Euro 2012: Day 12

The Roar Is On: Engerland 1 – 0 Ukraine

It is now clear what the answer to the Hodgson Conundrum is. Given his late entry as manager it was unclear what his general tactical approach would be. After two friendlies and two group stage matches a few things have become clear. He favours a cautious defensive opening, preferring to absorb pressure rather than actively probe and worry the opposition. However, when the team breaks, they are most successful breaking fast, using the wings and putting balls into the box rather than attempting to romance the ball into the net. And so far it’s been relatively effective.

Friendly wins against Norway and Belgium, both of whom appeared to be on their way on holiday, set the tone. Crafty, technical football was conspicuous by its absence, dour, obstinate hoofery more than apparent. None of which has been challenged by the first two group games. Both were filled with long periods of ball chasing, poor possession and control, compact, well disciplined defending and very occasional offensive manoeuvres. Yet they are still grinding out results – one of the signs of champions.

Today they had more than enough to deal with the Ukrainian threat. They were effective at absorbing the inevitable Ukraine pressure. The hosts were, after all, playing to stay in the tournament so were committed to pushing forward. And yet again the goal came from a cross, this time from the right and an easy header tap in from Rooney. After that it was shut the gate, hoof the ball and watch as the Ukrainians exhausted themselves.

That’s How To Do Collapsing: France 0 – 2 Sweden

You have to love the French. At the start of the game they had undoubtedly qualified, while the Swedes had nothing but pride to play for. So inevitably it was the French who collapsed. Armed with what appeared to be their most creative side (as opposed to the one most geared to getting a result), France should have been a joy to watch. After all, the combined attacking talents of Ben Arfa, Nasri, Ribery and Benzema should be enough to set even the calmest pulses racing. Yet if there’s one quality that all four appear to share it is a failure to really live up to their reputations in the really big games. Or to be blunt, all four flatter to deceive. Nasri had one glorious 3 month period 18 months ago, before largely enjoying Man City’s championship winning season from the bench. Ben Arfa has been occasionally sensational for Newcastle, but he is frustratingly inconsistent. While both Ribery and Benzema have shone in their domestic leagues, but come up short in the really big games.

No such misery for Sweden’s Ibrahimovic. Fresh off the first season in 8 years when he hasn’t won the domestic league wherever he has played, he did for the French with a spectacular scissor volley from just inside the box. After that France seemed to get into a huff and strop off at least 45 minutes before the final whistle.

It makes you wonder. How is it that Engerland can be so poor, yet are going through as group winners? How is it that Sweden can be so effective against France, yet couldn’t defend against Engerland or Ukraine? And why, oh why are France going through when they play as badly as that.

Euro 2012: Day 8

Laugh? I Nearly Died: Engerland 3 – 2 Sweden

Who me guv? Walcott gives detailed explanation of his equaliser against the Swedes. Like all good fish tales this one gets bigger every time it’s told.

OK, as the Prem drowns in acres of new money having sold its soul for over £1billion a year, Engerland brought a little bit of the Prem excitement to Euro 2012. For this must be one of the most exciting games the Euros have ever seen. Indeed you might say it was Excitement 10, skills, quality, football ability, tactics, uncle Tom Cobley and all a big fat zero.

Given Engerland matches now follow a script as predictable as a Michael Bay movie, it’s strange that I find them such onerous affairs. Frankly I should just give up caring. The games go like this. A dull, cagey first 15 or so, with Engerland playing it uselessly round the back (as if they haven’t quite understood that the point of playing it around the back is to pull the opposition out of place and give you attacking options). Amazingly Engerland somehow conjour up a goal out of nothing, somewhere around the 20 – 30 minute mark. Amazed at their own success (what a great wheeze they think, we’ve scored) and a-drunk on their own exhileration, Engerland fall back behind their own 18 yard line, lose all coherence and adopt their famous ‘desperate defending’ posture. Inevitably the opposition score, either just before half time or soon afterwards. If Engerland are in one of their really dire moods the opposition will score again. At this point the timelines diverge and either Engerland go on to lose (often on penalties), or even more amazingly than anything that has happened before, they actually score some more goals.

God must really hate the Swedes. They probably didn’t deserve to lose to Ukraine, but the latter desperately needed their fairytale. They certainly didn’t deserve to lose to Engerland. Once they’d scored Engerland played undoubtedly the worst football of any team in any game this tournament. It appeared as if they’d just drafted in 10 people, given them Engerland shirts and told them to get out there for the second half. It was amazing Sweden only scored two and it was impressive that Engerland actually got as many as no chances during this period. Honestly, it was bury your head and think of anything but Engerland time.

A lot will be made of Walcott’s introduction, his excellent goal and his overall contribution to Engerland’s victory, and in scoring one, setting up the winner and almost laying on a fourth (only for Greedie Stevie to steal it off the Ox’s toe and then hit it against the keeper) there’s much to commend. But it was equally important to rid the team of the irksome Milner and try to convince Johnson that his place (as a right back) is RIGHT BACK in defence.

It wasn’t all Engerland. Sweden suffer the same frailties as Portugal, being the sum of one player and a bunch of pals (or in Ibra’s case, not pals at all). Ibra failed, once again, to deliver on the really big stage and it is highly amusing that he will leave the tournament having scored fewer goals than his chief irritant Mellburg.

That Was So Electric: France 2 – 0 Ukraine

Too much potential for humour here as an electrical storm of impressive stature delayed the match for an hour. The rain in Spain falls mainly on Ukraine it appears. France were electrified. Après moi le deluge etc etc.

The Ukrainian fairytale fell off a cliff as France first controlled, then killed the game. Not even Sheva could save them, although he’ll have a much better chance against Engerland should they play as badly as they did today. France pretty much secure qualification as it seems unlikely that the fighting Swedes will put up much resistance (and if Engerland can beat them then the French should put them to the sword).

It seems that the French have finally emerged from the malaise of their last three tournaments, where they went from crown princes to clowns in the space of three group matches in 2002 and then managed to make that farrago look like a well disciplined campaign as they famously imploded in World Cup 2010. Now they look like a proper side again, although Nasri, Ribery and Evra are still very annoying petulant gits. But perhaps most astonishingly almost a third of their best side now play for Newcastle.

Euro 2012: Day 4

The Trundle Is On! Engerland 1 – 1 France

Cartoon version of England's brave ex-leader John Terry

Frankly that was as good as many people had hoped. Engerland ‘did a Chelsea’, a phrase that has surely already become the cliché  of the tourney, and successfully denied France the victory they so possibly deserved. Quite where this stalemate of a game falls within the panoply of the first round of matches is uncertain, but it’s probably somewhere between the ho-hummery of Spain Italy and the action pack that was Poland Greece. So, nothing spectacular to get excited about.

Both teams flattered to deceive in a match that followed the classic Engerland international pattern almost to the letter. Boring and cagey first half hour, albeit with Engerland passing the ball about a little more confidently than usual to the same non-effect as normal, astonishingly surprising Engerland goal against the run of play, haphazard retreat into shell following shock at having taken the lead, loss of lead, insipid substitutions, backs to the wall chaos of Engerland defending for the last half hour, all back to the pub for a night on the lash. France played the part of irritated floozy with a series of consistent ‘take one for the team’ fouling and annoyingly talented ball play (albeit to the same non-effect as Engerland’s hefferlump play). Ribery, as is his wont, vanished for large periods, Benzema never really got going and Nasri did what only he can by irritating not only the English, but his own fans.

This is an Engerland side that plays to its admittedly very limited strengths. Uncle Roy has had 2 pieces of luck, which he would do well to bank now. First, almost no one expects this team to win anything, certainly not with a midfield that consists of a back passer and a hollywood hoofballer. Second, thanks to Lampard’s unfortunate injury he’s been spared the never-ending pain of the Gerrard/Lampard Conundrum (a logic bomb that has been baffling scientists since the early 1990’s). It’s a shame it wasn’t Gerrard who was injured as he is so much less effective in the middle. Admittedly he has chanced his arm by bringing the likes of Downing and Henderson along, the latter was astonishingly actually given pitch time although as is normal he failed to register as much as a touch.

A draw kind of suits both sides, but they will have to play with a bit of aggression if they want to get out of this group.

That Was A Game That Was. Ukraine 2 – 1 Sweden

Every tourney needs a story as the old journo proverb goes. In Japan/South Korea it was the Koreans, in South Africa it was the Ghanaians, in Switzerland/Austria it wasn’t either of them, which only goes to prove the validity of the rhyme. After Poland’s South Africaesque failure draw on the opening day, it needed something special from Ukraine to ignite the tournament. And, thankfully, against all the odds (they have been the undisputed worst side in the last two international tournaments) Ukraine delivered.

This was a battle between two great Milan strikers, both of whom are probably past their best. In the Sweedish corner you have the enigma of Ibrahimovic, just coming off his first non-Championship winning season in 7 years; while in the Ukrainian one the Chelsea striking enigma that was Schevchenko, who has spent the last couple of years simply preparing for this big day.

In games like this sometimes the football just doesn’t matter, it’s the spectacle, the occasion and the sheer drama of it all. And while this didn’t quite deliver in the way that Aguero’s last second strike did at Man City, this time it was a whole country rather than half a city that was energised. In the end it was the Ibra Sheva show, just as planned. Ibra struck first, only for Sheva to equalise, before Ibra let Sheva run right the way round him to head in the winner. Cue Ukrainian meltdown as the entire country went off their heads with joy.  Pure football magic.