Sunday, June 15, 2008

Austria 1 Poland 1

Verdict: Whatever the ridiculous comments made by Leo Beenhakker, the President of Poland and thousands of plumbers in the UK, that was definitely a pen - you could see most of the forward's vest, the shirt tug was that obvious. Considering the gazillion chances wasted by Austria - not least due to the efforts of the Holy Goalie - it's a fair result in the end.

Entertainment value: The second half didn't match the first, which had chances galore and Poland's mugging of a first goal (against the run of play, and miles offside), but full of energy. Good on Austria, as well, who make up for their lack of quality with the enthusiasm of an excited puppy dog.

Heroes: Boruc is staking his claim to be the competition's outstanding keeper. He has to be good, considering what's in front of him. Tricky wide man Korkmaz was the only real Austrian standout.

Villains: The Polish defence are a disaster, still. Unfortunately, so are Austria's forwards.

The job ahead: A win might have given the Poles a chance of going through, but barring an unusual pair of final day results they are out. Austria now have the tall order of needing to beat Germany to qualify.

Croatia 2 Germany 1

Verdict: A bit of a surprise, going by the opening day performances from these two sides. Croatia, turgid and slow-witted against Austria, came out of the blocks sprinting and their high pace game caught the Germans off guard. No doubt the second goal was half-fluke, half-copyrighted Jens Lehmann howler (I think he also got his trademark yellow card too), but the Croats deserved their result and Slaven Bilic showed he has the tactical nous to go with his motivational skills and his acumen on the guitar.

Entertainment value: Another great game, helped by the fact that Germany had to chase it.

Heroes: Another incredible shift from Ivica Olic for Croatia, while Ivan Rakitic justified his inclusion with a great performance from midfield. Darijo Srna, scorer of the first goal, was probably pick of the bunch.

Villains: Marcell Jansen was hooked at half-time, having been run utterly ragged, culminating in an impersonation of a statue at the first goal. And yet again, Michael Ballack was overwhelmingly, erm, underwhelmingly.

The job ahead: Croatia through, then, but they still don't quite look convincing enough to win the tournament. Not yet, anyway. Germany, however, just need a point off Austria to go through in second, with a potentially mouthwatering tie with Portugal awaiting.


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Czech Republic 1 Portugal 3

Verdict: Portugal did just about enough, and it will do wonders for their confidence that they were able to manoeuvre through a strong, physical Czech side, the sort of opponent that has done for them in the past. Their big name players are beginning to hit their stride too. The Czechs look a better team than I thought though, and no one would have begrudged them a draw.

Entertainment value: This tourney does seem to be getting better with age, just like women (or so I'm told). Plenty of chances with both teams willing to throw players forward.

Heroes: That can't possibly be the Libor Sionko who played for Pepe Le Pew's Rangers team. His header was brilliant, when you take into account that there are taller hobbits out there. He could have had another too, and showed glaringly that Paulo Ferreira is not a left back. On the other hand, Deco was magic for Portugal, and MOTM probably goes to Ronaldo who is beginning to find ways to shake off the posse of defenders that follow him around the pitch in these games.

Villains: Ferreira, as mentioned above, is clearly Portugal's weak link. And have the Czechs forgotten what Rozehnal was like at Newcastle? He's an accident waiting to happen.

The job ahead: Portugal's last game is now a dead rubber, so Scolari can rest players and think about the last eight. I reckon that they've not got enough credit for having ground out decent results against two teams (Turkey and the Czechs) who are actually rather good. Apparently a Turkey-Czech Republic draw would then require a penalty shoot out, and I don't fancy calling that match. But so far Bruckner's team have 3 points when they probably deserved 2 draws, so he'll be satisfied with where his side are, and the experience he can call on may be crucial.


Greece 0 Sweden 2

Verdict: I think it's fair to say that every neutral was cheering like a madman at Ibrahimovic's screamer. Greece did not win very many friends with that display, the footballing equivalent of an Iain Duncan Smith speech - slow, meandering, constantly defensive, pointless and completely lacking in quality. Sweden, meanwhile, played like, well, Sweden - solid and dependable, and always capable of nicking a goal.

Entertainment value: Not as bad as Romania-France, but pretty damned godawful all the same. I told friends at half time that "I'd give my right testicle for a Sweden goal"; thankfully for all you young ladies out there, that sacrifice was not required.

Heroes: Zlatan was the best player on the field and it showed with that absolutely stonking strike. To be honest, he was also the only player to stand out on the field.

Villains: Otto Rehhagel has blamed his players, rather than his tactics, but you can't excuse setting out with 5 at the back. How many defenders does he expect to play against Spain? Pretty much every Greek player except Seitaridis and Charisteas was guff, with Gekas (hooked at half time) looking incapable of holding onto a baby, let alone a football.

The job ahead: Sweden will now fancy themselves to get through, especially if they nick something off Spain. The loss of Wilhelmsson will hurt though - their bench is a bit lacking in quality right now. Greece, on the other hand, can and must play better against Russia. I tell you, they're not a bad team and I reckon they could beat the Russkis if they dare to show a bit of enterprise and flair. Honest!


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Spain 4 Russia 1

Verdict: Much too easy for Spain, who were able to dispose of Russia with minimum fuss. Valencia will have added another million euros onto David Villa's price tag after a hat trick. Unusually for a team under Guus Hiddink, the Russians were a defensive shambles, with Torres and Villa getting in behind all day long.

Entertainment value: The whole "tiki-taka" thing the Spanish have is very pleasing on the eye indeed, and they beautifully carved out opportunities again and again. On the other hand, the second half was almost at training pace. Yet a game with 5 goals in it is not to be sneezed at.

Heroes: Well, Villa, obviously, was the star of the show, but also outstanding were Marcos Senna and Xavi in the midfield who might as well have been conducting an orchestra. The only Russians to get any credit were the full backs, Anyukov and Zhirkov, who did a good job of covering for their joke of a central defence.

Villains: The Russian centre-backs had absolute shockers - Kolodin will have regretted his decision not to stick the ball in row Z at the first goal, while someone needs to teach Shrokov the offside rule.

The job ahead: As is traditional, Spain have started quickly; I'm looking forward to seeing if they can sustain it. Guus Hiddink, meanwhile, has to pick up his team for two games which they probably have to win.


Netherlands 3 Italy 0

Verdict: No one expected that much of the Dutch, and it seems to have worked in their favour. Marco Van Basten, have a pint on me! Holland's tactics were utterly perfect, and for all the controversy of their opening goal, the other two were magnificent. Italy's defending was woeful, and they miss Cannavaro terribly. Mind you, they didn't play all that badly, and had plenty of chances themselves. I expect to see Grosso, Del Piero and Cassano playing against Romania.

Entertainment value: The game of the tournament so far - both teams set out to play high tempo, attacking football and it showed. No wonder Italy play catenaccio so often if this is the consequence of being flamboyant! Anyway, on the back of this the Netherlands are now every neutral's favourite team.

Heroes: The Dutch midfield were utterly, utterly wonderful. I've been talking up Sneijder all season and I thought he was the best of a great bunch. Van Der Vaart's passing was laser-guided in its precision, and the young defensive midfielder Engelaar put his more illustrious opponents in the shade. The most striking thing, though, was the willingness of all five of the Oranje midfielders to work their asses off, a work rate sorely lacking from the Italians. By the way, let's not forget Gio Van Bronckhorst's impact on the game - he looked like a Brazilian full-back going forward and an Italian full-back when defending. I don't think you can praise him any higher than that.

Villains: Donadoni should be hung up by his figgin for not playing De Rossi from the start. Gattuso and Ambrosini simply aren't mobile enough and with no defensive assistance from Di Natale and Camoranesi (unfortunately the latter didn't offer anything going forward either), Holland won the midfield battle and simply passed around and through the leaden footed Azzurri midfield.

The job ahead: Van Basten now knows that a win over France not only pretty much puts them through, but also practically knocks France out. Considering their high energy game, he must be tempted to put everything into that match to win it and make the Romania one a chance to rest players. And if the French weren't vulnerable enough, remember Van Persie wasn't fully fit, and that Robben was missing. As for Italy, they now must beat Romania, no question about it. And I hope they won't be dumb enough to pick Camoranesi.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Romania 0 France 0

Verdict: Romania set out in the true Rangers anti-football style, and got what they set out for. France, meanwhile, pretty much never looked like breaking them down, which is worrying for a side containing the attacking qualities they have. But their passing was so slow it was never going to carve holes in a defence as good as Romania's

Heroes: Well, you can;t fault France's centre-backs, Gallas and Thuram, who dealt with the little that was thrown at them. But the best players on the pitch were the Romanian defenders Rat and Goian, and most importantly the defensive midfielder Mirel Radoi; he covered every blade of grass and just kept getting his foot in.

Villains: Where do you start for France? The full backs never got forward and their distribution was woeful. Toulalan can be described similarly. Malouda continues to look as menacing as a bunch of flowers, while Anelka looks more bored than a goth at Disneyland. Most of all, though, why is Domenech playing two defensive midfielders in a game like that?

The job ahead: France now have to find a result against a Dutch side with their tails up; best of luck there, even with Henry back. Romania can reflect on a job well done and I bet they'll face Italy with exactly the same mentality.


Germany 2 Poland 0

Verdict: Poland were more adventurous than I expected, and will be disappointed not to have at least got a goal. On the other hand, their defence had more holes in it than a Doctor Who plot and Germany had the calibre to take full advantage; Joachim Low's side thoroughly deserved their victory.

Entertainment value: Immensely enjoyable, with both sides flooding players forward and a midfield you could drive a bus through. Plenty of chances for both teams in a match played a high tempo from start to finish.

Heroes: Lukas Podolski, obviously, after a two goal haul; the second was an absolutely stonking volley. Low's decision to play him on the left wing was a masterstroke. The best player on the pitch was Torsten Frings, however, who quite frankly owned the midfield. Poland will be grateful to Artur Boruc for some good stops (particularly a spectacular one from Ballack) while Lobodzinski had caused trouble on the right before he was hooked. Expect to see energetic substitute Roger Guerreiro on from the start in the next game.

Villains: Michael Ballack didn't have much impact on the game, while Mario Gomez offered very little threat for Germany. For Poland, just look at their back four, who were crucified time and again.

The job ahead: Germany will clinch qualification if they beat Croatia, and they will know that they still have another gear or two to shift into if they need it. Poland, in contrast, face co-hosts Austria knowing that they need four points from the last two games to stand a chance.


Austria 0 Croatia 1

Verdict: So much for Austria being pushovers - they looked like they were in for a battering after Modric's early pen but came back to give Croatia a heck of a test. Certainly, the home side created enough chances in the second half to warrant a draw.

Entertainment value: Slaven Bilic's side came out of the blocks quickly, but lost their way after about half an hour. Things livened up again in the closing stages, though, as Austria pushed for the elusive equalizer.

Heroes: Modric looked a class act in the midfield, though his influence waned as the match progressed. Austria defender Prodl looked dangerous at both ends, while Ivanschitz didn't do much in open play but delivered some marvellous set-pieces. My man of the match, however, was Josip Simunic - the Croat defender made some great tackles and interceptions.

Villains: Pretty much all the forwards on the pitch. For Croatia, Petric looked like he was just out to sunbathe, while Olic ran a lot without delivering an end product. You could also apply the same descriptions to Austrians Linz (who also appears to fall down under the slightest breeze) and Harnik respectively.

The job ahead: Bilic knows that Croatia must play better to get a result against Germany, but also that two draws is all they need to go through. Austria, meanwhile, simply must beat Poland now to leave themselves a realistic chance of progression - but they will be encouraged by their performance.


Sunday, June 8, 2008

Portugal 2 Turkey 0

Verdict: Job done for Portugal, who always looked like they were going to win without ever really clicking into top gear - they hit the woodwork three times and had another goal chalked up for offside. The Turks look no mugs, though.

Entertainment value: It started like grease lightning before settling into a routine of Portuguese possession against Turkish counter attack. However, there were plenty of chances and both the Portuguese goals were as pleasing as discovering Scarlett Johansson using your shower

Heroes: You can tell Pepe was born in Brazil - only their centre-halves rampage forward and score in open play. Add to that a clean sheet and I think you have the man of the match.

Villains: Kazim Kazim, or Kazim-Richards, or whatever his name is - there's almost as much confusion about his name as there is about his inclusion.

The job ahead: Turkey's match with Switzerland is freaking huge now. Portugal, meanwhile, will fancy their chances of unlocking the Czech defence, knowing a win will all but clinch qualification and that they can still play better than they did in the opening game.


Switzerland 0 Czech Republic 1

Verdict: Switzerland will feel aggrieved, having had the best chances, but were denied by good goalkeeping and the crossbar. The Czechs were difficult to break down but created very little before substitute Sverkos popped up to nick the winner.

Entertainment value: Started at a quick pace but once the Czech midfield got on top of things the match became much tighter. Plenty of chances, though, and in the end it was perfectly watchable.

Heroes: Gokhan Inler showed himself to be a useful midfield anchor and was Switzerland's best player, but the class act was Petr Cech, who made two excellent saves and dealt well with most of what was thrown at him.

Villains: Swiss striker Marco Streller looked about as dangerous as a kitten that had been given sedative drugs. The plan to get the ball to his feet clearly didn't take into account that he isn't actually able to use his feet to control the ball.

Looking ahead: The Czechs take on Portugal next knowing that two more draws would be enough to qualify. Switzerland, meanwhile, have to beat Turkey, but now that Alex Frei is out for the tournament their task is harder than having a conversation about space-time with Stephen Hawking without his speech computer.


Wednesday, June 4, 2008


So, Euro 2008 is upon us, and it is completely devoid of any home nation going, which means it should be a gloriously stressless affair for us Scots - no more tears (yes, I cried when Gazza scored against us at Euro 96, but I was only twelve, and, jings, the unjustice of it all!) and no more worries that England will go all the way before their inevitable elimination in the quarters either by penalties or a goalkeeping blunder.

Here's to hoping that it's more like Euro 2000, where only Norway were dull and the goals came faster than Wayne Rooney when the pies are ready, than like Euro 2004, where only England were entertaining and Greece won the dullest, most annoying sporting event since the world paint-drying championships were presented by James Blunt.

Therefore, let the goals and the excitement flow, and please, please, please let this be a tournament where 4-5-1 is a sequence of numbers treated with the same horror and overblown fear that 6-6-6 is given by inhabitants of the Western Isles.

So, ladies and gentlemen, pick your team (mine's Romania) and sit back and enjoy; if the football is rubbish, we can always have a laugh at Clive Tyldsley's desperate attempts to reference England at every opportunity.