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…

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Euro 2012 | Racism Tracker

ED: Decided to use this post as a catch all for tracking racist incidents during the Euro 2012. Will update as I see reports…

Friday, June 15

You know who loves to review things then do very little about them? UEFA. here they are against, using their amazing powers of “review”! That’ll teach ’em!

UEFA Reviewing Racist Incidents

WARSAW, Poland — UEFA is looking into reports that Croatia fans threw a banana on the field and racially abused Italy striker Mario Balotelli during the match at the Euro 2012 tournament.

UEFA says it is seeking more information on the alleged fan behavior during the game Thursday in Poznan, Poland. An anti-discrimination group appointed by UEFA says it has “categorical” eyewitness accounts indicating nearly 300 people directed monkey chants at Balotelli, who is black. Piara Powar, of Football Against Racism in Europe, tells The Associated Press that the chants were “not a boo or something that could be misinterpreted.” Balotelli has been the target of alleged abuse at both Italy matches during the Euro 2012 tournament.
*******

And of course, in a related incident, the far-right have to get a word in as well… I’m sure this will be stopped by a thorough review and fine. *sigh*

Croatian fans burn Euro flag, carry Far-Right Banner

POZNAN, Poland — Croatian soccer fans burned a European Union flag and paraded around with posters of a convicted war criminal before their team faced Italy Thursday at the European Championship.

Several thousand Croatian supporters crowded into an area around Poznan’s main old town square, drinking and singing before the Group C game. Some men were bare-chested despite the chilly weather, displaying tattoos of nationalist symbols. There were also banners on display, some with designs evoking the fascist “Ustasa” movement, which governed Croatia as a Nazi protectorate from 1941 to 1944. Some people also carried pictures of Ante Gotovina, a former general convicted by the U.N. war crimes tribunal at The Hague. Gotovina is an icon of the far-right in Croatia. Police, some in riot gear, monitored the situation, but did not intervene.

Wednesday, June 13

From the training ground, to the matches now… wonder what Platini will do about it it. I just put $50 on fuck all. Full story at the link.

UEFA to Investigate Racist Chanting

Uefa is to investigate alleged racist chanting during the Euro 2012 matches between Spain and Italy and Russia v Czech Republic.

A Spanish fans’ group has said some of its supporters abused Manchester City and Italy striker Mario Balotelli. Czech Republic defender Theodor Gebre Selassie told reporters he “noticed” racist chants directed at him. Uefa said that no disciplinary proceedings had been started at this stage.

The Uefa statement added: “Following the provision of new independent information today, regarding the two cases of alleged racist chanting in the Spain-Italy and Russia-Czech Republic matches, Uefa is now conducting further investigations.” No official complaints have been made to Uefa by Italy or Czech Republic.
The admission by a Spanish fans’ group that some of their supporters racially abused Balotelli during Sunday’s game was sent to Uefa by an anti-racism network.

Tuesday, June 12

Some may think this doesn’t qualify as it is not about race, but Antonio Cassano’s bigoted comments about gay players certainly qualify for me as being part of the problem of “respect” that FIFA and UEFA purport to endorse. Cassano issued this apology, but I’ll leave it to others to gauge the validity of that apology.

Antonio Cassano ‘hopes’ there are no gay players in Italian squad

The Italy forward Antonio Cassano has caused controversy by saying he hopes there are no homosexual players on the team at Euro 2012, and he then used a derogatory term to describe gays.

When asked about media reports that there were two metrosexual players and two homosexual players in the Italy squad, the Milan forward said: “What’s a metrosexual?” before adding: “Queers in the national team? That’s their business. But I hope not.”

Cassano later issued an apology through the Italian state news agency ANSA. “I am sincerely sorry that my comments have caused controversy and protests among gay groups. Homophobia is not a point of view that I share. I didn’t want to offend anyone and I absolutely don’t want to put a person’s sexual freedom under discussion.

“I only said that it was a problem which was nothing to do with me and I don’t let myself express judgments on other people’s choices, which should all be respected.”

Saturday June 9

Euro 2012 anti-racism group reports abuse of black player, far-right flags at Russia match

WARSAW, Poland – Anti-racism experts say they identified racist abuse and far-right Russian flags at a European Championship match on Friday.
The Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) network says Czech Republic defender Theodor Gebre Selassie, who is black, was racially abused during Russia’s 4-1 win in Wroclaw.
FARE director Piara Powar tells The Associated Press that imperial “Russian Empire” flags were displayed. UEFA asked FARE to help appoint expert spotters who will report offensive banners, chants and behaviour in stadiums. UEFA has pledged zero tolerance of discrimination at the three-week tournament in Poland and Ukraine. Film circulating online Saturday also appeared to show some Russia fans attacking stadium stewards in Wroclaw.

Thursday, June 7

According to The Guardian, it’s all kicking off. UEFA? Useless excuses, as usual…

Euro 2012: Holland players subjected to racist abuse at training session

Euro 2012 was plunged into its first racism controversy after the black players in the Holland squad were subjected to monkey chants during an open practice session in the same city where England will also invite the public to watch them train on Friday.

Several hundred people targeted players such as Nigel de Jong and Gregory van der Wiel when 25,000 spectators attended the Dutch practice session at the Stadion Miejski, the home of Wisla Krakow.

The players, on the instructions of the captain, Mark van Bommel, responded by moving their training drills to the other side of the ground. “It is a real disgrace especially after getting back from Auschwitz [the Dutch squad had visited the concentration camp on Wednesday] that you are confronted with this,” Van Bommel said. “We will take it up with Uefa and if it happens at a match we will talk to the referee and ask him to take us off the field.”

The problems occurred as the players began the session by jogging a lap of the pitch only to be greeted at one end of the stadium with monkey noises and loud jeers. On the second circuit, they were even louder and it was then the players decided not to go around again. “At least now we know what we can encounter,” the Holland coach, Bert van Marwijk, said with heavy cynicism. “Very atmospheric.”

Uefa subsequently tried to deny that it was racially motivated, saying they had checked with the Dutch squad and had been told it was not thought to be of that nature. Instead, the official line is that a small part of the crowd was protesting about the fact that Krakow had not been made one of the host cities. Another theory that has been put forward is that Wisla’s supporters did not want their stadium being used by anyone but their own club and were simply booing the Dutch players.

Van Bommel, however, responded angrily when it was put to him not everyone had heard monkey noises. “You need to open your ears,” he said. “If you did hear it, and don’t want to hear it, that is even worse.”

Read the full story here.

Euro 2012 | The Racist Problem

Let’s start with this.


FC Karpaty Lviv fans in Ukraine

and this…


BBC Report On Football Racism in Poland and Ukraine

Finally, give this a read.

Euro 2012: Racism In Ukraine

*****

When UEFA (The Union of European Football Associations, the governing body of the game in Europe) decided to host the 2012 European Football Championships in Poland and Ukraine, the thought of bringing Eastern Europe to the forefront seemed overdue; the 1976 tournament, which was hosted in the then-Yugoslavia, is the only time the Euros have been hosted outside of Western Europe. In an organization where the politics of self-righteousness trump common sense, an organization driven by the despotic, almost whimsical, decision-making of deeply flawed individuals, the shortsighted choice of Poland and Ukraine was never going to be addressed with any sense of realism. Just look at the horrible political situation in Ukraine; the jailing, beating and hunger strike of politician Yulia Tymoshenko, their horrible record on gay rights, and on and on. But politics and sport should never mix, amirite? Sure.

And so, with the Euros opening and reports circulating that a real fascist, racist threat exists in many of the host cities, UEFA are turning the tables on the concerns about racism, taking a philosophical approach to the issue it was so eager to make the centerpiece of its identity just a few short months ago.

UEFA President and former star for France, Michel Platini, in his own words: 



Platini dismissed suggestions his reputation would be tarnished if there is racial abuse at Euro 2012.

“Are you joking? You think I am responsible for the racists in the rest of Europe or in England or in France?” he said.

Platini said UEFA had done a lot to tackle racism, backing such initiatives as Never Again, but said he was “not responsible for society”.

He added: “Society is not so easy. You have some problems and we have to organize these Euros from the beginning with some problems because these two countries never welcome so big an event in the past.

“It was a big challenge for Poland, big challenge for Ukraine, a big challenge for UEFA, and we have done our best.

“It is not just a fact only in Poland and Ukraine. You can go in France, United States, in England and you will find the problem of racism.

Well, good enough then. It’s hard, it’s a big deal, everyone’s trying. Well done, Michel.

*****

There is racism everywhere, but it is rarely institutionalized within a sporting culture as it is within football, especially in a Europe that is facing radical demographic and political changes. One of the massive failures of UEFA and FIFA in addressing racism among the fans of its game is that they instead have focused attention on creating an illusion of racial harmony among the players, doing very little to change the attitudes in the stands. FIFA President Sepp Blatter, the leader of the organization that governs world football, has set an horrific example for the game through his own lighthearted statements about the problems of discrimination in the game. Let’s run his greatest hits, shall we?


In 2004, the FIFA president said women players should ‘wear tighter shorts and low cut shirts… to create a more female aesthetic.’

‘I would say they (gay fans) should refrain from any sexual activities’ – Blatter after being asked about the illegality of homosexuality in Qatar after they won the right to host the 2022 World Cup.

‘I think in football there’s too much modern slavery in transferring players or buying players here and there, and putting them somewhere.’ – Defending the ‘oppressed’ Cristiano Ronaldo after his £80m switch from Manchester United to Real Madrid.

In response to whether football had sexual inequality, he replied: ‘There are gay footballers, but they don’t declare it because it will not be accepted in these macho organizations. Look at women’s football – homosexuality is more popular there.’

‘I have never seen Italy, Germany, Brazil or Argentina with a coach from another country. In fact, most of the best teams have a coach from their own country.’ – Blatter’s response to Fabio Capello’s appointment as England boss.

Blatter’s advice for dealing with racist comments on the pitch?


Asked if he thought there was racism on the pitch, the FIFA president told CNN World Sport: “I would deny it. There is no racism, there is maybe one of the players towards another, he has a word or a gesture which is not the correct one, but also the one who is affected by that, he should say that this is a game. We are in a game, and at the end of the game, we shake hands, and this can happen, because we have worked so hard against racism and discrimination.”

When the deep denial of serious issues comes from the top, how can you expect the subordinates to be serious? Looking at Platini and UEFA, it’s clear you cannot. Faced with a threat of racist supporters at Euro 2012 matches, Italian striker Mario Balotelli stood up for himself and made sure everyone knew he would not stand by and allow fans to racially abuse him.

“If [racism] does happen I would leave the pitch and go home,” said Balotelli. “Racism is unacceptable to me, I cannot bear it. We are in 2012, it can’t happen. If someone throws a banana at me in the street, I will go to prison because I will kill him.”


Balotelli

Platini’s response? Any player who is being abused and leaves the pitch will receive…. a yellow card.

“Platini said: “It’s a yellow card. It’s not a player – Mr Balotelli – who’s in charge of refereeing.”

Platini insists officials will deal with any racist incidents that occur during the tournament, which begins on Friday.

“It’s the referee who takes these decisions. Referees can finish the game. They have this power in case of racism,” Platini told the BBC sports editor David Bond. “That is, I think, the best way to protect the game against racism. The referee has been given advice and he can stop the game if there are problems.”

Of course, Platini completely ignores the fact that just this past February, Balotelli’s club Manchester City filed a complaint with UEFA that the striker had been racially abused in Portugal in a match against Porto. Platini’s response to that incident was to fine Porto €20,000. There is no zero missing there.

You would laugh if you didn’t want to cry.

*****

Also, let me just say Platini has huge balls to criticize racism in the USA as if it were something akin to flying swastikas in Ukraine’s football grounds. Living in the US, it is easy to see the game through a much different lens than most; racism in most sports here was eliminated by watching great players break racial barriers over many decades. And while our churches and communities may still struggle with being fully integrated, our sporting events are clearly the one place where the concept of a meritocracy, vital to our self-conception as a people, is prized above everything else. If you can score touchdowns, it doesn’t matter your skin color. If you can hit home runs, it doesn’t matter from where you come. American fans look at the issues of racism (and its twin, hooliganism) in football and not only shake their heads, but turn off from the game, labeling the permissive, tolerant culture of law enforcement as completely unserious about protecting the rights of fans to enjoy safety at a sporting event.

That is perhaps the most important, unaddressed violation in the game; the culture of fandom in European football is too often completely conceded to a violent minority that bases its existence on its continued access to the game. By stubbornly refusing to take the game out of the hands of supporters who are violent and/or racist, FIFA, UEFA and the national football associations continue to shirk their responsibility to create an environment for all fans to have fun at a football match. Perhaps their is too much money to be made by turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to the problem.

******

Football needs a long look in the mirror. I hope Balotelli doesn’t have to face any problems. I hope fans of various racial and national backgrounds can enjoy a safe, fun trip to Poland and the Ukraine to support their teams. But it shouldn’t be an issue, and the farcical attempts of the game’s governing bodies to superficially address the issue of racism while counting their Euros behind closed doors is something that shouldn’t be tolerated any more.

I am not sure how the game has come to this, but while FIFA faces down its own corruption scandals, both it and UEFA need to address their moral bankruptcy on the issue of discrimination. The idea that in 2012, a football supporter can walk into a football stadium and hoist a Nazi swastika is an outrage. The fact that fans can make monkey sounds at black players and throw bananas at them is an outrage. The fact that players will be punished if they remove themselves from that kind of an abuse is an outrage. The fact that, all over Europe, police and the game’s overlords cannot figure out a way to make a football stadia safe, fun places for supporters is an outrage. The fact that this has been going on for decades is an outrage.


Beautiful Game Turned Ugly: An ESPN report From 2006. Six Years Ago.

In the past, it has taken the literal death of supporters to force changes to the culture of the game. So, what grievous injury needs to happen now for football to take it’s racism problem seriously?