Euro 2012: Day 10

The Run And Ronnie Show: Portugal 2 – 1 Holland

Up until now Ronaldo had always been damned with the faint praise that he’d been alright in the big games. He’d been the outstanding player at Man U and then Real Madrid for years. His goalscoring record is almost unbelievable. Messi aside he is the seminal player of his, our, age. Yet the same criticism has always dogged him and it is strangely valid, he goes missing in the really big games. You think of his first Champions League final, where he had simply no impact on the game, or those early games at Real Madrid against Barcelona. Or Portugal’s various exits from previous World Cups and Euros. That was Ronnie in a nutshell.

Not anymore. Today Ronnie made himself big, finally erasing the single, long term doubt that has surrounded him. He was simply sensational. Almost single handedly he dominated the Dutch, continually threatening their goal, scoring both Portugal’s goals and fundamentally destroying any last vestiges of hope the Dutch had of leaving the Euros with any credibility.

One moment when he won the ball on the edge of his own penalty area, passed it and ran the full length of the pitch for the return, summed up his contribution. Even more so than Real Madrid, this is a team standing on the shoulders of a single player. And for the first time they played like a team who were capable of supporting him. Doubly ironic that they should be playing against Holland, a team which is so much less than the sum of its parts and has been falling apart throughout the competition.

Yup, Ronnie was terrific, he mullered the Dutch and this was the game of the tournament so far.

Hi Ho, Hi Ho… Germany 2 – 1 Denmark

Given that there was a moment when the Danes could conceivably have sent the Germans out of the tournament, this was a match with a very subdued atmosphere. One of the real issues with the whole both matches starting at the same time thing is that you have to choose which match you want to watch and, inevitably, during the match you learn what happened in the other game. All of which makes the second game far less compelling.

Once you learn that the Danes have been defeated everything becomes a little less interesting. Despite a fightback by the Danes and the possibility of a penalty to take the lead this game never had any tension.

Euro 2012: Day 6

The First Genuine Disappointment: Denmark 2 – 3 Portugal

After five days of pretty exhilarating, if not necessarily quality, football, today was the day things came down to earth with a bump. Amazingly it wasn’t the superficially tedious Group A (Poland, Russia, Greece, Czech Republic) that brought our first glimpse of football tedium, but Group B, the Group of Death, which hasn’t been so much the Group of Death as the Dearth of Interest. Thrown a lifeline by the Danes’ unlikely win over the Dutch, this group has stagnated, with the Danes unable to build on their victory, while the utterly tedious Portuguese were able to move on from their unlucky defeat to the Germans.

The Danes, like the Irish, are a classic North European team. Good enough to get through the qualifiers, but (their win against the profligate Dutch aside) fundamentally unable to compete at this level. I increasingly wonder what the point of enlarging the competition from 16 to 24 teams is, if the additional teams are simply going to be as dull as the Danes. Then I realise that UEFA is more interested in the increase in TV revenue from the additional games than any genuine improvement in footballing quality.

And while the Danes may be hampered by an abject lack of genuine quality (are there any players other than Ajax’s Eriksen who you think even might improve your team in any way whatsoever?), the Portuguese are simply annoying. While there is definitively no ‘I’ in ‘team’, there is an ‘I’ in Selecção das Quinas, the nickname given to the Portuguese side. And it’s a big ‘I’ – Ron-I to be exact. And it’s abundantly clear that while Real Madrid might have been set up to accommodate the various needs, desires and fripperies of Ron-I, the Portuguese team hasn’t quite got the same coherence of mission. So while Ron-I is still surrounded by his chou-chou pets Pepé and Coentrao, the rest of the team isn’t quite as keen to actively indulge his every whim and caprice. And that’s what riles about the side.

It’s not that they aren’t good. When he can be arsed Pepé is a great defender, but too often he’s a niggle-fouling, card taking arse. It’s not that Ron-I isn’t talented, it’s just that too often he’s a petulant, spoilt child diva. And with the rest of the team having the skill level of Helder Postiga (who? Exactly), they make for a side that really gets my back up. They haven’t really dominated matches, they haven’t played particularly interesting, let alone good football and they’re not going home yet. Here’s hoping the Dutch can teach them a lesson and book their plane tickets fast.

Not Quite What It Was Cracked Up To Be: Holland 1 – 2 Germany

The Dutch, discuss. World Cup finalists only two years ago, this Dutch side is so much less than the sum of its parts. You would have thought that a side that contained the combined skills of Robben, Van Persie, Schneider, Afellay, Huntelaar and Van Der Vaart should have enough attacking threat to put any opponents to bed. But apparently not. What is clear more than anything is that while the loss of Van Der Saar may have been tough for Man U, it’s been a disaster for the Dutch. They say a good keeper is worth 10 points a season, but they’re the kind of points that you don’t notice ’til they’re gone and boy are the Dutch noticing them now. It’s not that his replacement Stekelenburg is a liability, rather that Van Der Saar’s departure has caused the entire Dutch defence to collapse. Even so, if the big name heavy attack could have made more of the six shots they had on target (or actually had more shots on target), maybe the failings of the Dutch defence wouldn’t be so significant.Oh and if Robben had actually passed the ball to one of his teammates just the once, that might have helped too.

And maybe if they’d been playing a side that was less complete than the Germans (like say the Portuguese) they would have come through OK. And yet it’s not as if the Germans were anything special. Just calm, effective and methodical. This was no blitzkreig, rather a deadly slow press against the wall that squeezed the life out of the Dutch. Gomez gave everyone a lesson in finishing. His first, set up by a beautiful Schweinstiger pass, involved a fabulous turn just inside the area before he slammed the ball into the net, while his second, also from a Schweiny pass, was a great strike from the corner of the box. And while Van Persie’s consolation strike was good, it was very much too little too late. The Germans are beginning to get into gear, the Dutch are beginning to pack.

Euro 2012: Day 2

All The Pieces In The Wrong Places. Holland 0 – 1 Denmark

A day that promised so much totally failed to deliver. As rabbitty sing-song Bright Eyes put it, “How can the light that burned so brightly suddenly burn so pale”. I have no idea. Imagine, you have the Dutch playing the Danes and the Germans playing the Portugeezers. Football magic innit? Well, not this time.

More than any other international tournament, this one is going to be about stoic defending putting an end to articulate football. About the revival of the Mourinho Doctrine over the world dominating tiki-taka pass n play. But the truth is, it doesn’t matter how good your passing is if you can’t provide a serious threat. Holland may have had the bulk of possession and a grand total of some thirty dozen shots, but overall they offered very little to really threaten the Danes.  Indeed, with Van Persie, Robben, Schneider, Van Der Vaart and others all misfiring, Van Persie in particular looked like he’d never had a shot, let alone scored a goal before in his life, Holland were very much less than the sum of their parts.

It emphasises one of the key lessons of tournament football, it’s all about the team stupid. Holland play with plenty of individual star appeal, but they look like they’ve never played with one another before. In contrast the Danes never looked like playing sparkling football, but were well organised, broke effectively and most importantly took their one chance when they had it. Normally you’d think that the Dutch could recover from a defeat (Spain, after all, lost their first World Cup 2010 match to Switzerland and still won the competition), but with Germany up next and a defeat sending them home, they’ve not got a lot of room for manoeuvre. The Danes, in contrast, only need to avoid losing to Portugal to have a genuine chance of progressing.

All That Hope Misplaced. Germany 1 – 0 Portugal

If we were disappointed with yesterday’s opening match, the first half of this game more than matched our levels of ennui. And while the Greeks and Poles may have every excuse for playing badly, the Germans, with Ozil, Schweinstiger and Gomez up front, and the Portuguese, with Ronnie dominating the side, had no such excuses.

So the tedium of the first half was both unexpected and unwelcome. Portugal seemed to be playing for a draw, hoping for a point while believing they could beat the Danes later, but it was a plan that backfired. They were forced to spring into life after the Germans finally scored, but never found the cutting edge they needed. Germany, meanwhile, seemed to suffer from the same ailment as the Dutch, never seeming to live up to the sum of their parts. Still you feel that they will grow into the tournament, while it’s hard to see where the Portuguese are going to get their goals from, striker Helder Postiga making goal drought Nicklas Bendtner look like a golden boot winner.

If there’s a moral from today’s matches, it’s that you might not confirm qualification, but you can lose it in the opening match. Germany and Denmark are in the driving seats and Portugal and Holland have it all to do.


What We Learned From Group E Eliminators

Japan 3 – 1 Denmark

Quite why we should have been so scathing about Japan’s inadequate set piece play is a mystery. Their free kicks were outstanding, the first being a stunning long range missile from Honda, the second a great slip it in the corner by Endo. After that the Danes had no chance. The Japanese had one of the most exhausting build ups to the World Cup, apparently rolling around Asia, Europe and Africa in their tourbus playing every shitty venue that had goalposts. They gave Engerland a great game and would have utterly wiped the floor with them if it hadn’t been for their very genial habit of gifting their hosts a couple of own goals just to avoid causing offence. And all their work has paid off. They have a defence that seems utterly familiar with one another, ultra-organised and very capable of dealing with all kinds of attacks, in Tuilio Tanaka, they have an excellent central defender. They also pass the ball really well, moving it about the pitch and proving a real handful for any defence, especially one as laborious and slothful as the Danes’. They don’t look like the lightweights everyone imagined them to be and will be a real handful for Paraguay, who they play in the next Round.

As for the Danes, they are a disaster. Bendtner joins a long list of Arsenal players who have woefully underperformed at the World Cup. He looks like a striker with no confidence and no mental strength to adapt his game. Still he wasn’t helped by having the utterly useless Jon Dahl Tomasson as the team’s main striker, a forward who hasn’t scored internationally for two and a half years. But you think that, given their only meaningful attacks in their previous match against Cameroon came down the right via Rommerdahl, they would have attempted to exploit his pace down the wing. And to be fair, the one time they tried that, deep in the second half they created a useful goal-scoring chance, which Tomasson conspired to fail to even hit, let alone hit on target. Instead the Danes seemed content to waft the ball straight up the middle into the loving embrace of Tuilio Tanaka, who would then (in typical sneaky Japanese style) set up another graceful 22 or so pass attack for the Japanese. Even when they had a very soft penalty, the Danes could barely take advantage. Once again the thoroughly useless Tomasson was at the heart of the action, tamely slapping the ball at the goalkeeper and then attempting to do his best to knock the rebound wide. Being Tomasson, naturally, he failed even to do that and scored. I don’t see Denmark playing much of a part in any upcoming tournaments.

Holland 2 – 1 Cameroon

Cameroon are playing the useless African card. Inextricably bound up in the super-ego that is Samuel Eto’o they have become a team that is wholly subsumed by one individual in complete opposition to everything this tournament has taught us – namely that the team is everything. More than Messi or Rooney, Eto’o dominates the team to the point where he is the de facto manager, a situation which cannot be any good. Sure Eto’o is a great player, you can’t argue that he was the catalyst behind Barcelona’s defeat of Arsenal in the Champions League final, nor that his unselfish work on the wing for Inter helped them to this year’s Champions League, but he seems to require a firm managerial hand to really achieve and that’s obviously not what’s going on with Cameroon. Played 3, lost 3 is a woeful record in a Group that, the Dutch aside, is fairly well balanced.

The Dutch, meanwhile, are still playing that powder dry thing. They didn’t need to win this and, you know what, I don’t think they really tried. They’re still playing that stupid game where they start with both Snejder and Van Der Vaat, which you know makes no sense other than to pander to the super-ego that the latter obviously has. You know that the Dutch are so much more effective when they have both the clever passing of Snejder and the fast-paced wingplay of Elia, Robben and others. However, the Dutch haven’t remotely needed to play their strongest cards in this Group where they have comfortably won all three games.

So Bye-Bye Cameroon And Denmark

Frankly, this was one of the easiest Groups to finish second in. Economy class please.

44 Down 20 To Go 18 Teams Remaining

Extra Extra What We Learned At The Halfway Point

The Competition Has Kicked Off

Yes, the Second Round of Group matches were certainly better than the First Round. Most teams understood that they couldn’t simply defend all the time and play for a draw, even the Swiss, whose adoption of an almost ‘Neutral Country’ option has seen them regularly top both the Haven’t Conceded and the Haven’t Scored tables, realised that at some point they’d have to come out and have a shot, although to be fair they did have something that vaguely resembled a shot in the First Round and it paid off handsomely. The games got faster and more meaningful as we saw Matches That Mattered and teams realised that there was a very real danger of their World Cup ending later this week.

The Goals Are Coming

As teams threw off the shackles of defensive cowardice and started attacking we began to see more goals. Few teams were content to sit on a one goal lead and continued to press their opponents. Some goals were even good, although few of them were up to the Tshabalala standard. However, I distinctly remember exclaiming, “What a goal” more than once during Round 2.

The Cheating Has Started

Grab and Dive, with or without pirouette, is the order of the day. Compulsive penalty box wrestling at every set piece. Not that much deliberate diving, but plenty of subtle blocking and writhing around. All in an attempt to cheat your way to a free kick or some colour of card for the opposition, or both. Not good. I think if it continues, we will see some kind of tv replay system introduced on the fly, if only because the whole world is watching.

Lots of Empty Seats

Now that it’s getting serious I suspect we won’t be seeing too many empty stadiums, but I’d lay money that there will be empty seats at the Uruguay Mexico match, where both teams need only to draw to go through (0 – 0 anyone?). However, too many venues have been conspicuously less than capacity.

Who Has Been Naughty?

It’s goodbye to South Africa, France (very naughty), Nigeria, Greece (very bad),  Algeria,  Oztralia (awful), Serbia (painful). Cameroon, New Zealand (rubbish), Slovakia (tedious), Ivory Coast (unlucky to get Group of Death for the second World Cup in a row), North Korea, and Honduras. You are all officially too crap for the World Cup. Book your flights now.

Who Has Been Nice?

And it’s hello to Mexico, Uruguay, Argentina, South Korea, Ghana, Germany, Holland, Paraguay, Italy, Brazil, Portugal, and Chile. Nicely done South America.

And Who Is Bricking It?

Group C is totally up for grabs with two of Engerland, USA and Slovenia, the permutations are excruciating, but basically all teams have to win to be sure that they will qualify. In Group E Japan and Denmark will duke it out, a draw being enough to take the Japanese through. Group H is so complicated that Spain, Chile and Switzerland could all end up with 6 points and theoretically identical goal differences and goals scored, in which case as Spain will have beaten Chile, who have beaten Switzerland, who have beaten Spain lots would have to be drawn.  Makes penalty shoot outs seem tame by comparison.

And Who Is Really Bricking It Most?

Has to be ever-optimistic no-hopers Engerland, who just seem utterly unable to cope with the pressure of having to play a few matches away from home in front of large television audiences. Basking in unwarrented media acclaim and with performances getting more inadequate by the day, Engerland are a disaster waiting to happen. And while the French are imploding with a farcical degree of hilarity, Engerland can’t even manage an effective internal coup d’etat. One thing is clear, Wednesday could be the most excruciating game of football ever played.

What We Learned From Cameroon vs Denmark (1-2)

Football, Bloody Hell

Now previously, when we said that Cameroon were as useless as a bag of shite on a stick and that Denmark were less than ambivalent about their place in the tournament, we couldn’t have anticipated what this ‘Match of Losers’ would turn into. If we needed any proof that we were into the serious end of the World Cup we had it here, a win for one of these teams meant that the other one was going home. And unlike either of their previous matches, this one started like the teams knew it, which obviously makes their lacklustre performances in the first games all the more unintelligible.

Bang! Cameroon Are Going Through

After giving the Danes a quick look at goal, the Cameroonians turned up the heat, putting together some great moves and putting the Danes under so much pressure that they cracked, giving the ball to Cameroon and letting Eto’o get his first World Cup goal of the campaign, which he duly celebrated in emphatic style.

But No, The Danes Have Something To Say

Obviously by this time both sides had dispensed with any Mourinho style defences and were basically standing like two old sluggers beating the crap out of one another, trading attack for attack until there could only be one left standing. They replied with a classic Route 1 crossfield pass, cross and finish of sublime skill, the pass to Rommedahl from scrabbletabulous Kjaer was outstanding, while Rommedahl’s cross to Bendtner was just perfect, Bendtner deserving his goal for having the ambition to get into position in the first place.

Game On

From this point it was basically a brilliant cup tie, with each side trying to suss out the weakness in the other. Denmark looked susceptible to the Cameroonians’ clever interlinked passing and attempts to pull them out of position, but they held; while Cameroon always looked vulnerable on their left, as Tottingham’s Assou-Ekotto drove forward, leaving a glaring hole on the left of their defence. Unfortunately for Cameroon, this was exactly where Rommedahl was operating and he took full advantage, cutting inside Makoun to curl the ball into the net. From then on it wasn’t the usual leaders hang back letting the losers hammer at them until the end, instead it continued to be compelling end to end action.

Down And Out – Lessons Learned

Following two defeats, Cameroon become the first team to be eliminated, which is a bit sad, but they were abjectly rubbish against the Japanese and really should have raised their game much, much earlier. They are going home through a lack of ambition, organisation and application. You could argue that their real fault was that their defence was just not good enough and that, while skillful in possession, they suffered from a naivety and a lack of organisation and cohesion. Alternatively, they were unlucky that Eto’o didn’t score a second and had a sure goal saved by Sorenson.

26 Down 38 To Go 31 Teams Remaining