Tag Archives: Arjen Robben

What Might Have Been

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Firstly, I would like to say sorry to the Dutch. Did you get that everyone? I admit it, I owe Holland an apology. Not for all I have said about their past conduct resembling that of snivelling, diving, whining, ill-natured schoolboys; I shall stand by that until they get through the whole tournament without displaying any of these ‘qualities’, though I admit we have thankfully seen none of them so far.

However, I did suggest in my previous post that Holland may be tempted not to play entirely competitively against Romania in order to assist the elimination of potentially dangerous semi-final opponents Italy and France. Holland in fact displayed an exemplary attitude in beating the Romanians with as much ease as they had earlier despatched the Italians and French, and left the World Cup finalists to fight out second place in Group C. What’s more, they enhanced their own growing reputation still further by winning comfortably with the reserves out, and now look worthy tournament favourites.

There. That actually hurt a lot less than I expected. Now let’s get on with it.

  

Italy cantered through to the quarter-finals of Euro 2008 at the expense of the diabolical French; the Italians worst fears of a Dutch rollover against Romania were dispelled in the second half as news came in of Oranje success. Amusing though the French demise was, it all went off without any real drama, and when you consider what might have happened with different results, we were actually robbed of some high-class entertainment.

These were just some of the possible permutations:

  • Any win by Romania sent them through, any failure to win by Romania would send the winner of France v Italy through. Two draws would also have seen Romania progress. Nothing but a win was good enough for France. The interesting scenario would have been a Romanian defeat and a draw between the French and Italians, leaving all three sides on two points.
  • In this situation, the nature of the draw between France and Italy would have made a difference; if Italy had achieved a score-draw against the French, their head-to-head record would have been better than Romania’s, having scored more goals. A 0-0 however would have left Romania and Italy clear of the French, but inseperable by their own head-to-head record, and therefore we would have moved on to the criterium of goal difference from the group as a whole to separate those two.

Keeping up so far?

  • Now, with a 0-0 draw between France and Italy and a Romanian defeat by anything less than three, Romania would have progressed with a better group goal difference than Italy. If Romania had lost by more than 3, it would have been Italy who had the superior record (try and remember that the French are already out of the equation by this point).
  • If Romania had lost by exactly three, their group goal difference would have been the same as Italy’s, but if they had done so by any score besides 3-0 (i.e 4-1, 5-2, etc), then Romania would have finished above Italy on group goals scored. If, however, Romania had lost 3-0, they and Italy would have been inseperable using the first 5 criteria in UEFA’s rules: Head-to-head points, head-to-head goal difference, head-to-head goals scored, group goal difference, and group goals scored. If this scenario had materialised, Italy would have progressed on criterium number six – a better UEFA coefficient rating.
  • The coefficient is UEFA’s version of cricket’s Duckworth/Lewis system, the rating is found by adding up the total points gained by the sides concerned in all qualifying matches for Euro 2008 and the 2006 World Cup, and dividing that number of points by the number of matches played.

Just to recap, It would have taken only a 0-0 draw between Italy and France, and a 3-0 defeat for Romania in order for Italy to have qualified on this preposterous basis. Now, was that really too much to ask?

Now, the reasons for my choosing to explain all that are: a) it’s far more interesting than what actually happened, and b) to try and give you an idea of the fun we were denied. No, no, I’m not talking about merely watching baffled players and coaches trying to figure it all out whilst still playing the match; what I’m really disappointed about is that we didn’t get to hear John Motson try and explain all of the above, with Mark Lawrenson’s help! Can you imagine what these clowns would have made of it? They would have more chance with the theory of relativity. The TV event of the year, snatched from our grasp.

What did take place was a very comfortable Italian win against an appalling French side that were in total disarray from the kick-off. Admittedly they did not need the additional unlucky blow of a serious injury to Ribery, but France would be very unwise to try and cite this as an excuse. Italy should have been over the hills and far away by half-time, and would have been had Luca Toni not continued with a display of profligacy that suggests he may have Austrian blood. Toni must have been clean through at least five times in the first half, and though the chances had varying degrees of difficulty, we should surely expect better from a man who scored 39 goals for Bayern Munich in the regular season.

The fact that Toni seems unacquainted with a barn door makes the decision of Eric Abidal to bring the striker down when once again through on goal a questionable one; he may have been better off taking his chances on letting the striker try and finish the chance. Nevertheless, Abidal clumsily brought the big man to the ground with the goal at his mercy, and was quite rightly shown the door by the referee. The decision was met with agreement by all except Mark Lawrenson, who doesn’t think that bringing someone down when clean through on goal ten yards out and in the act of shooting constitutes a red card offence under current rules.

Abidal only found himself in the unfamiliar position of centre-back thanks to the late withdrawal of Lilian Thuram, who claimed that ‘his head wasn’t right’. This would barely be acceptable from an 18 year-old debutant, but from an ageing member of the squad selected specifically for the stability his experience brings, this is quite unforgiveable. Unless of course this is all a cover story and Raymond Domenech had decided that Abidal had better aspects on the day, perhaps after seeing Capricorn shafting Aquarius on Jupiter with the help of Taurus while Gemini looked on from Mars in amazement. Or something.

The ten Frenchmen were probably better than the eleven had been, but then again they could hardly have been any worse. After somehow surviving to half-time trailing only to Pirlo’s penalty, they actually showed some (gulp!) fighting spirit in the second half, before a deflected free-kick by De Rossi finished them off. As news came through that there would be no mysteriously convenient result to eliminate them as there had been four years previously, the Italians relaxed and enjoyed themselves for a change.

De Rossi was magnificent, and the man-of-the-match by a mile. His form will be a relief to the Italians, and they will despearetely need him to maintain it in the quarter-final, as the rest of their central midfield, Pirlo and Gattuso, will be sitting out the clash with Spain after picking up second bookings.

As for Raymond Domenech’s future, where else can we look but to the stars:

Aquarius: Everyone wants a piece of you today, you are the centre of attention, and it will seem like the whole world is queueing up to speak to you. Be careful though, as towards the end of the day your backside may be met by a large shiny boot, which will propel you in the direction of a long queue. You should take heart from this, and see it as the springboard for a new career. Remember, never look back, and don’t be tempted to give your current role another try. The stars would like to reiterate: Please, please do not be tempted.

 

The Dutch continue to make a fool of me, and my hopes for an undignified implosion are starting to wane. The non-performace that many expected never looked like happening, and Romania appeared fortunate to get away with only losing 2-0. Mind you when your ‘reserves’ include the likes of Robben, Van Persie and Huntelaar, you probably should be winning with a degree of comfort.

Watching this one, and indeed the entire group, you have to wonder what on earth the Dutch were up to finishing behind Romania in qualifying. I can only assume they were indulging in their usual tantrums, but if that’s true then Marco Van Basten has done something very shrewd at some stage since, because there has been no hint of it so far at these championships. If he can get the Dutch squad through the whole thing without any signs of a temperament issue, it will be a miracle. Furthermore, Holland will probably win the tournament because, as usual, they have far more ability at their disposal than anyone else.

The scariest thing about the Dutch victory was the post-match celebration on the pitch. So much happiness! They all did a lap of honour together; there was laughing, joking, babies being kissed, the lot. It was Croatia-esque. Anyone would think they were friends. In fact you have to wonder if Holland haven’t got a little ahead of themselves with the celebrating; you wouldn’t get this from the Germans after the first round.

Romania exited Euro 2008 with a whimper, and according to our press, regretting Adrian Mutu’s missed penalty against Italy. According to me, they should have far more regrets over their failure to beat the French, and their rather joyous celebrations at having done so now look rather silly. Had they had more attacking inclination in that match, they would probably have won, and Italy would have been in a far more perilous position when the two sides met.

The fact that every group winner was decided after two games is slightly spoiling the fun of this round of matches; as is digital TV, which allows the TV companies to show both games and leave it up to the viewers to choose. It was much more fun when we used to have confused TV directors having to swap from one match to the other every five minutes as developments kept changing the emphasis.

As it is, we are left with another group with just one match that offers any interest, and one completely dead rubber. Mind you the same was true of group A, and that didn’t turn out too badly. Russia will welcome back Andrei Arshavin of Zenit St Petersburg, destroyer of Rangers in the UEFA cup final, who brainlessly got himself booked in the final qualifier and thus suspended for the first two games here. Russia will need him, as the draw belongs to Sweden tonight, and they will probably need all available craftiness to break down through the well-drilled yellow and blue barricades.

That said, Sweden should beware. In a one off encounter where winner-takes-all, the last place I would want to be is on the opposite side to Guus Hiddink.

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

I should think so too

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There is a common football cliche, which I refuse to utilise here, that has never been so appropriately applied as it would be to last night’s match between Holland and France. Suffice to say that the football that took place after half-time was unrecognisable from that which had done so beforehand. I had a couple of friends over to watch the game, and both left with terrified haste at half-time, as if feeling threatened that I would use force in order to ensure that they stayed the distance, having had to suffer the full horror of the first 45 minutes.

In short, the first half lived up to my expectations of this game, the second lived up to everyone else’s. As far as ensuring a spectacle was concerned, the game received the worst possible start – an early goal for the Dutch. Kuyt headed in a corner aided by questionable French marking, and Holland had exactly what they wanted, namely an excuse to go on the defensive. So the scene was set for Euro 2008’s worst 45 minutes so far, the only previous contender having also involved the French.

Commentators often makes excuses for bigger sides when the game is poor, referring to the game as ‘tactical’ or claiming that the sides ‘are cancelling each other out’. John Motson last night remarked that the first half had become a “tough battle in the midfield”, which is another one. This wasn’t a case of the sides’ tactics negating each other, they were just rubbish. After the 9th minute goal, the first period became a lamentable exhibition of dreadfully misplaced forward passes, niggling fouls, lazy non-movement, and poor decision-making. Holland went into extreme safety-first mode, often working the ball back to Van Der Sar from deep inside the French half. The BBC studio appeared to have been shown another game as Alan Hansen claimed to have enjoyed the first half, which I can only put down to a lack of defensive errors.

When the teams returned for the second half, and I found myself a lone spectator in my front room once again, it was as if UEFA had exchanged the two sides for twenty-two virtual reality replicas, programmed to play properly whilst there were some viewers left. Seriously, the transformation was down to the French, though you have to wonder where they got the inspiration from, as I can’t imagine too many players responding to the half-time reassurance that “it’ll be ok lads, no problem, it’s quite clear that Venus is entering the Moon’s third quarter, you can’t lose!”.

Whatever the reason, France were awake at last, and the game became more inkeeping with the tournament, as the Dutch began to revel in the opportunities offered to them by the more expansive French game. All of a sudden, the level was raised, and incisive passing movements began to cut through defences at either end. France created clearcut opportunities for the first time in the competition, but unfortunately for them they all fell to Thierry Henry, who looks a shadow of his former self after a season warming Barcelona’s bench/treatment table. Henry spurned chances he would have gobbled up in an Arsenal shirt, and inevitably France left themselves exposed to the Dutch rapid response service, enhanced greatly by the introduction of the flying machine Robben.

Robben got clear down the left, streaked clear, and laid on a second for fellow sub Van Persie. This was, thankfully, the signal for the two sides to forget themselves completely and launch into all out attack. The French though, had left it too late. They quickly reduced their arrears thanks to a deft finish from Henry, but within seconds had the stuffing knocked out of them again, as Robben took advantage of lazy defending by Thuram to squeeze one in from an impossible angle. Sneijder plopped a great big cherry on top of it all in injury time, with a sensational fourth. France were deservedly thrashed, deservedly because they couldn’t be bothered taking part until one and a half games had elapsed.

I still think Holland have a little to prove, they haven’t been put under any pressure whilst the score has been level, their back-four looks vulnerable, and their infamous temperament will be put fully to the test should they fall behind. It’s two successive games without any questionable antics though, and that’s a big improvement on previous years.

Italy will be in no doubt that the world is against them once more; after suffering the Van Nistelrooy offside decision, yesterday’s match against Romania saw them suffer more misery at the hands of the officials. Luca Toni has enjoyed plenty of luck so far, and all of it rotten. The big striker had one chalked off incorrectly for offside, then was stopped in his tracks by another erroneous flag when he was about to find the net for a second time. The Italians must also be very confused about UEFA’s amendment to the offside rule in this tournament, which I’m guessing must read “If it pisses off the Italians, it’s fine by us”.

Italy ended up having to rely on a classic skin-of-the-teeth escape that they must have become quite accustomed to over the years. Despite enjoying the vast majority of the game, they found themselves first of all behind to an excellent Mutu finish after a complete howler by Zambrotta, then after equalising immediately they later found themselves on the brink of falling behind again, this time to a penalty correctly awarded against Panucci. Mutu’s kick failed however, thanks to an extraordinary save by Buffon who, having dived the wrong way, stuck out a trailing hand, palmed the ball onto his boot, and away to safety.

The Italians really should have been out of sight by then, the two bad offside decisions aside, the Italians created plenty of other opportunities to bury the lightweight Romanians, but were let down by frustrating marginals, final pass slightly off target, crosses slightly underhit/overhit, goalbound shots blocked, slightly slow to he second ball, etc, etc. The run of the ball hasn’t been with Italy in this tournament for sure, but you felt yesterday that they just needed to up their level and these scraps could easily have been turned into feasts.

The Italians did win one contest, in fact they proved themselves to be the undisputed champions at looking aggrieved at a referees decisions. Never have you see so may raised shoulders, upturned palms, and wide, offended blue-eyed stares in your life. Especially at the award of the penalty, all eleven of them striking the same incredulous pose. Wonderful.

As it is, the Italians’, like the French, have relinquished control over their own qualification. If Romania beat Holland, who have already won the group and will surely be planning to rest players, then Italy and France are on their bike, whatever happens in their own game. The Dutch, I’m sure, will be terribly concerned about playing fair given that the Italians or French would be their likely semi-final opponents should either get through at the expense of Romania.

I am starting to come to terms with the idea that before this tournament is out, I may have to heap praise on a Dutch side. Which is a terrifying prospect. Far less likely at the moment is that I will have to do the same with the French, so it’s not all bad.

Interestingly, a Romanian victory over Holland on tuesday night is already as short as an 11/10 shot. In fact Holland are barely favourites for the match, having scored 7 goals in two games against the two World Cup finalists. Hmm. The words ‘Rat’ and ‘Smell’ spring to mind.

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