Monday, 30 June 2008

So it's a fondue farewell to EURO 2008

They think it's all over, and it is now.

Wow, what a tournament, 31 matches with only two or three duds and with several genuine classics and plenty of high drama, especially in the knock-out phase where tournament football usually gets too nervy and cagey to be truly entertaining.

With Torres's winner in the final it meant that 77 goals were scored, exactly the same as at EURO 2004, but the manner of many of the goals has meant that it's been an entirely different tournament from last time with fantastic quick counter-attacking and passing moves replacing the reliance on set pieces that saw Greece crowned as champs last time out. 

Also, despite all the usual pre-tournament grumblings about the new ball being lighter and liable to move around in the air like a demented bumble bee, there's been relatively few long range goals, only Ibrahimovich and Ballack managing to score from any distance outside the penalty area. Instead most of the goals have been the product of brilliant passages of play, showing the importance of quick, accurate passing and intelligent movement, something that I hope England, under Capello, can learn from (although don't bet on it, I fully expect to see Ferdinand, Lampard, Gerrard and co pumping aimless balls upfront for Rooney and Owen to chase in the World Cup qualifiers).

So a wonderful tournament and as is customary here's a rundown of some of the highs and lows.

Best goal - Nihat's fantastic winner against the Czech Republic to cap a remarkable comeback from 2-0 down to win 3-2 and send the unfancied Turks through to the semi-finals.

Worst goal - Petter Hansson's scrambled effort against Greece, the ball eventually ricocheting off his left knee and the Greek central defenders stood paralysed by ineptitude.

Best game - Too many to choose from, although Holland vs Russia probably wins it for Arshavin's fantastic performance.

Worst game - Any that involved the French, apart from their twatting at the hands of Holland.

Best facial hair - Germany's immobile centreback, Metzelder, who, with the beard looks as though he could've been playing in the 1970's, in fact he had the pace of someone 30 years older so perhaps he was?

Best player - Arshavin, a little genius, completely dominated two out of the three matches he played in, it's a shame that Spain managed to emasculate him so completely and make him play like the ruddy faced choir boy that he so resembled.

Worst player - It's a toss up between two titanically crap target men, the worst Italian hitman ever, Luca Toni and Germany's Mario Gomez, both of whom couldn't have hit an alpine cow's arse with a banjo the size of Leichtenstein.

Best manager - Fatih Terim, looked like a minicab driver and ranted and raved from the sidelines like a fan rather than an international coach. 

Worst manager - Raymond Domenech, he had a terrible tournament with France and then to compound his misery, he proposed to his girlfriend, a very attractive French sports presenter, live on air which she huffily rebuffed, quelle surprise!

Best pundit - This is a tough one but it can only really be Martin O'Neill as he was the only one who seemed to vaguely know what he was talking about and not just talk in clichés and national stereotypes (although actually Gordon Strachan wasn't too bad and one of the few people who understood why Ruud Van Nistelrooy's "offside" goal was given).

Worst pundit - The Two Alans (Hanson and Shearer). I know I'm cheating slightly by naming two but, to be honest, they've almost become one banal, monotonous entity and if they can continue to blag a sizable chunk of the licence fee for only having one opinion between them then I feel justified in nominating both of them. The Viennese golf courses and tanning parlours will be missing them, viewers will not.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

UEFA stunned as Roman Abramovich bids for EURO 2016

There was shock today in Zurich as representatives of Chelsea's moneybags owner and Siberian orphan seller, Roman Abramovich, announced his intention to bid for EURO 2016.

It is believed that the bid involves buying the tournament lock, stock and barrel, allowing Abramovich to rename it 'Roman's Euro kickabout 2016', introduce compulsory oversized animal costumes for players and replace sendings off with summary executions, the method of which will be voted on by TV viewers via the red button.

There is also speculation that he may enter his own team into the tournament under the name of 'Romania', as he has already entered into a provisional agreement with the Romanian government to buy the entire country for a sum expected to be in the region of $15 bazillion.

The new Romania will play all in blue, feature a new national flag of blue and have "We'll keep the blue flag flying high" as the national anthem, said bald headed, Abramovich brown-noser, Peter Kenyon, but he denied that there would be any connection between the new 'Romania' and Abramovich's Chelsea in a press conference broadcast yesterday exclusively on Chelsea TV.

According to the bid all of the EURO 2016 matches will be played on a floating 'stealth' pitch, which in between swallowing up nuclear submarines to provide the massive energy requirements, will dock at various ports around the world allowing the rich and famous football-Johnny-come-latelys from all around the globe to enjoy the matches from the comfort of their luxury yachts. 

A UEFA spokesman was reported as saying that no final decision on the bidding process has yet been made and that the most important thing was for UEFA to 'maintain the integrity of the tournament' before he was seen running off, skipping and singing "We're in the money!".

The Löw machine rolls on as Lahm slaughters Turkey

Well all the clichés about the Germans were out in force for this semi-final although they actually progressed to the final through skillful counter-attacking football rather than ruthless efficiency, giving Turkey a taste of their own medicine with a last minute winner from Philippe Lahm,

Senturk had, once again, set up a grandstand finish with his 86th minute equaliser just reward for a fantastic team performance, especially in light of their injuries and suspensions which meant that Fatih Terim had only 13 outfield players available to him.

Turkey had had the better chances in a electrically charged atmosphere in all senses, with the worldwide TV feed from Vienna being interrupted by a massive thunderstorm as the sparks flew on the pitch (many people missed the second German goal as the link went down and even worse, in the UK some people were forced to listen to Radio 5's Alan Green, oh the humanity!).

The match had started with the underdogs first out of the traps, Kazim-Richards thumped a shot against the crossbar early on and when he struck it for a second time, with a looping shot over the befuddled Lehmann, it rebounded to Ugur Boral who scuffed a weak effort that deceived the German keeper with it's lack of pace and trickled between his legs and over the line. 

Due to their late, late strikes, Turkey had managed to reach the semis despite only holding the lead in their first four matches for approximately 9 minutes and they only extended this to 13 before the Germans drew level.

In the first twenty minutes Germany had barely gotten out of their own half and looked a totally different team to the one that had blitzed Portugal, however with their first real foray upfield they restored parity, Lukas Podolski running purposefully to the byline and crossing low from the left for Schweinsteiger to expertly flick home. In a tournament crammed full of quick breakaway goals, this was once again a great example of what can be achieved with pace and precision passing.

Turkey went into halftime unlucky not to have the lead that their play had merited. Lehmann having been forced into several saves including free-kicks from Altintop and Boral.

Into the second half and the Germans took the lead. Rustu, who'd gone from villian to penalty saving hero in the blink of an eye against Croatia, had a rush of blood and came for a Lahm cross that he was never going to reach and Miroslav Klose headed into the unguarded net.

This left the stage set for Senturk's late equaliser but ultimately the Turkish supporters were silenced by the Lahm (I can't believe I've stooped so low as to steal an atrocious pun from Gary Lineker.

So the pre-tournament favourites advance into the final despite not having played particularly well, although you have to admire their sheer tenacity and whenever the chips are down someone, in this case Schweinsteiger and the defensively poor but decisive going forward, Lahm, making the difference.

Turkey go home having won plenty of fans with their tag as the "comeback kings" although they were ultimately hoist by their own petard.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Capello hails EURO 2008 success

Fabio Capello has sensationally claimed that his tenure as England supremo has already been a huge success, as for the first time in the last four tournaments, England have successfully avoided the heartbreak of a quarter-final defeat.

Speaking outside the FA's (s)wanky Soho offices in Golden Shower Square, the swarthy tactical mastermind pointed out that England fans would be happy to be sat at home enjoying the Schadenfreude of watching the distress of the Croatian, Dutch, Italian and Portuguese supporters, as their hastily applied face paint ran down their cheeks like so many multi-coloured tears, rather than drinking their body-weight in beer and proceeding to throw white plastic chairs at riot police as a coping mechanism to deal with the overwelming frustration of yet another wasted summer watching a load of over-hyped, overpaid, flangemuppets blast penalty kicks into orbit.

"England fans", he claimed, "have been able to watch quality football and enjoy matches full of drama and technical skill, something that would not have been possible had England qualified. Also the supermarkets have not, how you say, been full of wankers wearing England shirts buying Danish Carlsberg beer and spouting off about football despite the fact that they would have difficulty distinguishing Wayne Rooney from Rio Ferdinand in a police line up".

Monday, 23 June 2008

EURO2008-vision Song Contest

Austria - "So Macho" (Sinita)

Croatia - "My name is Corluka" (Suzanne Vega)

Czech Republic - "Roll out the Baros"

France - "Evra little thing she does is magic" (The Police)

Germany - "Frings can only get better" (D-Ream) or "Move Klose" (Phyllis Nelson)

Greece - "Bat out of Dellas" (Meatloaf)

Italy - "Zambrotta Love" (Led Zepplin)

Netherlands - "Oojier" (Outkast)

Poland - "Never mind the Boruc(s)" (Sex Pistols)

Portugal - "Pepe don't preach" (Madonna)

Romania - "There's a Rat in the kitchen" (UB40)

Russia - "Semak the knife" (Frank Sinatra)

Spain - "Hi Ho Silva lining" (Jeff Beck)

Sweden - "Shabaans" (Ricky Martin)

Switzerland - "Return to Senderos" (Elvis Presley)

Turkey - "Lip up Fatih" (Bad Manners)

Fabregas reigns in Spain after penalty win over Italy


Worst. Game. Ever.

This game was so dull that it really isn't worthy of a proper match report, in fact if it hadn't been for the fact that I'm blogging this tournament I would've turned this snoozefest off and watched "Big Brother" or some other vacuous Channel 4 crap.

Italy were extremely defensive and without Pirlo, who was suspended, to pull the strings in midfield, they resorted to pumping the ball forward for Luca Toni to head, scuff, mis-control and occasionally shoot everywhere but towards the direction of Casillas's goal.

The previously deadly Spanish duo upfront of Torres and Villa, were both given the kind of service usually reserved for British restaurant customers and, to be honest, in an effort to liven up proceedings I was left to try to decide which of the two teams had the most ridiculous hair (it was between Puyol's ludiculous Scouse-style bubble perm and Luca Toni's pathetic attempt at a pencil moustache, with mentions in dispatches for the rubber band wearing Torres, Silva and Camorenesi and the ridiculous goatee of David Villa).

I was also left waiting for an Italian free-kick on the edge of the Spanish box so that I could sing a variation of the Suzanne Vega song, "Marchena on the wall", yes, this match really was that dull.

The only goalscoring opportunity of note (I've discounted anytime Luca Toni had the ball within the six yard box as, early on in the tournament, I realised that with Luca Toni possessing all the accuracy of a Daily Mail news report about immigration, he would have trouble scoring if the ball was placed, unguarded, on the goal line) was when, the usually reliable, Buffon spilled a routine long shot and watched gratefully as the ball bounced back off of his post and into his arms.

Extra-time came and went with both sides looking tired and the game opening up slightly, although still neither side looked likely to score and so it was down to penalties.

Bizarrely Spain had previously been involved in 3 other penalty shoot-outs on the 22nd June and had lost all three, whilst the omens looked good for the Italians with them winning their last two shoot-outs including their victory in the World Cup final over France.

Both sides scored their first penalties, but when Casillas saved De Rossi's penalty it looked all over for the Italian's, Senna and Camoranesi then scored their respective kicks before Buffon gave Italy renewed hope as he palmed away Guiza's effort.

However Casillas superbly saved Di Natale's spot-kick and it was left to Cesc Fabregas to clamly slot home the winning penalty, causing the Spanish squad, including the amusingly, childish sounding reserve keeper, Palop, to invade the pitch and envelope the Arsenal man.

So after three fantastic knock-out matches we had our first stinker, but at least the slightly more adventurous Spaniards went through to face Russia in a re-match of their first game of the tournament, that will surely not be a repeat of the 4-1 rout from first time around.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Rampant Russians roll over the dozy Dutch

The third of this amazing tournament's quarter-finals managed to live up to the high standards set by the previous two, as the impressive Russians, coached impeccably by the Dutch master, Guus Hiddink, overcame the Netherlands in a superb display of attacking football.

With the creative talents of Andrei Arshavin playing in a slightly withdrawn position and the tireless work of Pavlyuchenko up front, Hiddink's men always look more dangerous than Van Basten's team, who despite the majority of them having had eight days rest, looked tired and lethargic compared to the Russians.

The signs were there from the early stages as Russia carved out several early opportunities and at half-time the corner count was 5 to 1 in their favour with Arshavin and Pavlyuchenko both going close.

After the break, the Dutch had a brief spell of pressure mainly thanks to Robin Van Persie who'd come on as a half-time substitute for the ineffectual Dirk Kuyt, Russia's second striker dribbled and passed his way around John Heitinga, who'd come on as a substitute for the understandably distracted Boularhouz, setting Sergei Semik free on the left. The captain's cross was fast and low, leaving Pavlyuchenko a relatively simple job of sidefooting home on the volley.

Russia continued to create chances but like the watching Arsene Wenger's Arsenal, they were guilty of trying to walk the ball into the net and with only 5 minutes of normal time remaining they were made to rue their succession of misses, when Ruud Van Nistelrooy was left virtually unmarked to head home a Wesley Sneijder free-kick.

In the dying seconds there was time for a bizarre incident with the Russian defender, Kolodin, seemingly sent off for a second bookable offence for fouling the increasingly dangerous, Sneijder, which was immediately rescinded by Spanish ref, Lubos Michel, after he consulted with his assistant and decided that the ball had previously gone over the goal line. The sending off would've been incredibly harsh as replays suggested that Kolodin had not made any contact with the Dutch player.

It would've been easy for the Russians to have been dispirited after letting the Dutch off the hook so late on but in extra-time they continued to press forward and with Van Basten having used all three substitutions, the Netherlands looked as if their only hope was to take the match to penalties (although when you are Dutch, with a penalty record similar to England's, this really isn't a great option).

Russia's second goal came when the Man of the Match, Arshavin danced down the left and flighted a tantalising cross over Van der Sar which Torbinski poked in with a deft touch at the far post, sparking the noisy Russian section of the crowd into ecstatic raptures.

The mercurial Arshavin finally got the goal his display deserved when he wrapped it up four minutes from time, latching on to a throw-in and shooting through Van der Sar's legs.

So my tip for tournament were dispatched with relative ease by a very good looking Russian side and so all three quarter finals have been won by the Group runners up and with the losers all showing that having the luxury afforded by qualifying after two matches and being able to rest players is not necessarily a good thing in a tournament where momentum is all important.