WC2014 Germany 4 – 0 Portugal

Thunk! David Attenborough  goes into overdrive as two Wolrd Cup heavyweights go into premature mating ritual

Thunk! David Attenborough goes into overdrive as two World Cup heavyweights go into premature mating ritual

The Wonderful World of Nature

Check out that extending baton finger. It looks like something out of one of those Terminator movies, where the sexually ambiguous T-8Million kills its victims by overextending its forefinger into their brainpan. Who would have thought that Portugal’s self-styled ‘most hated footballer’ would be able to assassinate his opponents so post-modernly? And by the way we’re talking about Pépé, not any other Portugeezer.


Euro 2012: Day 17

Stalemate: Spain 0 – 0 Portugal

You hope for a riot and you get a small disturbance by the corner shop. This should have been a feisty, combative battle between the team of the tournament and the man of the moment (Pirlo excluded). Instead it was possibly the dullest of all the matches in the tournament so far as the two philosophies of Portugal and Spain cancelled each other out.

This was everything that football shouldn’t be. The focus on the individual rather than the team, the focus on the individual rather than the football. This should have been the moment for Ronaldo to seize control, to finally show that he can be the decisive factor in the really really big games in the same way that Pirlo was against Engerland. Instead this was Ronnie at his least effective. Indeed, it was Nani (ever the understudy) who appeared more effective, although given the torpor the game induced that isn’t saying much.

Spain themselves seemed surprisingly outclassed for the first half, only really rousing themselves for extra time and even then they weren’t roused enough to really make a difference.

Still, like Engerland, penalties were funny, funny, funny. The best joke being that Ronaldo, who obviously sees himself as the saviour of football, didn’t even get to take his penalty.  From glory boy to glory hole in one fell swoop.

Euro 2012: Day 13

Enter The Eliminators: Portugal 1 – 0 Czech Republic

I have a confession to make. During some of the more, shall we say, challenging of the matches I have struggled with actually remaining conscious. Some of the initial skirmishes, especially as they enter the critical 20 – 35 minute mark, have been tedium incarnate as neither side establishes a cutting edge and we retreat into some kind of footballing trench warfare. But this was the first match where I have actually lost consciousness and fallen asleep.

I just couldn’t get my head around the Czech’s gameplan. Sure in this age of the Mourinho Discipline we’ve all got used to sides sitting back and playing the defensive counterattack game, but it seems that the Czech’s never had any ambition beyond keeping the game at nil nil for long periods. Maybe there was some notion that in allowing themselves to be battered for the vast bulk of the game that they were enacting some kind of heroic football equivalent of the ‘rope a dope’. But once again the fatal flaw emerges. Sure Ali may have weathered the storm until Foreman was a broken husk of a man but he only won because he was then able to attack. The Czechs never really got that far.

Neither, for all their quality, did Portugal. They too seemed a bit hamstrung by the sense of occasion. In comparison to their demolition of the Dutch, this was a very restrained, almost subdued performance. Once again their centrepiece was Ronnie, but he was far less devastating than his previous game. Now that may have been due to the hard work of the Czech defence (and midfield), but it’s more likely that it was down to the general lackluster nature of the Portuguese team itself.

In the end it was a single goal that settled it and inevitably it was Ronnie wot won it. But there was still less gusto than previously. A semi-final with the winners of Day 15’s Spain France clash awaits.

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.