16 June, 2008

Euro 2008 Week One Round-Up

It’s pretty irritating when virtually all the best games on paper take place at 5 p.m., when everyone but alcoholics, criminals and students are chained to a desk. As such, we at STT have struggled, like I’m sure most of you have as well, to catch more than about half of the full games in the tournament to date. Conjecture and the internet have filled in the gaps sure, but we definitely miss the university days of 12 hour pub sessions, watching three games we don’t even care about back-to-back-back… …must…resist…urge…to…quit…job…

Anyway, after a somewhat faltering first round of matches, where only one game featured both teams actually scoring, things do seem to have hotted up now. Group A seems pretty open-and-shut to be honest, with Portugal already through to the second round after two impressive wins. Ronaldo has been unusually anonymous for large portions of both matches, more content with throwing himself theatrically on the floor than playing the game, but still, one cannot question his ultimate contribution to his side’s 3 – 1 win over the Czech Republic on Wednesday. Elsewhere in the side, the back-4 have all impressed, while it’s Sporting Lisbon’s young midfielder Moutinho who has proved to be one of the surprise packages of the tournament so far. Further forward, Deco has been absolutely world-class, but you can’t help but feel that the lack of a true goal-scorer right up-front might cost them later in the business end of the Euro. Also expected to qualify are the Czechs, who stumbled over the finishing line in their match with co-hosts Swizterland, but impressed for long periods against Portugal. The winner of their match on Sunday with Turkey will progress, while Swizterland look set to limp out with a grand total of zero points. Turkey and the Czech Republic certainly both lack the strength of four years ago, but with Cech between the sticks, and Matejovsky, Sionko and Baros going forward, you just fancy them to push on into round 2.

So the top two from Group A will face the top two from Group B in the first knockout round, but while it was always just assumed Germany would ease out of their group, yesterday’s defeat to Croatia threw everything wide open. So impressive in their first game with Poland, Germany really struggled to get going against a Croatia team that had clearly done their homework. Bilic’s men set out to dominate possession, and successfully targeted the weak central defenders of the pre-tournament favourites. Modric and Srna impressed, while it was once again Olic who poached what turned out to be the game’s deciding goal. Germany will surely still qualify, with only a weak Austria side standing in their way (assuming that Poland don’t beat Croatia anyway), but this was a stark reminder they are not invincible. As for Austria and Poland, well, they’ve done their best, but have been severely outclassed by two genuine contenders to win the whole Euro.

Next up is the infamous Group of Death then, and as things are currently poised, a seriously impressive Dutch side is already through to the second round with a maximum of six points so far to their name. The whole team has performed well, with victories against both 2006 World Cup finalists by a three goal margin not a statistic to be sniffed at. Real Madrid duo Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben did the damage to France on Friday night, while elsewhere former Premier League stars Ruud van Nistelrooy and Giovanni van Bronckhurst look back to their penetrative best. France looked considerably better than they did in their opening bore draw with Romania though, with Thierry Henry seeming rejuvenated alongside the impressive young stars Ribery and Toulalan, and if anything 4 - 1 did flatter the men in orange somewhat. As things stand though, Romania seem strangely the best poised of the remaining three teams to join Holland in the last eight, having successfully obtained workmanlike draws from both France and Italy. While the first clash with France was a dour affair, their match with Italy on Friday was a cracker that Romania will definitely feel they should have won after Gigi Buffon saved a late Adrian Mutu penalty to keep the World Cup holders in the competition. Italy and France must now face off on Tuesday night, and as long as Romania do not do the unthinkable and beat Holland, the winner of the 2006 World Cup final repeat will go through. Have Italy got enough? Hard to say; they've played pretty well in both games to date, but seem to just lack the clinical finishing of an Inzaghi or a Gilardino at the moment.

And finally then we go to Group D, the winners of which will face the second-placed side from the Group of Death, and vise versa. Everyone's-favourites-but-perennial-underacheivers Spain are already through to the second round after two decent wins, but do they now finally have what it takes to go all the way? Well, after their standard amazing performance in the opening game (as in World Cup 2006), where David Villa scored a quite sublime hat-trick, they faced a much sterner test over the weekend against an organised and competitive Sweden side who also won their first game. It was an intense clash, but just as Spain looked to be limping over the finishing line, frustrated with a score draw against little Swedish attacking intent, that man Villa popped up with a 92nd minute winner to return the Spanish smiles. Does this grit and determination signal a team more determined than ever to prove critics wrong? It certainly looks that way; playing badly and still winning is a sign of true champions, and something that Spain have always failed to get right in the past. Joining them in the second round to face Holland will be either Russia or Sweden, who have both looked impressive in spells, and must face one another Wednesday night. It will be a clash of styles, with Russia eager to attack and Sweden content to pack the midfield and patiently wait for an opening, so very difficult to call. Last, but in this case definitely least, reigning champions Greece are already out after two losses, but play Spain Wednesday night in a bid to avoid the double humiliation of both failing to score and also failing to achieve even one point.

Phew, so still plenty to play for then. Today’s fixtures look set to be exciting, plus with Spain and Portugal on display again over the weekend you just know there’ll be goals. We’ll be back offering some more trite commentary on things you already know this time next week (maybe), but in the meantime, don’t forgot to check out the BBC Football homepage for links to highlights from all the games so far if you so desire.

More importantly though, check this rather spiffing blog called Euro 2008 Girls, which we were helpfully directed to by those attractive-lady-shape-loving guys at The Spoiler. Geniusly, the keen snappers at Euro 2008 Girls provide perhaps the best service of any major footballing tournament: to post photos of the hottest fans from each country excitedly jumping around. As such, STT shall soon be relocating to Sweden, Germany or Portugal in the very near future…


Anonymous said...

Where are the Romania girls? Having seen off Italy and France we're after some Dutch courage for Holland. Check the nifty site at www.romania-needs-you.co.uk

Live-FootballOnTV.Com said...

been a great tournie so far

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