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 The World Cup Finals

Goal Of The Tournament – And The First Shall Be The Best

Tshabalala’s great opening strike was outstanding, not simply for the sheer elan with which he smashed it into the Mexican’s net as for the promise it offered. Here was a goal formed on the playing fields of the best fast-flowing counterattacking sides. A defence splitting pass placed perfectly into the path of a sprinting Tshabalala, who just slammed it into the net. It raised hopes that this World Cup would be about skill and daring and excitement, that someone in Africa would rise to challenge the monoliths (if you can have monoliths that is) of European and South American dominance, that this World Cup would be about the joy of football rather than the stunning negativity, insecurity and fear of most tournament football. Sadly after this moment it was pretty much all downhill.

Not Goal Of The Tournament – Somewhat Spoilt For Choice

We could have Ghana’s non-goal that was blocked on the line by the hand of Dirty Suarez in the Quarter Finals. Or the American’s goal that never was against Slovenia. Or, it might seem, the Italian’s last minute almost-equaliser against the mighty Slovakia. Certainly the FIFA linesmen, who were by and large excellent, seemed to have mislaid their goalmouth specs on something of a regular basis. However, Not Goal Of The Tournament has to go to Frank Lampard’s chip and blip off the crossbar against Germany. Just like an overly imaginative fisherman’s tale, the gap between the line and the ball will only ever get bigger in the telling. However, the failure to give the goal will have two major positive effects on the game, it’s so blatantly a goal that FIFA will have to investigate the use of goalline technology and it won’t be allowed to cover up the myriad of failings of the useless Engerland side.

Best Chant Of The Tournament

Not a lot of choice here as the vuvuzela managed to successfully bloat out pretty much all attempts at chanting. However, the continued booing of Dirty Suarez during the Semi-Final against Holland was exceedingly gratifying. But the winner is the England fans’ reaction to the disallowed (non-allowed?) Not Goal, which was both the loudest and the best chant of the tournament. A World Cup half a world away, broadcast to billions, and the crowd is all singing ‘The Referee’s a wanker’ at the tops of their voices. That was a moment for Sepp Blatter to have nightmares about.

Best Sporting Moment Of The Tournament

It lasted the best part of three days and it wasn’t even in the same continent. John Isner and Nicolas Mahut’s amazing fifth set at Wimbledon was everything that sport should be about, excellence of technique, power of will, composure, discipline, psychological gamesmanship, physical agility and fitness, skill, daring and channelled aggression. They played more minutes in that one set than most players played in the entire World Cup. They didn’t blink, whine, pout, dive, get scared. And it was just a first round match.

Best Least Sporting Moment Of The Tournament

Hands up Dirty Suarez. Sure we might all have done it, it might even have been ‘instinctive’ rather than blatantly deliberate, but you know what, I hope we wouldn’t have. And, yes, almost no one would be bothered if only Gyan had scored the resulting penalty and Ghana had gone through. But this was another example of the extreme cynicism that dominated the World Cup, a moment where the punishment quite patently didn’t match the crime. You have to think that a penalty goal and a yellow card would be a better punishment for this sort of thing. Sure less drama, but quite patently a fairer result.

Best Team Of The Tournament

Most goals, top goalscorer, best young player, most exciting team, and not one, not two, but three four goal thrashings on their way to a Semi-Final loss to eventual winners Spain sees Germany win Best Team. Oh how we laughed when they gave Oztralia the kicking they so richly deserved, oh how we didn’t (well we did but in a crazy schadenfreude sort of way) when they mercilessly dished out the same drubbing to Engerland. And oh how we laughed again when they mullered the crazy Argies. And we can blame it all on divetastic ex-Spur Jurgen Klinsmann. Unlike the useless Engerland, Germany showed all the benefits of ambition, long-term planning, attacking philosophy and preparation. And, unlike pretty much every other team here, Germany came here to win the World Cup rather than simply gain it by not losing. The only team whose matches I’ve bothered to keep.

Least Best Team Of The Tournament

Hmmmm. Where to start? The pitiful inadequacy of both Cameroon and North Korea, neither of whom scored a point. The pulse-draining soul-sapping mediocrity of all those sides hopped up on fear and inadequacy that aimed to stifle the opposition and kill the game. The European giants who didn’t perform, like Italy and France. No, there’s really only one Least Best Team, the now utterly unmighty Engerland. The oldest squad in the tournament should have been chock full of big game, big tournament experience if nothing else, but instead seemed to have cornered the market on fear, insecurity and doubt. They also seemed to have left their footballing basics somewhere else as simple acts like passing seemed utterly beyond them. Apparently riven by strife, inadequacy, boredom and sexual jealousy, they were so bad that their flaccid performances in World Cup 2006 seemed like memories of the Elysian Fields.  If what we do in life does, indeed, echo through eternity, then these guys are going to be hearing the boos that accompanied them off the pitch against Algeria for a very long time.

What We Learned From Germany vs Uruguay (3-2)

Not The Festival of Losers We Anticipated

These things can go either way. On the one hand you’ve got two teams who’ve lost the semi-finals and really probably feel like they should have taken a plane out of town three or four days beforehand. On the other, you’ve got two teams who know that nothing matters other than battering the shit out of whoever they’re playing against. Fortunately for us we got the second.

Both the Germans and the dirty cheating Urugs (for that is their name) came to win, which is more than can be said for most teams in most matches during this competition. The Germans welcomed back Muller, who must be a certainty for the Best Young Player of the tournament, while DC Urug foisted Dirty Suarez on us, who must be a certainty for Cheat of the Championship. Both had an effect on the game, albeit in different ways. Muller showed how indispensable he is to Germany, scoring the first goal and constantly being a thorn in the Uruguayans’ side; Dirty Suarez, on the other hand, contrived to miss every single opportunity he had. And he’s got the sort of misery face that makes you indescribably glad every time he fucks things up.

The Germans deserved to win, despite Uruguay putting on pressure and going ahead, if only for the positive attacking philosophy they’ve brought to the tournament. Uruguay have built on a great defence and Diego Forlorn, who has been good, but they’ve been the least interesting of all four semi-finalists.

63 Down 1 To Go, 2 Teams Remaining

What We Learned From Spain vs Germany (1-0)

Somebody Somewhere Is Playing The Bee-Gees

Tragedy, when the feeling’s gone and you can’t go on, tragedy“, played out of the window by some local fool, the lyrics float through the breeze here in the summertime. The saddest thing is that they’re probably not even watching the football. They’re blissfully unaware that they’ve put on the soundtrack to Germany’s summer football dream. Germany, the team who, more than any other here, have embodied the notion of decisive attacking football, who’ve done more than any other team to counter the pernicious influence of the Mourinho Discipline, who’ve provided the best (often sole) entertainment of the tournament and who, after this, are not going to the final. It’s not just a tragedy, it’s a fucking disgrace.

But Germany were well and truly outdone, cut apart and pig-stuck by a Spanish team that has never shown the slightest trace of ambition or fluency. Instead, Spain have developed their own form of football torture, death by a thousand passes. I’ve been greatly disappointed by the Spanish, who, aside from playing some really tedious matches have shown little or no attempt to entertain in any way. They represent, in truth, the counterpoint to the Mourinho Discipline, not its nemesis. For all their pretty passing, tikki takka ‘creativity’, they make far more passes backwards into their own stable area than they do into genuinely dangerous spaces within their opponents’ halfs. They are thoroughly conservative in the worst possible sense, never playing a decisive game changing pass unless it is 100% certain. Instead they’d rather play it around the back , luring the opposition out of position and then punishing them on the break.

It’s a thoroughly cynical, dirty game that provides no evidence of joy or excitement and it’s largely failed at this tournament, which is a surprising thing given that Spain are in the final. It’s about stifling the game, boring the opposition into submission, like some dastardly invention of the inquisition. Confess your sins, they seem to be saying, or we will continue to pass the bastard ball around the back. It’s not about game changing, it’s about game killing, which is why it really only works when Spain are one up. It is no coincidence that Spain have won all the games that matter 1 – 0. And it’s no coincidence that their goal here came from a set piece rather than any intricate bit of tippy tappy bullshit. In many ways they are the George Graham Arsenal of international football, only they can pass it about a bit.

In truth, they did what they did spectacularly well and Germany, the Germany who’ve appeared to always have some kind of tactical advantage, fell into their trap. Like both Engerland and Argentina, Spain played with a high backline, which should have let the Germans have the run of the game. However, Spain’s defence is much tighter than either of Germany’s victims – they actually appear able to defend – and Germany had no luck breaking through it. No, Germany was far too busy playing a game they’re not used to, lining up in two banks of four in a formation uncannily similar to the Mourinho Discipline. And you know what, they’re nowhere near as accomplished at it as the Swiss. Boateng especially looked thoroughly outclassed and out of his comfort zone, and provided the space on the Spanish right for pretty much all of their attacking in the first half. Another big loss for Germany was Mueller, who was suspended for one of those really irritating, given by a Mexican referee yellow cards. He’s one of those players who isn’t really flamboyant, but whose work at the midfield point of the attack is only truly appreciated when he’s gone. And he is critical to Germany’s game.

So, bye-bye the undoubted best team in the tournament. Not bye-bye to one of the least. Fuck me this World Cup is a bastard.

62 Down 2 To Go, 2 Teams Remaining

What We Learned From Holland vs Uruguay (3-2)

Take That Dirty Suarez

There was something almost ironic about the second Dutch goal being that Van Persil, who still hasn’t broken his duck, was comfortably offside and undoubtedly interfering with play. Oh how we laughed as the Urugs (the dirty cheating, double dealing, African victory stealing bastards) attempted to protest, all to no avail. Oh how we chortled as even the Dutch seemed overwhelmed with the ref’s decision. And once they were ahead, they made sure with a Robben header. I mean a Robben header. Here’s a man who is so worried about his hairline that he barely strokes his head, let alone heads a ball. The Urugs must have thought that the sky had fallen in on their heads. Revenge is sweet.

Will The Real Dutch PLEASE Start Showing Up

How long are we going to have to wait until the Dutch actually play some interesting football. I mean this can’t go on. They are in the World Cup Final and they’ve played about 15 minutes of good football in total. They’re still playing with Van der Vaart and Van Bommel, two of the most wretched players ever to pull on an orange jersey, leaving the lively Elia on the bench until the game is well and truly over. They’ve got Van Persil, who still hasn’t scored, who has barely had a shot and who plays like a rather tall Jermaine Defoe. And yet, they won all their qualifying group matches. They’ve won all their matches so far. And THEY’RE PLAYING SHIT FOOTBALL. Mind you it’s an interesting kind of shit football, it’s neither obsessed with the Mourinho Discipline, nor playing the great game of flowing, attacking football. It’s a whole new kind of shit. Still shit nonetheless.

Meanwhile Back In The Batcave of Loew Leisurewear

Super friend of the Palace, The Other Charles, spotted this fantastic parody of German manager Jochim Loew and his pet monkey Gunther. Well worth the viewing while we wait for the long-hoped for annihilation of Spain.

61 Down 3 To Go, 3 Teams Remaining

Extra, Extra, How About Them Semi-Finals Eh?

Shurely Shome Mishtake…

Hmmm. So when I initially looked at the semis and said. “I see these being Uruguay vs Engerland and Brazil vs Portugal,” I was obviously not taking into account the awesome predictive skills of Paul the Octopus and his reality twisting powers.  Given I’ve only been watching football since I was six, it’s somehow inevitable that a cephalopod with no understanding of the game, but a clear knowledge of which flag belongs to Germany, should be able to outwit me in the prediction stakes.

Still one out of four isn’t catastrophic eh? Even if it does belong to the Cheating C**t Urugs. Who, it seems, have either discovered the irony thing or have completely misinterpreted the whole Hand of God thing from 1986, thinking that it was somehow good that Maradona should so cheapen himself as to cheat a goal in the same match he scored the Goal of The Century. I find it risible that Dirty Suarez (for that is his real name) should receive exactly the same punishment as craphat Harry Kewell for effectively deliberately cheating his team to a World Cup semi-final. However, as Laurent Blanc, the soon to be unfortunate manager of the World Cup power formally known as France and now known as Failure, discovered, deliberate cheating at the World Cup is alive and well. Let’s hope that Dirty Suarez and his hideous team get the same comeuppance as Croatia got.

Meanwhile the Dutch still haven’t built up a significant head of steam. As far as I can recall, they’ve played approximately one ‘last 15 minutes’ of a game with anything like the authority I expect from a semi-finalist (during their initial match against Denmark), and made approximately one dangerous cross into the box (against Brazil), but these appears to have been aberrations. They do seem to have raised their game to the extent that Robben has replaced the shockingly slow and tedious Van der Vaart in their starting line up, but that was presumably their game plan all along.

I see this as being an awesomely tedious match. The Cheating Urugs have, despite everything, a very solid defence, which has only conceded two goals albeit both at the sharper end of the tournament, while the Dutch have done the absolute minimum necessary to win all their matches without ever looking like a seriously dangerous team. I would hope that the Dutch win and ideally start to play the kind of football they’re capable of when Elia is on the pitch. And if they can stuff the Cheating Urugs, say, 5 – 0, that would be a nice bonus. But I’m not holding my breath.

As for the Spanish, they really are painful. They still can’t decide whether Tippa Takki or slothful wingplay is the way forward for football (I think the answer is neither if you can’t do it incisively). And it’s clear that in their panic they have resorted to the strategy of ‘Give It To Villa’. For a team that came into the competition with so much hype and expectation, they constantly find new ways of disheartening us all. Still they did show moments in the last game, which they clearly should have lost, when Iniesta was on the ball and Fabregas was on the pitch, where they did look almost interesting. However, their fundamental problem is that if you neutralise Villa, you’ve effectively got Spain by the balls.

Which leaves just the Germans. Who would have thought it? The Germans. Who, like 2006, came into the tournament with a largely untried team, fronted by a largely untried coach (then Jurgen Klinsman, now the svelte uber-dresser Jochim Loew), and delivered the most exciting football of the tournament. Unlike pretty much every other team here, Germany has remembered that football isn’t about not losing, it’s not about just defending, it’s not about long, slow, tortuous attacking build up around the halfway line while your opponents place their banks of 4 in pretty rows. They’ve remembered that football is about swift devastating attacks, speed of motion, intelligence, aggression, pace and power. Their clinical demolitions first of the spastically useless Engerland and subsequently Argentina, have been compelling viewing and the only matches I’ve kept on my recorder from the entire World Cup.

More than any other coach at the World Cup, Loew has revealed that he has game plans. And tactics. And I suspect that he’s intelligent enough to see where the threat from Spain comes from. And with German captain Lahm the player who will spend most time facing Villa, I can see them putting the Spanish to bed quite easily.  Not as easily perhaps as their previous two matches, where both Engerland and Argentina left their back doors open all game like deluded trusting people living in the country, but relatively easily nonetheless. Still here possibly more than the other semi-final, the first goal will be critical. If Spain get it, they have the power to shut the game down completely. If Germany get it, then Spain will have to come out of their shell and go for it. I see Spain dropping Torres, who has been wretched, and playing Fabregas and, possibly, their big striker Llorente in a more threatening formation. Otherwise this, too will be dull.

The semi-finals in 2006 produced by far the best games of the tournament, with all four teams going all out to win the matches. At some point in both of these semis, the teams are going to realise that they have to actually win these games rather than simply not lose them. It really is Fergie’s Squeaky Bum Time and, for most of the players in either semi, the only chance they’ll get to reach a World Cup Final. Who will discover their cohones? So far only the Germans have consistently shown they want to win matches, so by my reckoning, if not Paul the fucking Octopus’ (who should be dealt with like that Octopus at the start of Oldboy), it’s Germany’s to lose.