Saturday, June 09, 2012

A song for the Euros

I've been hunting for this classic piece of Neil Innes for ages, but it only recently seems to have turned up on YouTube. One Thing On Your Mind was one of the highlights from his superb '70s TV show The Innes Book of Records. It is possibly the best Country & Western song I know, and quite astute in the way it nails the typical - disingenuous! - female complaint that men are preoccupied with sex, while they become even more dissatisfied with us on realising that we are in fact far more obsessed with sport. [This is a rather long excerpt, but has much better sound quality than other postings. And it has the added bonus of being prefaced by a guest appearance from 'punk poet' John Cooper Clarke, reciting one of his best-known pieces, Chickentown - a sort of Slough for the '70s/'80s.]

I can't think of any song more appropriate to accompany the start of my three-week immersion in Euro 2012.

I suppose this is probably the best place to attempt to kick off  a discussion thread on the tournament. Four years ago, the banter got pretty lively here. I may have to send out a few warning e-mails to The Lads.

[By the by, Neil is now arranging a petition to lobby the BBC to re-show both series of The Innes Book of Records. He's been in a bitter rights dispute with the Beeb for decades, which has thus far prevented the show from being released on video or DVD.]


Froog said...

I'm really not well placed to pontificate and prognosticate this year, since I haven't seen or read much of anybody's warm-up. Until the recent England friendlies, I probably hadn't seen any international football since the last World Cup (I suppose I must have seen one or two of our qualifiers for this, but they don't stick in the memory). I haven't watched very much football at all this year, apart from the leading Premiership games (didn't even see anything of the Champions League, apart from the final, and highlights of the semis).

However, honour and tradition demand that I stick my neck out with some predictions, so...

Well, I like Germany. Joachim Low's done some great things with the side over the last several years, they've brought in some great new young players, they've come close to winning the last three major tournaments, and - if he isn't permanently traumatised by his Champions League penalty flub - Bastian Schweinsteiger is the best holding midfielder in the world (and every great team needs one of those at its heart). I feel they're about due.

On the other hand, I'm not sure where their goals are going to come from: I fear Klose's past it, Gomez has always looked like a complete donkey to me (he makes Andy Carroll look nimble), and Muller has failed to live up to the early promise of his Golden Boot scoring streak in the World Cup.

Spain are likely to be the other major contenders, but... they've lost Puyol and Villa, and Xavi's now getting a bit long in the tooth. And pulling off three international titles in succession is a hell of a tall order. I suspect a lot - the whole tournament, for all of us! - may hinge on Fernando Torres. I thought he looked to have been playing well for Chelsea in the latter part of this season, and he eventually broke his goal drought for them - but he's still not been hitting the target, or even making chances for himself, nearly as often as you'd expect from a player of his stature. His run of poor form has been so protracted, I fear he may have become irredeemably goal-shy. If they pick him (as I expect they will), it is likely to piss off Llorente and all the other strikers who deserve the place ahead of him on their form over the past two or three years. And if he's anything like as BAD as he was at the last World Cup, it will seriously shackle the team's chances. Then again, if he manages to nab a goal early on, his confidence might suddenly come flooding back, and he could set the tournament alight. I'd like to see that; but I think it's more likely we'll see him huffing and puffing to no purpose, and regularly being replaced by Llorente for the last 20 minutes.

Holland look good on paper, but... so much of their solidity over the past decade was down to Edwin van der Sar in goal; I doubt if his replacement will prove so formidable or so inspiring. I'm not sure if they have that much strength in depth up front either, if Van Persie is misfiring or gets injured. And however good they are technically, the Dutch are not winners - they've proved this time and again.

Portugal? It was Deco who made them tick for most of the Noughties. Now that he's retired, I'm afraid they look a bit second- or even third-rate - despite the attacking threat of Ronaldo and Nani.

France and Italy, I suppose, are the other favoured contenders, but I can't believe they have been able to adequately regroup after their dismal showings in the World Cup. They have a lot of good players, but historically there have been question marks over their temperament, and - the odd World Cup win aside! - they have tended to underperform in major tournaments.

Froog said...

And England... are not without a chance.

The Euros are a much tighter tournament than the World Cup: everyone quite closely matched, few or no whipping-boy teams (although the Czechs looked pretty awful last night!) - so a lot can turn on luck. I think there are only three teams who are clearly a class head of the field: Germany, Spain, and Holland. Everybody else is just hard to beat. And I think it might prove to be a good thing that we've had all of our troubles (using up our 'bad luck', hopefully!) before the tournament. I think this might bring out the best in us... like the 10-man team that doggedly rallies and manages to cause an upset (go, Greece!).

A lot will depend on the form and fitness of Parker and Gerrard in the middle of the park; and on what kind of Rooney shows up (I'm not sanguine about that). But I feel this is one of the best-balanced sides we've put out for a while. I think Joe Hart could well be the keeper of the tournament. And I take much encouragement from the stunning goals scored by Ashley Cole and Danny Welbeck in our warm-up games. If we can pull out one or two more like that against France, we'll be in the hunt. Certainly odds of 15-1 are quite tempting for a wee punt.

My dark horse, though, would be Croatia. They're always technically very impressive, and have been punching above their weight fairly consistently for 20 years now. The bookies are offering 50 and even 60-1 against. Can't say no to that.

Froog said...

Oh god, did I say Ashley Cole there?! Sorry, I meant Ashley Young, of course.

Jia you, Inga Lund.

I'd better get off to the bookies to spray some money around.

Swordsman said...

Well, you know my record of prediction, and the Obverse of Murphy's Law will strike if I try to fix it by saying England have no chance...

Let's just say I like the two teams that are about to play - Netherlands and Denmark. I have a feeling Denmark may by flying under the radar. As for the Netherlands, just like at the World Cup they can beat anyone on their day. They have to have the right attitude.We'll see whether they have that today.

Oh, and Russia looked powerful.

Harvster said...

15-1 doesn't seem like good value for serial under-performers England. 500-1 I might be enticed to have a punt.

Swordsman said...

Well, Denmark surprised everyone and the Dutch clearly did not have the right attitude. Very sloppy. Were they assuming this was a "gimme" in the Group of Death?

Froog said...

I take back my remark about there only being three teams a class above. Holland and Germany looked fairly pants last night.

The Dutch are woeful at the back, and Robben and Van Persie look over-anxious. At least they have nowhere to go but up from here. I believe they have the potential to be much better than this, if they can calm down in front of goal. Playing Van dear Vaart and/or Kuyt in place of one of the pair of cloggers in midfield should make them a more dangerous proposition as well. But they look likely to concede goals against any half-decent opponents.

Germany formidable in defence, but their star players - Ozil, Podolski, Schweinsteiger, Muller - all looked a tad lacklustre. And I'm not convinced that one goal is going to transform Gomez into an international striker. His evident relief suggests he's been feeling the strain of having everyone think he's not good enough. I suppose if he's been Bayern's leading scorer for the past two seasons he can't be completely useless, but he's always looked it whenever I've seen him playing for the national team.

I'm even more worried now about where Germany's goals might come from, and inclined to shift my tip for the title elsewhere. Today's Spain v Italy could be the key predictor of the way the tournament will unfold. If, as I suspect, Spain are also misfiring up front, it could be anyone's title - even England's.

Froog said...

I'm not going to get over-excited about Russia. Dzagoev looks class (and an early contender for top scorer; although two goals from three gimmes is perhaps not all that impressive), but no-one else really shone. I'm not convinced they have any real cutting edge up front. 4 goals against an utterly dreadful Czech side (even Petr Cech looked a bit wobbly in goal; on his Chelsea form, he would have kept at least a couple of those goals out) doesn't really prove anything. Conceding 2 goals doesn't inspire confidence in their defence.

Denmark are a more-than-decent side, but are they ever going to score another goal? Bendtner continues to look like a sack-of-shit.

I was quite pleasantly surprised by Portugal. A lot of the newer players look quite tasty. They played well as a unit, and were unlucky to lose. However, there's again a bit question mark about whether they can get goals. We didn't see the best of Ronaldo and Nani, and Postiga looking like he couldn't score in a brothel.

Froog said...

The crystal ball has been serving me well so far (but perhaps only because I haven't got down to the bookies to make a wager on anything yet!).

I fancied the opener to finish in a 1-1 draw. I said Russia would trash the Czechs, although I didn't foresee a 6-goal ding-dong. I tipped Denmark to upset Holland (although I rashly suggested to The Bookbinder that the scoreline might be 2-1), and Germany to take out Portugal (although I hoped they'd make it look a bit more convincing and grab a couple of goals).

I must consult the schedule and try to make some calls for the rest of the group games.

Froog said...

Ah, the Czechs' second goal was disallowed, wasn't it? I'd forgotten that. Whoops.

Froog said...

Danish keeper is channelling the spirit of Peter Schmeichel. If he can keep up this form, I fancy the Danes to make it out of the group - probably at the expense of Holland and Portugal.

Froog said...

My prediction for Spain v Italy was 1-1 (ask The Bookbinder if you doubt me; I have been incessantly exchanging betting tips and banter with him via SMS)... although I was tempted to downgrade it to 0-0 after I saw the team sheets.

Still, after looking like a rather arid tactical duel at first, it gradually warmed up. Best game of the tournament so far.

Both formidable challengers; great keepers, solid defences, and they keep the ball very well. Scoring... not so much.

Any team that relies on someone as volatile and inconsistent as Balotelli to win matches for them is in trouble in a tournament like this. Di Natale looks much sharper - although getting on in years now.

Spain... Well, much as I admire their achievement over the last 4 years or so, I think I could probably have won cups with the wealth of talent they have at their disposal. Del Bosque's team selections and tactical choices have often struck me as perverse, and he really seemed to be doing his worst at times to lose the last World Cup. This bizarre 'let's play without a striker' ploy just looks nutso to me. And I can't help thinking it was prompted by inability to make tough decisions about which of his egregiously talented midfielders to omit (a bit of player power manifesting itself in the dressing room perhaps?) or a lack of confidence in Torres.

And Torres is still their go-to guy when they desperately need a goal?? If I were Fernando Llorente, I would be beyond pissed off.

I have no idea what Ireland and Croatia may have in their locker, but I have hopes of the Croats having the potential to cause an upset and so I have told The Bookbinder I expect them to prevail reasonably comfortably and run out 2-0 winners.

Froog said...

Well, this exact score prediction is a perilous undertaking, but I've nailed 2 of the 6 so far. That's quite a hot streak, and unlikely, I fear, to be maintained throughout the tournament.

I'll probably jinx or be jinxed by England today, patriotic emotion derailing my mojo as it so often does theirs. And I really have no idea what to make of the other three teams in our group.

I have a hunch Ukraine might prove to be more dangerous, but less consistent than Sweden. They should have the potential to nick a win, but will probably labour to a draw. However, since none of the games has finished goalless yet, I'll say it'll be another 1-1.

I think that's the likeliest outcome for England v France too: a tight, rather nervous, and occasionally frantic encounter without a lot of clearcut chances. However, since I have hopes of England actually doing reasonably well in this tournament, I'll take a mad punt that they'll win - perhaps taking confidence from an early goal and going on to grab one or two more, although probably not being able to shut the French out completely. So, er, 2-1? Come on, England!

May major worry about us is John Terry. I think he's getting a bit past his best now, and he always has looked too slow for international football. In the Champions League he's usually got away with it because he has a much solider and more confident team in front of him, but I don't think he's ever looked as assured for England as he does for Chelsea. I think Fate might do us a favour if he picks up an injury or too many cards, and we have to start using Phil Jagielka instead.

I also suspect we might play better without Rooney. I certainly hope his replacements do well enough to make his readmission to the side a tough choice for Roy. Maybe having to cool his heels for the first two games will be good for him: he'll start rested and fired up, with impatience to get involved suppressing any 'big tournament nerves' he may have suffered in the past. Previous experience suggests, however, that he'll either be psychotically over-anxious or sluggish and diffident. If he can finally produce the best of his Man Utd form for his country, he can be a tournament winner, but...

It's a bit of a worry to know who we're going to play up front. It seems a bit extravagant, not to say desperate, to bring along half a dozen strikers - none of whom are exactly proven class at international level. I'd favour the pace and enthusiasm of Welbeck and Young (playing through the middle rather than out wide), with Carroll and Defoe kept as desperation substitutions... and Theo maybe providing a wild card option. we shall see.

Froog said...

It's still pissing with rain here in Oxford, but I think I'll head out to try to find a bookies today.

I'm annoyed I've probably missed the chance to get some 50-1 on Croatia, but I think they're a decent outside chance, and you can probably still get some pretty tempting odds on them.

I'll back England just to make my experience of their games a bit more exciting - at least for the next week! And I think 15-1 probably underestimates their chances slightly.

Italy become my new serious pick for the title.

Frankly, I don't really have that much confidence in them. The presence of Balotelli threatens implosion at any moment. And I suspect they may have raised their game to meet the challenge of the tournament favourites, and will become progressively less impressive from here on. However, they did look very, very good yesterday.

In all probability it will come down to Spain and Germany, despite their slow starts. Lots of quality throughout their squads, and an enviable steadiness under pressure, but... can they find an in-form goalscorer?? I have my doubts! And that makes them vulnerable.

Should be a cracking tournament.

I shall endeavour to produce full predictions for the group stage after the first round of matches is over.

Froog said...

Ah well, my mojo faltered at the end: I hadn't foreseen the magic of Shevchenko. I mean, he looked past it 5 or 6 years ago. And he doesn't look now as though he's going to be able to last for many games. But it's a lovely fairytale moment for the hosts.

Be it noted that although I hoped and believed that England were capable of getting a win against France, I did say that - in a nervous first match - a 1-1 draw was in fact the likeliest result. So, if you give me that one, I called the result in 7 of the 8 opening matches, and the exact score in 3 of them. Pretty handy.

Froog said...

So, what have we got after the first round of matches.

For me, Italy were far and away the most impressive side in the opening games - and have inspired me to punt a fiver on them winning the tournament. I have doubts about the temperament of Balotelli, and in general about their goalscoring resources, but - with Buffon looking on top form - they will be almost impossible to score against.

England - don't laugh - were possibly the second best team so far. No, really. OK, the French kept the ball better and so enjoyed longer periods of sustained possession. But I think we defended much better than them, and occasionally looked more incisive in our attacking moves. The youngsters - Welbeck, Young, Oxlade-Chamberlain - all looked dangerous. Given that we are without our potentially world-beating star player for the first two games, and that no-one regards us as serious contenders (whereas the French are one of the favourites, after a huge unbeaten run since getting rid of that clown Domenech), I thought this was an impressive opening.

Croatia could also do some damage. Modric was busy against the Irish but didn't look as effervescent as he often has for Spurs in the last couple of seasons. And I'm not sure how good they are up front, now that Eduardo seems to have lost his goal magic. However, being quoted at 50- and 60-1 by the bookies was just absurd. They've been slashed to 25-1 now, which is still quite generous, I think. It's a pity they're in the strongest group, but now that they've got the first win under their belt, I fancy them to cause an upset. They're certainly capable of getting at least a point off both Spain and Italy - leaving them under a lot of pressure in their matches against Ireland.

For the rest...

France, Spain, Portugal, and Germany are technically excellent but not quite clicking at the moment... and need to find a reliable goalscorer.

Denmark are decent side, but they don't pose much of a goalscoring threat, and - unless their goalkeeper attains a superhuman level of performance - are unlikely to repeat their initial success against Germany or Holland.

Russia are a very decent side, but... probably wouldn't even qualify out of any of the other groups, and surely won't get beyond the quarter-finals.

Poland and Ukraine may benefit from home advantage, which typically carries a team at least one stage further than they would otherwise get, but... well, ordinarily, Poland and Ukraine wouldn't even qualify for the tournament, and certainly wouldn't get out of the group stage. Having a sharp striker is a big plus for both of them, but there's not much quality anywhere else in their sides; and I can't see Shevchenko carrying his team through the group single-handedly. Poland have a much weaker group, but Russia will probably give them a spanking and the Czechs may rouse themselves somewhat after that dreadful first game.

Holland were a huge disappointment, and really don't look like they deserve to qualify: leaky at the back and toothless at the front. However, they have two HUGE games in which to redeem themselves, with their final game against Portugal probably being the key match-up of the first phase.

The Greeks, Czechs, Swedes, and Irish are, alas, just make-weights; they might as well have booked their tickets home already.

More detailed predictions to follow in a while...

Froog said...

Agh, a mental stumble up there: I of course meant to say that I couldn't foresee Denmark being able to repeat their 'giant-killing' feat against Germany or Portugal.

Froog said...

Here I go, exposing myself to potential ridicule... predictions for the rest of the group phase.

Group A
Who cares, really? It's the Group of Shit. None of these teams would qualify from any of the other groups.

Greece I expect to raise their game a bit after their shocking performance in the opener, but they've got no threat going forward and don't even look as well organised at the back as they traditionally have. The Czechs are pretty piss-poor too. However, I expect them to be fired up to try to redeem themselves after the Russia debacle, and if Rosicky can find just a little bit of his magic, they should be capable of getting a win. Greece v Czech Rep. 0-2

The Poles will no doubt be inspired to battle hard against their old enemy, and I suspect it could get to be quite a messy affair with a lot of cards being shown. I don't think Russia are really all that good, and won't repeat their easy win against the Czechs. It could swing on who gets an early breakthrough. If Lewandoski scores first, maybe the Poles can nick the win. But I suspect a brutal, low-scoring draw is the likeliest outcome. Poland v Russia 1-1

Poland's last game will be emotional - particularly if they're behind the Czechs on points going into it, which seems very possible. I think Poland - with the home crowd behind them and Lewandoski dangerous up front - have it in them to win. But it will be close. Poland v Czech Rep. 2-1

Can Greece, the worst team in the tournament, produce an upset against Russia, the best team in the group? No. Although if Russia already have two wins under their belt, they'll be coasting... and might get caught out. It's not impossible that Greece might tough out another draw, but pretty much inconceivable they could win. Even if Russia put out their B team, I think they'll manage a third win. Russia v Greece 2-0

Froog said...

Group B
Holland were dismal in their opener against Denmark, but surely can't be as bad again. Germany were very solid, but looked like they would fail to get on the scoreboard. Germany have one of the best defences in the tournament, and Van Persie seems to get so nervous when he dons the orange shirt that he trips over his own feet most of the time. So, I don't think the Dutch will score - but can Germany? I hope so. The Dutch look quite weak at the back.
Holland v Germany 0-2

I'd quite like to see Denmark's plucky underdogs go through, but they're really not good enough to make an impression on the tournament after the group stage. Portugal are too good a team to go out this early. Time for Ronaldo to stand up and be counted. Denmark are very unlikely to score again, or even to get much possession against a technically very strong Portuguese side. But they will be doggedly defiant in defence. Once Portugal make a breakthrough, I could see them getting some pomp and swagger going, and maybe winning by three. But I suspect Denmark will hold out a long time, and Portugal will end up being grateful to win by a single goal.
Denmark v Portugal 0-1

If Denmark's keeper continues in such impressive form and Germany continue to stutter up front, I could see this ending in a draw. But another win for Denmark could only happen in the Bizarro Universe. I expect Germany to scrape home.
Denmark v Germany 0-1

The really interesting game - possibly the humdinger of the whole tournament - is this elimination sudden death face-off between Ronaldo's boys and the World Cup runners-up. Portugal looked much, much better to me than Holland in the opening game; but they both had a similar problem in not being able to convert long periods of controlled possession into decent goalscoring chances. Holland will presumably make some tactical changes, hopefully abandoning the 'two hard men in midfield' formation to try for something a bit more attack-minded. I'd like to see Portugal win (and I never thought I'd say that: but this Dutch side have really alienated me over the past few years, with Van Bommel's thuggery and Robben's continual play-acting), but it could go either way. I'll say...
Portugal v Holland 2-1

Froog said...

Group C
Italy v Croatia is a particularly tough one for me to call because I admire both sides, and would like to see them both progress; but, being in a group with Spain, it is likely that only one of them can. I think this should be a cracking game, though probably not a very high-scoring one.
Italy v Croatia 1-1

I would love to see Ireland put up a more solid show than they did against Croatia, but I fear they'll be overwhelmed by the prospect of playing the world champions - even if Del Bosque goes for his 'headless chicken' formation again (or, worse, plays Torres from the start!!). The Irish seem to have no threat up front any more: it's sad to see great players like Damian Duff and Robbie Keane looking so out of it. Can one of them produce an Andriy Schevchenko moment?? I doubt it, unfortunately. However, the Spanish could again make heavy weather of actually scoring.
Spain v Ireland 2-0

I am hoping the Italians will really turn it on for the last match and give the Irish a good spanking. However, if they have been held to two draws and are trailing Croatia, nerves could overwhelm them. It's hard to see the Irish shutting them out completely or nicking a heroic draw, but... they could make the Italians sweat for it... and 1-0 or 2-0 is likely to not be enough. So, I'm hoping for...
Italy v Ireland 3-0

Froog said...

Oops, missed out Spain's last game there. Spain v Croatia - tasty! Perhaps this is a 'more heart than head' call, but I'm going to go out on a limb here and say Croatia can cause a huge upset. The 'head rather than heart' call would be that Spain will do just enough to get through, but I'm trusting Croatia to pull off an historic victory...
Spain v Croatia 1-2

Froog said...

Group D
Poor old Schevchenko is so creaky these days, he looks as though he needs a Stanna Stairlift to get out of the dressing room. I wonder if he'll even start for this one. Blokhin might prefer to rest him for the crucial third game against us. But without him, the hosts have got nothing. This will be an interesting test of the French, to see if they can score freely against an inferior side. I think they probably can.
Ukraine v France 0-3

Sweden are looking pants, not even as defensively solid as they've been in the past, and with absolutely nothing up front - unless Zlatan suddenly gets on a hot streak. Unfortunately, if this becomes a goal-scoring competition with the French, I fear we are going to lose. However, this should be a matter of finishing first or second in the group, not of whether or not we qualify.
Sweden v England 0-2

If France somehow struggled against the Ukraine - or even, oh my god, got held to a draw! - then they'll be under the cosh in this one. But I suspect that they'll be feeling confident of qualification by this stage, and will breeze past one of the weakest teams in the tournament in this last game (only Greece are worse, I think), probably without bothering to extend themselves too much once they get ahead.
Sweden v France 0-2

Playing the hosts in the last game really sucks. Having to worry about the Magic Pensioner scoring another goal out of nothing against us double-sucks. And thinking that a draw will be enough (as I expect it will) could be very dangerous to us. We have to remember that Ukraine are basically a shit side, and set about the task of demolishing them patiently. To hell with being polite to our hosts (and none of this settling for second place in the group shit!) - we ought to sink them by 5 or 6 goals. We won't, of course. We'll be deliriously grateful to sneak it by a one-goal margin. The return of Rooney is another huge unknown: he could be a hero or a villain... or a non-entity. Striving my utmost to maintain my positivity about our ultimate chances in this, I'm going to say...
England v Ukraine 3-0

Spurs Fan said...

Some interesting comments already,some I agree with and some I don't.I see hart as a weak link for England - a gaolie shouldn't really be beaten on his near post from 20 yards out unless it's a thunderbolt into the top corner.I agree with ideas about portugal lacking goals - they've not had a top class striker since Eusebio in the 1960s,so don't score many,and I agree that Postigia would be hard put to score in Maggie's bar right now. Coupled with their perennial "playing not to lose rather than to win" approach in big games I don't see them going far.As for the Dutch,lots of talent but they sometimes lack application.VDV is mercurial and can produce breathtaking moments of magic,but too often forgets he has 9 outfield colleagues to help him,and can go missing altogether for large portions of games.So,I see a workmanlike but ultimately boring Germany and an underated Denmark going through from that group.
As for England,Hodgson's system of 10 men behind the ball and hoof it long for the sole striker could be an effective strategy in a big international tournament,as the system allows different players to slot into the various roles without relying on stellar performances from star individuals to get results.It also frustrates the opposition - France are clearly miffed by having had to face an England team that played continental style football in the midfiled and at the back.
My favourites are Spain,if only because they have the aura of World #1 right now and teams will play not to lose against them,although without Villa and Torres just being a bench player I'm worried about where their goals will come from.Star player of the tournament could be Modric,who is exceptional on his day and good even when not at his best,so Croatia are my dark horses.

Spurs fan said...

Looks like a long night for the Greeks already...

Froog said...

Well, I was a bit worried about my prediction for Greece v Czech Republic when the Czechs got two in the first give minutes, and it briefly looked as if there might be a landslide. Somehow, though, I never felt this Czech side had it in them to unleash a landslide. Even so, it was astounding how much they lost momentum.

The Greeks weren't good enough to deserve anything out of this, but they may feel aggrieved about two atrocious offside decisions against them.

And Cech has got some serious wobbles on. Some people thought I was being a bit harsh in saying I thought he should have kept one or two of Russia's goals out; but here is conceding another two (one unjustly disallowed) against the atrocious Greeks, one of them gifted with an appalling handling error.

Hopefully, neither of these dreadful teams will bother us much longer. It should be Russia and Poland to go through from this group.

Froog said...

I notice that I have been a bit inconsistent in my attitude on the Russia v Poland clash coming up - initially suggesting that the Russians might spank them, and later on suggesting that Russia could very probably win all three of their games.

Well, I'm an emotional guy, I blow hot and cold about things. I suppose I feel that the Russians are significantly the better team, but not as good as some people (Swordsman?) seemed to think they were on the basis of their demolition of the Czechs. And I feel that Poland are, or can be much better than they showed in their lacklustre opening against the Greeks (hardly creating a chance, after their lively first 15 minutes or so). I think that if the game does veer decisively towards one of these teams, it's more likely to be the Russians. And if, as I predicted, it ends up being a dour draw, Poland are probably going to be soaking up more of the pressure.

But I stick by that prediction - a bloody, brutal score draw. The Bookbinder has just informed me that Ladbroke's have relieved him of more of his money on a bet on a 2-1 Russian win. Good luck with that!

Swordsman said...

I thought England played above their ability level, but I called Nasri's goal seconds before he scored - it was one of the few times they looked unsure back there. I've seen Welbeck perform fantastically in Steve Bruce's similar formations, so I suspect he might do very well against Sweden.

By the way, you should be calling Group C the Group of Debt...

Bookseller said...

They kept the roof on the stadium open tonight. Poles complained their crap performance against Greece on Friday was because roof was closed and they didn't have any fresh air.

Greeks can evidently play without air, like money.

Froog said...

Ah, The Bookseller contributing via his Blackberry there!

He doesn't seem to have acclimatised to the fact that he is a Bookbinder now.

Froog said...

I was pleasantly surprised by the Poland v Russia game. A few sturdy challenges going in, but played in a remarkably good spirit. All the blood and mayhem was outside the stadium, it seems.

Both teams played a lot better than in the first game. But I reiterate my opinion that neither of them is really quite good enough for the last eight.

Froog said...

Uncannily prescient of you there, Swordsman! Pessimistic precognition - an unhappy superpower to have!

Sami looked sharp and hungry; my threat radar bleeps whenever he gets the ball when he's in this sort of mood. And he did have too much space around the edge of the box, with Steve and Scott both having dropped off a bit too deep and then being slightly slow to recover and try to close him down. But that he would actually get a shot off in such a narrow window of opportunity, or that it would be so precisely on target, or that it would slip past Joe Hart - you saw that before it happened? Yes, an unhappy skill to be cursed with.

A lot of people have been giving Hart stick about that (Sami, of course! And also our Spurs Fan, in an e-mail yesterday.), but I cut him a bit of slack on it. Sami struck it very abruptly, and very sweetly: it was fast and low, dipping and bouncing right in front of him, and shaving the inside of the post - and he didn't have much of a view of it through a crowd of players. He was, what, a few hundredths of a second slow in responding to it; got down, got fingertips to it, but couldn't divert it round the post. I think with one like that, if he'd stopped it, it would have been a very good save. If he doesn't stop it, it's hardly 'a mistake'. With a top class keeper, you hope that they will save good shots like this some of the time, maybe slightly more than 50% of the time; but one failure doesn't immediately indicate a form problem with your keeper. Hopefully, he will stop a few like this later in the tournament to keep us in it.

The flapping at the first couple of crosses was much more worrying. And he did seem to have been making a few errors in the last couple of Man City games I watched at the end of the season. So, maybe his form is in a little bit of a dip at the moment. But I don't think it's anything too serious - nothing like the nightmare Petr Cech is having.

Spurs Fan actually said Joe Hart was our "weak link". I don't think such negativity is justified by one less-than-stellar performance. Hart is clearly a world-class keeper (the first we've had since Seamo), an automatic choice for us - just about the only possible one, now that Ben Foster has excluded himself from selection. He has been the outstanding keeper in the Premiership for the past three seasons; his confidence should have taken a further huge lift from the title-winning campaign; he has the potential to be a tournament-winner for us. If his form takes a big wobble, that will be a disaster for us. But his usual form, his average form, places him amongst the top half-dozen keepers in the competition; and there's no reason to fear he won't live up to that, just because one outstanding shot from Sami Nasri got past him.

Swordsman said...

All that happened was that I said out loud 'He's going to score here' seconds before he did. I'm sure I've said the same countless times and it didn't happen, though.

In the US we are unlucky enough to have Steve McMananananananaman commenting. he talked throughout the build-up and the opening minutes about Joe Hart probably being the keeper of the tournament. Sigh.

Froog said...

Macca is more of a jinx than either of us?!

I think Buffon or Neuer will be the keeper of the tournament. But Hart is in with a chance.

Chairman said...

I was very encouraged by our performance against the French. They were always going to be the better team, but England had more fight in them, and I think we deserved the draw. Hart was magnificent in goal. If we can beat Sweden, and I think we have a much better chance of that now as they need to play for a win which will expose them at the back, and with Rooney back in the team beat the Ukraine, we could top the group and so avoid Spain in the quarter finals. A victory over Italy is not impossible, as they are not in great shape at the moment, which would put us in the semis. After that, we should go out by rights, but if we play like Chelsea did against Barcelona and Bayern you just never know...

From what I've seen so far though, it should be Spain and Germany in the final (Germany to win this time), or France as an outside bet.

Chairman said...

Against Sweden, I'd bring in Walcott for Milner and keep Oxen-Chamberlain in the team. Other than that, there's little scope for making changes as we just don't have the players.

Froog said...

Patrice Evra made much the same point, Chairman. He was extremely grumpy about having been thwarted by England's packed defence, but near the end of the interview, struggling for something 'positive' to say so as not to alienate his club fans, he said: "Well, they're playing like Chelsea. Everybody thought Barcelona deserved to beat Chelsea, but Chelsea won the Champions League."

I don't think we should - or can - win the tournament playing as cautiously we did on Monday. But it's an encouraging thought.

Froog said...

I wasn't bowled over by Hart's opening performance, Chairman. He stopped one that he should have stopped, missed one that he might have stopped. OK, but not sensational.

However, he's certainly one of the handful of best keepers in the tournament, and potentially a game-turner for us.

Froog said...

The Bookbinder was teasing me last night that perhaps we might have some hat-eating to do, since most of the strikers we'd roundly abused seem to be coming good: Mario 'Donkey' Gomez, Robin 'Tanglefoot' Van Persie, Andriy 'Zimmer Frame' Shevchenko, Helder 'Couldn't Score In A Brothel' Postiga, and even Fernando 'Lost Boy' Torres have all found the mark very impressively. And the tempestuous Mario Balotelli came close against Croatia.

I'm pleased for Gomez to have found his confidence in front of goal so emphatically (pleased because I'd like to see Germany win it, if England can't, and they'll need an in-form striker to do that). He had looked pretty terrible in the previous international outings I'd seen of his in the last two tournaments, and in the first two-thirds of that Portugal game; but once he'd broken the ice, he seemed a completely different player against Holland - two glorious finishes! I imagine he must now be the favourite to claim the Golden Boot. (It seems he's always been something of a slow starter, hesitant to establish himself in a new team: he didn't get many goals in his first seasons at Stuttgart or Bayern, but became prolific thereafter.)

I'm not convinced we've seen such a transformation in any of those others. Postiga shows a good finish once in a blue moon, but has always lacked the consistency to maintain a high scoring rate. That goal against Denmark might be the last we see from him.

Shevchenko is a great finisher, but he's got no pace or stamina any more, and doesn't look physically robust enough to play for a full 90 minutes or, perhaps, to play two games in succession. And he'll have more of a struggle to find any space against the English and French defences. I think that brace of goals in the opening game will prove to be his international swansong. I can't really see Ukraine progressing out of the group or Andriy scoring any more.

I still think Van Persie has a confidence problem when playing for Holland; but it's more likely to manifest itself when he's got half-chances inside the box or is through one-on-one with the keeper (Ronaldo seems to have the same hang-up! and Balotelli!); with a hopeful effort from outside the box, he doesn't have time to tighten up, and might ping it nicely... and get lucky threading it through the defender's legs. But he's not going to do that in every game. In fact, the Dutch - who surely have the lousiest temperament of any footballing nation - look to have accepted that they're out of it already; so Van Persie's form, or lack of it, won't concern us any further.

I did say in one of the early comments on here that Torres had been looking better towards the end of the season with Chelsea, and that his possible recovery of form could be the key to the tournament. Two great strikes yesterday will have done wonders for his confidence, but... it was only against Ireland, whose defending was non-existent. And Torres' lean spell has been so protracted (three years??) that I don't think it's going to get decisively cured overnight. He definitely won't find it anywhere near so easy to score against Croatia (Pletikosa could emerge as another of the tournament's outstanding keepers) - a game that could put the Spanish out if things go wrong for them.

Froog said...

By the way, I went out on a limb this morning by publishing a LONG post over on Froogville about Reasons Why I Think England Could Win.

I had to post it over there because it won't FIT in a comment. Please go and check it out.

Froog said...

Uh-oh! Filled with trepidation at the news that Carroll is being brought into the team for the Sweden game.

I should try to have faith in Roy: he's a canny operator. Maybe this will work for this one match.

Maybe a big bludgeoning striker is what we need against a crap team like the Swedes. Maybe one or two easy goals today will build up Carroll's confidence, make him more useful as a potential substitute in later games.

Let us hope. I've got a nasty feeling, though, that this is going to lead us into a desperate long-ball game, which might not work even against the Swedes, and is a very bad habit to get into before we face more powerful teams.

Spurs Fan said...

King Carl Gustaf,King Canute, Ibrahimovic, Abba,Alfred Nobel, Raoul Wallenberg,Bjorn Borg, Greta Garbo,Ingmar Bergman,Jenny Lind, Swedish Chef - your boys took a hell of a beating!

Froog said...

Wasn't Canute a Dane?

And it would have been a hell of a beating without that appalling meltdown in the first 20 minutes of the second half.

Still giving the ball away far too much, even worse than in the France game.

I hope we don't do that against the Ukraine. It will be a tense game.

Froog said...

Ah, I'd forgotten Nicky 'Sack of Shit' Bendtner in my Misfiring Strikers Hall of Shame. Yes, he too seemed to have found his scoring boots in the second game. I've always thought about him that he's a very good finisher (especially with his head), but very intermittently. He's not great under pressure. Portugal gave him two free headers and said "Thank you very much!" I can't see the Germans being so obliging. Moreover, I think lacks awareness - of his own failings, or the team's. So he's not the kind of guy to be able to adapt or lift his game if they're not finding a way past the Kraut back line. He's not someone I can see catching fire on the big occasion.

I'd like to see that, because it will make for a more exciting game. But I expect this to be a Vorsprung durch Technik borefest, with the Germans achieving a workmanlike but unspectacular win by the odd goal or two.

Holland v Portugal, though, is very difficult to call. Neither of these teams has really shown up to the tournament yet - despite Portugal eventually managing three goals against the Danes. Ronaldo looks lost, unhappy perhaps with the tactical formation; and Nani isn't much better. I would be tempted to put Ronaldo in the middle as an out-and-out striker - with perhaps Nani and one other (who?? they don't have much depth in the squad, I don't think) as attacking midfielders with a free role just behind him.

Holland have such temperament problems, it looks as if they've given up already, and it's hard to imagine them finding the bulldog spirit they'll need to pull this off. I imagine Robben might be dropped off his theatrical sulk on Wednesday - not that he'd be much missed; apart from blasting a series of balls into Row H, he's done next to bugger-all. Wesley Sneijder has perhaps been an even bigger disappointment. Against the Danes he was restricted by very good marking, but he got rather more space against the Germans and still didn't show very much. He was my player of the tournament at the last World Cup, but he just doesn't seem to have the same fire about him here.

I'll stick with my original prediction of 2-1 to Portugal; though I think this is one of those matches that might produce a hundred different results in a hundred different parallel universes.

Quite tempted to go and watch this one at the Portuguese cafe just up the road...

Harvster said...

Looking forward to Germany v Greece quarter final. How many bookings and sending offs do you think?

Froog said...

Germany will probably procure a UEFA ruling that the Greeks must start with only 8 men and play a rush goalkeeper.

Froog said...

I don't feel too bad about failing to predict the upset in Group A; I don't think ANYONE did. None of the telly pundits, anyway.

Credit to Greece (and the Czechs) for finally finding some resolve when they really needed it; but those were abject capitulations from Poland and Russia. Be it noted, I did say from the outset that it was much the weakest group. In the end, all four teams were about as bad as each other, and it was a bit of a lottery as to who went through. Any one of them would have been much the weakest of the eight quarter-finalists.

Group B went pretty much exactly as I predicted (although the Danes might feel a bit hard done by that they didn't get a pen for Bender's foul on Bendtner). Sneijder and Robben looked a bit livelier in the final game, but still only 50% of what they can be; Van Persie was again fairly anonymous, too. The new formation looked more promising, but there was no spirit or cohesion in the team, and they failed to capitalise on Van der Vaart's stunning opener. I wish I'd had a bet on Holland to score nul points before the tournament started; probably would have been pretty good odds.

Germany still haven't impressed me that much; but, as one of the pundits on the box said, this is why they're so dangerous; even when they play poorly, they still get the win. I have a definite feeling that they are beatable this time, though; not the force that they were 2 years or 4 years ago.

Portugal might grow in stature now that Ronaldo's found his goal touch, but I still feel that he and Nani aren't really getting involved enough. The young full-backs look pretty good, but they have nobody making stuff happen for them in central midfield, and Postiga isn't making much of an impression at centre forward. I suppose they should beat the Czechs, but either of them will be a very soft semi-final opponent for someone. There is something to be said for us coming second in our group; I think Spain will just get stronger through the tournament, and I'd rather play them as soon as possible. If we do somehow manage to get past them in the quarters, the path to the final (and the inevitable penalty shoot-out defeat to Germany) looks wide open.

Spain really didn't deserve to go through on the basis of their performance last night. And Johnny Croat wuz robbed! Clear penalty foul on Corluka, and then a miles offside Navez grabbing the winner minutes later - cruel fate, indeed. Torres clearly still has big confidence problems upfront (he looked anxious and unhappy lining up in the tunnel). And their new-look back four isn't working that well. I hope we don't show them the excessive 'respect' we had for the French. There has never (in the last 5 or 6 years) been a better time to face Spain. If they get a good win over us, their confidence will soar and they might become nearly unstoppable. But they don't look that confident or unstoppable to me at the moment.

Nice to see the Irish finally salvaging some pride with a gritty defensive performance. From what I could see in the highlights, I was impressed (surprised!) by the spirit the Italians showed in sticking to their task, not showing any signs of panic. Balotelli, though, continues to be an alarming loose cannon. Rather like the Germans, I think they haven't yet quite fired on all cylinders, but have still looked very formidable. I think they have a better chance to win it than the Spanish, and maybe even the Germans, and should certainly get by France in the quarter-final relatively easily.

Froog said...

You notice that I assumed above that France would qualify first out of our group, and England second?

Ukraine, fighting for survival in front of their home fans, will be a dangerous challenge tonight. If we play as we did in the latter stages against Sweden, we could give them a right stuffing. Then again, if we start defending like Accrington Stanley again, we'll be going home. I expect not too much of either of those extremes, more the dogged and workmanlike approach we had against the French, and getting through by the old goal or two.

With Sweden already out of it, I can't see Zlatan putting himself out too much, and the French could have a bit of a goalfest.

Will we play Rooney? I kind of hope not, actually. Carroll and Welbeck have both played well enough to keep their places (apart from anything else, Carroll was our best defender on Friday!). And I think Wayne, inevitably a bit short of match sharpness after some weeks without a competitive game, is probably going to be more dangerous as a supersub - if things aren't working out for us.

If Theo's fitness is 100%, I'd be tempted to start him on the right; but there must be a serious doubt about that; and he has that supersub quality about him, so maybe we'll stick with Milner at the start, for his greater defensive qualities. Ashley Young disappointed against the Swedes: he seems to have got used to that support striker role, and doesn't want to play on the wing any more; it's all very well to vary the play by using the inside channels occasionally, but he wouldn't stay out wide at all, and it spoiled the shape of the team. There's a case for replacing him with Downing or Milner on the left, I think (in such a high-stakes game, I think I'd leave O-C as a supersub option as well). And we need to tell Cole (especially Cole) and Johnson to be a bit more cautious about pushing so far forward. Johnson was quick enough to recover (though it was touch and go on a number of occasions), but it seems Ashley no longer is. And with one or both full-backs getting caught out of position, the centrebacks were getting stretched too much, exposing an occasional frailty of understanding in the new partnerships. And poor old John Terry just looked utterly cream-crackered.

I stand by my optimistic appraisal of our chances, though. There's a lot of great young talent in this squad (a pity Tom Cleverley's season got ruined by injury, but he's looking like Gerrard's heir apparent), and a much better balance in it (both in positional cover and in the mix of youth and experience) than I can ever remember us having before.

The Swordsman said that he thought England had "played above their potential" against France. When we defended desperately for two-thirds of the game, gave the ball away profligately, and were lucky to hang on to a draw after having taken the lead??? Jeez, Swordsman, you have a LOW opinion of our potential!

I don't think we were anywhere near our maximum potential in either of our first two games. Gerrard (and other players too: Milner, Walcott, Johnson, Oxlade-Chamberlain) can deliver quality balls into the box more than once a game. We have forwards who can score exceptional goals. And we have a keeper who can keep clean sheets. We haven't seen it happen yet, but the potential is there.

Froog said...

It seems to have become a commonplace to observe that English players just aren't skillful enough to keep the ball (all the TV pundits have been saying it again this week). Bollocks! The English Premiership is the most competitive league in the world, and the top clubs in it are all more than capable of hanging on to the ball for a minute or two when necessary to kill the pace of the game and give themselves a breather. Many of them (most notably Arsenal, of course) also play a high-tempo passing game in attack, requiring great crispness and accuracy in playing the ball to each other - and a lot of movement off the ball. If our players can do this for Arsenal and Chelsea and Man U, they ought to be able to do it for England as well.

I fear our chief problem is simply one of confidence. England have been underperformers - LOSERS - for so long on the international stage, that panic almost invariably takes hold whenever we manage to take a lead. Instead of thinking Let's go out and get another one like that... or two, or three!, you can see our players wracked by anxiety - Let's not give anything away now, let's see if we can just hang on to this for a while, let's try to make it through to half-time/the end of the game, PLEASE don't let's fuck this up again. Pitiful.

I mentioned in a comment over on my 'England CAN win' post on Froogville last Friday that we always seem to play worse (or, at any rate, excessively cautiously) when we take the lead, rather than better. It's an inferiority complex born of FORTY-FOUR YEARS OF FUCK-UP. It's time we put a stop to this, started playing with a bit more confidence and composure... stopped giving silly balls away!!

Tonight, we need to take the lead, and then say: This game is ours for the taking. Let's go get another one. And another.

Will it happen? Let's HOPE.

Froog said...

So, we won that in the least impressive manner possible. And Rooney, though not as thoroughly hopeless as he was in South Africa, is wretchedly out of form.

Credit to Ukraine, who were unrecognisable: they played much, much better than in the first two games. But we allowed them to.

We'll need to raise our game several notches against Italy. And whether to play Rooney becomes an even greater problem. It's like roulette, we chase the possibility of the big pay-off, though the odds are he'll more likely be a flop.

Mind you, that thing of being able to get a result even when you're shit is not to be discounted. And we even seem to be getting a bit of good luck going our way. I'd rather NOT win like that, but it could be seen as another encouraging augury.

But what the hell happened to France? (No highlights, goals only, on the ITV coverage of the England match!!) Did they put out their B team? Were they tactically playing for 2nd place in the group?? Or is just that, as I've been saying, they're really not that good, after all? Still, this and Greece's defeat of Russia count as the two BIG upsets of the tournament so far.

And I do rather wish we'd finished second. Facing Spain now, before they've properly hit their stride, would be preferable to meeting them in the final. And having one of the leading contenders (Italy and Germany, the top two teams in the tournament, in my book) take another out, rather than having to face them both would have been a HUGE plus. And, frankly, Portugal or the Czech Republic will be a pretty soft semi-final.

Now it appears we'll have to play Italy, Germany, and then Spain. If we manage to beat all three of them, we'll really have deserved this championship. But at the moment that is looking like a very long shot indeed.

Spurs Fan said...

Great win last night - Terry, Gerrard, Parker all outstanding. I liked Hodgson's comment about England being lucky that it was about time we got some good fortune in a big tournament. According to opposition coaches, unbeaten England so far have been boring-lucky-lucky.Sour grapes,perhaps...? Several TV angles in slow motion where I'm watching gave an inconclusive impression of the Ukraine "goal" - as The Chin famously said some years ago "the whole of the ball has to cross the whole of the line" and if the official standing on the line 5 yards away doesn't think it crossed the line,then there has to be some doubt.Having checked on the UEFA 2012 website today,Ukraine didn't score in the game so it was not a goal.

And Froog,Canute was king of Sweden before becoming king of England,so that makes him a Swede.

As for the idea that Spain played poorly against Croatia,they had 62% of possession and 16 shots (13 on target) to 6 in the match.Would that England could play so poorly against a side as good as Croatia.

Froog said...

Really, those were the official stats for the Spain v Croatia game?? (Hmm, well, a couple of sites I've just checked said 9 "on target" efforts and 5 "off target", or 8 and 6, for Spain.)

I wonder how they compile these stats, especially for "possession", since there do seem to have been some much larger than usual imbalances, and these figures have occasionally seemed rather at odds with one's subjective impression of the balance of the match. I suspect, for example, that there's no allowance made for neither side being in possession; so, England's figures perhaps look a little better than they should because every time we hoof a long clearance, it's still recorded as our possession until the ball's gone out of play or been brought under control by the opposition.

Not that that applies so much to Spain, of course: they're very good at hanging on to the ball in midfield. One of the telly pundits the other day was saying - before the Croatia game, I think - that Spain are typically achieving well over 70% of the possession in a match, so anyone who holds them to nearer 60% is putting up a very decent show. And they really had THAT many attempts on goal?? Well, none of them were that impressive - they didn't come close to scoring until that offside breakaway at the end.

That's why I say I don't find them all that impressive so far: if they've got twice as much of the ball as the other side, and are (apparently!) making some sort of chance every 4 or 5 minutes, but can't score, something is going badly wrong. And it's not just Torres, although he certainly wasn't helping. Croatia's attacks, and attempts on goal, though there may have been barely half as many of them, looked a lot more dangerous.

On the Ukrainian goal last night, the extra official was too close to be able to see anything: his view will be blocked by the post, unless the ball is a foot or two over the line (as it was in Lampard's case two years ago). Completely fucking pointless experiment by UEFA! Those decisions need to be made on a video review: the 4th official could do it, and it would usually take only a few seconds. Quite obvious on the TV replays: only a few inches over, but definitely over. It's nice to get that kind of break, for once. And it wouldn't have affected the outcome. Heck, with the French imploding like that, we could have lost the game and still qualified. Might have been a preferable outcome, in many ways!

I haven't heard anyone say we were lucky in the second match. How? I don't recall any key decisions going wrongly in our favour. We had an utterly abysmal 15 or 20 minutes at the beginning of the 2nd half, but showed good fighting spirit to take control of the game again. But, even more so than against the French, we were sitting too deep for too much of the time, and not showing much composure in possession. In fact, in that regard I feel we've been getting worse game by game, or certainly not making any improvement. This doesn't fill me with optimism about our chances against Italy. Hart's continuing to look a bit flaky between the sticks as well: he's made a few very good saves, but he's flapped at times as well; a long way from being on his best form so far.

We have - most of the time - defended well. We have occasionally looked very good in attack as well, but not for sustained periods, and not reaping all that much from it. It's one of the better group phase campaigns we've managed (damning with faint praise!), but we haven't yet convinced anyone to rate us among the likely winners. If Wayne suddenly comes good for us, that could put the wind up the opposition; but I fear that won't happen.

Bit of a tenuous claim on Canute, there: he's Swedish in the same way that Genghis Khan is Chinese, nationality by association?!

Froog said...

I have proposed to the Bookbinder a little sweepstake on whether Rooney or Balotelli will get sent off first.

I suggested that before we unexpectedly finished top of the group to land Italy as our quarter-final opponent. Now, of course, it is highly possible that Wayne and Mario will be sent off simultaneously for fighting each other. Hmm, I wonder if the bookies are quoting odds on that?

Froog said...

Gerrard and Parker have played very well in all three games - although at times giving the ball away as much as anyone else. Still, I think this has been one of the most encouraging aspects of our team performance so far. I said right at the outset that the central midfield partnership of these two would be one of the central foundations of any success we enjoyed.

However, whenever John Terry is being talked about as a possible Man of the Match for us, we've obviously been pretty heavily under the cosh. I have nothing against JT, but I sincerely hope he doesn't get mentioned as our best player in any of our remaining games.

What we need now is the wingers and the full-backs being a bit more effective, getting more delivery into the box so that we can actually score some sodding goals. I suspect we've actually got quite a pretty damn good goals-to-chances ratio so far (despite Wayne flubbing a free header), but we just haven't been creating that many chances.

Froog said...

So, this exact score prediction is a bit of a mug's game: too many imponderables now in the knockout phase. Nevertheless, in deference to the betting-mad Bookbinder, I shall hazard a few guesses on the possible outcome of the quarter-finals.

So, Czech Republic v Portugal is first up? Hard to get excited by that - the two weakest teams to go through! The Czechs are on a steadily improving trend, and I suspect the Portuguese could prove vulnerable to anyone who can keep the ball off them in the middle of the field. However, the Czechs have been really piss-poor so far, and look as though they're going to be without their one outstanding creative player, Rosicky, whereas Portugal have two outstanding match-winners in Ronaldo and Nani. Portugal should ultimately prevail fairly comfortably, but I fancy the Czechs to make them sweat for it a bit, and perhaps rattle them by getting the first goal. At full-time, though, a likely 2-1 to Portugal.

Greece v Germany - wouldn't it be nice to see Greece repeating their remarkable performance against Russia? Yes. But they really don't have the quality in their squad to make that seem very likely; and Germany are about 8 or 10 times better than Russia. The question is, will the Germans get into their groove and win it comfortably, or will they continue to huff and puff and misfire, and just scramble home by the odd goal or two? I have a suspicion it might be the latter: Germany 2-0

Spain v France - well, I'm still unconvinced that Spain are capable of scoring freely (or of preventing a good side from scoring against them), even if they do hog 70% or 80% of the possession and play some of the most heartbreakingly pretty football in midfield. France, I believe, have enough quality players to cause them an upset; but they probably don't have the self-confidence, particularly after stuffing up against Sweden in their last match. I could see this being decided by a single goal, and perhaps even going to extra time and penalties (in which case, Casillas would probably help them to prevail), but... my rash prediction here is 2-1 to Spain.

And finally... gosh, most people's expectations of the England side were so LOW going into this tournament that they seem to be ridiculously elated that we finished top of our group... having toughed out a draw and two narrow victories, after being comprehensively outplayed for long periods in each match... by quite poor teams. I had untypically HIGH expectations of England this time - at least of their potential, not so much of their actual performance - so am inclined to judge them much more harshly. I don't believe they've yet played anywhere near as well as they should be capable of, and the lack of improvement - still playing too defensively at times, still not getting much quality delivery into the box, still giving the ball away very cheaply when in possession - has made me doubt whether we can now progress any further.

Although Balotelli looks like he could EXPLODE (in a bad way) at any moment, the Italians have, for me, been much the most impressive side in the competition so far. I would really, really, really like to see us taking this 2-1, or even 3-1, but I feel it is much more likely that the Italians will achieve that result. Then again, given that both sides like to defend... it could well end as a 1-1 draw, even after extra time, and be decided by penalties.

Froog said...

Ah well, it's probably all for the best. Our team didn't live up to my expectations of the best they might have been capable of (Reasons Why I Think England Could Win) - WHO does, ever? It was a solid fight performance, and they played some decent football. Indeed, our little hot spell for 20 or 25 minutes in the first half, where we completely dominated and looked likely to take the lead, take the win, was about the best I've seen us play since... at least '96, since Before Beckham. The big question is, why couldn't we maintain that through the whole game, or most of it?

Big tactical error, I'd say, was not man-marking Pirlo. It's ridiculous to expect Rooney - particularly a not-fully-fit Rooney - to do much of a job of closing him down. I suppose the thinking was that we didn't want to compromise the performance of one of our key midfielders by putting them on Pirlo, perhaps especially because tends to play so deep and this would have weakened our deep defending, two lines just in front of the box pattern. But I would have put Parker (or Gerrard!) on his bootstraps all night. With Pirlo neutralised, the rest of the team wouldn't have been much of a threat, so it wouldn't have mattered if we were down to a 7-man rather than an 8-man defence just in front of goal. And Gerrard particularly would have been able to win the ball off him and keep it, do something dangerous for us (in what, for us, would often have been a very advanced position). He spent most of the game madly chasing the ball anyway; much better to have been chasing Pirlo, and stifling their creativity at source.

And we screwed it up on pens, AGAIN??? There was an awful inevitability about that.

Some great performances; Johnson and Parker particularly outstanding last night; and Rooney much more consistently and effectively involved than he was against the Ukraine, but still obviously lacking that last little bit of match fitness, the explosive extra burst of pace or energy that can put him through behind a defence.

Overall, the best tournament campaign we've mounted in a long time (since '96!), but that's not saying much. A number of our key players didn't perform as I had hoped: Rooney a tad sluggish; Hart mostly decent, but well short of his miraculous, match-turning best; Welbeck very good, but not getting in amongst the goals, not setting the tournament on fire. Gerrard and Parker, and maybe Terry, are probably our only players in contention for a 'best of tournament' squad.

As I've rued on here a few times before, I think our big problem is not the depth of talent in the squad, or the overall technical level of English football, but a lack of composure and self-belief in the national team - exacerbated by our long record of disappointing failures in big matches.

Last night, the game was ours for the taking in the first half, but we ended up trying to hang on for the draw. We had brief passages of extremely impressive football in all four of our games, but brief passages only. Our group game opponents, even the French, were really quite second-rate sides, but we let them play because we didn't trust in our ability to hang on to possession and dominate the game. I wonder if that's ever going to change.

I was pissed off about how the draw turned out, because I'd backed both England and Italy to win the tournament three weeks ago. This ended up being some consolation to me. I think my money's in safer hands with the Azurri.

(Do you suppose Jogi will set Schweinsteir or Khedira to mark Pirlo? I think he might.)

Froog said...

Sorry, Schweinsteiger, of course.

Froog said...

Semi-final predictions?

Spain are, overall, so, so, so much better than Portugal. But they're still not playing to their full potential, they don't seem to know how to score goals (the odd untypical breakaway effort, after hours of technically impressive but remarkably unproductive play), and their defence is weaker than it's been for years (although no-one has really tested it much yet).

Portugal have some decent players - Coentrao and Moutinho particularly have caught the eye - but also seem to lack much of an attacking threat (Nani has been fairly anonymous; as has Ronaldo when he's stayed out wide). Can Ronaldo do it for them singledhandedly? Well, yes, he can; but it looks like he's going to have to. And I worry that that pressure may get too much for him; it's good to be fired up, but I fear that he looked a bit too fired up in that last game, likely to burn up... or melt down... or something. (Ronald sent off?? It could happen!)

I fancy Portugal to cause a bit of an upset, so I'll say 2-1... although I have a hunch it might be a draw at the end of normal time.

Italy v Germany is, for me, the game of the tournament. I think either of them should have the beating - quite comfortably, if they play to their best - of Spain or Portugal.

Will Italy be fatigued by their struggle against us? Or pepped up by it? I hope the latter. But the extra rest day can become a big factor towards the end of a tournament, and playmaker Pirlo is getting on in years. I suppose that's their weakness, that everything revolves so much around him. I think a man-marking job on him could emasculate the team. And Balotelli, for all his apparent confidence and enthusiasm, has not been hitting the target.

Germany haven't hit their peak yet, either. And they have some team selection conunudrums, such as whether to go with Gomez or Klose up front, and whether their central midfield will be too compromised by putting a man permanently on Pirlo. Reus surely should have played himself into the team with his oustanding game against the Greeks (and Muller has been looking very lacklustre so far; in fact I wasn't even that bowled over by his showing in the last World Cup - he happened to get on a hot goal-scoring streak [not replicated since, for club or country] but he didn't really contribute anything else).

I would like Italy to win, because I have a £5 bet on them to take the title. However, I think Germany at their best should have the edge. The question is, will Germany be at their best?

I'll go with another 2-1 to Germany as my official prediction... although I'm hoping for a ding-dong game with possibly a lot more goals!

Froog said...

The dispassionate intellectual assessment let me down rather here, but... the gut instinct predictions I shared with The Bookbinder were a 0-0 draw for Spain v Portugal (with the likelihood that Casillas would help Spain prevail in a shootout) and 2-1 to Italy (although I was lucky to realise that exact score; 3-0 to Italy had looked far more likely for most of the game).

Froog said...

Looking forward to Sunday's final now. I think it's been a good rather than great tournament: the BIG teams - Germany, Spain, Holland, France - haven't delivered what they are capable of.

But we have seen the emergence of a new GREAT team. This Italian side are one of the most impressive I've seen in a long time; they may not have such a wealth of creative talent as they often have in the past - or as Spain do now, but are unable to fully exploit - but they are fighters, they run themselves into the ground, and they work together for each other: they are a TEAM... more so than anyone else in this tournament has been.

Almost all the best matches in Euro 2012 have involved Italy: that's no coincidence. And I think perhaps their breakthrough moment in stepping up to greatness was their final group game: needing a good win against Ireland to ensure their qualification, they found the Irish playing out of their socks to salvage some pride, and defending with 10 or 11 men behind the ball for almost the whole game. The way they stuck to that enormously difficult and frustrating task, the patience and determination they needed to secure that victory, showed tremendous character.

The great teams, title winning teams, need two qualities: the ability to beat weaker teams comfortably, and the ability to lift their game against the best teams. This Italian side has shown that it has both. I don't think the Spanish have.

Froog said...

Portugal's failure to rise to the challenge of Spain was disappointing, but no great surprise. Almeida did a better job of leading the line than the dismal Postiga, but still wasn't terribly incisive; Nani didn't really show up to this tournament; and Ronaldo would have been more dangerous playing through the middle, perhaps as an out-and-out centre forward.

And I've always felt that the mascara-ed one does not have the kind of personality to fit in well with - or to inspire - a so-so team (Portugal are pretty good, but compared to Real Madrid - definitely so-so!). I don't know how he gets on with the rest of the Portugal players in training and so on, but on the pitch there seems to be very little communication with them. Giving him the captain's armband seems ridiculous, purely a nod to his superstar status rather a sensible decision on the team's leadership.

I also have my doubts about his mental strength. In situations like this one, where he finds himself having to retrieve a big game singlehandedly, I suspect he is almost always going to come up short. He just doesn't have that patina of invincibility, that inner toughness, that never-say-never spirit that made Zinedine Zidane or Roy Keane so exceptional. Cristiano Ronaldo flubbed Portugal's best chance in the game, and was then afraid to take a penalty - way to go, national hero!

The Germans were a big disappointment too. Their faltering was not entirely unexpected (I've been saying throughout that they seemed to be misfiring, and far short of their World Cup form), but few people foresaw how emphatically they would be undone.

Many of their key players underperformed: Schweinsteiger perhaps limited by that niggling ankle injury we kept hearing about (or by the mental scars of that Champions League Final??), Podolski and Muller in wretched form, Gomez looking lost and diffident without any decent service in to him, Boateng not offering much in either attack or defence, and Ozil intermittently impressive but not quite rising to the challenge of being the decisive factor, the game turner.

However, I think most of the blame must rest with Jogi Loew. I've been a big fan of his in the past, but he seemed to go off the rails a bit in this tournament, and especially in this last match: omitting Reus from the starting lineup despite his fantastic form against the Greeks, giving Kroos his first start in such a huge game (admittedly he was very good - but why was he not introduced earlier in the tournament?), being apparently unable to decide between Gomez and Klose up front (no doubt pissing off and/or undermining the confidence of both of them - especially of Gomez, who seems particularly fragile in this respect), bringing on the ineffectual Muller as a key substitution when things were getting desperate... and, above all, failing to follow my advice to try to man-mark Pirlo out of the game. I don't know if injury issues were behind some of this, but it has seemed as though his tinkering with the lineup - for no obvious reason - has unsettled his side.

Perhaps this great German team are destined to be eternal bridesmaids. Although it's still a very young side overall, and some of the new lads just coming in - Reus, Kroos, Schuurle, Gotze - are scarily good. The next World Cup might be a bit too soon for them to get everything together, but I'm tempted to go for a long-range ante post bet on the Krauts to lift the title in Euro 2016.

Froog said...

I am now really fancying the Italians to go on to lift the trophy, and make me a nice 12.5-to-1 return on the fiver I punted on them at the outset of the tournament.

They defend in numbers like England tried to do, but they do it much better: switching between defence and attack with lightning speed, and getting lots of men around the ball, but somehow not exhausting themselves in the process. Their workrate and team spirit have been extremely impressive. Now Balotelli has come good at just the right time - and he's looking much calmer, more focused, happier. And Pirlo, of course, is having one of those tournaments on which legends are built: he doesn't seem to be able to put a foot wrong, in either defence or attack. I don't think I've seen a midfielder so consistently and imperiously dominant, for the whole 90 minutes, match after match, since the heyday of Michel Platini.

Spain, while reaching the final will surely have given their confidence a big lift, still haven't played anywhere near as well as they did when winning their last two big tournaments.

In fact, things seem to be getting worse for them. The use of third-choice striker Negredo to start the game against Portugal was baffling enough (again, injuries may have been a factor; but, if not, this must have completely wrecked the confidence and motivation of the shamefully overlooked Llorente and of Fernando Torres, so long Del Bosque's coddled favourite; Torres, with his confidence brittle enough already, will, I suspect, have been rendered utterly ineffective for the final by this devastating snub). And then, when the big striker was seen to be ineffectual without any delivery from the wing, he was taken off in order to bring on a winger?? That was the kind of elaborately daft tactical call we used to expect of England's worst-ever manager, Graham Taylor.

This tournament seems to have confirmed my long-held suspicion - that Vicente Del Bosque is a bit of a clown who just happens to have been lucky enough to come into the job as national coach just at a time when Spain finds itself with such an extravagant wealth of talent at its disposal. He looks more than capable of squandering all that talent.

Italy are likely to start cautiously - maybe too cautiously - and Spain will probably dominate possession almost as much as they have in all their previous games. They may even get a goal from somewhere (set piece or a penalty is most likely, though; it's hard to see them breaking down the Italian defence any other way). Ultimately, though, I expect the Italians to win, and win fairly comfortably. I'll say 2-1... but I have a sneaking suspicion it might end 3-1 or 3-0.

I hope so, anyway. I really like this Italian side.

Froog said...

Well, darn it, my powers of prognostication let me down right at the end. And I've had to go through the painful ritual of tearing up the betting slip that I had become almost certain was going to net me a £60 payout for my prediction that Italy would be the tournament winners.

Credit to Spain for a superb display (less so to Del Bosque; I'm not convinced that much, if anything, of what these Spanish players have achieved can be said to be down to his guidance). But where the hell did that performance come from?? They were almost unrecognisable from their earlier showings in this tournament. Were they just revved up by the importance of the occasion, had they stepped up or changed their training in some way, had they only just now started to feel comfortable with the 6 midfielders/no striker formation? Whatever it was, they played at a much higher tempo than we've seen before, and pressed the ball really well when they didn't have possession.

I was expecting both they and the Italians would wilt well before the 90 minutes, because the first half was being played at such a high pace. Ultimately Spain lasted pretty well - because they were buoyed up by having the victory in their sights. The Italians, reduced to 10 men, were indeed dead on their feet by the end. Alas, the game died as a spectacle in the second half; but the first 45 minutes was superb stuff.

I'd say the key factor in Spain's success was (as I'd counselled before the England and Germany games) the neutralisation of Pirlo. Though they didn't put a single man-marker on him, Spain did try to use one of their three deeper midfielders - Busquets or Xabi Alonso, or occasionally even Xavi - to close him down whenever he had the ball, or looked as though he might be about to receive it.

Italy couldn't catch a break either. The first half was really pretty evenly balanced, but Spain conjured two superb goals out of nothing; and the second, just before half time, really knocked the stuffing out of Italy.

And to have to use all three of your substitutes by early in the second half, then lose the third of them to a pulled hamstring within minutes of him coming on?! I don't think I've ever seen that before.

God doesn't love match-fixers, I guess.

A great pity for Italy, though. I thought they were - narrowly - better than Spain in their opening clash in the group stage, and quite a lot better than them in the subsequent four matches leading to the final.

Froog said...

By happy chance (I hadn't even known it had been happening over the past couple of weeks, with so much else going on) I caught the final of the Euro Under-19s tournament in a bar in Manhattan the other day.

That was truly scary. Young Spain beat Young Greece in a thrilling and skillful game (though it ended only 1-0, thanks to a heroic performance from the Greek keeper). They played with all the class and cockiness and crisp passing of the senior team, but with way more verve and pace as well. It is looking rather as though they could keep their recent domination up for another decade!