Tag Archives: Alan Shearer

The Good, The Bad, and Pogatetz

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I suppose it was probably too much to expect another capricious evening of confusion and disarray, and it was certainly too much to expect Austria to keep their hopes alive by shocking their illustrious neighbours. The Austrians, as the saying doesn’t really go, couldn’t score in a house of ill repute. As Alan Hansen put it: “If the Austrians had sat back and played on the break, they wouldn’t have scored. If they’d played all out attack, they wouldn’t have scored. If the Germans had left the field for 10 minutes and had a cup of tea, the Austrians still wouldn’t have scored”.

That, in a nutshell, is the story of not only this match, but of Austria’s entire Euro 2008 adventure. Apart from making a sluggish start in the first half against Croatia, Austria played with passion, creativity, organisation, and will to win. Unfortunately none of these guarantee you goals. It must have been incredibly frustrating for Austria watching the Germans create absolutely nothing for Podolski and Klose, they must have wanted to ask the Germans if they could borrow one of them for five minutes, seeing as they weren’t using them.

Knowing the Austrians luck, if the Germans had agreed to lend them a striker, they would have got Mario Gomez, who unfortunately would fit seamlessly in to the current Austrian set-up. The only clearcut chance created by Germany all night fell to Gomez inside the first three minutes, and he robbed the Greeks of a title they seemed nailed-on for by achieving the miss of the tournament so far, failing to tap-in to an empty net from four yards out with no defender in sight.

The rest of the match set into a pattern, Austria got the ball efficiently to their wingers, who consistently got past their full-backs and put in dangerous crosses. To absolutely no-one. The Germans, who only needed a point, could barely be bothered as it became quite clear a draw was near-enough guaranteed. When your captain is as model a professional as Michael Ballack however, nothing gets left to chance, and he stepped up early in the second half to rocket in the tournament’s first successful free kick.

That was that, and there really was no suggestion that it was going to change, but whilst the outcome was predictable, the evening was not without its interesting diversions. Firstly there was the Austrian players accommodation of their German guests. At face value the game didn’t appear dirty, and yet there were several strange incidents of the TV director suddenly cutting to a shot, usually some yards away from the ball, of a mysteriously flattened German. Time and again the referee was distracted from the play, and would suddenly arrive on the scene wearing a puzzled expression, as he found an injured German player, and no red shirt within 10 yards of him. The whole thing was mystifying, I can’t possibly speculate on what brought these episodes about.

Could it be that the two managers were debating this point when they suddenly decided to launch into a bout of touchline handbags, for which they were both despatched to the stand. Once the referee had intervened, the two managers became united in their disdain for the offical instead, and bonded like two cell-ins about to start a five-stretch together. On reaching the stand, Joachim Low managed to bump into his Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and looked as though he may take a seat beside her. Moments later, Low had found an alternative seat beside Oliver Bierhoff, perhaps having realised that the country’s leader might not have been the ideal companion had the match not gone Germany’s way.

Also adding a touch of the irregular to this game was Austrian defender Emanuel Pogatetz, who gives one the impression that he may not be of this world. He looks like the madman on the bus that you pray doesn’t sit next to you, terrifyingly wide-eyed and unstable. Pogatetz of course plays for Middlesbrough, and when you study his erratic behaviour along with that of Turkey’s Tuncay, you do have to worry about the effect the town’s infamous fumes are having on non-natives of Teesside.

Pogatetz at one stage picked up the ball and attempted to take a bite out of it. Now I don’t know about you, but if I was an attacker that is one opponent I would be giving a wide berth. Personally, I would be perfectly comfortable with any accusations of lying too deep, “Sorry boss, I am doing my best to get further forward but you see the thing is there’s a serial killer at centre-back, and I have a family”. Maybe Pogatetz was so fed up at being part of Austria’s hopeless campaign that he’d asked the manager to sub him and been refused, so now thought summoning the men in white coats represented his best chance of escape.

As I said, predictable but not uneventful. The Germans were presumably more than a little nervous at the potential humiliation of losing this one, which perhaps explains why they weren’t exactly fully committed, but with Portugal now looming the Germans aren’t exactly taking with them an abundance of confidence or momentum from this group.

Croatia on the other hand are flying. Having already secured the group, they made nine changes to the side that beat Germany but, unlike Portugal on Monday, Croatia appeared to have used the tactic to their own advantage. Instead of looking like players sent out to make a token gesture in a meaningless match, the Croat reserves had the look of a side motivated to prove themselves worthy of a place in the side and to play their part in a genuine team effort. Or maybe it’s just that Croatia’s reserves are much more capable than Portugal’s, who knows?

Whatever the reason, Croatia very impressively disposed of Poland with a 1-0 win that should have been many more, and completed a perfect group programme. Their goalscorer Ivan Klasnic, still wearing protection after a kidney transplant just last year, could have had a hat-trick on the night but for more heroics from the goalkeeper of the tournament, and the only Pole to cover himself in anything like glory at Euro 2008, Celtic’s Artur Boruc. In the end the striker had to settle just for scoring the winner. Klasnic’s story of triumph over adversity sums up the mentality of the whole Croatian team, who are showing an extraordinary unity which is threatening to overcome both the perceived gulf in class between them and their more famous rivals, and the loss of their best striker, Eduardo Da Silva.

The Croatian celebrations at the final whistle once again revealed the togetherness of their squad, and the respect they have for their coach, Slaven Bilic, who looks by far and away the strongest leader at this tournament. The entire squad took a lap of honour, just as they had against Germany, and every individual player seemed keen to embrace Bilic, and he to reciprocate. Croatia now have more confidence and momentum than any team besides Holland, but the difference between their soaring team spirit and the ever-fragile Dutch squad is cavernous.

With their next test being a quarter-final against the gritty Turks on friday, Croatia will now be favourites to reach the semi-finals, which is a stage they have never yet breached. If they make it, they are almost certain to be amongst those to whom lifting trophies is the norm, and it is then we will then find out if their squad possesses the one quality we can’t yet be sure about – belief.

It was generally another excellent night for the BBC, with Martin O’Neill and Alan Hansen in sparkling form, particularly during the half-time interval. When asked about the incident involving the German and Austrian managers, O’Neill dismissively replied “Well I don’t blame them for taking no notice of the 4th official, they’re always wrong”.

As the second half approached, Gary Lineker attempted to take back the reins ready for his handover to the commentary team, but was ignored completely by O’Neill and Hansen who preceded to lean over Alan Shearer and conduct their own in-depth discussion on the German second-half tactics. It’s little moments of lost control like this that O’Neill provides, and that makes the BBC coverage so much more entertaining than ITV’s joyless efforts.

The beeb boys did however let themselves down, right at the end of the show as they were looking ahead to tonight’s Group C conclusion. Hansen and O’Neill were almost wetting themselves at the prospect of France v Italy! O’Neill even made the astonishingly misguided observation that ‘The tournament starts tomorrow’. What? Are we ever going to get away from this boot-licking of the football aristocracy? Anyway, could someone please explain to me what they were getting so excited about? Italy v France will be a dead-rubber, and a guaranteed bore-fest of all time, should Romania score an early goal, and they both realise they’re going home.

The truth is, the clue to this evening lies within the following statement: For the final round of Group C to deliver any excitement, it is reliant on the spirit of fair play being invoked to the full – by the Dutch.

I shall say no more.

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Filed under BBC, Football, Group B, ITV, Sport, TV, UEFA Euro 2008

Come on, admit it…

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…you missed it didn’t you? Even many hardened fans will consult the tournament schedule in order to find a gap, a night when they can return to the real world and try to ensure that their normal lives aren’t damaged beyond repair by an entire month of football worship. I know you’re out there, and I know many of you would have chosen Switzerland v Turkey as your one to miss. The BBC appeared to agree with you too, relegating this match to BBC2. Shame, shame, shame on you all.

The best match of the tournament so far by a mile saw the earliest ever exit of a Host Nation in this event, but only after they had been sent through an emotional mangle thanks to the weather gods, who intervened midway through the first half with a match-altering downpour, perhaps sent as a reward to those of us who had kept the faith.

The opening twenty minutes actually suggested that the absentees may have got it right, as an anxious stalemate began to develop. Then the heavens opened, and naturally the results were glorious. Within minutes the football match had been replaced by It’s A Knockout, as players began to run, fall over and collide with each other as standard, and the ball became an afterthought. Wherever he was watching, I bet Stuart Hall was laughing uncontrollably, whilst awarding both sides 15 points.

To anyone reading this who is involved with the production of our television coverage, especially if you work for ITV, please try to understand that it is this supporters really want to see. Judging by the groveling of Rider, Tyldesley and co, they seem to think that we’re all here to sit open-jawed at the technical prowess of Portugal, Holland or Spain and all the millionaires they bring with them. Wrong. What we want is mayhem, pandemonium, instability, and lunacy. Preferably in farcical conditions with footballing life or death at stake. Last night, we got what we came for.

Hansen and co might have been on the wrong channel, but they were in no doubt that this was pure entertainment. Alan Shearer and Lee Dixon revealed a hitherto dormant sense of humour, relishing the slippery chaos to the full, and laughing fully in the faces of unfortunate defenders with the rest of us.

Switzerland initially benefitted from the cloudburst, as Turkey’s short passing game was rendered useless by the puddles that began appearing all over the pitch, and one puddle in particular which had formed in the Turkish six-yard box assisted a Turk in Swiss colours, Hakan Yakin, to open the scoring. Hakan missed an almost identical chance (an open goal from three yards), just minutes later, and incredibly the absurd circumstances resulted in just that single goal. If the rain had continued into the second half, or if UEFA were as precious about players health as they are the tournament schedule, the game would almost certainly have been abandoned. However the rain relented at half-time, allowing the Swiss ground staff to do an extraordinary mopping up job, making the pitch perfectly playable again in the second half. Big mistake on their part.

It probably seemed sensible at the time, but as the Swiss were mainly relying on pinging long balls towards their pacy forwards, the sodden surface was assisting them far more than their opponents. In hindsight the act was either commendably fair-minded, or criminally naive. The spirit the entire match was played in suggested the former, which given that the last time these two met competitively (in a qualifying play-off for the last World Cup) the match ended in a full-scale riot this was a refreshing surprise.

Turkey grew in confidence, and knocked the ball around as well as anyone in this tournament so far, though given their unfashionable status no one on TV bothered pointing this out. The goals that secured their victory were somewhat fortuitous, a lovely move ending in a goalkeeper error, and a speculative shot aided by a deflection, but they were thoroughly deserved on the balance of play, and given that Switzerland appeared the better side only when playing in a swimming pool.

That said, they very nearly managed to pull it out of the bag in a frantic last 20 minutes, as both sides realised a draw was no good to them and launched into each other with gusto. It was magnificent viewing, and the Swiss fans would have raised the roof had they managed to convert a 4-on-1 breakaway in the 89th minute. They failed, and moments later Turkey punished them with the clock ticking into the second minute of injury time. Cue what seemed a 50-strong Turkish bench invading the pitch, indulging in wild celebrations whilst yards away from them there was devastation. The TV director filled his boots, quickly switching from a shot of Turkish coach Fatih Terim making a very half-hearted attempt to calm his charges down, to one of his Swiss counterpart staring numbly into space. Pure gold.

It’s hard not to feel sorry for the Swiss, just imagine how long their fans have been waiting for this. All of them decked out in national costmes, faces painted, ready to unite for an amazing month-long adventure. Four days in, and its all over. It’s sad for everyone because host nations and their fans are great for the atmosphere of the tournament, but the truth is the Swiss never looked good enough. However, they weren’t nearly as dull as in the World Cup, and a cynic might suggest that they would have been better off sticking to a plan that did work for them up to a point, but they should take credit for entering the spirit of the tournament and at least trying to give their supporters something memorable.

Prior to the fun part of the evening Portugal had recorded an impressive, if somewhat predictable, victory over Czech Republic, predictably with the help of Ronaldo, the reaction to whose first goal of the tournament was met with predictably toady obseqiousness by commentators on both channels, who squirmed to find superlatives for what was a tidily placed sidefoot shot from the edge of the box. As for the Czechs, they were largely just, well, predictable.

On last night’s evidence, I think Turkey will fancy their chances in a winner-takes-all meeting with the Czechs on Sunday, especially as their opponents now appear to be uncertain as to which striker should be sent out to receive no service, Koller or Baros. The inevitability of the Portuguese win, in what they would have considered their toughest fixture of the group on paper, will strengthen their claims on the trophy, but I have a feeling that they could get caught cold in the knockout stages due to failing to receive a real test.

During the Switzerland v Turkey match, news broke that the Portuguese boss ‘Big Phil’ Scolari, is off to join the Premier League circus with Chelsea. So no doubt what his advice will be to Ronaldo regarding his potential transfer to Real Madrid then. This is good news, as Scolari will bring some much needed dignity and decorum to a world dominated by egomaniacs, as the above picture displays.

Now, having finally discovered the secret behind what can really make Euro 2008 into the most exciting tournament ever, I’m off to check the weather forecast.

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Safe In The Arms Of Auntie

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Excuse me while I just get something off my chest…

LU – LU – LUKAS PODOLSKI!

That’s better. The finest chant of World Cup 2006 is back in business.

If I had found time to write a preview of this group, it would have been difficult to avoid saying the blatantly obvious, which is that Germany and Croatia ought to walk through to the second round. After both recorded opening wins, they will be even stronger favourites to advance, but they both now know that they won’t be walking anywhere.

Germany, Poland, and the BBC got this show on the road for real this evening with a rip-snorter of a match, and a televisual feast, that came straight from the old-school. First of all, it’s amazing what a difference it makes to have two sides playing good old 4-4-2, an endangered species at the highest level these days with so many wretched 4-5-1 advocates amongst the elite managers. The result was a wide open match with a ridiculous amount of chances that somehow didn’t end up with a 6-2 German victory, but rather a routine looking 2-0 that doesn’t even threaten to cover the events.

It must be conceded though that this excitement was down in no small part to a kamikaze Polish defensive system, which was based around playing the offside trap somewhere near the halfway line. This never fails to make a match worth watching, so all power to the Polish coach for a well-judged act of martyrdom in the name of entertainment.

The Germans gleefully waltzed through the non-existent Polish rearguard at will (additional jokes are unwelcome at this point), the charge ironically led by two Poles in opposition colours, Miroslav Klose and, our hero, Master Podolski. The scoreline may have been more embarrassing for the Poles but for Klose’s strangely over-generous mood, as he appeared to believe that his role was not to score but to attempt to lay on a chance for his younger strike partner at every opportunity, rather like a father playing up front with his own son on the park. In fairness to him, he made a pretty decent fist of this task, laying on both goals for Podolski; firstly turning down an easy chance for himself to provide his team-mate with a tap-in (this was at the second attempt, having made a horlicks of the exact same scenario a few minutes earlier), then mysteriously hacking at a great chance which resulted in the ball looping up perfectly for Podolski to rifle in a superb left-foot volley. Young Lukas ought to be nailed on for top scorer with a guardian angel like Klose watching over him.

Not that the Germans had everything their own way by any means, the Poles responded to each German attack with one of their own, and with just a bit more nous around the box they would surely have breached a far from solid looking German defence. It was just a huge lift to the spirits, and a romantic throwback to better times now sadly passed, to see two sides, roared on by a deafening crowd for the duration, prepared to commit men forward, to play with wide men, and to appear to agree with the idea that your best chance of winning a football match is to try and score as many goals as possible.

Croatia may wish take note of the latter point, as their attempt to try and hold a 1-0 lead earned with a 2nd minute penalty against the written-off Austrians almost came unstuck, as the beleaguered co-hosts launched a wonderfully spirited response to an enormous group of home dissenters who have actually campaigned in complete seriousness for their own charges not to be allowed participation in the tournament because they feared national humiliation.

I have a feeling this group of Austrian players may have made heroes of themselves amongst their public tonight, after the kind of glorious defeat that we have become accustomed to seeing Scotland produce down the years. After an initial 20 minutes which threatened to confirm all Austrians’ worst fears, the Croats found themselves still with only a single goal to show for their domination, and in an attempt to strike a balance between defending their lead, and making some effort to increase it, lost their way completely. The Austrians picked up on their uncertainty, and went for the jugular, creating numerous chances, but alas found no-one with the required composure to convert any.

One suspects that the Croatian boss Slaven Bilic will have been less than impressed with the panic caused to his defence by the tournament’s rank outsiders. It must be noted however that Austria have been written off on no adequate basis, as they had not actually played a competitive international for two and a half years before this evening, and they will go into their next match against Poland with vastly increased confidence.

The real stars of the evening though, were our faithful broadcasters. If Auntie BBC’s team had put their feet up and revelled in the hopeless submission of their ‘rivals’ the previous evening, tonight the big boys put their fags out and got to work on kicking the other side into touch. The Beeb couldn’t have played a bigger hand tonight, and with both games in their locker they sent out the A-Team, keeping Lineker and Hansen out for the entire evening, and arrogantly showing off a conveyor belt of genius by exchanging Gordon Strachan for Martin O’Neill between games. They also took the inspired decision to give Motty the night off, meaning the only sources of embarrassment were Alan ‘bleedin obvious’ Shearer, and village idiot Mark Lawrenson. But even the presence of a dreary geordie and a halfwit couldn’t detract from the BBC’s awesome display.

Half-time during the Germany-Poland game was a joy, with Hansen calling on the words that should carry his copyright, ‘abysmal’ and ‘shambles’, to describe the hapless Polish defending. O’Neill joined in a ruthless dissection of their incompetence with angry relish, sounding truly offended at being asked to watch such bungling and ineptitude. When this fun was over, the Beeb then played another blinder, previewing tomorrow’s action by pulling out a hilarious, and long-overdue, half-time feature on how the ludicrous French coach Raymond Domenech is a fruitcake who uses astrology to select his team. An incredulous French journalist asked “How can you take seriously an international football coach who refuses to select a player because he’s a Leo?” Could not have put it better myself Monsieur.

More of this French lunatic and his crowd of overrated underachievers tomorrow. Tonight I shall enjoy a most content night’s sleep after an evening to make the heart glow; football as it should always be played, presented with panache and humour. And do you know something else? I can’t remember the Premier League being mentioned even once tonight.

Aaaaah….Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…

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Filed under BBC, Football, Group B, Sport, TV, UEFA Euro 2008