers in the tournament (Van Persie and Huntelaar). 

2. The Germans are hotly tipped to win the tournament; but I've a sneaking feeling that this time things might not go their way. I think they'll lose out in the group against Holland and then bow out completely in the semi's. 

3. Portugal. Lots riding on Ronaldo, after his ridiculously good season. He'll have his work cut out, but I suppose Portugal could be the fly in the ointment for the others. However I think the lack of overall team discipline will cost them dear, with the Germans and Dutch being not just efficient enough, but actually their equals in terms of flair too.

4. Denmark. Niclas Bendtner has his chance to show that he really is as good as he say's he is. I like the Danes, but they've got a bit of an uphill struggle here. Whoever they get a result against probably loses out and ends up third, so they'll have a massive part to play, but I expect them to be going home having been given a bit of a lesson to be honest.

Tomorrow..Group C.

Predictions: Group A

I've spent the past week doing a bunch of pre-tournament research to try to understand who's who and which teams are going to fare best. Here's how I think Group A (the tournament's "group of attrition") will unfold.

First thing to say is that there's not a lot of goals in this group. All of the teams involved seems to gradually suck the life out of opposition in order to qualify. If Alex McLeish watches the tournament, this is the group he'll fancy. Turgid, defensive, threat-less football abound - it should be a classic.

1. Russia - I have a feeling that Arshavin will be up for this, following what appears to have been a 4 year rest. The usual combination of aggressive bestubbled defenders and blonde waif like strikers, should bring about a group win, especially when knitted together by the like of Dzagoev. You never know, it might even be a little bit entertaining
2. Greece - I think the Greeks are going to provide their nation with some much needed relief. Whilst there might not be much support for the team (presumably the majority of Greeks can no longer afford the bus ticket, let alone a seat at the matches) - I think they've genuinely got a purpose. It must be pretty shitty at the moment, and there's nothing like the siege mentality to raise a team's game. Style wise, it won't be pretty. Papadopoulos will lead from the back in a defensive minded team, and the overall style won't be much different form when they won in 2004.

3. Poland - Sadly I foresee an exit for the co-hosts. They will run about in an enthusiastic way but prove ultimately to be lacking in the necessary quality. Should be fun listening to the commentary though, there's a lot of long tricky names to remember.

4. Czech Republic - traditionally full of flair, the Czech's are not as attractive and mighty as they once were, and I think they'll take the honour of trailing in the group. Rosicky is the man who could prove me utterly wrong, he has come back into form of late.

Group B to follow soon.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

England Squad announced

Much anticipation today as Roy Hodgson announced the 23 names that are to grace the Polish/Ukranian turf this summer. I'm surprised to see negative feedback about his selections - especially as the criticism is based around a lack of surprises. To me, "surprises" in this context tend to mean that a player who should be there on merit , in fact, misses out - so I am more than happy for the squad to be surprise free.

And I feel it is a strong squad. Keeper wise looks fine. I hope Ruddy acts as first back-up to Hart; as I don't rate Green...but generally we only need the one keeper, barring disaster (n.b. first kiss-of-death soundly delivered).

The defence was always going to be about Terry & Ferdinand. Personally I'd have preferred Hodgson to take neither. I think Ferdinand is now a bit past it; and the risk with picking Terry is that were we to do the unthinkable and win, and then find that Terry is subsequently charged with racial abuse/aggravation, then we'll look like chumps. That said though, the chances of both those things happening is probably so unlikely that Hodgson chose to take the gamble. On footballing merit alone, its probably worth taking him - lets just hope there's no politics or trouser-based escapades from him that ruin the dressing room spirit.

In midfield I think we have a really strong unit. Between Lamps, Gerrard, Barry and Parker we've got the middle pretty solid; and I really rate the ability of Young, Downing, Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain to make the necessary impact. All are dangerous, if occasionally patchy...but that's what substitutes are for, so we can switch them around as necessary.

Likewise up front, I like the variety we have. Welbeck is the generalist, Rooney can be suspended and then get suspended, Defoe can poach goals and Caroll can look big and clumsy - exactly the variation to scare teams and keep the tabloids full.

I'm glad also that Hodgson named just the 23 players, rather than a bloated squad that later gets trimmed. Unlike any other national team squads, this list should be free from the usual wilting that occurs.

So - a thumbs up from me. Hodgson has been pretty decisive, has avoided doing anything stupid, and is taking 23 player - none of whom can be considered a gamble; England is in safe hands!

Thursday, 10 May 2012


We may as well get this out in the open early on in this process. I may make occasional reference in this blog to "my sticker album". Your eyes will not be deceiving you. Despite being a grown adult, I am in fact pursuing the hobby of a child.

There's a raft on excuses and explanatory factors that have found me sitting on the lounge floor, tongue slightly askew whilst I try to fix the stickers into their requisite slots:
  • an investment; England might win, and the Panini Euro 2012 album may become a collectors item
  • the album actually contains lots of very useful information about match scheduling/players and the like 
  • my excitement about Euro 2012 coincided with an inexplicable urge this year to "collect something"
  • the sheer hell of it - its so much easier to afford this habit as a full time working grown-up

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The Euros

Back in 2010, a friend (Stevey C) and I transformed into square eyed recluses for a month whilst we took in the World Cup. A marathon schedule of games saw us forsaking the modern routine of life, following the tournament kick by kick as it unfolded. We blogged. We despaired at England's abject showing, whilst equally marvelling at Spain's immaculate football.

Two years on; and that big-tournament-lure is back. The alignment of a triumvirate of modern wonders (flexible working, TiVo and viewer-friendly-match-scheduling) mean that all of the games will be accessible to me - and so I prepare to shink into my sofa, offering amateur punditry as the tournament unfolds. Yes - I welcome you (fully 5 weeks in advance of the big kick off) to Bircho's 2012 Euroblabber!