Thursday, 14 June 2012

Euro Roundtable #9: Jon and Joao Show

This is a smaller piece for today. It gets as far forward in time as Group A, part 2. Reasons for this include brilliant excuses like Gav having a full time job, and me being bloody ill and spending most of yesterday at a funeral (for my Great Aunt, a lovely woman).

So, to make up for it, this is a two person show. First up, we have Jon Arnold on Greece v the Czech Republic and Poland v Russia.

Then, we have more contributions from acclaimed pundit, Joao Diogo Reis, who goes back in time and looks over Groups A and B, match 1, in his own unique style.

On Saturday (or Sunday) we'll have a look at Groups B, C and D part 2 in a mega post to make up for this slackness. Oh yes.

Over to you, Jon.

Jon: So we’ve given every team a once over now and aside from the waywardness of the Dutch finishing and Sweden wilting in the face of a raucous home crowd we’ve had few surprises. And so to the second round of games, the final stage at which mistakes can be made and recovered, the one which shapes what’ll be essentially knockout football afterwards.  What to look out for? Well one of today’s matches, as we’ll soon come to, a pair of matches which could see Portugal and the Netherlands playing for no more than the wooden spoon in their last game and a mouthwatering prospect of two of the best looking teams from the first games England and Sweden Italy and Croatia meeting. Oh and on here it’ll be Gav indulging in more schadenfreude at Ireland’s expense!

But first, getting right back to where we started from with Group A.

Greece 1-2 Czech Republic

And for the third game out of three in this group a dominant theme is poor goalkeeping and defending. Three goals in this game, none of which can be fully put down to scintillating, imaginative play. The number of goals in this group so far has been a pleasant surprise, but it’s been due more to the propensity for error in all bar the Russian defence than great football.

In fairness the Greeks can protest that that there are mitigating circumstances. Circumstance dictated that both their first choice centre halves Papastathopoulos (suspended) and Avram Papadopoulos (injured) were missing, meaning Katsouranis and Kyriakos Papadopoulos were thrown together at short notice.  This might not be a problem if you have a good, commanding goalie to settle the nerves but a glance at the Greek squad should tell you they don’t possess one. And whilst the Czechs aren’t the finest exponents of the clever little probing passes that find gaps in a defence at the tournament, it remains their main attacking strength and was always going to trouble the makeshift pairing. 

So it proved with a quick one-two punch, both the result of one simple, intelligent pass. Hubschman’s through ball to Jiracek was perfectly judged, exposing the faultline in the Greek back four, but his not particularly well placed shot should have been saved by Chalkias. Three minutes later the match was effectively settled, with Rosicky bisecting full back and centre half to give Gebre Selassie the opportunity to cross and Chalkias the opportunity to let a ball through that he really should have stopped again, Pilar bundling the ball in. Not Chalkias’ finest game then, and fortunately for him his nightmare ended after 22 minutes when a knee injury forced him off. 

At this point Fernando Santos could be forgiven for laughing at Ronaldo’s protestations of bad luck – in the first half of games he’s had to suffered two injury enforced substitutions, one sending off, three self-inflicted wounds and a goal disallowed for a very marginal offside so has had to devise a recovery plan under the sort of limitations his country has to cope with economically. As with the first game, his substitution paid instant dividends, Gekas replacing Fotakis and sliding the ball into an empty net after Cech mishandled a cross and collided with Sivok. Five goals and a missed penalty in the first two Greek matches and all attributable to goalkeeping errors. Surprisingly the rest of the game involved the Czechs then demonstrating a previously unknown resilience – the Greeks had plenty of the ball but barely created even a half chance, Cech having no opportunity to demonstrate his fallibility. 

The only downside for the Czechs was an Achilles injury to Rosicky, a player they’re likely to struggle without if they get to the group stages. The Greeks will have Papastathopoulos back for the last group game but whether that’ll be enough to keep out a sharp Russian attack (well, and Kerzhakov) is another matter entirely. Given that aside from their 2004 triumph they’ve only managed one win in tournament play covering two World Cups, two European Championships and a Confederations Cup their prospects look bleak. That missed penalty against the Poles might well haunt them in the likely event of their exit.  And the Czechs? Well we’ll come to that...

Poland 1-1 Russia

The wow moment the tournament lacked came at around 9 pm on 12th June.  It’s Russia Day, the day they celebrate independence from the old USSR, and were the Russian fans who’d made the trip going to want to celebrate? Of course they were, some of them with a march fully approved by the Polish authorities. Equally naturally, there were plenty of Poles who saw the closest modern equivalent to their old Soviet oppressor doing this as the red flag to a bull and, well, you can probably guess the rest. The British ‘firms’ would no doubt have described the atmosphere as tasty.

And on the pitch the Poles were desperate not to lose – looking on from the other side of the continent it seemed almost a matter of national pride to take something from the Russians on the pitch. Dzagoev’s clever header (did I mention that I picked him out before the tournament?) had given Russia the halftime lead in one of the most entertaining, absorbing matches of the tournament. Could the Poles maintain their energy levels in the second half or would Russia repeat the trick of their first game and take late advantage of a side looking for an equaliser?

At nine o’clock the stars aligned, and Blaszczykowski received the ball from clubmate Pizczek, turned away from a couple of defenders, took a couple of strides inside and curled a powerful, precise shot past Malafeev. Unsaveable, thrilling, perfect in timing and execution. You’d have had to be Russian not to love it and the exuberant celebrations which followed. Of course, if you’re Dave it’s even better given he tipped both goalscorers as players to watch (and both have had good tournaments even aside from their goals so far). Russia were ruing a display which was easy on the eye up to the penalty area and had largely let them control the game, but one marred by a lack of quality in their final ball. Dzagoev and Polanski had chances to win it but finally in this group we had a game with two competent keepers. The Russians deserved a draw for being marginally the better team on the night, the Poles for drawing on the passion of their crowd so well and providing an adventurous approach again. They’ve learned the lessons of the Swiss and Austrian approach from four years ago.

Neither side will be too unhappy with the draw – Russia remain in prime position and only need a draw to secure a place in the knockout stages, Poland, like all the other Group A teams, go through with a win. All to play for in Group A then. If I had to pick which match to watch on Saturday? Much as Russia have been enjoyable to watch the initial plan will have to be to see if the hosts, who’ve been refreshingly attack minded, can prolong their presence into the second round against the resilient Czechs. If nothing else their willingness to entertain and the vocal support of the home fans has earned them their chance.

And now Group B, with one of my two most likely candidates for a 0-0 and one of the great international football rivalries...

Hindsight is a wonderful thing isn't it with regards the 0-0! Many thanks for that, Jon. Now, we have the man who knows how to call a spade a bloody shovel, Joao Diogo Reis.

Joao Diogo Reis on recent matches

Euro 2012 started with very bad refereeing, but fortunately in the next 7 games I haven’t noticed anything scandalous.

Sokratis was sent off with two yellow cards where ultimately none was even worthy of a foul, if they were fouls at least one (but probably both) weren’t worthy of yellow cards, and no way a player should be sent off for doing only what he did.
Following the same criteria, some 20-30 players should have been sent off in these first 8 Euro 2012 matches!!
I hope not to see this Velasco Carballo refereeing another match at Euro 2012, what a thief!

Great start by Poland, 1-0 up and in numerical advantage, Greece was in a very bad situation at half-time.
Then Salpingidis replaced Ninis - why hasn’t he started in the first place? I had him in my original Fantasy Football team, but when I noticed that he wouldn’t start I replaced him by Samaras.
Bad choice (for me and mostly for Fernando Santos), a few minutes later Salpingidis equalized, taking advantage of Szczesny’s poor save.
This guy has a reputation of a great goalkeeper, I wonder why… 

Against AC Milan in the Champions League, it looked like any shot on goal turned into a goal, and Arsenal was playing without goalkeeper. And now this, huge mistake allowing Greece’s equalizer, and then…
Some minutes later, he fouls Salpingidis inside the penalty box, penalty kick for Greece and red card for Szczesny.
10 vs. 10 again, and golden opportunity for Greece to take advantage:
But a new hero was born, substitute keeper Tyton saved Karagounis’ shot, and saved 1 point for Poland.

Greece even scored a second goal (Salpingidis, who else?!), but it was disallowed for offside. After robbing Greece like Velasco Carballo did, he could have allowed this goal as redemption. But OK, 1 mistake for each side doesn’t cancel each other and become zero mistakes, they’re two mistakes.

I think that both teams were happy with the result, with a feeling that “it could have been a lot worse”.

Russia vs. Czech Republic was the game with the most goals scored in round 1.
And they could have been a lot more, if it wasn’t for Kerzhakov.

He missed so many shots, 7! At some point, I was watching the game and I saw an isolated player, my first thought “attention, this looks promising”; second thought “never mind, it’s Kerzhakov!”

When Pavlyuchenko replaced him, he immediately assisted Dzagoev for his second and Russia’s third, and then in a solo effort scored Russia’s 4th and his first, becoming Russia’s all-time top scorer in the European Championships history with 4 goals.

Against the strongest teams, Russia can’t afford to have a striker that wastes 7 goal opportunities.

The first big surprise of Euro 2012 was Denmark’s win against Holland.

They’ve also faced each other in the 2010 World Cup, Holland won, so why haven’t they won again?
Holland has new players who aren’t as good as the previous ones?
That could be an explanation had Denmark’s goal happened in Holland’s left flank. 18 years old Willems was the left back, and the left side central defender was Vlaar.
But no, Denmark’s goal happened in the right flank, where Van der Wiel and Heitinga were, players that two years earlier were World Cup beaten finalists.

But this gets even more interesting!
Krohn-Dehli is from Ajax’s youth system, like Stekelenburg, Heitinga and Van der Wiel (who is some years younger than the others and still plays for Ajax). But unlike the others, he always had a secondary role.
The way that he scored this goal, in Holland’s supposed “strongest side”, dribbling Heitinga and leaving him “planted” in the ground, and then putting the ball between Stekelenburg’s legs, was epic.
Frozen revenge!

I wrote before the match that in order for Morten Olsen to win games, being brilliant wouldn’t be enough, he would have to be brilliant and Van Marwijk/Paulo Bento/Low would have to be very stupid.

So, what were Van Marwijk’s mistakes?

Kuyt should have started?
(Now that his employer isn’t an English League club anymore, he lost his status?)

Huntelaar should be the striker?
(With Van Persie being the left winger, or warming bench)

Van Bommel shouldn’t play?
(Van Marwijk is only picking him because he is his son-in-law, he has no quality to play for Holland anymore)
(His place should go to Afellay/Van der Vaart/Strootman/Schaars?)

Can he still fix them?
If Holland couldn’t even win against Denmark, supposedly the easiest opponent, what can they do in the harder games against Germany and Portugal?

By the way, it’s not that uncommon to have a World Cup beaten finalist that two years later can’t progress from the Euro Cup group stages: Italy (1994 -> 1996), Germany (2002 -> 2004) and France (2006 -> 2008), and also West Germany (1982 -> 1984), Holland (1978 -> 1980).

Once again, Portugal loses against Germany!
2006, 2008… and now 2012 – the last time that Portugal won was in 2000, when they played with their subs.
Perhaps that is the secret:
Eduardo; Miguel Lopes, Rolando, Ricardo Costa; Custódio, Hugo Viana, Rúben Micael; Varela, Quaresma, Nélson Oliveira and Hugo Almeida
With this starting XI, in this revolutionary 3-3-4 tactic, Portugal would have won!

Now seriously, the starting XI wasn’t so bad. I would have changed only 3 players: Bosingwa would be my right back, and Custódio and Hugo Viana would have played instead of Miguel Veloso and João Moutinho. But maybe “my” team would have lost as well, we’ll never know.

Gómez finally scored a goal in a major tournament. It’s gets kind of easy when you are 1,89m and the player challenging for that crossed ball is only 1,72m.
(By the way, Bosingwa is 1,83m… And this is only one of many things where he is way better than João Pereira)

And Portugal had two balls in the bar, some other opportunities, but couldn’t score.

Well, at least against Denmark and Holland it should be easier.

Yesterday showed us that we shouldn’t be drawing conclusions based on just one game.
The Czech Republic seemed harmless vs. Russia and now they showed that they can also play.
Russia seemed invulnerable and now they showed some flaws.

Still, based on Group B round 1, Germany has a great team that should defeat Holland, who was an ordinary team against Denmark.
And Denmark can cause a lot of trouble to Portugal, João Pereira and Fábio Coentrão aren’t perfect side backs that guys like Krohn-Dehli and Rommedahl can’t take advantage of.

Of course, we know what happened in Portugal/Denmark now, but lets assume we don't within the blog. Oh the suspense! Oh the need to go through all that late disappointment again! Ah yes. The next blog shall be a full house.