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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Euro2008 catch-up: Lubos Michel shone as Russia defeat Holland

The tournament has not relaxed in entertainment value. Superb. The Germans played their best football so far with a controlled, enterprising, performance against one of the major favourites in Portugal. Lukas Podolski is a front man but on the wing he has been overall as clinical. Exchanging one-twos' with first Miroslav Klose then Michael Ballack, Podolski ran down the left side followed by Jose Bosingwa and Pepe, crossed for the rapid emergence of Bastian Schweinsteiger into the box for the first goal.

Incidentally, Schweingsteiger got a one-match ban for a shove in the Croatia match whereas Turkey's keeper Volkan Demirel received two for his on The Czechs' Jans Kollar. Personally, neither were red cards but just bookings although Koller should received an Equity card from the actors' association.

Then two from set-pieces, ie free-kicks, to which Portugal were found very very lacking in defence surprisingly. The second one should have been disallowed for a shove by Ballack on Paulo Ferreira, maybe Paulo will let Ballack know about it come pre-season training at The Bridge. Nonetheless Germany were far more industrious than Portugal, who seemed subdued for some reason.

Another comeback from the Turks, a very very late one at that. Why were some people saying the game was dull, I thought it was superb. Both sides missing chances, Croatia had a few sitters, the application in the final third of both sides lacking which brought on extra-time. Why Rustu Recbar came out when he did I dont know but good play by Luka Modric simply found Ivan Klasnic with an open goal in the last minute of extra-time. Wild Croatian celebrations later, a Rustu free-kick high towards the Croatian goal brought a Turkey goal from Semih Senturk!! Seconds to spare!!

Considering familiar balls up the field towards the Croatian defence were picked up easily by the head of Jospi Simunic towards Stipe Pletikosa, on this last-gasp occasion I saw Sabri Sarioglu leap across Simunic's POV, which led to the ball not being dealt with and instead dropping dead amongst a little melee of players, from which Semih struck. Bilic prior to this tried to run down the time with a substitution, to no avail and he was livid. Cue Turkey's celebrations over yet another comeback. Following penalties made the drama all the more final, Croatia only scoring through Mario Srna out of three as Turkey deposited their spot-kicks, superb stop bu Rustu from Mladen Petric.

Last night went against the odds yet again. The third quarter-final, the third runners-up team from their group going through. Arguably Croatia outplayed Turkey but Germany and Russia have played their best football at this stage against strong favourites for the semis, if not the final. Holland were not their usual self, the Russians had more of the play, the ball, the chances, they just seemed to want it more and playmaker Andriy Arshavin was inspirational. Not the only one, but the main one. the Dutch could not stop him, he was the equivalent of Christiano Ronaldo in the EPL on a good day.

How often did Yuri Zhirkov get down the left, the touches of Konstantin Zyryanov, the strikes of Denis Kolodin, which brings me to a touching moment in the game. Wesley Sneijder chased the ball to the touchline and appeared to have kept it in, only to be challenged by Kolodin and go down. Now Kolodin has been virtually man-marking Ruud van Nistelrooy and picked up a yellow card in the process, so with this challenge he was due another one. And got it, to be dismissed in deep injury time, Russia facing Holland for extra-time with ten men.

Or so it seemed until ref Lubos Michel, the Slovakian official who was criticised by Chelsea's Jose Mourinho for the goal given in the Champions League semi-final 2nd leg with Liverpool at Anfield in May 2005, criticised by Martin O'Neill for his officiation of the 2003 Uefa Cup final between Celtic and (ironically Jose Mourinho's) Porto where he sent off Celtic defender Bobo Balde, must have been altered by his linesman and went to consult with him. Thereafter, Michel rescinded the 2nd booking for Kolodin and gave a Russia goal-kick.

It is presumed the linesman indicated Sneijder did not keep the ball in, therefore it was a Russia goal-kick that rendered Kolodin's challenge ineffectual to any decision. Replays may have indicated otherwise but it also showed Kolodin's challenge has having minute or no contact with Sneijder to warrant a booking. Criticise them as you see fit, praise them as they deserve. I don't think many of us would be courageous to be an official considering the abuse I am aware of they receive, both professionally and at amateur level. All round, the accolade and applause went to the Slovakian official for changing his mind as he did.

At that stage it was 1-1, skipper Sergei Semak was found by Arshavin, and one cross later found a first-time touch by Roman Pavlyuchenko. The Dutch struck 4mins from time when Sneijder curled over a free-kick which van Nistelrooy headed past Igor Akinfeev. Extra-time simply found the Dutch wanting time to race down fast with Russia constantly battling and working with top energy levels, culminating at first with a penalty shout as Zhirkov was fouled in the box by Johnny Heitinga, rightly denied. But then another Arshavin burst down the left ended in a cross that danced across the crossbar and down for sub Dmitri Torbinskiy on the run to touch in.

Then to cap off the evening and the game, a quick throw found Arshavin with two Holland defenders, no off-side from the throw-in, the Dutch defence surprisingly allowing such a ball to emerge through. The Zenit St. Petersburg man simply dragged the ball and shot it through the legs of Edwin van der Sar. What a display from the team, the other players and Arshavin.

Displays by the likes of Turkey and Russia makes me feel for a final meeting between the two. As industrious as Germany are, and whoever from Spain v Italy, the spirit from Turkey and Russia has been one of bravery, commitment, never-say-die until the end, and quality at times that I couldn't associate anyone else with in the tournament. It should take them both into the final. Considering the current trend of runners-up emerging further in the competition, we should then see Italy overcome Spain, believe it or not. Don't be surprised of a match this evening where the Spaniards dominate the first half, Torres scoring in the 41st minute, only for the Italians to strike eventually through Luca Toni in the 57th minute, and then Alessandro del Piero to win it in the 79th minute.

I predicted Portugal would not make it past the QF, T sent me one saying last night's game would end 1-1 after 90mins. Goes to show how we both read the game!


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Euro2008 catch-up: Swiss win send-off for Kuhn; Turkey amazing come-back for QF

Being the last game for all groups, kick-offs are simultaneous and at the later time of 20.45hrs Swiss time, 19.45hrs BST. That said, we were served with a choice rather than one match after the other and I chose Turkey v Czech Republic, seeing as Portugal were through and mostly changed and Switzerland were out and playing for the last time under coach Kobi Kuhn. Portugal fielded eight changes to include Ricardo Quaresma and Nani starting, Fernando Meira as skipper and Raul Meireles who scored their 2nd goal against Turkey as a sub. But fortune seemed to favour Switzerland despite the Portuguese holding more possession and chances.

Having remained goalless at half-time, the co-hosts snatched the lead with 20mins remaining. Eren Derdiyok's little touch found Hakan Yakin and he slotted under Ricardo. A penalty decision later, Fernando Meira upending sub Tranquillo Barnetta, who needed little persuading to make it look worse, Yakin scored his third of the tournament. A nice ending to a campaign that showed much promise but filtered out with a consolating win to end Kuhn's reign.

Now, from the worst game so far in Romania v France to what has been arguably the game of the tournament. Identical to Group D's current status between Sweden and Russia, the Turks and the Czechs were level on 3pts and a loss. Winner would take all and the stakes were very high. The Czechs crashed to Portugal after leading away from the Swiss while the Turks responded superbly after their opening Portugal defeat with a last-grasp strike against the Swiss. Jans Koller started in place of Milan Baros, so Karel Buckner still refrained from 4-4-2, and the Aberdeen striker showed good stride in his selection. Servet Cetin was taking the fight to the big man but couldn’t stop him nodding a header past Volkan Demirel from Zdenek Grygera's right side cross.

Turkey had little to no service down the flanks and from central midfield and I found Mehmet Aurelio disappointing in his delivering and service particularly. But after the break, the Turks aimed to hit back and through Servet and Tuncay Sanli they missed excellent chances to score. Koller was himself put through on goal and his lack of space seemed to hinder him as eventually his effort went wide. But then past the hour mark Turkey had to deal with Emre Gungor, who injured himself and had to be stretchered off, leaving Turkey with ten-men and minus a defender. At the time the Czech were on the attack and coach Fatih Terim urged to make his replacement of Emre Asik before anything bad happened, but it was too late. Liber Sionk crossed from the right for Jaroslav Plasil to side in and touch the ball just passed Volkan, who has been in good form in the tournament.

Terim and other Turkey personnel were furious with the 4th official, who as nudged and gestured to. Jan Polak hit the post as the Czech were relentless in driving home the nail in the Turkey coffin. But 15mins of fame were about to erupt again in Europe, again with three goals. Liverpool endured it in the Champions League 2005 after the second half started. In the Stade de Geneve, they began after the 75min. First, impressive Hamit Altintop played a one-two with Sabri Sarıoglu, cut back across the box to Arda Turan, who scored the winner against Switzerland, the Galatasaray winger slotting a shot off the right hand of Petr Cech into the corner.

Then, a comical error for "the best goalkeeper in the world", said ITV's Jon Champion. Turkey played with the ball down the right until a cross came over, Cech came to catch a simple unchallenged ball but dropped it, Nihat Kehvaci on hand to touch in the loose ball. Turkey were level in 12mins when they looked out from the first 75mins. Then to break all Czech hearts, a sweet ball again played through by Altintop found Nihat, the equally impressive Villarreal man through on goal, on-side, and from the edge of the box he curled a sweet ball up and around Cech, touching off the crossbar on its way in.

The one sour note was between Koller and Volkan, two big players, with Koller deliberately coming in on Volkan. Volkan ensured the danger was cleared then confronted Koller, shoving him on the chest. Koller went down and rolled over like a brand new carpet, embarassingly for a strapping 6' 7" person, which produced a straight red for the Turkey keeper. Again, a harsh red but UEFA are cracking down and Volkan just needed to maintain composure for a little while more and he would have had the last laugh.

Nonetheless, unbelievable comeback. I mentioned Liverpool in the 2005 Champions League final, I must mention Man City who came back from 3-0 down, Joey Barton sent off at half time, to beat Spurs at White Hart Lane 3-4 in the FA Cup tie of early 2004. That comeback was 42mins in the making of the second half. But Turkey looked quite out of qualification come Plasil's goal, only to come through with the kind of tenacity and spirit they showed against the Swiss.


Euro2008 catch-up: Germany drop as Spain grasped QF place

Go back to the 12th, Thursday. The Croatians simply showed too much of a lively surge for the Germans to contain and dismiss. It was open in the first 10-15mins until one or two hesitancies from the German defence gave Croatia more belief. The weak link was Marcell Jansen at left-back and he was exploited on 24mins when Danijel Pranjic crossed over from the Croatian left and Darijo Srna reacted quicker than Jansen to beat Jens Lehmann.

The Germans didn’t respond to being behind and we found out if they would being two behind after the break. Ivan Rakitic's cross-cum-shot deflected off Lukas Podolski and hit the post low, and with Lehmann stranded Ivica Olic reacted first to tap in. It was Podolski who gained consolation with a snapshot resulting from Phillip Lahm's cross but they had Bastien Schweinsteiger sent off for a reactionary push on Jerko Leko after a feisty tackle. Should have been yellow for below the shoulders but UEFA look to crack down sternly on such conduct, regardless how minor it may be. I don't disagree.

Austria & Poland fought a tense draw, with Poland's Roger Guerreiro tapping in from Marek Saganowski's cut back after Ebi Smolarek crossed from the Polish left. Saganowski had turned Emanuel Pogatetz to cross but Guerreiro appeared to be offside when he scored. Now the interesting is, not only did the Poles gain the lead against the run of play on the 30min mark, Austria were clearly the better throughout the game and particularly the first half.

So when Austria gained a crucial penalty in the dying moments of injury in the second half, there was uproar from the Poles. Veteran Ivica Vastic stepped up to score from the spot, given when Mariusz Lewandowski was seen tugging on Sebastian Proedl. Referee Howard Webb was subjected to death threats as a result which I naturally found unwarranted but all the more so when you read the words from the Polish Prime Minister Donald Tursk. "Today I must speak as Prime Minister, but last night my conversation was very different. I wanted to kill somebody, you know who, like every other Pole."

Can anyone find Gordon Brown for a reply? Coach Leo Beenhakker: "Maybe he wants to show he is a big boy and has the guts to do it, I don't know. I've never had a problem in 43 years of being in football but this is something I cannot understand. We don't have it in our own hands any more and the conclusion is we are out of the tournament.

"If you lose a game because they score two and you don't it's different and tough but you accept it. Sometimes you don't get what you deserve. This hurts much more than the first match. It was the only situation to survive in the tournament. Austria is excited about the result. Our conclusion is that with this result we are out of the tournament."

My conclusion of Poland, considering they failed to score against Germany and were fortuitous with Guerreiro's goal, that they got what they deserved and so did Austria. There were 88mins plus for Poland to score in and they didn't so managers should drop dwelling on one moment in the game when they have plenty of time to make sure of victory.

Next was Group C with Italy v Romania. The worst game thus far being France v Romania and Italy somewhat subsided by injuries and Holland, this was not an easy game to judge. As it was, it was a good game. Adrian Mutu was feverish up front and Luca Toni had a headed goal from Gianluca Zambrotta's cross wrongly ruled offside. The linesmen have gotten a number of such decisions wrong in the tournament. So it took a second half mistake by Zambrotta's header towards goal for Mutu to snatch in and score past Gianluigi Buffon and Italy were rocked. Immediately Italy went on the attack and a cross from the right came off the head of Giorgio Chiellini to by-pass all except the creeping movements from behind of Christian Panucci who tapped it in.

The crucial moment came in the 80th min when Panucci was judged to have brought down Daniel Niculae in the box and Mutu stepped up for what should have been Romania's snap victory from the Italians, only for Buffon to make a stop of the effort and the ball cleared away. Romania could have been four points in 2nd place today. Instead it was two and yet one for Italy which could all the more be crucial in their qualification.

Arguably the team of the tournament was next against France. Holland stepped up to the French with an unchanged side and why not? The French dropped Eric Abidel, Karim Benzema and Nicolas Anelka for Thierry Henry, Sidney Govou and Patrice Evra. Govou started wide on the right with Franck Ribery behind Henry. I felt that was wrong and Ribery should have exchanged with Govou. Ten minutes in and Dirk Kuyt continued to impress from his Liverpool right-side position as Rafael van der Vaart's corner came across and the Liverpool man headed in despite Florent Malouda simply trying to muscle him about.

The French will look at a penalty appeal turned down, rightly so, and Henry one-on-one with Edwin van der Sar but uncharacteristically lofting the ball way, way over the goal. Thereafter the Dutch increased the lead when sub Robin van Persie, on for Kuyt, picked up alone on an Arjen Robben cross to slide past Gregory Coupet but France responded well when William Sagnol's cross was touched past the keeper by Henry but that was immediately forgotten. From the kick-off, the Dutch attacked and Wesley Sneijder played down the left to Robben, who sprinted down, troubled both Lillian Thuram and Sagnol to strike a fine shot acutely past Coupet at the near post.

To add insult to injury, more likely salt to the injury, van Persie and Robben combined to find Sneijder, who turned his marker well to curl over a superb finish for no.4. French cuisine not up to standard, better to go Dutch.

Group D brought the Spaniards with Sweden. Fernando Torres brought his duck as David Silva chipped towards goal and Torres stuck out a leg to poke past the keeper. Carlos Puyol had to depart due to injury and that led to Raul Albiol being introduced, whereas Alvaro Arbeloa would have been better to move Sergio Ramos central. Nonetheless Sweden equalised when Zlatan Ibrahimovic picked on a Fredrik Stoor cross, reacting faster than Ramos, and then leaving Ramos on the ground as the Real Madrid defender lamely challenged, the Swede turning to snap his effort past Iker Casillas. Spain should have had a penalty when Silva was barged over by Johan Elmander but surprisingly the referee ignored it.

Sweden seemed content on a point, Ibrahimovic rested due to a niggling knee problem and the Swedes defending deep for most of the game to thwart the Spanish attack, but Spain gained a last-gasp winner as the Swedish defence failed to deal with a Joan Capdevila cross over to the left, Villa slipping and slotting past the keeper.

The current champions Greece were put out of the tournament by Russia as a solitary Konstatin Zyryanov goal put paid to their ambitions. Zyryanov latched onto a smart overhead return by skipper Sergei Semak on 34mins, as keeper Antonis Nikopolidis looked to follow the ball out for a goal-kick. Semak chased it and turned it back, Zyryanov unmarked to turn in the ball. Encouragingly, with the absence of Andriy Arshavin and Pavel Pogrebnyak, Roman Pavlyuchenko missed a few chances to increase Russia's lead, one or two of them real sitters but the win was secured despite Greece's efforts.

Russia are level on points with Sweden, who they meet in the final group game where the winner simply takes all. The Swedes will bank on Ibrahimovic being fully fit while the Russians could have Arshavin to include in the first XI and the Zenit St Petersburg playmaker makes little mercy of energetically running around the opposition with creativity. Compare that with Russia's defending against Ibrahimovic and Henrik Larsson and it is difficult to call.


Saturday, June 14, 2008

Sneijder owns the first week of Euro 2008

Wesley Sneijder has taken control of Euro 2008. His credentials are great - trained in the Ajax academy and made his name with the technical Dutch side before transferring to Real Madrid last summer and being a big driver in their stroll to the Spanish championship.

The things I see in Sneijder are great close ball control, balance, energy, teamwork and ability to strike a football. But there is something else about Sneijder that is really coming through in this tournament - he is fearless and plays with the same consistency and confidence no matter who the opponent is. Like Cesc Fabregas this is a young guy who can be relied upon to perform in the biggest matches because of an in-built composure that is exceptional to see.

He sets the tone for the Dutch in his energy, confidence, ability and interplay with teammates. He is the leader and tone-setter of this extremely cohesive and lethal Dutch side. He is the main reason why the Dutch have mauled the reigning World Champions and World Cup runners-up in the space of four days. Having just turned 24 years old we are witnessing the breakthrough of a champion player - and it is great to see.

One final thought for now: if Ronaldo was to leave Man Utd and join Sneijder at Real Madrid the Bernabeu would be a must-visit for any football fan next season.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Euro2008 catch-up: Portugal in the QF as the Swiss depart

Before I go onto yesterday's actions, talking points from the previous matches are necessary. Austria v Croatia again brought us better football from a minnow than we had expected. The penalty decision was inevitable as soon as Rene Aufhauser made contact with Ivica Olic. I felt at first Olic played for the foul but replays showed he was genuinely brought down. Spurs new man Luka Modric opened the scoring from the spot. In numerous spells the Austrians pegged the Croatians back towards goal and a number of chances went astray.

The Germans made a strong expected start to their campaign via the finishing of Lukas Podolski, who had started wide instead of upfront. Miroslav Klose and Mario Gomez were the main strikers but Klose provided the square pass for Podolski to gain the lead without any heavy celebration for the Polish-born Bayern Munich man. Poland were under siege with chances via Michael Ballack, Gomez and sub Bastian Schweinsteiger, but it was Schweinsteiger's pass to Klose that was mis-controlled that led to Podolski's and Germany's second. As the ball sat up for Podolski he took time to volley it past Artur Boruc. Had to believe this team had won their first Euro tournament match since winning it in 1996.

The 'Group of Death', the oh-so ceremoniously named Group C of Romania, France, Holland and Italy. The less said the better regarding Romania v France. The French started without Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieria but included the likes of Karim Benzema, Franck Ribery and a good interim filler in Jeremy Toulalan. France looked set to start with a win given they held the possession mostly but lacked in the cutting edge that gains chances and goals.

But there seemed controversy in the Holland v Italy subsequent kick-off. No Fabio Cannavaro therefore new Wolfsburg signing Andrea Barzagli filled in. The Dutch had Ryan Babel permanently ruled out and Arjen Robben was injured so a 3-man midfield of Orlando Engelaar, Rafael van der Vaart and Nigel de Jong with Dirk Kuyt and Wesley Sneijder on the wings. Didnt people snigger at Kuyt on the wing for Liverpool?

Ruud van Nistelrooy (VNR) played the lone striker and his goal on 25mins looked a blatant offside,as the Italians had pushed up to catch him. Amazingly, the goal stood to the shock of the Italians and a number of others watching. But it happened after Gianluigi Buffon stretched to palm away the ball and then shoved Christian Panucci to the side as the attack continued. Panucci remained off the pitch behind the touchline as the ball was passed back towards VNR in an offside position and he guided it in. UEFA rules consider Panucci as being active despite not on the field of play, therefore his position played VNR onside and the goal stood. Seemed bizarre to me but wrongly or rightly, the rules made the decision right.

Italy went on to concede again five minutes later as a Andreas Pirlo corner was headed away by Van Bronckhurst, and with the Dutch counter in full swing under van der Vaart, he found Van Bronckhurst tearing up the left with the Italians swaying to the right and leaving a horrible left-handpath. Van Bronckhurst ran up, took aim and swung the ball across the pitch back to the right for Kuyt, who headed it down to Sneijder. Sneijder was free and by the time he was picked up he was flexible to touch the ball under the advancing Buffon. Van Bronckhurst was involved in the third, bursting down the left again, finding Kuyt whose first effort was blocked by buffon but then composed himself to chip back to Van Bronckhurst, who bungled the ball.

Greece as the holders seemed to show little urgency in defending their title and at times bored us with blatant passing around their back players. One highlight came in the second half from Zlatan Ibrahimovic's strike on 67mins, after playing a sharp one-two with Henrik Larsson and slapping the ball past Antonis Nikopolidis. Sweden earned a second goal courtesy of captain Freddie Ljungberg's effort saved by Nikopolidis, with the ensuing loose ball bouncing near to goal and causing a scramble that eventually emerged with a touch last off Petter Hansson.

Now yesterday's matches, which brought more entertainment. The Portuguese have talent and resilience, the Czech Republic have bravery and valour. The Portuguese were favourites here and I expected they would pin back the Czech for most of the game. Deco got the scoring started as he fed Christiano Ronaldo for a run into the box but Ronaldo was thwarted, the spilled ball picked up and skilfully controlled past Petr Cech by Deco for the opener. But the Czech remained strong and charged ahead for a corner from Libor Sionko's persistence. From the corner it was the former Rangers man who bounced a firm header past Ricardo for the equaliser.

Level come the break, Ronaldo and Deco were on hand again for the lead. Deco was picked up on the right and as attackers and defenders arched towards goal for the expected cross, Deco instead came inside and fed sharply to Ronaldo, who smacked the ball low past Cech. To round the game off (I had predicted a 2-1 win to Portugal), the Czech were caught out by a quickly taken freekick deep inside their right that found Ronaldo onside and sprinting towards goal, squaring in the end for sub Ricardo Quaresma to finish off. Anything but a Swiss win against Turkey later on would find Portugal into the quarter-finals.

Now with history between these two national sides after the foul ending in the WC2006 play-off 2nd leg in Istanbul, this was their first encounter since. The Turks were heavily punished in comparison to the Swiss by FIFA and there was talk of revenge but both sides looked to put put that all to bed. The game last night was nothing of the tempered contest expected but both sides gave an edge to their attack that made it ipossible to split the two into winner and loser. The weather opened up some and the conditions made the ball stop during passes and kicks but Slovakian referee Lubos Michel kept up the game and it was a good decision. Switzerland took the attacks more to their opponents and were granted a goal courtesy of Phillippe Senderos' ball over the defence to Eren Derdiyok, who evaded the advance of Volkan Demirel and then squared for Hakan Yakin to tap in.

The BBC panel suggested the Turks would suffer as they are not accustomed to playing in such conditions and I felt that was wrong otherwise whenever it rained then you are expecting the Turks to lose. Fortunately the weather held up and the groundstaff waded in at half time to make the playing surface more appropriate. Turkey gained a crucial equaliser as captain Nihat Kahveci, in for the injured Emre, crossed from the left for sub Semih Senturk to nod in a header. Both sides battled and blocked and tackled and fought for supremacy as the clock ticked away. What looked stable for the co-hosts now looked threatened and deep into injury time that threat was confirmed. Tuncay Sanli picked up near the centre circle and reverse-passed to Arda Turan on the right. Turan ran on and came inside, past two players, to shoot at goal, the ball deflecting off a heel to go acutely over the keeper and in.

I can imagine the Swiss fans' feelings at that point. I felt low when Croatia's Mladen Petric scored their third at Wembley that eliminated England from the tournament but we had 13mins plus to equalise. Switzerland had less than two and simply had little chance to. Usually the hosts enjoy a good run in international tournaments but Switzerland none the less gave good their prowess in football and should now bow out in style against Portugal, who may well rest players having qualified by default.

Today provides two great contests. Croatia know they were slightly fortunate against Austria having ridden their resistence and determination but now aim to quiet the German force, while the Austrians face off with the Poles, the loser of which may well pack their bags if Germany beat Croatia. Not since Euro2000 with Belgium have the hosts been eliminated in the group stages, and following from the Swiss last night Austria will only be too aware of such a circumstance.


Sunday, June 08, 2008

Euro2008 - Switzerland v Czech Republic; Portugal v Turkey

Nice opening games, particularly the first one which seemed evens where I felt one mistake would make a difference, and the follow up which was not as equal yet both sides gave glimpses of hope for a cracking goal.

I felt the Swiss were unfortunate to come away with no points. The Czech were favourites for the win but Switzerland wasnt keeling over for anyone in front as hosts. They have lost skipper Alexander Frei to a knee injury which reports indicated has ruled him out of the competition, his effort from close range denied by Petr Cech. The Czech were kept on the back foot and had little avenue to branch out through upfront to ease the pressure, Jan Koller slow and ineffective, surprisingly. The big man made way for Vaclav Sverkos, and his contribution came via a mistake.

The Swiss cleared the ball briefly and Tomas Galasek headed it back deep over the defence, with who appeared to be Marek Jankulovski or skipper Tomas Ujfalusi stepping from an off-side position, therefore the Swiss felt they were safe with a decision. But Sverkos was onside and he reacted the quickest, being the only Czech player reaching for and controlling the ball. His effort span off his boot side past the keeper for the winning goal. The Swiss were unfortunate when they struck twice to be denied again by Cech and the woodwork.

Portugal showed great all-round tenacity for their game. The Turks maybe mainly unknown but they gave as good as they were given, which made for a healthily contested first half. Christiano Ronaldo went the closest from a freekick which was brilliantly finger-tipped onto the post by the Fenerbahce keeper Volkan. Co-commentator David Pleat said Volkan didnt even see the ball but replays showed the keeper deserved more credit than the former Spurs boss gave him.

Portugal were a different class second half and having had his headed goal disallowed in the first half, rightly so, defender Pepe went from stationary to go, threaded a sweet one-two with captain Nuno Gomes and then scuffed the ball over defender and past keeper. Ronaldo had swapped from the right to the left and relished in the role coming onto his right foot and it paid dividends tokill off Turkey. Paulo Ferreira fed Ronaldo, he in turn ran down the left and passed across to Joao Moutinho, the Sporting Lisbon forward turned sweetly around his marker and then threaded diagonally for sub Raul Meireles to finish off neatly.

Today it's a re-match from the previous World Cup of Germany v Poland with co-hosts Austria taking on a spirited Croatian side.


Saturday, June 07, 2008

EFT Euro 2008 preview special

Does no England = no interest in Euro 2008. No chance!

We at EFT and many other football supporters in England will be looking forward to watching a feast of football over the next three weeks. And by way of celebrating the start of the tournament we decided that we would each give our say on the teams and individuals to watch during the tournament...

T says:

It is a tight one to call but I like France for winning this tournament. They have a very solid and experienced defence supplemented by a very strong defensive midfield which should mean that they are hard to break-down. Up-front we will see Theirry Henry in his favoured position of central-striker and he will be hungry to prove a point after stagnating on the left of midfield tracking back for Barcelona. With the inventiveness and surging ambition of the likes of Benzema and Ribery supporting the great Henry I can see France just edging any tight matches that they will be involved in.

My outside team to watch are Turkey - they play with the integration and passion of a committed club side, and in Nihat they have a dynamo forward who I think can make an impact on the tournament.

The players I'm looking forward to watching are Henry, Ribery, Benzema, Vieira, Fabregas, Silva, Torres, Modric, Nihat, Arshavin, Simao, Ronaldo, Deco, Pirlo, Di Natale, Sneijder, Robben, van Persie (if he can get fit) Ballack, Gomez and the timeless duo of Alessandro Del Piero and Henrik Larsson. Watching fantastic footballers play at their best on the biggest stage - this is what I hope for.

Redsman says:

My players to look out for in Euro2008 are of course Cristiano Ronaldo and Fernando Torres, to name two. However, the Russians have shown some guile in their progress of qualification, albeit they needed some help from the Croats to starve off the foolish English who know not about how good they are and take for granted they just need to turn up and earn their corn in providing entertainment. Such lacking desire, determination and thorough commitment has allowed the Russians to finish runners-up and with the likes of Arshavin, Pavlyuchenko and Pogrenbynak their attacking force from the Zenit St Petersburg contingent they could surprise us along the same lines as the Greeks did last time.

That said, I would opt for a semi-final of Italy, Germany, Spain and France. That in turn omits the Dutch and the Portuguese. The Dutch for me have a new attacking prowess of Sneijder, Kuyt, Jan Vennegor of Hessellink, Huntelaar and VNR but in turn I suspect their defence has weakened and is not as formidable as their reputation would usually endorse. The Portuguese have to look to Carvalho as the stalwart owl on the lookout under attack who also projects some calm on the ball, and while Ronaldo is one I would look to watch, others including Nuno Gomes, Quaresma and Simao could also show an alternative source of goals. Ricardo in goal could be the difference between the quarter-finals and the semi but I dont expect them to make it past the QF.

Team to watch: Russia
Players to watch: Ronaldo, Torres, Arshavin, Pavlyuchenko

Winner: France or Italy, practically another meeting, another stand-off in the final.

SKG says:

5 English finalists in the last 4 Champions League finals but England will not be taking part in Euro 2008. Astonishing! The likes of Spain, Italy, Germany, France and Holland are the usual pre-tournament favourites but I do not think anyone of these will win. Greece caused a huge upset 4 years ago and I believe that trend will continue.

I think Russia can win this. They have a superb manager in Guus Hiddink (who took South Korea to the semi-finals of World Cup 2002) and they have tremendously gifted players like Pavel Pogrebnyak and Andrei Arshavin who won the Uefa Cup with Zenit St Petersburg.

As a Liverpool fan I have got to go for Fernando Torres as the player to watch. He has had a great season and I am sure he will want to finish Euro 2008 with the golden boot.

Abdul says:

I think that this tournament is going to be really enjoyable, even without England. Actually, scrap that last sentence – this tournament is going to be enjoyable because England are not in it. What a relief it is to look forward to some technical and skilful football without all the hype and hysteria which is whipped up by the media here. The England players should look at the football on show and try to better themselves next season by emulating what they see.

As for the tournament itself, I can’t wait to see how the Group of Death unfolds. It’s a shame that it’s certain that one of the big guns will go out at the first hurdle, but I have a sneaky feeling that Romania could spring a surprise also. Watch out for a resurgent Adrian Mutu!

My tip for the winner is France. They have a strong backbone to their team and I can see Karim Benzema really introducing himself to the world stage. I think they’ll beat a vibrant Germany in the final. Watch out for the Swiss though – I think they’ll have a really good tournament with home support taking them a long way.

Friday, June 06, 2008

The time may be right for United to cash in on Ronaldo

All but the most misguided of Manchester United fans have known that Ronaldo will not be at United for the duration of his career. His dream has always been to play for Real Madrid, and that dream was always likely to be realised for a player of his skill and stature.

But most United fans had hoped that he would not leave for a few years yet. However, with Ronaldo’s intentions revealed to Brazilian website Terra yesterday, the time has come for United fans to face the very Real reality that Ronaldo will not be at Old Trafford next season.

Who can blame Ronaldo for wanting to leave? He has won everything there is to win at United and has received every accolade there is to receive. In short, he has developed into one of the greatest players ever to have graced the Old Trafford turf - and I do not believe that to be an overstatement at all.

He wants to move to live out a childhood fantasy - remember most people in the Iberian peninsular (quite rightly) see playing at the Bernabeu as the football zenith, the point of the heavens. The added bonus would be that he would be earning astronomical sums in so doing. If I was Ronaldo, I would want to leave!

Let us examine what Ronaldo said to Terra:

"I want to play for Real Madrid, but only if it is true they are eager to pay me and Manchester United what they have been saying they will".

This really does put Real under huge financial pressure as the sums being banded around for the transfer to take place are well in excess of £60 million.

If that type of bid was made, I think United should seriously consider accepting it. That type of money together with the extant transfer kitty would be enough to revamp the United squad with three world class players: the top class centre forward that we have been missing for a while, a top drawer playmaker/goalscorer in the Ronaldo mould (there is no direct equivalent I know!) and the right back needed to replace Gary Neville. The names Benzema, Robinho and Lahm come to mind - but the Ronaldo war chest would allow a multiple options. Sir Alex's philosophy has always been to build on success, and this saga may in-directly force him to do this.

The alternative would be to keep a want-away player who may not be able to replicate the unbelievable season he has just had. Will Ronaldo ever be able to reach the heights of this season again? Will his stock ever be higher? Should United cash in on Ronaldo? Do you just want this resolved one way or the other?


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