Thursday, 21 June 2012

The final flurry of the group stages: Part 2

With the ending of the group stages at the 2012 European Championships held in the Ukraine and Poland there are many things for football fans to ponder. Here are a few of the lessons we were taught... continued;

4. The Spanish Revolution... faltering?
Despite despatching Ireland 4-0 Spain have been unconvincing thus far. The Italians more than matched them in the first group game and proved perhaps that the Italians themselves are dark horses for to make the finals. Spain breezed past a lacklustre Irish side, no disrespect to Ireland but no one will be judging their abilities on challenging at the final against the capabilities of an Irish side. The game against Croatia proved to be a stern test. During the previous tie Xavi and Iniesta completed more passes than the entire of the Republic of Ireland 11. Luka Modric turned out to be a significant figure that stood out against the Spanish as he pulled the strings of a possible upset. As the game went on Spain refused to threaten the Croatian goal and they actually surrendered the best chances throughout the game. Croatia were made to pay for their missed opportunities as Fabregas came on to delicately chip over a disciplined Croat defence for Iniesta and Jesus Navas to round the keeper and slot home. However if Croatia had scored first the atmosphere of the game suggested that Spain would struggle to get back in to the game, especially without a goalscorer on the pitch. Perhaps a sign of the Champions is to win whilst not playing well. However against a more clinical side with a strike rate of 21% of shots going in, like England, the Spanish would need to nullify the game and one may fancy Spain to be a very beatable side. Discipline, patience and lethal finishing is all that is needed to beat the best team in the world...

5. Not so Great Expectations.
England began the group stages with more of a hope than an expectation to qualify for the quarter-finals. With injuries plaguing the midfield and defence England's squad began to look rather thin. The core of the English side has developed to signify a fighting spirit; Scott Parker, Steven Gerrard, and John Terry all pride their game on determination. The injuries to Gareth Barry and Frank Lampard in some ways have been a blessing in disguise as Parker and Gerrard have confidence in their being first choice. This is perhaps the best tournament performance from Steven Gerrard and the confidence given to him by being first choice captain is certainly a contributing factor. England have not been impressive so far. They don't need to be. What they have been is hard to beat. The French threatened to score about as much as the English, when England did push forward and attack against Sweden they conceded twice, but of course scored three times securing a victory. The Ukraine proved to be the toughest test yet as those wise enough to see had already predicted. The host nation needing a win to qualify would always be an incredibly tough game. England once again limited the opposing side to smashing drives from 25 yards throughout the game. Two of the best chances that the Ukrainians created were in fact both offside without being flagged. Tough justice suggested by some for their attempt that was cleared from over the line by John Terry. Earlier in the move The Ukrainian striker was caught offside by Joleon Lescott but the linesman failed to do his job properly. The eventual shot crosses the line and is not spotted. Irrelevant. If the linesman is paying attention the chance wouldn't have got that far. Milyevsky's header earlier on in the game of which should have been on target was offside also without a flag. Justice was served as England won the group with a deserved 1-0 victory. England now meet fellow dark horses Italy in the quarter finals. Both teams have a great chance to reach the semi's in what will surely be a tense and cautious tie. I wouldn't be surprised if this game last longer than 90 minutes. The manager that chooses his substitutes wisely may be the victor. The not so great expectations have turned in to quiet optimism and murmurings of 'football coming home'. 

Monday, 18 June 2012

The final flurry of the group stages: Part 1

With the ending of the group stages at the 2012 European Championships held in the Ukraine and Poland there are many things for football fans to ponder. Here are a few of the lessons we were taught;

1. Death by Germans is inevitable: 
The famous 'group of death' was handed to the Danes, the Portuguese, the Dutch and the masters of death, the Germans. It was predicted that the Danes would be the whipping boys and would do well to come away with a point to their name. They will be in fact disappointed that they did not qualify for the knock-out stages after masterminding a victory against the faltering Dutch which in reality was allowed through the miss-firing of the perhaps the largest ego's in this championship. It was the ruthless Germans that ran away with the group with an air of elegance and efficiency to the envy of every other nation. If you were to be handed the group of death next time one may wish that the team establishing themselves as perhaps the greatest side in the world would not be there. But then of course how much would that group entail a feeling of death. In reflection any side that breezes through such a difficult group display a great number of attributes especially those required to win this tournament. The lack of an obvious weakness in this side is worrying for all. The Germans posses; determination, ability, composure and a youthful hungriness that spells domination for many years to come.

2. Messi may have been laughing too early...
To the group of death again. There were two reasons many viewers were staring at Cristiano Ronaldo for the first two games. One reason we are familiar too, his outstanding dribbling ability, the second baffling reason was his inability hit a cows backside with banjo. First key rule for defending against Ronaldo would be do not give enough space to attempt an effort on goal. This rule was turned on its head for the first two games as the greatest player in Europe this season failed to find the net with time and space on many occasions. In his final group game the Dutch were praying he would not break this duck for another game yet. One can picture Lionel Messi at home in Argentina with a smug smile on his face rubbing his hands for the next season... all too soon as Cristiano decided that he was in fact an outrageous player just like we all thought. Throughout this final group game the admittedly weak Dutch defence embarrassed their nation for one final game by twisting turning and ultimately like van der Wiel, falling at his feet. Nothing to fear, the Portuguese have the greatest player in the world at his finest once again.

3. Russian to get out of Poland:
The Russian national team will be kicking themselves and every Greek they see after they fell at the final, and what we all assumed was the lowest hurdle. After dominating the opening two games and establishing themselves further as a good footballing side the Russians displayed their largest weakness: a lack of hunger and determination. Perhaps harsh after the way the Russians have played but it was a clear sign of weakness as they hadn't truly faced a tough test in the easiest group of the Euro's. Many tipped Russia to do well, and rather embarrassingly, the fine pundit Ian Dowie tipped Russia to be a very very Dark horse. Wrong. It was quite apparent that as soon as Russia face a top side competitively they would falter and we didn't even need to wait as the mighty Greeks forgot their economic woes. They decided that this game was not the best one in which to go a goal down and took the lead through a slice of luck for the captain Karagounis. The Greeks are through somehow. A sign of what team spirit and determination can do for national teams in tournaments.

More to follow...