Tag Archives: oranje

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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Best of the Prem: Swansea City to Wolverhampton

Roy Hodgson does his best George Bailey impression: “Well, I don’t have your trophy. It’s at Roman’s house… and Alex’s house… and Roberto’s house…”

Part Four takes us to a team that squandered their European dreams, another side that dropped like a stone, a third that pulled away from the edge of the precipice, and then two more that found the soft, creamy middle of the table.  Let’s have a look at their best, shall we?

The Dutchman did his part…

SWANSEA CITY
Michel Vorm (NED) – The first Welsh team in Premier League history was the mirror image of its fellow Championship graduate, Norwich.  Just like the East Anglians, the Swans’ gaffer opted for a wide-open system that had trouble on the counter.  Good thing Swansea had Michel Vorm.  The Dutchman faced a barrage of shots, but his save percentage remained in the top flight’s top five.  That’s why he will compete for the honour of being the Oranje ‘s No. 2 in the Ukraine this summer.

Ade wants to stay

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR
Emmanuel Adebayor (TOT) – I know that many Spurs fans — along with several neutral observers — will take issue with this pick. Why not Gareth Bale, or Luka Modric?  But the stats are pretty clear: more goals, more assists in the league, more possession, more clear chances on goal.  Sure the big man up front was a bit of lazy git at times, and Tottenham fans are worried that they have another Berbatov on their hands.  But the Togolese striker was lethal for the Lilywhites and, more importantly, he wants to stay.  The same might not be said for his teammates in midfield.

The Baggies’ Foster child…

WEST BROMWICH ALBION
Ben Foster (ENG) – Beware when your best player is a keeper.  WBA finished a positively decent 10th place under a positively decent manager, Uncle Woy.  Peter Odemwingie had a decent season with 10 goals in the league.  The Baggies were 12th in scoring, 14th in defence.  Foster was decent in the middle of the goalkeeper pack when it came to saves and goals against.  All of this bodes well for England, doesn’t it?… Doesn’t it?!?

NOT Gary Caldwell…

WIGAN ATHLETIC
Gary Caldwell (SCO) – Hey Wigan! Come here, you! No, go away! No, come here! No, go away! The Latics channeled the ghost of Alexei Sayle by dallying with relegation for the entire season (Editor’s Note: Alexei Sayle is not dead).  Wigan were bottom of the table as late as St. Patrick’s Day, so it was apropos that a former shamrock-wearing defender led the charge to safety.   Gary Caldwell’s team posted a record of eight wins and only two losses in their last nine matches, while only letting in seven goals.  That’s as many as the eventual champions, Manchester City.  (Ed. Note: Caldwell didna kill his brother — and former Wigan teammate — Stephen.  He’s at Birmingham City… )

Wolves say they won’t let Fletcher go…

WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS
Steven Fletcher (SCO) – One of the only above-average players on a very sub-par squad, Fletcher had more goals than Frank Lampard, Rafael van der Vaart, Chicharito and Gareth Bale.  ‘Nuff said…

Brent Lanthier

Up Next: Season’s Starting XI and ATR’s PoY!

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The Oracle of a Paul O…

I love that title…  Here’s a little bit of the buzz surrounding Sunday’s final.

Paul the Octopus has predicted Spain to beat the Dutch in Sunday’s final.  The mollusk medium has a 100% record in picking champions.  Of course, PETA thinks the whole thing is cruel and a gimmick, and that Paul should be released.  But according to Wikipedia, octopi are very intelligent… and if he wanted to get out, he bloody well could!

David Beckham has also predicted Spain to win….but unlike Paul the Octopus, Becks is not allowed out of his tank.  For the record, Becks had to pick Spain. The last time he went Dutch, he got in a world of hurt.

Still with the strange animals theme, there’s a parakeet in Singapore who’s “pecking” the Netherlands to win. Bird brain or brilliance? We’ll see Sunday.

All this animal business is crackers, of course.  Here in Canada, we let the bison roam freely and hope for the best, which is why no one is picking us, unless they’re tired of picking their nose and looking to make a joke.

The Lazarus of German football, Miroslav Klose, is doubtful for tomorrow’s consolation game against Uruguay. That would be too bad for Klose.  This is likely his last World Cup, and he needs just two goals to pass Brazil’s Ronaldo as the all-time leading World Cup scorer.  His four goals this tournament puts him past the legendary Pele and Gerd Muller.

It’s winter in South Africa, which means it’s flu season.  The bug has apparently hit the German camp, as well as Michel Platini. The UEFA chief was taken to hospital after collapsing at a Johannesburg restaurant. Officials say Platini was suffering from “flu-like” symptoms. They are likely the same symptoms I have when I show up for work on Friday mornings wearing sunglasses, smelling like a Belgian’s basement.  I bet Platini thinks he’s been poisoned by the English…

Paris Hilton is on safari in South Africa… despite her catch-and-release for marijuana possession. The hotel heiress was on Twitter after the trip, proving her crack qualifications as a zoologist and spelling bee champion.

If you happen to live in multi-multi-cultural Toronto, there are two big final parties happening. School Bakery at King and Dufferin is expecting 3000 Oranje fans, while Plaza Flamingo at College and Bathurst is expecting a thousand La Roja fans.  Hmmm… tall gorgeous Dutch girls, or sexy Spanish women… tough call, t0ugh call.

One final note: FIFA officials are hoping that Nelson Mandela will be well enough to present the winners with the World Cup. Mandela had an awful start to the tournament after his great-granddaughter died in a car crash on the opening day. Having the 91-year-old icon of human rights would be a memorable and classy way to end the tournament.

Brent Lanthier

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Oranje bowl over Brazilians, while Black Star misses mos’ def(initely)

Wesley Sneijder - Holland v Brazil: Wesley Sneijder the hero in 'fantastic' performance

What a cracking day to sit on the couch and do nothing except watch footie.

World Cup favourites Brazil lost to the Netherlands… and I’ve desperately tried to write in a Dutch oven joke.  No luck, feel free to write in your answer below.

This game was the Felipe Melo show. First he set up Robinho’s goal to send the Samba Kings flying. But in the second half, he collided with his own goalkeeper and headed in a Wesley Sneijder cross. The goal tied the game and rattled Brazil. Then, Melo’s frustration with uber-pest Arjen Robben boils over. He kicks Robben to the ground and then inexplicably stomps on the Dutchman’s thigh.  Red card and it was “Boa noite” for the Brazilians.

Here are some interesting facts from the game:

  • For the first time in its World Cup history, Brazil loses after leading at halftime (now 35-1-2) and loses for only the third time after scoring first (now 53-3-4). The other two losses were the 1998 group stage versus Norway and the 1950 final versus Uruguay,
  • Melo’s own goal was Brazil’s first in its 97-match World Cup history. It’s just the second own goal in a knockout-stage match in the last 40 years,
  • Sneijder, who is 5-foot-7, became the shortest player to head a goal in at this year’s World Cup,
  • Brazil loses under Dunga for the first time when both Kaka and Robinho play (now 30-1-4),
  • Melo’s red card was 11th ever for Brazil, putting them one ahead of Argentina for most in WC history.

I think’s it’s off the mark to call this result an upset. Netherlands have not lost a competitive match since the Russians beat them in extra time in a Euro 2008 quarterfinal. That’s a streak of 13 matches.  And they are on a run of 24 games without a defeat, since a friendly loss to Australia two years ago.

Image: Uruguay v Ghana: 2010 FIFA World Cup - Quarter Finals

Meanwhile, Africa’s dream of a home-grown World Cup winner died after Ghana lost to Uruguay with a bizarre finish. Just before the end of extra-time, Uruguay’s goalkeeper was caught out of position during a goal-mouth scramble. Luis Suarez kicks the ball away, only for Dominic Adiyiah to head the ball back towards the net… where Suarez raises his arms to deflect the shot.  Red card for Suarez and a penalty for Ghana.

But then Asamoah Gyan sends the jabulani sailing into the crossbar… and sends the Ghanians home in tears, after Uruguay win a penalty shoot-out.

Now the Uruguayans have to manage the high-flying Dutchmen (ho ho!) without the rambunctious Suarez, who is definitely suspended for the semi-final. They’ll also have to do without Paris Hilton, who was arrested for allegedly passing the Dutchie on the left-hand side.

The build-up to tomorrow’s game between the Argies and Ze Germans has been downright nasty. Somewhere, there are a bunch of old RAF commanders giggling into their Pimm’s…

Late game: Spain plays Paraguay.

Brent Lanthier

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Oranje book date with Samba Stars

Kaka celebrates with Luis Fabiano

Kaka celebrates Brazil’s second with Luis Fabiano

They gave it a brave try for the opening half hour, but Chile eventually proved no match for the magic and might of Brazil, who scored twice within a three minute span in the first half and added a gorgeous third after the interval to crush the hopes of their continental cousins in a 3-0 victory that sent the Selecao into the quarter finals.

Chile were aggressive and daring, and deserve plaudits for the way their young team performed at this tournament. Still, keeping the world’s top-ranked team off the scoresheet was always going to be a struggle, and it didn’t help La Roja that they were without the defensive duo of Gary Medel and Waldo Ponce, both suspended for yellow cards. Midfielder Marco Estrada, sent off for a tame challenge on Spain’s Fernando Torres in the final group stage game, was also reduced to spectator for this one, but even a full-strength Chile would have been fortunate to unseat the five-time champions, who look a good bet for a sixth crown on July 11.

Arjen Robben

Arjen Robben fires home the opener for the Oranje

To get there, however, Brazil will have to knock off the Netherlands, who extended their unbeaten run to 23 matches and have won eight straight overall after a 2-1 victory over a Slovakian side that was a shadow of the team that knocked Italy out of the tournament last week. Arjen Robben, making his first start of this World Cup, slotted the opening goal inside the post early in the first half, while Slovakia didn’t manage a single shot on net for the first 62 minutes of the match. Two glorious chances soon after both went begging, with Maarten Stekelenburg bailing out the Oranje with some fine saves before Dirk Kuyt gifted Wesley Sneijder for Holland’s decisive second, and only a (rather dubious) final-kick penalty putting Slovakia on the board.

The Dutch have yet to concede a goal from open play at this tournament, while Brazil has allowed just two, and neither team has trailed at any point so far. Something’s got to give when this pair of heavyweights clash in Port Elizabeth on Friday. The Netherlands haven’t faced anyone with the quality and depth of Brazil so far, and will have to raise its game to match the South Americans. If they can, this one could be a classic.

Ian Harrison

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Best of the Prem: Liverpool to Stoke City

Brent Lanthier

Here is the next installment of the series. I know, I know, the League ended almost a month ago. But at least four of these next five gents will be front and centre over the next month.

Liverpool: Dirk Kuyt (NED)
One of the few positives in Liverpool’s disastrous season, Kuyt gets mention for sheer effort… and lack of injury.  With Alonso out the door and Torres and Gerrard spending too much time on the physio’s table, it was left to the Iain Dowie look-a-like to show some guts. Kuyt gave his all, game in and game out.

Future: The Dutchman is beloved by the Anfield faithful but he could join the potential exodus from Merseyside this summer.

World Cup-bound? Yes. Kuyt is competing with some superstars (Robben, Sneijder, Van Persie) for playing time on the Oranje. But he has a habit of scoring big goals for Holland.  Watch for him this tourney.

Manchester City: Carlos Tevez (ARG)
The first player to move between Manchester teams since Terry Cooke in 1999, Tevez must have had it in his heart to prove his old boss wrong for letting him go. The Argentine scored more goals this season than he did in his previous two with United, leaving his fellow City strikers in the dust. Welcome to Manchester, indeed.

Future: The future looks bright for City… and Tevez should be their leading light.

World Cup-bound? Yes. But the striker now admits he may end up on the bench for a team that boasts an impressive front line, including Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, and Diego Milito.

Manchester United:
Wayne Rooney (ENG)
With the departure of his team-mate and “friend” Cristiano Ronaldo, it was up to Rooney to step into the breach for United. Rooney did it as a serious contender for this season’s Golden Boot, laying waste to defenders and scoring some lovely goals. He looked on pace to snap Denis Law’s record for most goals in a single season by a United player, but an ankle injury at the beginning of April forced him out for two weeks, and he finished out the campaign without scoring again.

Future: Rooney no longer has to play feeder for the flamboyant Portuguese and that’s been reflected in his goal tally. At 24, he is already a United legend.

World Cup-bound? Yes, yes and yes again. Get in, son. (Sorry for the unbridled favouritism).

Portsmouth: Aruna Dindane (IVO)
Dindane was brought to Pompey as one of several hired guns,  but he was never going to get that much action. His contract stipulated that if he played more than 21 games, the cash-strapped Pompey would have to pay Lens an extra 4 million pounds. But Dindane has made a career of doing a lot with a little, and scored nine times in all competitions. One wonders what he could have done, if he’d been allowed to play the entire season.

Future: Dindane has signed for a team in Qatar, which is where all football elephants go to die.

World Cup-bound? Yes, and with Ivorian superstar Didier Drogba out of the team, Dindane might get a chance to shine on the world stage.

Stoke City: Matthew Etherington (ENG)
Let’s face it: Stoke are boring to watch. They played to not lose and had the worst goal scoring record away from home in the league. But reformed gambler — and Hammer — Matthew Etherington had a good season. He led his team in both goals and assists (in the league‘s Top Ten, actually), which earned him the Potters’ Player of the Year.

Future: Etherington is frustrated he isn’t earning as much as some of his team mates. But after his rebirth at the Britannia, Stoke fans are praying he stays.

World Cup-bound? No. While he may have had an outside chance, the odds were that an England appearance was never in the cards for this left winger.

Up Next: Part IV, Sunderland to Wolverhampton — and then Part V: my Starting XI.  That’s a lot of Roman numerals…

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England’s Absence: USA ’94

Kevin Hoggard

The World Series of Soccer took place in the good ole U.S. of A.  I haven’t got a clue what happened as I didn’t watch it.

Manager Graham Taylor guided us through a disastrous qualifying campaign.  He would resign shortly after we realised that the summer of ’94 would be spent gardening and working on our tan.  (Ed. Note: Kevin is obviously having a laugh. Every scientist will tell you the English don’t tan.)

Taylor was cast as a pariah in the English papers.  They delighted in using bad pre-Photoshop techniques to show him as a turnip on the front page of The Sun, such was their disdain for the man.

Our qualifying campaign boiled down to a trip to Rotterdam, needing at least a draw.  With the tie in the balance in the second half, David Platt was through on goal.  Ronald Koeman would catch him and hack him down on the edge of the penalty box. Then the German referee made a huge mistake. Karl-Josef Assenmacher called the foul and gave England a free kick just outside the box.  But if Koeman had committed a professional foul, it should have been a straight red.  Instead, Koeman was booked and the Dutchman remained on the pitch.

Just two minutes later the Oranje earned a free kick, and who takes it? Koeman.  The first shot was charged down.  The referee ordered a re-take.  The second attempt was immortalised for me by our commentator, I think it was John Motson.  As Koeman sized up the situation, Motty said, “He’s gonna clip it, he’s gonna clip it!”  Everybody could see it… everybody except for our goalkeeper.  The man who should not have been on the pitch clipped the ball over the wall and into the net.

Merson would hit the crossbar but then Bergkamp would seal our fate with a second goal.  Sickness enveloped my heart.

We still had a ridiculously outside chance of qualifying.  If Holland lost in Poland and we beat San Marino by a bucket load of goals we could still go through.  Hope springs eternal.

That hope lasted 8.3 seconds.  The fastest ever goal in a World Cup qualifier was scored by a computer salesman.  England found themselves 1-0 down to San Marino quicker than my experiment with baby oil, Baywatch and a box of tissues. 

In their previous 9 games San Marino had scored ONE goal and conceded 35.  It would take us 20 minutes to get back on level terms.  England went on to eventually win the game 7-1 but Holland had triumphed 3-1 in Poland.

So I spent the summer fastidiously avoiding the television.  Not wanting to watch a grand spectacle that we were not a part of. 

Do I not like that.

Brevity is the soul of wit so ‘nuff said. Kevin still watches Baywatch on YouTube and gets tears in his eyes.

Up Next: England’s Pride Suffers, as the Lion becomes a Goat.

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