Euro 2012 | Quarterfinal 3: Spain 2-0 France

Spain 2-0 France

In the third absolutely dominant performance in the quarter-finals, Spain put a 2-0 beating on France, who suffered again from playing Karim Benzema too deep and not having a striker upon whom the game could focus.* I said it a million times, the strategy would bite France in the ass, and for the second game in a row, it did. France barely threatened in the run of play and, despite some dangerous set-pieces, were unable to play ball control against the stylish masters of tiki-taka.


Play deeper… Deeper….DEEPER!!

2-0 was generous to the French because, once again, Vicente Del Bosque went without a traditional striker, playing Cesc Fabregas as a “false nine**” and again, Spain did not put up big numbers on goal. It was, instead, the Xabi Alonso show.


The Alonso brace

My heart aches every time I see Xabi Alonso play; once my favorite player for my club team (Liverpool FC), Alonso moved away a few years ago to play at Real Madrid, where he has flourished. There is no other player like him in the world of football; his ability to spray passes with pinpoint accuracy while disrupting the opponent’s midfield is an absolutely unique combination of skills. Play him next to a ball winner like Sergio Busquets and just behind a field general like Xavi Hernandez and Alonso looks like an absolute wizard out there. His run to the far post for the opening goal (a header!!!) was spectacular and his penalty kick in the dying minutes of the game was placed perfectly. He is one of the best passers of the ball in the game, technically gifted and, on top of it, a world class human being. I really miss him. Always will.


sniffle.

France are gone, outclassed again. I hope Laurent Blanc takes a look at the Benzema situation and either starts him in partnership with Giroud or allows him to play a far more advanced role and lead the line in the future. Otherwise, France won’t advance as a team. They have a ton of potential, but they need the tactics to change and to get goals.

Spain? Well, I’m still not as convinced as I’d like to be. Their Quarter-final against Portugal should be a storming match; if they can get past Ronaldo, I’m not sure Germany will be able to beat them. Will be a real test.


Let the true tests begin…

*I am not going to bore you by putting this in the body of the text, but how in the world did Blanc start Florent Malouda ahead of Jeremy Menez? I encourage anyone who is bored enough to visit espnfc.com and watch all of France’s matches again and tell me: who is better player? Who helps the attack more? Who can play a pass ten feet without putting in on the boot of the opposition? Malouda was utterly dire in this Tournament and the decision to start him in this match was shocking.

**This trendy term is based on the idea that Lionel Messi is not a traditional Number 9 (a striker who plays up top in the attack) for Barcelona. Instead, the idea is to have a player like Messi who is fluent in the midfield build-up while simultaneously leading the line. This is basically the “false nine”– an attacker who springs forward from the midfield instead of leading the line on the shoulder of the central defenders.

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Euro 2012 | Match Day 12

I’ll be honest. I was expecting to care about Group D a lot more than I ended up doing. With Sweden knocked out, Ukraine not ready for primetime (although they played pretty well), England driving me crazy and France driving the Group, I found Group D to be the most problematic. It was a Group of moments, Shevchenko’s brace being the highlight, one great match (England vs Sweden) and a lot of teams that frankly played like they were still figuring it out. Well, after France crawled into the knockout stages and England deservingly won a snoozefest against Ukraine, the Group D winners loo to be out of time. It’s now or never for these teams. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

France v Sweden

First off. Zlatan. 6 feet, 4 inches. This:


Goal of the Tournament

Amazing goal. So good, I’m not going to bother showing Seb Larsson’s roof job that made the game 2-0 in the dying minutes and gave Sweden a deserved victory against France, who advance from the Group with a loss here. This is how Sweden played the entire Tournament; how did Ukraine beat them?!? Just a tragedy that this team are out as Zlatan and the gang finally put it all together and beat the Group D leaders, sending them into second place and a date with Spain. A shame; Sweden played the most attractive football in the entire Group but could not keep it together at the back until this match and it cost them. Goodbye Zlatan; it was fun watching you frustrate and bewitch in equal measure.

But France…. France! Here is a bit of tactical advice for you; you are not Spain, Samir Nasri is not Xavi, Franck Ribery is a winger and is not Andres Iniesta, so why are you playing Karim Benzema ten miles deep in the hole with no striker? Why? As much as I complained about Fernando Torres not being the best option at striker for a team like Spain (he plays best with the ball at his feet, running at defenses), Karim Benzema playing a number 10 role for France might be okay if someone was playing the number 9 role, but sadly, they are not. Benzema is alone up top; so alone, in fact, that he seems to miss the company of his holding midfielders and runs ten miles deep to collect the ball, allowing the entire opposition to get behind the ball.


Yeah, me too.

Laurent Blanc, if you’re going to play a number 10 deep, how about Ben Arfa or Nasri in the role, with Benzema up top, hanging off the last defender and putting pressure on the defensive line? I just don’t understand the idea of trying to pass it on the ground, over and over, until you break a defense with a give-and-go pass and walk it in on goal. France were way too one dimensional, and with Sweden playing good defense and able to keep the ball themselves on the counter attack, the French ran out of ideas in about five minutes. Blanc had the right idea late on when he brought in Olivier Giroud and the striker found himself with a dangerous chance after about two minutes. That could have been the whole match. Instead, Sweden dominates and France now draw Spain in the quarterfinal; I expect them to be humbled by the masters.

England v Ukraine

1-0 England. Zzzzzzzz….*snore*


Roo-neigh! Roo-neigh!

Great ball from Gerrard there; the Liverpool captain is playing excellent football. Perhaps he should be given a rest now so that he can come back and play well for Liverpool, too. Ahem.

I don’t have much to say; it breaks my heart that a team full of Liverpool talent play football this boring, but man; England are just a bore to watch. They are all discipline and no creativity. Their flat style is earning them results, though. They drew France and beat Sweden and Ukraine, won Group D, so WHO IS ANYONE TO COMPLAIN ABOUT ROY HODGSON? Football is about results and England are getting them, so I should probably just shut up and give them a chance and blah blah blah.

But let’s be honest; they look about 20 years behind the other quarterfinalists in terms of they way they play. It is not good for the future of the game in england to see such talented players with little technical ability. England are speed and power, but they can’t seem to string four passes together to save their lives; they might lose a possession battle against Xavi playing by himself*. The main problem is linking up play between Gerrard and the wide players. Wayne Rooney was supposed to instantly solve this problem by linking Gerrard to the attack from his position in the hole, but with Danny Welbeck “leading the line” (really?), England struggled to create danger in the final third. I am not sure how James Milner gets to wear an England shirt, but not only does he get one (to keep!), he starts on the right which, terrible. Ashley Young finally moved to the left wing and his influence on the game has waned to the point where my prediction that he was the man to watch in Group D no seems like a hostile provocation against the eyeballs of other viewers. It was not intended that way.


Stay down? Please?

Ukraine have some bright young players, but they too were a team in-between identities, with their legends and youth blending into something somewhat incoherent. Still, they should have drawn this match, if it weren’t for a good goal that was not given…

That was in. The scorer was offside, but we expect linesmen to blow offside calls (ok, we don’t, but still, it happens. A lot. But it happens); once the onside was (incorrectly given), that should have been a goal.


Uh…

What can you say about UEFA and FIFA? The technology exists to eliminate human consideration from this issue because clearly, human consideration in the form of a 5th official on the goal line, next to the goal, staring directly at this ball did not generate the correct call. It may be the best thing for everyone that John Terry made that clearance; it means that England, the team Platini and Blatter love to hate, got a win when they should have had a draw. And now, suddenly, Blatter decides it is time to consider goal line technology taking to Twitter to say:

“After last night’s match ‪#GLT‬ is no longer an alternative but a necessity.”**

After last night’s match? Really? How about “since it was invented?” Anyway, yay England! They hate you so much they may cut off their nose to improve their face! It is so obvious that this is the right thing to do that it is beyond comprehension how dozens of UEFA and FIFA fat cats can’t look up from their piles of money long enough to fix the game. Outrageous, but hey what do we expect? This is a game without accountability, run by despots who do what they like with impunity. Why fix anything except tournament bids?

Quarterfinals here we come.

*Obviously not true; England would foul and injure him after a while.
**Please do yourself a favor and follow that link so you can read all of the amazing Tweets Sepp received in response. Worth a read and bring some popcorn…

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!