Category Archives: Euro 2012

Pieces of Eight: Why Spain is So Money and Other Euro Observations

Well that was fun.  Lots of goals, an upset or two, some behind-the-scenes drama… and for what? At the end of three weeks, the new Champions are the same as the old Champions.  The footballing universe is balanced and unsullied, and in six weeks, we can go back to watching club football.  In the meantime, enjoy my little observations about the highlight of the summer.  Don’t you dare mention the Olympics!!!

1) This Spanish side may be the best international side ever.  Duh.
Euro.  World Cup.  Euro.  Nineteen players in the side have now won both tournaments.  More than half of those players will still be under 30 by the time they reach Rio in two years time (not to mention next year’s Confederations Cup).  An average possession rate of at least 65%.  A side that has gone 646 minutes without conceding a goal in a knock-out match.  This is more than a “Golden Generation”;  this is utter and complete dominance.

2) Buffon and Pirlo are studs.
Despite every indication that they would do the opposite, the Italians (the Italians?) took the game to Spain, trying to play offensive and open-pitch football (seriously, the Italians?!?).  Prandelli’s tactics allowed the world to see Andrea Pirlo’s incredible play-making abilities. Pirlo is a big reason why Juventus won the Scudetto this season, and AC Milan (his old team) didn’t.   Meanwhile, Buffon faced a barrage of attempts, especially in the final’s second half. When the winners were getting their medals, Buffon was stoic in defeat.

Prandelli: “Balotelli has to learn to accept defeat.”

3) Balotelli needs to grow up.
He may have put on a clinic against ze Germans… but Mario is still a super baby.  He stormed off the pitch after Italy lost against the Spaniards and was the last person to receive his medal.  That’s too bad because he had an exemplary tournament.   Colourful players with heaps of talent have always made the game more interesting…. but Balotelli can be a detriment to his team(s).  Luckily for both Italy and Manchester City, his behaviour may mellow with time.  Witness another former petulant son in…

4) Cristiano Ronaldo.  He’s an incredible player… he just needs a team.
Like the Italians, the Portuguese weren’t expected to do much.   Critics assumed that Ronaldo would once again be unable to replicate his club form for A Seleccao.  But not only did Ronaldo have a great tournament, he showed tremendous un-Ronaldo-like restraint as teams gave him a kicking.   Old Ronaldo would have flopped around like a fish.   New Ronaldo recorded the most shots in the tournament.   Too bad that he also hit the wood work more than any other player… and let’s not even mention the penalty shot that never was.

5) The end of the Van Marwijk era means the end of the Van Bommel era, et al.  Praise Cheebus.
The Dutch gaffer opted for pretty much the same side as he used in the World Cup. Oops.

Before the tournament even began, the players exhibited symptoms of Dutch Disease: an in-fighting both in and out of the public spotlight that hobbled everyone. Their performance on the pitch reflected the lack of unity and tactics.  One hopes that it wasn’t nepotism that led Van Marwijk to start his over-the-hill son-in-law Mark Van Bommel.  The captain sums up all that’s wrong with the Oranje:  old, dirty, and petulant.  A mid-tournament rebellion in the dressing room, followed by an early exit,would make the Dutch this year’s France, except that…

6) France is this year’s France.
After a disastrous World Cup campaign in South Africa, you’d think Les Tricoloures would avoid their petty squabbles and unite under Laurent Blanc. Malheureusement, it was not to be. Reports of a dressing room bust-up after losing to Sweden in their final group-stage match was followed by Samir Nasri’s unseemly outburst towards a reporter. A tidy loss to the eventual champions meant the end of another tournament… and the dismissal of another manager.

Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité… Someone tell the French players.

The other sad Mario…

7) Das Jahr der Schrecken for Bayern Munich players.
What a season for the eight men out who play for both the German national team and Bayern Munich.  Bayern suffered a double domestic loss to Borussia Dortmund in both the Bundesliga and the DKB-Pokal, followed by a baffling defeat at Chelsea’s hands at home in the Champions League.  Top that off with Germany’s semi-final loss to unfancied Italy and they face a tough summer staring into their schnitzel.  Mario Gomez even lost out on the Euro Golden Boot because he tied Fernando Torres in goals and assists, but took more minutes to do it!  Scheisse!

8) England, thanks for coming out.
Joe Hart and Steven Gerrard played well.  Surprisingly, so did John Terry.  Andy Carroll scored the same amount of goals as Wayne Rooney, but played 50 less minutes.  Theo Walcott had a game to remember.  Now let’s never mention this again.

Brent Lanthier

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A very Italian England

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In advance of their quarter-final showdown at Euro 2012 this Sunday, Azzurri midfielder Daniele De Rossi has described Roy Hodgson’s Three Lions as “a very Italian team,” Clearly, he wasn’t talking about Wayne Rooney’s hair. Or, for that matter, his dress sense.

Still, although England aren’t exactly Canali chic in their style of dress, they have been typically Italian in their style of play so far, tough to beat at the back (as our Kevin predicted) and quick to strike on the counter, as I wrote in this week’s column for Toro Magazine.

So, will it be enough to get England past Italy and into the semifinals? Or are we looking at 120 minutes of 0-0, and a penalty shootout defeat? Sadly, my money is on the latter scenario.

Ian Harrison

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England’s Unlikely Lads

“Help us, Oxlade-Chamberlain… you’re our only hope!”

For the first time in my living memory, England are not being trumpeted as a possible winner of a major tournament. No sane person, nor any insane ones, has England progressing past the quarter-finals.  In fact, most would consider it an achievement to get out of the group. So is there any way that England can possibly exceed expectations and actually win this thing?

Play like Greece

“Tell me more, tell me more, did they get very far?”

Well, yes they did. They won the whole bloody thing in 2004.

 “How?”

We’re not quite sure. But the Hellenic victory was built on a very solid defensive performance. They scraped through the group stages on goals scored, ahead of Spain. Then they scored a single goal and held on to win 1-0 against France in the quarters.  In the semis, they took the Czech Republic into extra time after a goalless 90 minutes and notched another 1-0 victory. And in the final — you guessed it — 1-0 against Portugal.

 “Er… can England do that?”

Why not, my curious friend? England’s strength is their solid defence.  Combine that with a world class goalkeeper in Joe Hart and tackling fiend Scott Parker protecting the back four, and you may have the Three Lions’ only chance.

“But weren’t Greece just lucky?”

Well yes, in a way.  But Italy have always based their game on a solid defence while nicking the odd goal, and they’ve not done too badly. Chelsea won the Champion’s League by parking the bus against Barcelona and Bayern and then riding their luck. Switzerland defeated Spain in the World Cup with a similar tactic.  So it’s not beyond reason.

Unleash the Ox

“Who is this Ox that you speak of?”

Well the Ox is a symbol of power, strength, resurrection, masculinity, fertility, fatherhood and kingship.  I know that sounds like John Terry describing a night on the town (or a tweet from Joey “I’ve swallowed Wikipedia” Barton), but in this case we are talking about Alexander Mark David Oxlade-Chamberlain.

“Is he any good?”

He has burst onto the scene similar to a young Wayne Rooney 10 years ago (yes, it was 10 years ago!).  He’s 18 years old, as strong as an… well, okay, an ox.  Plus he has electric speed and a cracking shot on him.

“He sounds great! What could go wrong?”

It’s England. We always have a player who will “win it all” for us and it never happens.  From Beckham to Owen to Rooney, we always seem to have somebody that we pin our hopes on. It’s like pinning the tail on the donkey… except that when you open your eyes, the donkeys are on the pitch.

“So how does England get the best out of him?”

It’s tempting to start him and then let him run at defences, scaring them half to death,  but I think in most people’s minds he’ll be an impact substitute. But do English fans really want to rely on the hope that AOC can change the game in the last 20 minutes? With Rooney’s absence in the first two games, it might be worth deploying the young Arsenal player from the start, using his youthful exuberance to give us a chance.  Roy Hodgson can always drag him off and put some other clueless wonder on.  Step forward, Mr. Walcott.

Wayne might be up for it

“Does Krakow have red light districts?”

Haha.. you cheeky scamp. We actually mean that, after a long season, Rooney will miss the first two games due to the red card he received against Macedonia.  After watching the sh!t show that is England stumble around for 180 minutes, Wayne will be chomping at the bit to get involved… and he just may be ready to take it out on the Ukraine and then be raring to go if we get to the knockout stage.

“Haven’t we been here before?”

Yes.  Sadly we have. Whether it’s the swish of red being shown, or a metatarsal snapping like a turkey wishbone, you can bet our hopes will be dashed upon the rocks like an Italian cruise ship. (Ed. Note: ATR takes no responsibility for this insensitive — and frankly, obvious — simile).

I’m holding out for a hero

“Is Bonny Tyler going to sing the half-time entertainment?”

No, but Martin Tyler might sing a ditty or two if we ask nicely.  What we actually mean is that we need someone to step up and grab this tournament by the scruff of the neck and drag us through to the finals.

“But who, good sir? Who can save us?”

Who needs to lead England to victory? This guy…

Good question. It’s about time Captain Hollywood — and by that we mean Stevie G — stepped up and played as well in an England shirt as he has for Liverpool. It’s his last hurrah as his career seems to be on the downward slope… so there it’s now or never. We’ll take a few Roy of the Rover moments.  A 30-yard screamer into the top corner as the Germans sink to the turf will do us just fine.

“Is he our only hope?”

No. Rooney is another player with the ability to put us on his back and crash us through the European defenses.  Maybe even Jordan Hend… what’s that? No! You said I had 30 minutes on the computer. It’s MY turn. I’m not taking those pills. You can’t make me. I don’t want to go to my room. Mother? Not mother? (Sounds of a struggle ensue, as the author’s screams reach a higher pitch.  This is followed by squeals of laughter as the author is tickled into submission.  How bizarre).

Kevin Hoggard is a frequent contributor to At The Rails about his miserable experiences as an England fan.

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Everything’s coming up ‘Arry

What a week it’s been for Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp. Last Monday he was staring prison in the face, only to neatly dodge that dicey prospect when he was acquitted on tax evasion charges on Wednesday morning. And before the day was done, things got even better, with Fabio Capello’s hasty departure as England boss bumping ‘Arry up to being the hot favourite to take over the Three Lions. As I wrote in my latest Toro Magazine column, Capello’s exit might not be the worst thing for the England, creating an opportunity to turn crisis into a moment of communicative clarity, and ridding the team of a gaffer whose most oft-worn expression was that of the grumpy old man from the movie ‘Up.’

Still, while it’s been a great few days for ‘Arry, the immediate prospects aren’t necessarily so good for Spurs, who face losing their manager at or before the end of a Premier League season of unparalleled success. His England candidacy comes at a crucial time for Tottenham: this weekend’s match against Newcastle kicks off a stretch that includes matches against the Gooners, United and Chelsea before the end of March, as well as the next rounds of FA Cup encounters. The team persevered throughout the sideshow of ‘Arry’s trial, but watching their wheeler-dealer of a manager dip his toes into the England pool could prove vastly more of a distraction to the Spurs squad.

But Reknapp appears to be in a no-lose situation, much as he was when he first took over at Tottenham. How many times did we hear old ‘Arry give that ‘two points from eight games’ speech about how he brought Spurs back from the brink after a woeful start under Juande Ramos? Now the England opportunity amounts to about the same thing: ‘Arry the White Knight rides in to take over from an unloved foreigner, calms everyone down and, because he’s apparently not the type to give long, boring speeches, just lets the lads go out and play football. Whatever happens on the pitch this summer (and I’m not convinced England will have an easy time with any of Group D opponents France, Sweden and tournament co-hosts Ukraine), Redknapp can say he stepped into the breach when times were tough and did his level best to make things right. Win or lose, he’ll be hailed for his service and can choose whether to step away and go back to Spurs, or stick around and try to lead the charge towards Brazil 2014.

How much has the bar been lowered by the results of his predecessors? Steve McLaren’s squad failed to secure passage to Euro 2008, while Capello’s lethargic Lions wasted no time going south after squeaking into the knockout round in South Africa. Lead England into a semi-final even, and ‘Arry could come home to a parade. Just not down the Tottenham High Road.

Ever the type to play down his profile, all the while talking about himself just a little bit more, ‘Arry claimed he celebrated his acquittal by heading home to spend the evening with his wife and dogs, popped a dose of cold medication, and was in bed by 8:30. He says he’d just as happily ‘head down to Cornwall and never be sighted again.’ Classic ‘Arry that, but I can’t believe he’d turn down a call inviting him to sit front row centre on the England bench against France in their Euro opener on June 11.

It may not be signed, sealed and delivered just yet, but everything is on the table right now for ‘Arry and the FA, and nothing’s off it. They have a need, and he’s got the momentum of a tsunami behind him. ‘Arry’s no wheeler dealer, of course, so he’d probably tell you he’s not the type to put a tenner on his chances. Too bad. Right now, he looks about as sure a bet as could possibly be.

Ian Harrison

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Groan When You’re Winning

One more England miss, and they'll be stuck like that...

I’d like to put forth a very philosophical question that is almost Talmudic in the asking of it:

Is it right to criticize your team when it is winning?

I cheer for England.  I cheer for Canada. I cheer for Liverpool.  All three sides have taken myself and millions of others to the depths of despair… or at least, to the deep end of disappointment.  But all three have been winning lately.  So why am I seriously underwhelmed?

A fading member of England's "Golden Generation"

England pulled out the win on Tuesday and have almost booked their plane tickets to Poland/Ukraine.  But Wales could have beaten the Three Lions, as they played with purpose and aggression and without fear.  This was a different Dragons squad from six months ago, with Gary Speed giving the captain’s armband to 20-year-old Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey.  Speed also had a fit Gareth Bale on the wing… and both players ran the hell out of the English backs all game.  My mate wondered aloud what the Welsh could have done if only Craig Bellamy hadn’t been suspended, and I had to agree.

England got the win but it wasn’t pretty: it was boring.  So I thought perhaps the country of my birth would play more exciting football than its colonial fathers.

How could I have been so naïve?

In fairness to the reader, I missed the first half.  In fairness to me… I missed nothing.  I turned on the match to see a Puerto Rican pitch that was in worse condition than the field at my under-funded elementary school.  Neither team could complete a relay of more than three passes, even if their lives depended on it (which in some nations, it would.  Colombia, I’m looking at you).  Canada went on to win 3-0.  But it still irks me that the Canucks have been forced to play tiny Caribbean nations in World Cup qualifiers while Third World backwaters like Honduras flourish internationally.

On the professional side, Liverpool has emerged from the financial ashes to spend over £100M pounds on fine young talent, most of it British.  Yet only two players — Luis Suarez and Charlie Adam — have been real game changers.  The club has no debt, they have a living legend as their manager, and the team has yet to lose a competitive match in this young season.  They have even won two major trophies in the last six years.  Like Fox Mulder, I want to believe… but a drunk and bitter Jiminy Cricket sits on my shoulder, nagging at me with doubt.

The reason for my skepticism comes down to the words of the great, er, scholar Dr. Phil who espouses this idiom: “The best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour.”  All three sides have monumentally underwhelmed in the past.  Why should the near-future be any different?

Don Fabio: He no happy...

Volumes have been written about why England’s national side has not won a major tournament since the 1966 World Cup.  Spoiled players.  Too much pressure from the support and media.  Too many club fixtures.  Too many friendlies.  Yesterday, the manager added mental fragility to the list.

Meanwhile, Canada’s problem is that the players are simply not good enough.  Don’t get me wrong: they try.  They try hard.  But when you only have three players on the pitch who belong to top-flight clubs, the writing is on the wall.

DeRo keeps his World Cup dream alive

It blows my mind that Canada is one of the richest nations in the world, yet it is still not competitive in one of the biggest sports in the world.  I don’t buy the “ice hockey is everything” excuse.  Sweden, the Czech Republic, Russia and the US are all hockey powers and have all managed to find ways to build successful national soccer sides.  Sweden and Russia have thrown the “cold weather” excuse out the window as well.  The Canadian Soccer Association has a lot to answer for.

As for Liverpool, the club is only now recovering from two decades of Rip Van Winkle-itis: not paying attention to the New Business of football until it was too late.  The once-mighty club was too loyal to managers and players who did not perform, while failing to keep up with the Manchester Uniteds, Chelseas and Manchester Citehs until now.  Over the last eight months, Liverpool has spent over £100M.  Time will tell if it makes them a contender, or if it has bought more disappointment for their painfully loyal fans.

Perhaps I am being too persnickety, too willing to focus on the negatives in order to ease my mind when I am eventually let down.  But I’d like to think that I am making educated assumptions as I watch these teams play, seeing repeated errors and thinking,”this could be trouble.”

Maybe it’s just to cover my arse so when my team(s) finally lose, I can say, “I told you so.”   In the briefest of instances, I will have slid down the moral gradient from being “right” to just being “self-righteous”.

Because these days… isn’t that what being a football fan is all about?

Brent Lanthier

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England still looking for results…

 

He's in better shape than England's back four...

 

This next one is going to get me in a lot of trouble…

This week, the world watched and cheered as 33 Chilean miners were rescued after spending 10 long weeks trapped in the bowels of the earth.

Still easier than being an England fan.

Of course, I can joke now.  All of the miners are safe and sound… and to be honest, some of them looked like they enjoyed the ride up.  But’s it’s not been a fun ride for those who support the Three Lions.

Tuesday’s game against Montenegro was ghastly: shades of the World Cup against Algeria.  No ideas, no goals, errant passing and shoddy refereeing.  You could say England have been fumbling around in the dark with no way of knowing how this will end.  Ashley Young looked like he tripped over his neighbour’s hard hat…

The Chilean miners had their entire country and — you could argue — the entire world cheering for them.  But no one feels for England and its spoiled millionaires.   By the middle of the second half, you could hear the frustrated fans groaning every time England tried to move forward, only to have a player stumble over a cross or lose the ball in no man’s land.

On the Guardian’s podcast, the crew mentioned how tiny Montenegro overachieves for a country its size, with decent handball (snicker) and water polo teams.  Add football to that list.  The former Yugoslav state is the fifth seed in the group, but after playing half of its Euro qualifying games, it sits in first place… undefeated.

It’s not all darkness for the Lions.  They are also undefeated.  But in a group that plays two fewer games (meaning there are six fewer points up for grabs), they can not afford to finish second.  That means their final qualifier next year in Montenegro has assumed greater importance.

Let’s hope there’s a light at the end of the tunnel… even if it is a long way off.
Brent Lanthier

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The Hits Keep Coming

 

Again? Really?!?

 

England has taken another injury hit. This time, in-form Darren Bent says he cannot face in-form Montenegro because of a groin injury.  The news follows Captain Schtupping’s exit from the squad; he says his back hurts, poor dear.

There are now four players who say they can’t play. Last week, Everton’s Phil Jagielka and Tottenham’s Aaron Lennon withdrew.  That means Rio Ferdinand — who has only played four games since May — will partner up with either Gary Cahill or Joleon Lescott at the back.  Logic dictates putting Cahill in… but that won’t happen.

What’s worse is Fabio Capello taking the captain’s armband back from Steven Gerrard and giving it to Ferdinand.  What for? Because England are winning? Even Sir Alex has taken away Blame-It-On’s captaincy of United because of the uncertainty over his bum knee.

Meanwhile, Peter Crouch is coming in for Bent.  A good move, as Crouchie is the anti-Rooney: scores little for his club, but is a wunderkind for the Lions.

With tiny Montenegro full of confidence after going 3-0 so far in qualifying, I hope England aren’t in for a shock…. sigh….

 

Again? Really?!?

 

Gazza Watch:
For the second time in less than a year, Paul Gascoigne is arrested for drunk driving.  Can you say Georgie Best?

Brent Lanthier

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