Euro 2012 | Match Day 10

Another final day of Group play, another dose of drama. The Group of Death had its share of heart-stopping possibility heading into play; Denmark and Portugal stood tied on three points, Germany was top with six. If The Netherlands could beat Portugal by two goals and Germany could beat Denmark, the Dutch could come from nowhere (ala Greece) and claim second place in the Group. Knowing all of this going in, these games hung on every chance, but it was the missing superstar who stole the show and a team I expected to struggle found itself advancing ahead of a favorite. First things first, though, and that means Germany.

Denmark v Germany

Great game. The Danes played this entire tournament with a lot of guts and determination and their match against Germany was no exception. After falling behind 1-0 to a Lukas Podolski sitter…


Bang bang bang.

… Denmark stayed with their game plan and pressed the Germans, earning a corner and getting a goal to tie it 1-1. Ah, lovely set pieces…


1-1.

The Danes were in it with a shout, barring a Portugal win which, doh. It all became moot in the 80th minute when Mesut Özil played a perfect, and I mean perfect, ball to Lars Bender, who slotted home the winner.


2-1 and done.

For all of Denmark’s excellent qualities, you have to love the Germans taking all nine points in the Group of Death as a good sign for them. Obviously. That said, hmmmm. 1-0, 2-1, 2-1; Germany have not been able to put a beating on anyone and they have some real strugglers in the side right now, primarily Thomas Müller who has been awful in front of goal (and scored none) and Lukas Podolski who, despite his hammer shot for 1-0 against the Danes, seems out of synch with the team on the left hand side; he is not providing crosses or balls into the box, leaving Lahm, Özil and Khedira to provide the danger. I like Germany’s toughness and their quality, but I see trouble ahead; if this team falls behind, I will be interested to see what they do. The good news is that Bastian Schweinsteiger continues to boss it in the middle of the park and the team are finding the right balance of attack and defense with their LB/RB combinations. Still, the Germans have yet to dominate anyone, which makes me wonder if they might not be opening themselves up for trouble in the later stages. I like this team a lot, but they seem to be missing a real cutting edge; I think Özil needs to take this team by the balls and play with Xavi-style authority. He can be a true leader for the side with his qualities, but too often seems to defer to more senior players and drifts around the final third trying to link play instead of running the show. Stay tuned; I think it gets interesting for Germany in the semi-final.

The Netherlands v Portugal

Hello, Cristiano Ronaldo. It is nice to see you again. I had been wondering aloud where you might have gone, but I see you’ve turned up now.

Great ball, great run, good finish


That’s how you counter attack. GREAT goal.

Last time around, when Ronaldo missed some chances in the team’s 3-2 win over Denmark, I wrote:

”…it’s a shame when one of the best players in the world is unable to produce for his country. Nothing would be better for this team than for Ronaldo to live up to his hype and get his teammates and his country believing in him, to be discussing his greatness. Instead, Ronaldo seems almost cursed by the expectations, which is so unlike him. Is it mental? I expect a goal from him against The Netherlands to get back on track.”

Ok, so a brace, a dominant performance an a match winner that sends the Portuguese into the knockout stages from the Group of Death. Well done, CR7. I am not a fan of the man, but he is an incredible player and you want to see great players play great. That’s just what he did against The Netherlands, and now Portugal looked primed and dangerous, with five goals in their last two games and a renewed sense that they can do some damage in Euro 2012.

And then… The Netherlands. Wow. Three matches, no points. The good news? Hey, Van der Vaart scored to put the Dutch 1-0 up…?



1-0. Looking good!

The bad news? Ronaldo scored two after that and the Dutch, finalists at the 2010 World Cup, are going home without a point in Group play. I am not sure anyone dreamed that this would happen. The team is utterly stacked with attacking talent and yet here they are, again, flashing back to the team of individuals that plays without any cohesion. All the Dutch supporters were complaining about Robin van Persie’s misses in front of goal, the conservative approach of two defensive midfielders, etc. So, in the final game, manager Bert van Marwijk brought on Van der Vaart (who scored) and Huntelaar (who did not) and the Dutch still struggled to find the goal.

Let’s be clear; the Portuguese counterattack that saw Ronaldo bang in two goals was a direct result of The Dutch pressing forward to bag a second goal and find a way into the knockout stages. If the Dutch had been in a better position in the Group, they might have had a more balanced approach to playing defensive football at 1-0 up. But the desperation they showed was of their own making; time and again, the Dutch attack broke down when it might have soared. As I said last time around:

“I said they played ‘me first’ football against the Danes, but this was a case of ‘who? me?’ football; even Wesley Sneijder’s typical excellence could not bring the front line together. For all of his pace and quality on the ball, Arjen Robben might be the most one-dimensional great player in the world; collect the ball, cut inside, fire over the bar. Collect the ball. Cut inside. Fire over the bar. Get back and play defense? Forget it.”

The Dutch suffered from the same malady the entire tournament– they had no chimestry. At all. Again. And now they head home as by far the biggest disappointment of the Euro 2012.


A shame, really.

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Euro 2012 | Match Day 9

Knockout time, and who expected this? Russia, the Group leaders who pounded the Czech Republic 4-1 on opening day? Out. Poland, the hosts, looking bright in their 1-1 draw against frontrunners Russia? Do widzenia. Group A turned my expectations upside down.

Poland v Czech Republic

Sorry, but when you can’t play through the middle of the park and your attack is as one sided and one dimensional as Poland’s, you have to expect trouble. And when the Czechs counter attacked right up the middle of the park in the 72nd minute as Poland went looking for a winner, Petr Jiracek stepped up and put the team on top of Group A. For good.


Group winner.

It was a deserved victory for a team that had been battered 4-1 on the opening day of the tournament, a team holding out hope that they could sneak into the knockout stages in second place. Poland, on the other hand, needed a win and played with increasing desperation, which only made them more predictable and open to the counter attack. Still, they had the chance to grab a draw and knock the Czechs out of the tournament in the dying moments which Michael Kadlec made an incredible clearance off the line to preserve the victory.




All hustle.

It was a strange tournament for Poland, who battled hard and played attractive football but who simply could not diversify their attack enough to unleash Lewandowski on opposing defenses. At Borussia Dortmund, Lewandowski received attacking support all over the pitch; Kagawa, Blaszczykowski, Göetze, etc. For Poland, he was completely isolated up top with Blaszczykowski and Piscek combining on the right to provide the main support. With Polanski and others finding no joy in the attack, the Euros ended early for Poland, who leave without a win as hosts. A shame.

Still, you have to look at the Czechs and marvel at their heart, coming back from massive disappointment to win the group. It gets much more difficult from here (more on that in my next post), but their defense has become more and more solid as the tournament has worn on, so you never know. No really, you NEVER KNOW. Just look at…

Greece v Russia

What. The. Fuck?


Shock the world.

Yes, Greece, who were bottom of the group heading into the final day of Group A, beat high-flying Russia 1-0 on a smash-and-grab goal in the dying moments of the first half to ruin my fantasy team win the match and advance into the knockout stages based on the first tie-breaker in the Euro Groups; head-to-head. Even though Greece had a 0 goal differential and Russia were +2 and both had 4 point sin the Group, Greece beat Russia, so on they go. Greece did a brilliant job in this match of watching Russia blow their chances playing group defense, echoing their incredible Euro 2004 win with full commitment to playing shut down, counter-attacking football. Well done to the Greeks, who continue to surprise as the world (myself included) continues to underestimate their football. The real shame is that captain Giorgos Karagounis was tripped in the box and picked up a yellow for “diving” instead of earning a legit penalty (UEFA should look at the tape and rescind the card), and now misses the quarterfinal. He was not happy.


No justice.

Meanwhile, Russia. What can you say? Theirs was a tournament cut in half; the first 135 minutes, when they scored five goals and conceded one, and the second 135 minutes, when Andrei Arshavin ran out of gas, Yuri Zhirkov forgot how to cross the ball, Roman Pavyluchenko and Aleksandr Kerzhakov couldn’t score in a brothel, and Russia ran out of ideas, conceding two goals and scoring NONE. If anyone would have told me heading into the Poland and Greece matches that Russia would score one goal and concede two in their final two games, I would have laughed in their face. And yet, out they go, the second biggest disappointment in the tournament.

What a huge opportunity lost, not just for the team and their supporters, but for the rest of us, who were really enjoying Russia’s positive approach to the game. But they, like so many other teams, suffered from fatigue and a lack of a plan when plan number one (in this case, Andrei Arshavin) didn’t work out. For all of their positivity, Russia were too dependent on Kerzhakov and Arshavin to create when, in fact, both players seemed to fade into poor form as the tournament wore on. Tapping the ball around outside of the box as the other team throws ten men behind the ball is not going to win matches; you have to invite them onto you a little bit, have some steel in the middle of the park and get some sort of advantage heading toward goal. The extreme example of this idea is Greece, who retreated so deep that Russia couldn’t help but come forward, only to exploit a opening on the counter for the win. Russia could not find the right mix, and when the Greeks and Poles camped out in their own ends and sucker punched them on the counter, they had no answer, no way to find a telling ball. It almost happened for Russia, when Arshavin looped a telling cross onto the head of the excellent Alan Dzagoev, but the youngster pushed the ball inches wide of the Greek post.

After that, a quick ball and a smart run, the clock ran down and Russia were gone. Shame, but it is the price you pay for tactical monotony. Should have known better. до свидания


Thrill of, agony of, etc.

Euro 2012 | Match Day 8

Friday Group D took center stage and provided us with the France we expected and the thriller between England and Sweden that we had hoped for. Crazy weather, crazy turns of event, unlikely scorers, unlikely goals; Friday had it all. Rebecca Black would have been proud.

France vs Ukraine


Endure the ad. It’s worth it.

France v Ukraine got off to a stormy start, with rain dousing the pitch in absolute sheets, lightning ripping across the sky. The match was postponed after 4 minutes and both teams retreated to the shelter of the locker room to wait out the storm. When they finally resumed, France stepped to the fore, playing a fluid, attacking football that flowed through Samir Nasri, Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema, about whom, more in a minute. Ukraine struggled to get the ball to their young playmakers Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplianka, and the match saw the outsanding work rate of Andriy Shevchenko rewarded with a one true chance on goal, a one touch touch strike that was beaten away by French keeper Hugo Lloris.

France’s dominance came with some controversy, though; after a good offside call ruled out a Jeremy Menez strike, the player was booked and should have seen a second card just before the half for a violent foul in the ceneter cricle on Yevhen Selin. He escaped justice and frustration and it paid off; when Benzema slid him a pass in the box, he cut back and slotted home near post to put France up 1-0.


1-0.

His play completely justified Laurent Blanc’s decision to play him in lieu of Chelsea winger Flourent Malouda; Menez had several chances on goal and was dangerous (literally) all night. Just three minutes later, the deep lying Benzema collected the ball and slid an inch perfect 20 yard pass to Yohan Cabaye, who gathered the ball and scored. 2-0 and there was no way back for Ukraine as France maintained possession and kept pressing their technical advantage.


2-0.

In my post about the France v England match, I noted that Benzema seemed to be playing too deep to threaten the goal, and that was the case again against Ukraine, but this time, the decision paid off because of the runs of Ribery, Cabaye and Menez. It seems antithetical to have one of the best target strikers in the world playing in the hole behind, well, no one, but it’s a new day for strikers; slide back in the midfield and play deep, feeding the attack instead of leading it. In this case, it worked like a charm and Benzema was excellent in drawing defenders deep and beating them with quick, creative, precise passing. His play and movement have been phenomenal; it’s only a matter of time before he scores.


Benzema is excellent.

As for Ukraine, well, it is tough to watch the hosts struggle but the pace and technical ability of France were too much on the day. Watching Franck Ribery kick the ball down the line and sprint past Ukrainian wingers who were trying deperately to keep up, you knew that France were on another level as athletes. The best team won and there is no shame in that. With three points in hand and Wayne Rooney coming back for England with the anticipation of a tag team wrestler clearing the ring with violent abandon, it does not look good for Ukraine. Still, win and they are in. All to play for.

England v Sweden

Well that was fun. England beat Sweden 3-2 in a pulsating match that saw a Danny Welbeck falling backheel goal in the 78th minute claw England back from 2-1 down to win and eliminate Sweden (nooooo!) from the knockout stages. I think the goals tell the story of this match, so let’s watch it unfold… in Arabic, with amazing goal calls, which, always awesome.


Goal! 3-2.

I have been hard on Roy Hodgson on this blog, mostly because I think he stinks as a manager; I had to endure one of the worst six month stretches of my life as a football fan watching him sign shitty players and play atrocious football with my club team Liverpool. So, I am completely biased against him, can’t stand him, am amazed by fair-mined people who have given him a chance and the benefit of the doubt; are you crazy, folks? This is Roy Hodgson! And yet. Hodgson on the day did a great job of targeting Sweden’s weaknesses (aerial defense and speed) with his player selection and substitutions, and every move seemed to pay off. Starting Andy Carroll? A headed goal for 1-0. Bringing on Theo Walcott for the once again utterly crap James Milner? Goal and assist for the winner. Well done, Roy. You can’t argue with that at all. This was much better from England, who played against type and showed toughness and skill (take a bow, Danny Welbeck) in earning a win. Three goals and a come from behind win? Roy Hodgson, for this day, I eat my words. Well done.


Moment in the sun.

And yet… Sweden! Guh! Two goals from Olof Mellberg, which, amazing. But Sweden played like Bizarro England and this match ended up looking like an English club match, which played perfectly into England’s hands. England are always going to struggle against strong, technical teams who can keep the ball (see France), but Sweden could not play that way and instead made a huge sacrifice to their own quality. The issue was the positioning of Rasmus Elm and Kim Kallstrom, two decent players who were outclassed by their opposite numbers, and how they interchanged with the true genius on the pitch last night, Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Instead of pushing Zlatan to get up the field, near the goal, where he is briliant, Sweden played him in the hole and he played deep, putting ball after ball into Elm and Kallstrom in the attack, neither of whom, it should be noted, is Zlatan Ibrahimovic. WHo would you rather have bearing down on goal? The issue is that Elm and Kallstrom needed help against Gerrard and Scott Parker, and so Zlatan cam deep to help out and, more often than not, ended up a mile from goal.

The way Sweden deployed Zlatan reminded me of watching Lionel Messi in the 2010 World Cup, collecting the ball at the center circle and being urged to “make something happen”, then struggling to do so. Zlatan is not a natural #10, he has the skill and the drive, but he does not have the positional know how; he does not bomb forward in the attack, making plays near the box. But there he is, miles from goal, playing the ball wide to a winger and then walking up the pitch knowing the attack has passed him by and that, even if he hauled ass into the box, he would never get a return ball.


Agony.

I was literally going crazy watching him. Look at Zlatan’s return so far; a tap in from one yard in front of goal when he was pushed forward and an assist from a busted set piece to Olof Mellberg from the edge of the penalty area. You know where Zlatan is not making plays and scoring goals? From deep balls through the middle. The lack of a natural #10 in the CAM role, the role Steven Gerrard has been dominating for England, has cost Sweden the best use of its best player. Make no mistake, even at his languid, frustrating pace in this match, Ibrahimovic was one of the two best players on the pitch. Had he been able to lead the attack from an advanced position with a CAM behind him, it might have been so different for Sweden. But they didn’t, he wasn’t and now they are headed home in disappointment again. Is it a lack of players or does Zlatan prefer to walk back and forth, ten yards from either side of the center circle for the majority of the match? Not sure. Either way, Sweden are headed home. What might have been…

The final day of Group D should be a good one; everyone except Sweden will want to win and then, even they will want to go down in glory over France. This is the first time in history that every match in the final Group stage will have an impact on who goes through, which only underlines what a great Tournament this has been so far. Get your “picture in picture” ready on the TV; the simultaneous Group finales are pure excitement!

Euro 2012 | Match Day 7

The Euro 2012 has claimed its first victim: The Republic of Ireland are the first team knocked out of the tournament, which is sad for me (big fan of Ireland) but hey, deserved; the rest of Group C have produced excellent, competitive football. This has been a great Tournament so far, with 11 of 12 teams still alive on the final day of Group play. Group C provided two very different matches on their second match day, each thrilling in its own way. To the recaps!

Croatia v Italy

Two matches, two leads lost, two draws; the Italian philosophy of “score and shut the door” has been a failure so far. And while every team in the world can be forgiven for shipping a goal to Spain, Mario Mandzukic ’s 72nd minute strike, which cancelled out a brilliant, clinical 39th minute Andrea Pirlo free kick, was a different story; the game should have been done and dusted by the time the Croatians found the net. Italy were simply unable to convert their chances, with blog favorite striker Mario Balotelli missing a slew of opportunities. The Italians seemed to fade in terms of their commitment and their fitness; by the time Ivan Strinic’s great cross found Mandzukic on the far post, it seemed like the simple mistake of leaving him unmarked was a symptom of Italy’s plan to sit back and defend. You must play positive, possession football when you can. It doesn’t mean you cannot defend, but you have to play smart.

Highlights:


Kiss Your Sister.

A quick word on Pirlo– how about that free kick? Classic Pirlo, he’s been an ageless wonder this tournament. Incredible to see him play at this level at age 33; you cannot hide as a CAM, and his ability to make plays has lead directly to both of Italy’s goals this Tournament. On the other hand, you have to wonder about Daniele De Rossi, who has been brilliant playing in a modified “sweeper” role at the back, and what he might be able to do if Italy went to a single striker, played a true back four and put De Rossi in a more advanced DM role. You just get the feeling that manager Cesare Prandelli is playing a little too much with his players in odd positions and while the team have been very good, if he’s serious about locking the door, he may want to add some possession to the midfield while adding to the back line.


He can’t do it all: Italy’s Andrea Pirlo

Croatia, on the other hand, have put themselves in good shape to go through. If they can earn a draw with Spain, it would go a long way toward helping them into the next round. Spain will be playing, though; with two teams on four points and Italy likely to earn five points by beating Ireland, it could come down to the third (goal differential) or fourth (goals scored) tiebreakers to decide the Group.


Ya Heard? Mandzukic makes it 1-1

Republic of Ireland v Spain

OK. What can you say? This was a total destruction, one of the most dominant performances you are likely to ever see at an international tournament. The gulf in class could be measured in miles. I mean, this…


God Damn.

Let’s look at some statistics to outline Spain’s dominance, shall we?

4-0 score (duh)
20 shots on goal vs 4 for Ireland
860 passes attempted
78% of possession
Xavi broke the Euro record for passing, completing 127 of 136 passes
Xavi and Iniesta combined had more successful passes than the entire Irish team


Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

I could go on all day. This was Spain at its most incredible. Even Fernando Torres looked to his old Liverpool-era form, which, wow. Iniesta, Xavi and Xabi Alonso absolutely bossed the match like nothing I’ve ever seen. I won’t rub it in any more. Like I said, what can you say?

They’ll want to keep it going; Spain have to be nailed on as favorites against Croatia and to win Group C. Good news for Italy? Stay tuned.

Euro 2012 | Match Day 6

The Group of Death is living up to the name; at the end of their second round of matches, all four teams are still alive (one, just barely) and the unexpected results keep coming. And where the first round featured a pair of tight 1-0 games, this time around things got real, with two entertaining games that delivered the goods; these teams have everything to play for on the final day. It’s on Group of Death…. it’s on!

Denmark vs Portugal

Aftrer looking dangerous (and frankly better than expected) against Germany, Portugal finally got their shit together in this match, pulling off a thrilling last minute 3-2 win against an unlucky Denmark. Any game that features five goals gets the full match highlights treatment (who has time to post five individual goal clips?), so let’s get the goals out of the way. We watch the game for goals don’t we? Yes we do…


Goals.

Portugal dominated the chances and the run of play, but the self-proclaimed “best footballer in the world” Nicklas Bendtner was clinical with his head in front of goal, erasing Pepe’s smart header and Postiga’s sweeping strike to tie the game in the second half. Bendtner’s quality was the polar opposite of Cristiano Ronaldo’s poor play; once again, the all-universe Real Madrid winger had a mare, missing several chances and dogging it on defense a few times. At club level, Ronaldo one on one vs the keeper is almost automatic, but as an international, Ronaldo can’t seem to find the right side of the post. As much as I enjoy watching him struggle (and I do), it’s a shame when one of the best players in the world is unable to produce for his country. Nothing would be better for this team than for Ronaldo to live up to his hype and get his teammates and his country believing in him, to be discussing his greatness. Instead, Ronaldo seems almost cursed by the expectations, which is so unlike him. Is it mental? I expect a goal from him against The Netherlands to get back on track.


Nope.

In the meantime, the Portugese savior on the day was the young attacker Silvestre Varela, who whiffed on a strike before gathering himself and scoring on a second kick of his leg. Which, ooof; where was the vaunted Danish defense on this strike? I can understand not being in position for a quick shot, but for Varela to miss, collect himself, try again and score without someone getting in front of the ball is a shame. Watching that goal again, I am not so sure that is Poulsen gets a leg out, he doesn’t save the day. Still, Varela earns the spoils for a sweet strike and a match winner in the final five minutes. And if the timing of the goal left the Danes feeling hard done by, there was no doubting that Portugal played the better match, had far more chances and could have made this one much worse. Both teams leave the match with 3 points and a zero goal differential with 3 goals scored. Portugal has the advantage of winning the head-to-head match, which is huge, but more on that later.


Get a leg on the winner? Block? Something? Hello?

Germany vs The Netherlands

Mario Gomez does it again. What can you say about him in this Tournament? He has been absolutely great in taking his chances. After scoring the winner in a rather docile performance in the 1-0 win against Portugal, many were calling for Miroslav Klose, Germany’s second leading goal scorer of all time, to replace the on again/ off again Gomez in the starting line up. But why fix what isn’t broken? This is the match, one of the most anticipated of the entire Tournament, that will silence all of the doubters. Gomez was pure class.


1-0


2-0

Goals and strikers will steal the headlines, but for me, this match was all about the midfield pairing of Sami Khedira, who was my man of the match in the German’s first match against Portugal and who was excellent again, and Bastian Schweinsteiger, who put in an unbelievable performance from his deep lying midfield position. It was Schweinsteiger who assisted both of Gomez’s goals, who partnered with Khedira to boss the Dutch defensive midfield pairing of Mark van Bommel and Nigel De Jong. Even in the first half, he was operating a lot of space, which is unforgivable with two– TWO!!– defensive midfielders on for the Dutch. After coming out at halftime down 2-0, Dutch manager Bert van Marwijk pulled van Bommel out of the game and replaced him with a more attack minded Rafael Van der Vaart, and all that did was open up the universe for Schweinsteiger to boss things, with the Germans dominating long stretches of possession as the Dutch chased the game. There was a ten minute stretch when the Dutch seemed to find their hearts and during that time, Robin van Persie showed his quality with a super strike that brought the game back into question…


RvP 2-1

…but the Germans took things from there, running out the clock and keeping the usually possession happy, attacking Dutch off the ball and out of the game. It was a dominant performance all in all from a team that seems harmonious on the pitch; as I said after the first match, each player knows his role and plays it to perfection. Interestingly, the Germans have never won all three of their Group stage games at the Euros, so it will be curious to see how they do against a Danish side looking to get a result and advance. Should be great.

On the other side of the pitch, what the fuck? The Netherlands looked almost incoherent; after van Persie was put in alone on goal and saw his strike saved, the air seemed to get sucked out of the team. I said they played “me first” football against the Danes, but this was a case of “who? me?” football; even Wesley Sneijder’s typical excellence could not bring the front line together. For all of his pace and quality on the ball, Arjen Robben might be the most one-dimensional great player in the world; collect the ball, cut inside, fire over the bar. Collect the ball. Cut inside. Fire over the bar. Get back and play defense? Forget it. His positional responisbilities are, in his mind, a one way street; you can’t cut inside and fire over the bar on defense! This allowed Philip Lahm to pwn the overlapping runs on the left wing. Lahm knows Robben very well (they face one another all the time at Bayern Munich) and is anyone knows which areas of the pitch Robben couldn’t be bothered to defend, it is Lahm. He exploited the Dutch winger on offense and shut him down on defense. It got to the point where van Marwijk was screaming at Robben to get back on defense with the winger giving his manager an earfull of dissent. Pitiful performance.


Off you go.

And for all of the Dutch fans deriding van Persie and wanting Klaus Jan Huntelaar to start, well, you can have that as well. RvP got his goal with a great strike while the rest of the team struggled to even see the ball in dangerous areas. Huntelaar and RvP were pretty much starved for service, but this is primarily because the Dutch feature wingers seemingly incapable of passing the ball in the box. Sneijder did his best with some dangerous crosses from deep and a wicked strike that just missed the top corner, but where was Affelay? Where was Robben? Where was the beautiful interplay in and around the box, the head up look for the open man, the penetrating run? The Dutch inability to play a second or third ball in the attacking third has been shocking and the German backs, particularly Lahm and Boateng, knew what was coming and played their roles perfectly.


Pwned

The Dutch used to play brilliant, tactically superior football; the Clockwork Oranje knew that every player was a defender, an attacker, a passer, a potential scorer. Now, the clock seems to have been smashed on the floor, each beautiful piece spinning in its own direction, disconnected, badly in need of repair.

And yet, the Dutch, on zero points and staring at a -2 goal differential with losses to the Danes and Germans, are still alive in the Group. If the Germans can batter the Danes and the Dutch can absolutely batter the Portugese, they have a fighting chance to get through on goal diferential which is amazing and simply shows the parity in the Group of Death. Nail biting stuff, a race to the finish line; just what the doctor ordered.

Euro 2012 | Match Day 5

Group A came back with a bang today; early goals and gutsy performances, huge gaffes and tactical gamesmanship, this was a great day for football. It was a poor day for supporters though, with reports of Russian fans marching en masse for Russia Day through the streets of Warsaw which, in the spectrum of bad ideas, ranks at the top of the heap.

The aftermath? Not good, according to the BBC…

“Clashes between rival Russian and Polish football fans in the Polish capital Warsaw have marred a Euro 2012 tie between the two teams. A march ahead of the match by thousands of Russian fans to mark their national day had to be halted and some missiles were thrown. Police say they arrested at least 120 people and that 10 people were injured. About 6,000 police were on duty to keep the rival fans apart. Beforehand, some Polish fans on a bridge on the march route had tried to attack the Russian fans and had been involved in scuffles. Tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon were used to disperse fans at the end of the march, according to Poland’s state news agency.”

I won’t post video of idiots sucker punching one another, but they are generally available online and extremely disappointing. You can’t help but link history and sport, especially in the Euros, and with Russian history in Poland, (which includes a 100 year reign after annexation in the 19th century and Soviet domination after World War II), I’m going to go on a limb and say that the Russian fans who decided to parade through the streets of Warsaw were almost as disrespectful as UEFA itself, which allowed this banner to be unfurled in the Polish national stadium:


This is a bad idea.

Hopefully this is the end of it, but the Russian FA might want to re-think their instructions to the traveling support. Interesting to see what UEFA has to say about that banner (hint: Nothing).

Czech Republic vs Greece

The Czechs walked out 2-0 winners after two early Greek turnovers in the midfield lead to two great Czech goals only a minute or so apart. Here they are:


Jiracek 1-0


Pilar 2-0

After all that, it was only the 6th minute, which meant there was a full game to play. The Greeks did very little to address the problems they were having in midfield, but again, Greek manager Fernando Santos did the right thing, recognizing that his only path forward was to keep the faith in three attacking players, and his patience (and better midfield play) paid off when Petr Cech spilled a simple ball into the path of Fanis Gekas who pushed it into an empty net. In the catalogue of howlers, you’ll find this one under “goalies who had their skulls bashed in who are now afraid of contact”:


Cech please.

Czech Republic didn’t have much to do to maintain their lead, and after midfielder Tomas Rosicky went off in the 2nd half with an achilles injury, the plan seemed to be to hold on, press the ball constantly and let the Czech speed advantage on the wings keep the Greeks honest. It worked. With 3 points in the bag, the Czechs have a chance to advance if they can get a result against Poland this weekend. And the Greeks have Russia, who need a result, so um. Yeah.

Poland vs Russia

Previewing Group A, I predicted this was the must see match and well, great match. What can you say? The Poles came out on fire but wasted several chances, with Russian keeper Vyacheslav Malafeev making a save (he never even saw it) with his shin tops on Poland’s most dangerous attack. And, as it has been going in the tournament, after dominating most of the half, Poland gave up the first goal with Alan “Universal Transfer Target” Dzagoev flicking in Andrei Arshavin’s free kick to give Russia the 1-0 lead.


Kid can ball.

At this point Poland, took the reigns back in hand and pressed again, with the middle of the Russian midfield struggling to create an advantage and Aleksandr Kerzhakov failing to find the net again while leading the line brilliantly (I have not given up on him! He is class at playing his part if not at finishing! Where are the Pavlyuchenko lovers now?!). As it was for the Greeks, a costly turnover in the midfield turned into pain for Russia when Andrei Arshavin decided to keep dribbling when he should have been passing (how many times has this particular mistake been punished this tournament? PASS. THE. BALL!), and Polish captain Jakub Blaszczykowski got the ball and crushed the goal of the tournament (sorry Sheva)


Blaszczykowski. Bang!

The match was marred by poor officiating; there were several fouls that went without a call that really impacted the flow of the game. I understand the need to let things go sometimes, but this match saw some brutal no calls and even more problemtic fouls given the wrong way; Dzagoev in particular got on the wrong end of about four bad calls that finally boiled over into a yellow card for dissent. The kid doesn’t strike me as a dirty player or one to complain too much, but I think he had a point. That said, let your captain do the griping…


Booked

Anyway, the game ended 1-1, so I guess both sets of idiotic hooligan fans were right in the end; their team was on top! Yay you! Everyone’s a winner!

But seriously, the Group is set up perfectly for drama on the final day; Russia need a draw or better to advance, the Poles will want to win against the Czech Republic, The Czechs will want to draw or win against Poland, and the Greeks need a win. All to play for, then. My call, as I said in the preview:

“I like Russia to win the Group with Poland to qualify on a final day must-win against the Czechs.”

I’ll stand by that.

Euro 2012 | Match Day 4

Group D played their initial games today with one match an unexpected classic. To the reports!

England v France

The two frontrunners met in the first match of the day with Laurent Blanc’s high flying, pass-and-move France taking on Roy Hodgson’s negative, soul-sucking, defensive to the point of being offensive England. Football is not about being attractive, it is about results, and both teams earned a point in a 1-1 draw. It was a case of…of…of….zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz….


Jolen Lescott gets his giant, hideous head on the ball.

Ahem. Where was I? Oh, right. Soon after Jolen Lescott scored on one of ambitious England’s three attempts on goal, France came back down the field and, after a nifty interchange between Franck Ribery and Samir Nasri, scored the equalizer with a wicked shot to the near post that Joe Hart failed to stop.




Nasri gets one by his club mate.

Despite holding the ball for 65% of the match and having numerous opportunities to press their technical superiority, France were timid, with Karim Benzema playing way, way too deep (and often too wide) and the entire French attack posted outside the box. The result was a toothless attack with little bite, a perfect compliment to England’s flat 4-4-2 which saw James Milner easily play the role as “worst player on the pitch”, wasting what few chances England had.

This was England at its most dire, playing no ambition, “mission accomplished” football; again, Gerrard was playing way too deep to get in the space between the midfield and defense because Scott Parker can’t seem to pass the ball forward. If you are going to play two in the middle of the field, you have to get Gerrard some room to roam and be dangerous. His free kick assist aside, he was anonymous. What England should do (and won’t) is put Ashley Young out wide, Gerrard in the hole behind Wellbeck, sit Oxlade Chamberlain for Downing, play Parker and Henderson in the middle of the park and get going with a 4-4-1-1 until Rooney gets back and you can put Gerrard and Young on the wings and Rooney in the hole with Wellbeck. Can Roy change his sleep-inducing 4-4-2 in time? No. But stay tuned anyway and suffer like the rest of us…


The Owl and the Pussycats.

Sweden v Ukraine

Okay, time for me to eat my hat. Watching Andreiy Shevchenko bury two headers for Ukraine in their come from behind 2-1 win over my boy Zlatan Imbrahimovic and Sweden, I felt like I was being pulled by a time machine, back back back, to 2004, when the Ukrainian striker was in his prime and lighting up the Serie A. Seriously, almost 36 years old and playing his first ever Euro (Ukraine automatically qualified as hosts of the tournament), Shevchenko electrified the tournament like no one has yet, scoring two thumping, knockout goals in front of an incredible home support. This will be remembered in Kiev for generations, a sparkling display of class from an ageless wonder who beat all my expectations with his performance. Let’s see the goals…


The goals.

Just look at Sheva’s match winner, an inch perfect header between the body of Swedish defender Mikael Lustig and the post, about 12 inches away. That is devastating precision and power, but Lustig has to take some blame for not standing on the post. Still, the win was deserved for the most part; with all of my complaints that Ukraine looked too old on paper to be relevant in this group, it was the young players Andriy Yarmolenko and Evhen Konoplyanka who took up the mantle and pressed Sweden hard all night long. Yarmolenko in particular had the better of Swedish left back Martin Olsson, who gave him the space to deliver the cross for the first goal. Konoplyanka also played a great match, but perhaps could learn a thing or two about clinical finishing and patience from his number 7.


1-1.

Still with Zlatan playing deep in the hole all night long, Sweden were crying out for better forward play ahead of him. A missed header at the end of the first half should have been buried, but he took his next chance well. At last, once Johan Elmander came on and Christian Wilhelmsson replaced Seb Larson in the final 20 minutes, Sweden found their groove, with Ibrahimovic lashing a venomous shot just a little too close to Ukrainian keeper Andriy Pyatov before flicking Elmander in on goal with a glorious lob pass that the striker, likely rusty after a long layoff, hammered over the bar when anywhere likely would have done. The misses can hurt you.


Just a bit outside…

I wasn’t the only one wondering where Sweden’s dangerous play had come from; after the match, manager Erik Hamren had some choice words for his team.

“We needed 11 players on top form together because we’re not that big a team, but only five or six showed the quality I want and that’s not enough…We didn’t reach our level until the last 20 minutes and it’s my responsibility as a coach. We didn’t show the courage and didn’t get as much from the players as I felt we should get. We were cowards in the first-half.”

Cowards? Wow. If that doesn’t get you ready for England, nothing will. Maybe Zlatan’s magic will be enough next time, but tonight is all about Shevchenko. My hat is off to you sir, primarily so I can eat it.


Sheva Delivers on the dreams of a nation

Euro 2012 | Match Day 3

Match Day 3 with Group C was my favorite of the Euro 2012 so far. Yes, Ireland lost (big time), but I thought both Croatia’s excellent display of clinical finishing and Vicente Del Bosque’s bat-shit crazy decision to play a 4-6-0 with Spain being punished with a well-deserved draw by a tough Italian side were outstanding matches to watch. I was in relative disbelief all day, which for me is a pure compliment to the sport; you just never know what will happen when the games start to mean something. Match reviews ahoy!

Spain v Italy

OK, I am quoting my Group previews too often, but seriously, I can’t help myself on this one. Spain!

“And yet… look toward the attacking end and you start to see some problems. Fernando Llorente, a classic center forward, plays a very specific type of game, one that demands aerial service and patience. Fernando Torres is coming off of the worst form of his life, his confidence seemingly destroyed by a string of injuries and a lengthy spell as a bit part player at Chelsea. Álvaro Negredo scores for Spain… when he gets on the field. And Pedro Rodriguez is a classic #2 man, mopping up with goals and assists when given the chance. What’s missing? David Villa. The Barcelona striker has been the model of consistency for Spain for the past four years, but a serious injury this season has ruled him out of the Euros. So, who will step up and replace Villa? Who among the strikers can claim the goals?”

It looks like Spanish manager Vicente Del Bosque agreed with me, having made the decision to start the match against Italy with no strikers– zero, none, nada. Instead, he played midfield playmaker Cesc Fabregas in an advanced position with Man City maestro David Silva in the hole behind him and had his midfield six… SIX!… in full, attacking flow. Xavi/Iniesta/Fabgregas/Silva/Busquets/Alonso played their typically fluent ball, with passages of brilliance (especially the Iniesta to Silva to Fabregas sequence that lead to Spain’s lone goal), but without a focal point for the attack, a player in the box who could pull away defenders and draw some attention, the Italians were happy to bunker down and counter in the classic Italian style. And it would have worked too if it weren’t for the meddling Spaniards and theindividual brilliance on display during Spain’s goal…


Touch and go: Fabregas scores

That said, the Italians showed they were not to be overlooked and they certainly deserved their draw on a sweet, flowing counterattack, the goal set into motion by a brilliant ball from Andrea Pirlo to Antonio Di Natale, who buried his first touch of the game with aplomb.


Simple, route one: Di Natale Scores

Again, words of wisdom…

“The only chance opponents have against Spain is to press hard when you can, play organized lights out defense and counter attack with efficiency; if you concede the ball to them, sit back and try to defend, it’s game over and lights out. If you can squeak a goal and disrupt the Spanish strikers with tough, physical play, you may have a chance.”


Iniesta.


Picasso.

This was Italy all the way; tenacious, physical (De Rossi playing on the backline was outstanding) and patient. Of course, my man to watch, Mario Balotelli was his usual enigmatic self, earning a yellow card for, well, not much, earning a penalty that was not given by the ref (clearly a penalty… should have been given all day) and, strangely, breaking free of the Spanish defense and walking the ball in on Casillas, only to be caught from behind, a glorious chance wasted. Fernando Torres was much the same; clearly through on goal, he chose to take the ball wide on Buffon, who stayed on his feet and played the ball. Torres also missed a glorious chance at a winner, chipping the Italian keeper but putting the ball well over the bar. In the end, 1-1 seemed the just result (surprisingly) and the question must be asked of Spain– better with or without a striker? Not sure a third title can be claimed without a focal point for the Spanish attack. And Italy now look very good; their game against Croatia will be a stormer.

Croatia v Ireland

This match was an excellent reminder that, in the words of boxer Sugar Shane Mosely, “styles make fights.” Croatia march to the beat of Luka Modrić and the midfield maestro did not disappoint with Croatia bossing large portions of the game and getting three goals from their strikers on the heels of Irish mistakes. First, striker Mario Mandzukić jumped up from his knees to put a speculative header toward the corner of the goal, only to have Shay Given react slowly and let the ball leak in to put Croatia up 1-0. After Ireland equalized on a set-piece header from Sean St. Ledger, in-form striker Nikica Jelavić pounced on an errant clearance during a set piece, one timing a chip over Given and restoring Croatia’s lead before Mandzukić put the Irish away with another header that ricocheted off the post, onto a diving Shay Given’s face and in. 3-1 and goodnight.


Goal.

Ireland actually played brightly in the final minutes with Croatia content to protect a two goal lead and absorb the pressure, but Keith Andrews stared down chance after chance and blinked, peppering the goal line boards with errant headers and shots wide of the target. This was not the Ireland that had gone undefeated for fourteen consecutive matches, tight at the back and confident on the counter; Kevin Doyle and Robbie Keane were completely starved of the ball, with Croatia absolutely bossing it in midfield. It is no surprise, in retrospect, that Croatian manager Slavan Bilić knew exactly what to do; give the Irish a heavy dose of Mandzukić and Jelavić and make them pick their poison. It worked perfectly and with the help of some terrible Irish luck, Croatia took three points and shot to the top of the Group with Italy and Spain looming. It was a vital win for them, a dominant performance that should put Italy on notice that they are in for a real fight.


Your Mandzukić of the match.

Euro 2012 | Match Day 2

So, this blog will get old in a hurry if every post begins with an obligatory “I told you so,” but it’s hard not to refer to my Group B Preview when looking at Match Day 2 in the Group Of Death. I’m going to begin each match review with a quote from well, me, because I can’t help myself. Get while the getting’s good, as they say….

Denmark vs The Netherlands

So Denmark. Ahem. And I quote…

“Inconsistency and a lack of fluid play in the midfield creates frustration, until a moment of brilliance, seemingly from nowhere, saves the day.”

and then The Netherlands…

“it is the back line where the Oranje have had a few concerns. Yes, the team are filled with quality players at every position, but somehow, the Dutch always seem prone to the sucker punch; look at their 2-1 loss to Bulgaria for the most recent example of the counter attack causing this team agony.”

So, that happened.

The Netherlands absolutely dominated Denmark and walked away 1-0 losers for a variety of reasons. First, the lights out Wesley Sneijder aside, the Dutch attack was dominated by chemistry-free “me first” play by Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie and Ibrahim Afellay; when the Robben wasn’t doing his usual “cut inside on the left foot and hammer the ball over the bar”, van Persie was slipping and falling, whiffing on shots, spraying open shots wide of the post and showing for the ball near post instead of pulling his defender away from his attacking teammates by making a far post run. Barn doors and banjos and never the twain shall meet.


Swing and a miss: Robin van Persie

Afellay provided the early threat with some classy runs and shots from the inside channel, but aside from putting in a game effort (unlike his mates up front) he was otherwise ineffective. Once the Dutch made the sensible move of replacing Nigel De Jong with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, their attack gained some bite, but it was too, little too late. Only barely though; Sneijder’s incredible ball from midfield that found Huntelaar in the box was one of the great passes of the year.


What. A. Ball.

You have to wonder why Dutch manager Bert Van Marwijk stayed with two defensive midfielders after falling behind 1-0 to Michael Krohn-Dehli’s brilliant finish in the box; yes, the Dutch dominated possession, but the lack of chemistry in the attack was more than enough reason to make a change much earlier in the match. Obviously, you can’t expect Robben and van Persie to both have a terrible match at the exact same time, but lo and behold, they did. The Danes, on the other hand, did a brilliant job of smash and grab, then picking their moments to threaten again, primarily through the runs of their fullback Simon Poulson, who had an incredible game at left back. And full credit to Michael Krohn-Dehli, whose sweet cutback in the box put him in on goal, where he calmly hit the five hole.


Krohn-Dehli slots it home

Self-congratulatory quotes aside, I thought the Dutch would punish the Danes in this match; even as the minutes ticked by, I expected the Dutch to find the net and at least grab a draw. But full credit to Daniel Agger, Simon Kjaer and the Danish defense; they did their job, playing physical football and not putting a foot wrong all night long. Deserved winners and suddenly, right in the thick of it.


Agger gets a boot in…

Germany vs Poirtugal

OK, I can’t help myself… here we go again. In my preview, I suggest Mario Gomez was the man to watch in Group B…

…but one man who will likely be the one to decide the fate of his team is Germany’s Mario Gomez. The Bayern Munich striker is the definition of the poacher, always seeming to pop-up in the right place at the right time to grab a vital goal. That said, he runs super hot and, suddenly, super cold; hardly the most technically gifted player, Gomez can switch from assassin to absolute donkey at the drop of a hat. He’ll have some of the most incredible misses you’ll ever see, only to follow them up with a 93rd minute tap in to win the match.

Bang.


Go Go Gomez

1-0 to Germany, from nothing, and that’s how it ended.

I also said

“For some reason, mental or tactical, I am just not sure, Ronaldo never turns it on for his country in the same way he does for his club…When playing for Portugal, Ronaldo is surrounded by good players who just can’t seem to put it all together.”

And so it was again; starved of service by his teammates, Ronaldo rarely threatened, but when he did have his chances, the German defense were there, throwing themselves in front of the ball, defending with every part of their bodies. Mats Hummels played lights out at the back for Germany, with Jerome Boateng doing a great job marking Ronaldo and covering the overlapping runs of Fábio Coentrão, who was Portugal’s best and most positive player on the night.


Coentrão attacks

As for the Germans, they did not look likely champions in this match, struggling with the play of Lukas Podolski and Gomez, both of whom spurned numerous good chances to score. Thomas Müller and Mezut Özil were both okay for the Germans, but Müller was good when his strikers went missing and went missing when his strikers needed him most. Özil kept things ticking, but found himself marked highly for most of the match. Instead, it was Sami Khedira who was the man of the match for me, not only mopping up in the midfield but pushing forward at just the right moment, getting back when he was needed, getting in the way when the ball came his way and throwing in the cross that Gomez buried. He was everywhere on the night and was the glue that held his team together.

Portugal really suffered without a central midfield playmaker and a true striker; while Veloso did a great job of marking Özil and João Moutinho had a couple of good balls, the middle of the park was generally incoherent for Portugal, and it cost them. Hélder Postiga barely had a sniff in isolation up top; it was as if he wasn’t even there with Nani and Ronaldo almost ignoring his presence on the attack. He did make quite a tackle, though…


Postiga makes his mark

Still, this was a very close match; Portugal looked more organized than I feared they might and Germany, Özil in particular, found themselves in a tougher battle than I expected. They ground out a close win, which is a good sign for them. Clean sheets never hurt anyone. Wednesday’s games are now set up to be must see, with Portugal needing a win against Denmark to stay in the hunt, and The Netherlands needing the same against Germany. Group of Death, indeed.

Euro 2012 | Match Day 1

As they say in Brooklyn, not for nothing*, but this blog made a couple of rather tame predictions prior to Group A getting underway; one was that Robert Lewandowski and his Borussia Dortmund teammates would be the driving force for Poland and another was that Russia were the team to beat in the Group and that Aleksandr Kerzhakov was truly the player to watch in Group A. As far as I am concerned, both predictions came true, but not in the way I expected.

Poland vs Greece

A story of two halves, each alike in insanity, divided against themselves. Ha.

Poland came out flying, Greece looking like the underachievers I had expected them to be. The right hand flank of Greece’s defense was battered by the overlapping runs of Lukasz Piszczek and Kuba Blaszczykowski, who pwned the right wing and battered the Greeks with crosses and runs for most of the first half. It all came good when Blaszczykowski whipped in a cross for Lewandowski, unmarked on the far post, to hammer down into the ground, and bounce into the net. 1-0 to Poland and they were flying.


Keep Your Head Down and Keep Reaching For The Stars: Lewandowski Scores

Soon, Spainsh referee Carlos Velasco Carballo decided to try and ruin the game by handing out consecutive yellow cards to Greek defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos on two calls that were not only never yellow cards, but likely were not even fouls. Off he went on a red card, the Greeks reduced to 10 men. A note here about the refs; I am going to do my best not to complain too much, but these men are under too much scrutiny from UEFA. They need to let the refs manage the game and not set down such rigid guidelines. Watching the loathsome Manchester United 12th man English ref Howard Webb do a great job in the Russia v Czech Republic, it is clearly impossible to set a single standard. So, Spanish refs and others like them, lighten up. The game is not about you.

Poland went on to miss several chances, with defender Damien Perquis missing a couple of sitters from close range. But Poland left the pitch at halftime looking good; up a man and a goal at home. Game over.

Hellas has no fury like a team scorned; down to 10 men, the Greek team galvanized into a far more cohesive unit escially after Carballo turned down a penalty shout for handball in the Polish box. After the half, Greek manager Fernando Santos took the team by the neck and turned the entire game with a couple of brilliant tactical choices for which Poland could not find an answer. The first was bringing on the talismanic Dimitris Salpingidis for an underachieving Sotiris Ninis. Salpingidis paid almost immediate dividends in turning the tide of the game.

How many Poles does it take to blow a one man, one goal advantage at home? One. Wojciech Szczesny.

When Vassilis Torossidis swung a ball into the Polish box, the Arsenal keeper Szczesny dove into the feet of his own defender (who had the cross covered) spilling the ball free and to the onrushing Salpingidis, who buried the ball in the net to make it 1-1.

Santos’ other great move was to push his defensive resources to the left, pinching his midfield into cutting off the supply line of Piszczek and Blaszczykowski, and forcing Poland into playing the ball through the middle, where the Greeks mopped up.

When Salpingidis made a brilliant run onto a looping ball into an empty Polish penalty area, Sczcesny ran onto him and stuck a leg in, tripping the Greek attacker, giving away a penlty and earning himself a red card.


Stop Tripppin’: Salpingidis wins the Greeks a penalty

It was the Poles worst nightmare, their goal and man advantage suddenly gone, back up keeper Przemyslaw Tyton brought on to defend the penalty. No keeper in Euro history had ever come on and saved a penalty before, but Tyton dove to his left and pushed away Karagounis’s effort, preserving the draw and adding incredible drama to the opening match. In the end, 1-1 was, shockingly, harsh to the Greeks, who showed an iron will and a real tactical nous in their ability to adapt to this match; they played better with 10 men than with 11. Their upcoming game against the Czech Republic is going to have a major impact on Poland’s chances; they have to hope the Czechs can earn a draw now.

Russia vs Czech Republic

Let’s get the match report out of the way quickly:

a) Russia absolutely battered the Czechs 4-1
b) Alan Dzagoev is a star in the making after two clincial finishes against Chelsea keeper Petr Cech
c) Roman Pavyluchenko scored a goal and set one up in about 8 minutes of time on the pitch
d) Andrei Arshavin was boss, playing fluid, attacking football the likes of which you rarely ever saw him play at Arsenal (his 4 goal performance against my Liverpool side being a rare exception)


Highlights… in Russian. To the winner, the spoils!

But the big debate coming out of the Russian camp will be about the play of Alexsandr Kerzhakov, the striker I targeted as theplayer to watch in this Group. To the naked, uniformed eye, Kerzhakov was an absolute waster, missing chance after chance in front of the goal; only his header off the post, which bounced to Dzagoev for his opening goal, could be seen as bad luck. Everything else in front of goal? Shocking. With Pavyluchenko coming on and bagging a goal and an assist in under ten minutes, surely he must be the choice for Russia, right?


Oops. Missed Again: Kerzhakov Can’t Score

No way.

Kerzhakov was outstanding in linking up play, coming deep and picking up the ball, holding it up and bringing the Russian attack together. His lack of a scoring touch doesn’t erase his qualities in leading the attack and serving as the glue for his entire team. If he had buried his chances, Kerzhakov would have had one of the all-time great matches in Euro history. Instead, his lack of scoring has some supporters calling for Pavyluchenko to get the start against Poland in the next match. Thankfully, Dick Advocaat knows what he has; look for Kerzhakov to shine again on Tuesday.

*I have lived here for 15 years and still have no idea what it means…