Archive for June, 2012

Euro 2012: Day 18

Caught By The Catenaccio: Germany 1 – 2 Italy

If the first semi final was dull, then this was like a Jerry Lewis movie. You see the joke coming a mile off, you get a reaction shot, you pan back to the joke (now merely a hundred yards out), repeat reaction shot, pan back (50 feet) and there it suddenly is right in front of you. The joke. Cue drum roll and curtains.

Now Germany had had the chance to watch the Amazing Pirlo Show, not once (against Engerland), not even twice (against Ireland), but right the way through the tournament. They’d even seen the way Croatia managed to put the brakes on him. And still they let the funny man with the frying pan beat them about the head with abandon.

If the first semi final saw the varying philosophies of Spain and Portugal cancel each other out to result in stalemate, this saw the exemplary defensive play and midfield distribution of the Italians overwhelm the midfield mastery and attacking power of the Germans. And in a way the Germans were beaten at their own game as the Italians first sucked them in, then punished them on the break, rather as the Germans had done for Engerland at World Cup 2010. Only where Germany were helped by some tragicomic defending from Terry and the boys, they were outdone by two fabulous strikes from Ballotelli, who atoned for his inexplicable miss against the Spanish in their group game.

Once Germany allowed Pirlo to begin pulling the strings there was no way back and although they laid siege to the Italian goal in the final minutes and scored a nice consolation penalty, they never really looked as if they had got any degree of control over the match. What with Bayern’s defeat to Chelsea and now this, maybe the Germans are developing an air of defeat about them.

Archive for June, 2012

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.

Archive for June, 2012

Euro 2012: The Semi Finals

Just What The Euros Needed

So far Euro 2012 has been a pretty decent tournament. Big plusses include, pretty uniformly good group stage matches, where incisive attacking play has generally been rewarded and super-negative defending punished; the abject failure of genuinely useless teams like the Irish; rewards for well organised, football playing defences who display the ability to transition from defence to attack effectively; and an almost total lack of cheating, diving, and cynical fouling (one reason why Ashley Young’s stats might make frightening reading). And while the quarter finals might not have risen to the standards we might have hoped, they have produced the right results and yielded two hugely interesting semi finals.

There’s no doubt that the four teams who remain are the best four teams in Europe. Indeed the only team who could realistically claim to be hard done by in the entire tournament are the Russians, who peaked far too early and paid the price for not getting results against Poland and Greed (sorry Greece). Yet however good the Russian play was, their failure to score key goals in group matches prevents them from being true top four challengers.

All four teams share one key characteristic. They each have a clear, well understood and distinctive footballing philosophy, which they execute to perfection. And the thrilling thing about these semi finals is that they pit these philosophies against one another so blatantly.

The Spanish have mastered total possession football, dominating all aspects of their games, while simultaneously making scoring look difficult and being suspect at the back. Masters of the footballing world for the last 4 years, they are finally struggling as teams develop strategies to counter them. For them it is all about the team and the style of play.

Portugal are completely different. For them the gameplan is simple. Give the ball to Ronaldo. The entire side is built around the aim of giving Ronnie the maximum number of chances on goal. Sure the likes of his Real teammates Pepe and Coentrao, Chelsea’s Mireles and Man U’s Nani have their own talents, but they’ve all been subsumed in the service of the undoubted queen bee of football. Outstanding against Holland a week ago, with a Spanish Championship finally behind him, Ronnie is convinced that this is his year. All he needs to do to prove his supremacy is to win the Euros. All everyone else has to do is stop him.

Germany are the most expansive of the four remaining teams. Blessed with more great strikers than the entire Prem, they are built on the ball playing creativity of Schweinstiger, Ozil and Khedira, with Badstuber’s defensive shield keeping the defence clean. If Spain are all about possession, then Germany are all about the move from possession to attack. Sure they may be more impatient, but so far they’ve been the most successful team this tournament.

If there’s a surprise package here it’s the Italians. Some suspected that the French, Russians or very improbably the Engerlish might have taken this position, but all fell well short. Indeed, the Italians succeeded because they did what they’ve been doing for so long so effectively, keeping a tight defence, being good on the ball and having genuine gamechanging players like Pirlo who can do it in big games. Pirlo’s masterful control of the game against Engerland has pipped Ronnie’s display against Holland as the single dominant performance of the tournament.

So we’re faced with two tantalising games, where the mas que un team philosophy of the Spanish confronts the unarguable individualism of Portugal, and the ferocious offense of the Germans meets the classic resistance of the Italians. Both should be fantastic to watch and should go a long way to establishing the way the biggest clubs in Europe set out to play over the next few seasons.

If I had to predict, I’d say that Portugal (just) and Germany (easily) will come through.

Archive for June, 2012

Euro 2012: Day 16

Same Old, Same Old – Exit At The Gift Shoppe: Italy 0 – 0 Engerland

Italian football genius Andrea Pirlo puts a useless Engerland team in their place with the most audacious penalty the Euros have seen.

Now loads of people have come down on poor little Engerland. They are, it is said, dour miserablists without a jot of footballing intelligence (that nice Theo and Oxblood aside), they play appalling lumpen prole hoofball, they are most effective when corralled into their patent ‘Roman Tortoise’ formation, they have an almost superstitious belief that Rooney will one day turn out a half-decent performance for the team and that’s just their good points. So naturally it’s all the fault of the ball to feet playing Spaniards.

Arguably the most evenly balanced of the quarter finals, on paper this looked like it could go either way. Italy hadn’t been playing all that well, doing just enough to come through in a group which also featured the flailing Croatians and the utterly abysmal Irish. They looked a bit staid and vulnerable, not unlike their opponents. If there was a quarter final that Engerland could realistically win, this was it. In the end it was as brutal a nil – nil thrashing as you could possibly imagine.

Engerland opened up in typical Engerlish fashion, an awful lot of running about and hoofy looping to varying degrees of success, a half-decent attempt on goal which provided Buffon with his only serious save of the day. However, after 20 minutes or so of pretty footy, Engerland simply opened up. The terrifying thing was that you could see it happening like ripples in a pond as the Italians first regained control, then established utter dominance over the game. In contrast you could watch the Engerlish backline retreating like Rooney’s receding hairline, first it’s on the halfway line, then halfway in the Engerlish half, then their 18 yard line, then inside the penalty area. Each retreat marked by a further retreat in the quality of any response on those rare occasions when Engerland actually had the ball.

The most astonishing thing about the game, aside from the mystery of how Italy failed to score in 120 minutes with almost total possession of the ball and about a grazillion on target chances, was how Andrea Pirlo managed to dominate all the play. Now here’s an older, slower player of undoubted talent, whose threat could have been neutralised by stationing an Engerlish player within, say, 20 yards. Prevent the ball getting to Pirlo and you’ve cut out about 90% of the Italian threat, reducing them to 30 yard hoofballs to a rampaging but ineffective Ballotelli. Not a hard concept for the best tactical brains in Engerlish football to get their heads around. And many different ways of accomplishing that, including man marking him with one of Gerrard, Parker or Rooney. Alternatively, bring on the Ox to make Pirlo’s life difficult. Not rocket science. However, not the Engerlish way apparently.

Instead the best minds in Engerlish football decided to isolate Pirlo by providing him with a 20 yard exclusion zone. A move which gave him almost total freedom to dictate play for the best part of 100 minutes. Unlike Gerrard, whose hail mary hoofers are just as likely to fall to an opponent’s able touch as they are to ricochet off an Engerlish player (into the able touch of an opponent), Pirlo can actually do the long ball pass thing. And he spread the play, usually down the right wing (patrolled with all his usually ineffectiveness by Ashley Young), with the ease of an old geezer lazing back in his recliner and puffing a catastrophically large cigar.

That Italy didn’t win in normal time was outrageous. That they didn’t win after 120 minutes was unacceptable and surely requires an indepth review by UEFA, followed by significant rule changes to prevent this thing from happening again. The notion that, but for the regulation couple of useless penalties which they always seem to dredge up, Engerland might have got to a semi final is repugnant to all sport loving Engerlishmen. Fortunately for them, and the world, we had Pirlo to take the most audacious penalty in the Euros to put the Engerlish most firmly in their place. The full scale recriminations will come later.

Archive for June, 2012

Palace Tweets

  • Where I is all the kids are watching live music through their camera phones and listening to jumbliTunes. #

Archive for June, 2012

Euro 2012: Day 15

Football Is Chess Played By Stupid People: Spain 2 – 0 France

Now loads of people have come down on Spain. They are apparently too lovely for their own good, they play beautiful, if often unthreatening football, they have won too often, they don’t allow other teams to beat them, they are boring and they win everything. Oh and they don’t give crappier teams a chance and they don’t let others score goals against them. So naturally it’s all the Spaniards’ fault.

Really the onus is on all the other sides to find a way around the Spanish gameplan. Not for the Spaniards to dumb down their play to accommodate the failings of the rest of the world. And given it’s taken Mourinho, who has the strongest alternative footballing philosophy, the best part of three seasons (and umpteen Classicos) in Spain to even challenge the might of Barcelona, it’s no surprise that the rest of the world has taken a while to get to grips with Spain’s success.

Latest to try was former world great France. Their previous period of dominance has culminated in just over a decade of catastrophic failure, infighting and acrimony. This campaign has been conducted with an undercurrent of bitterness, rancour and loathing that has been scarcely believeable, with players like Ben Arfa, Ribery, Malouda, Benzema and particularly Nasri being accused of not pulling their weight. With team solidarity like that it was no surprise that France bottled it, preferring to play a bizarre containment game before going one down, then failing to put together a meaningful attack for the rest of the game.

From Spain’s perspective their plan worked perfectly. They wore France down, pulling them all over the pitch, destroying their will, before breaking down the left, beating the two right backs Blanc had inexplicably deployed, before Xabi Alonso headed the ball into a practically unguarded net. Despite the introduction of Nasri, who barely even touched the ball, France had no response.

This might not have been a harem-scarem match like yesterday’s Germany Greece match, but from the Spanish perspective this was a perfect plan immaculately executed. The question for the rest of the world remains, Whatchagonna do about it?