Tag Archives: France

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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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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Would everybody please calm down!

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Having been their harshest critic, it is only fair that I give Holland due credit for setting out on the road to proving me wrong. The Dutch scored two classic breakaway goals that lit up the tournament, and crushed Italy in a way they cannot have suffered in years in a match of this status.

ITV however, with something approaching a decent game to follow the abomination that the BBC had just shown, of which more later, just had to go completely over the top. All of a sudden the final whistle blows and the Dutch are being hailed as geniuses, their two counter-attacks in one game being compared with the sublimity that was Total Football, a dynasty which lasted nearly ten years, and Marco Van Basten’s famous goal being broadcast in dangerously close proximity to shots of Dirk Kuyt. Anyone would think Italy had just been given a footballing lesson on the scale of Brazil 1970, not just been caught flat footed on the break twice by a bit of slick passing. Some perspective is required I think.

If you asked Holland what their ideal scenario for a match would be, they would ask for a goal start, giving them the opportunity to sit and do absolutely nothing whilst waiting for a chance of a counter-attack. The officals duly obliged with the first part, allowing Holland a highly illegal and match altering deadlock-breaker after Van Nistelrooy tapped in from a position of at least five yards offside inside the six-yard box.

On the subject of which, why is it when there is such a blatant mistake made by the officials, the commentator describes the goal as ‘debatable’? This was true of both creepy Clive Tyldesley on ITV, and Motty on the BBC highlights. “A highly debatable goal”. What’s debatable about it? The man’s a mile offside and the officials have made an embarrassing mistake. There’s no counter-argument, where’s the debate? Most irritating.

I actually have a theory that the offside rule is altered on the hoof to allow goals by Ruud Van Nistelrooy. I remain convinced that the rule change that allows a player in an offside position to score in a second phase of play was made during a league game between Manchester United and Southampton in order to allow a Van Nistelrooy goal.

Anyway, Italy quickly went in search of the equaliser, but were swiftly caught cold at their own corner by a stunning break finished by Wesley Sneijder. Earlier, Van Nistelrooy could have given the Dutch a lead with a real goal, but turned down a tap in to instead make a comical attempt to cheat a penalty off Buffon, who saw the striker coming a mile off and made him look a fool.

In the second half Holland didn’t exactly sit back, rather they ceased to participate in the match altogether, and you felt that had the Italians pulled one back the Dutch might have crumbled. The Azzurri were soon to realise though that this was not their night, as one chance after another was spurned, and one scramble after another fell at the feet of an Orange-clad defender. The pressure grew, the substitutions that introduced Grosso and Del Piero meant the Dutch were asked many more questions, and then just when it seemed that a goal was inevitable, it came. At the other end.

Andrea Pirlo, who looked to have too much on his shoulders in the creativity department without Totti and was largely ineffective, enjoyed his best moment of the night, striking a free-kick to perfection that Van Der Sar miraculously saved, allowing the opportunistic Gio Van Bronckhorst to launch another lightning counter-attack which he eventually had to finish off himself after Kuyt had made a pig’s ear of the initial chance. Italy’s complete disorganisation in the face of these breakaways highlighted the gaping hole left at the heart of their defence by the absence of Fabio Cannavaro, I doubt Italy have ever looked so vulnerable in a major tournament. Marco Materazzi looked like a boy who had been left to cross the road by himself for the first time, having spent years holding his mother’s hand.

A night that went perfectly to plan for the men in Orange, but a display that hardly makes them “favourites for the tournament”, as ITV would have us believe. I am fairly certain that the bookmakers will not share their view that Holland are suddenly more likely to lift the trophy than the Germans. They also have plenty of time to revert to type and start cheating.

If Holland defied my expectations of them by producing some decent football, France showed them the way in meeting theirs with a bullet. The BBC predictably gave Les Bleus all the hype you could wish for. Ninety minutes later, and Alan Hansen is uttering the phrase “worst game I have ever seen in my life”. Which is inaccurate, as I happen to know he watched the 2007 FA Cup Final, but the sentiment was appreciated. The French delivered a horror no-show that even I didn’t think they were capable of. I expected France to be awful, but they were nowhere near that good. France failed to win more corners than a team rooted to their own 18-yard box. Despite having a multi-million pound, multi-trophy-winning strike force of Henry and Anelka, the French registered three shots on target, at least one of which was by Jeremy Toulalan, who has scored one goal in his entire career. The standard of French passing, final-ball, and finishing set a new low for their wretched spell under madman Raymond Domenech, and an acute sense of injustice must have been felt in Scotland after such a lamentable display from a team they beat twice in qualifying.

It’s a shame for everyone that the Scots didn’t make it, as the excitement factor would have been increased 100 times had the Tartan army brought their brand of tension-wracked majestic failure to the party. Instead we have to suffer a bunch of Frenchmen rather too keen on their national stereotype for being laid-back. Someone ought to tell them that it’s supposed to mean relaxed, not dormant.

It’s a shame too that Romania had clearly listened to so much press, they were expecting a French barrage. The obvious mistake they made was in not reading this blog, if they had they would have known they were perfectly safe to launch the odd attack here and there. Shame on them. Seriously, if Romania go out they will kick themselves for not having a bit more courage in this game, there’s no reason at all they couldn’t have beaten France comfortably.

Unlike our over-excited friends at ITV, I shall refrain from making judgements about any teams based on one game. I made two bold predictions about this group, and as yet it’s far too early to admit I was wrong about Holland, just as it’s too early to claim I was right about France. The Holland v Italy match didn’t look to be going anywhere until the Dutch were gifted a lead, so it will be interesting to see how they get on in other games, assuming that the officals won’t give them a goal start every time. We have yet to see their reaction to going a goal down, which could be an issue for the Dutch, as it usually involves kicking, spitting, sulking, and general nastiness.

They don’t have to worry themselves about it just yet though, their next game is against the French.

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Group C Preview

Oh how much I am looking forward to this! The Group of Death, packed with footballing royalty boasting numerous Premier League superstars, how can it fail to be anything but a glorious celebration of the beautiful game, packed with spectacular action and goals??

No, I was never any good at disguising sarcasm, must try harder next time. Why on earth is everyone getting their knickers in a twist about a group which has paired two sides who can always be relied upon to drag the great name of football through the mud?

Raymond Domenech

First we have the French. Now I don’t mind so much that they are widely tipped to win the tournament. I don’t agree, but I can see that there’s clear evidence to suggest that they can spawn enough 1-0 wins to get them through a short competition. What does irritate me is that some idiots still expect France to be in some way entertaining, and the TV directors delight in bombarding us with meaningless slow-motion montages of Thierry Henry et al flicking the ball over some defenders head. In short, France are the Brazil of Europe, geniuses in a bygone age, now nothing but moody, shoulder-shrugging, ultra-cynical, ultra-defensive killjoys who could no more take the game to the opposition than they could take an Orange Sauce prepared by an Englishman.

Ah yes, Orange, which brings us onto the next mob in this group. Compared to the Dutch of course, the French are footballing saints. If expecting beauty from France is naive and ill-informed, expecting it from Holland is the act of the deluded and insane. Anyone who has watched the Dutch play since the 1990 World Cup will know that they have become the standard-bearers for all that is filthy and loathsome about the modern game. Yes, yes they’re mostly supremely gifted footballers, only a fool would argue otherwise, but what use is that when you are also the biggest bunch of petty, snivelling, whining, cheating, disloyal, hold-out-for-an-extra-5-grand-a-week-when-you’re-already-on-80-grand creeps to be found anywhere in the footballing world. But because they once had a player and a team that represented the exact opposite, no one ever sees fit to point it out.

So I think by now you should know where my allegiance lies in this group.


Raymond Domenech

France – There is no denying the French back ten is going to be difficult to breach, nor that Franck Ribery has been one of the outstanding players in Europe, and is an exciting prospect even in a team as negative as this. Their tactical cowardice has the potential to bring them down though, as it did 4 years ago, and in the 2002 World Cup. Having scraped through to the World Cup Final in Germany on the back of one good performance, faith has been kept in their certifiable manager Raymond Domenech, who picks players based on their star sign. His philosophy includes the view that “I could never pick a Leo in defence because I just know he’s going to show-off and cost us”. Which perhaps explains why not too many French supporters rate their chances that highly. We also know that Thierry Henry rarely turns up in these events, and in fact has barely had an impact at international level since Euro 2000.

Italy – The world champs are notoriously slow starters, and that looks like being a worse idea than usual in this group, but I still make them favourites to come through. Many of the games will be tight, and no one is better at controlling a tight game than Italy. The difference between Italy and the rest is that if they wish to put up the shutters, their defenders are capable of doing so without the help of the rest of the team, which gives them far more options than others who have to pull the entire team back to achieve the same effect. In short, Italy know how to defend properly, which is different to being negative. They practice the art of defending, which almost everyone else has lost. To knock them out, someone is going to have to work out how to score against them, something nobody managed from open play in the World Cup.

Holland – You might say that I’m biased, and you would be right, but even objectively I think that the Dutch are sitting ducks in this group. They were behind Romania in qualifying, most of their squad is injured or woefully out of form, and their dressing room atmosphere will be frostier than the Arctic Circle. For their manager Marco Van Basten, a genius, it must be soul destroying presiding over Dirk Kuyt, knowing that he can’t pull the boots on himself. Their first match is against Italy, and if they get it wrong the Dutch will be in their least favourite position – under pressure.

Romania – Everyone’s idea of the outsiders, but the only thing they have to fear is fear itself. If they go in with the attitude that their only chance against such lofty opposition is to park the bus on the goalline and hope for the best, they will probably lose every game 1-0. The Romanians are the equals of even this company when it comes to technique, and considering that they probably have the most vulnerable defence in the group, the most sensible policy would be for them to show courage and try and scare the pants off some of these overrated chancers. I don’t hold out much hope for this though, and I can see them being condemned to a series of narrow defeats. They are certainly not without their chances though, and having finished clear of Holland in qualifying, beating them in the process, they ought to go into that fixture with expectation rather than mere hope.

I will be happy to eat my words if proved wrong, but I will be amazed if this group throws up anything other than tedium. Just await the first TV pundit making an outdated crack about Italy being boring, then see if he takes it back when the Azzurri turn out to be the entertainers of Group C.

Match To Watch – Italy v Romania

Match To Miss – France v Holland

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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