Tag Archives: Ronaldo

You Asked For It (Part 2)



Another day, another team who think disorganisation and panic are vital ingredients in defending a lead. Not that I’m complaining, as the culprits in question this time contributed to one the most astonishing games seen at this or any other championship.

More viewers will inevitably tune in to the final, or semi-finals, but what they don’t understand is that it is the final round of group matches which provide the truly unmissable fayre at a tournament. Mind you, this group had the potential to peter out timidly; one game was a dead rubber with Portugal already through and the Swiss already out, which meant it was left to Czech Republic and Turkey as the only ones in a position to provide drama. They didn’t disappoint.

With Euro 2008 already being touted as one of the greatest football tournaments ever, two more unfashionable sides raised the bar by several more notches. UEFA had already offered the match the possibility of breaking new ground, by declaring that a penalty-shoot out would settle a draw at ninety minutes, with the two sides having identical records after the first two games. In the end it wasn’t necessary, and the tension created in the final 15 minutes surpassed anything that the penalties could have thrown up.

The Czechs dominated the first half to such an extent that it must have been worrying to end it only one goal up. They got their direct game based around the giant Jan Koller working to far greater effect than they had against the Swiss in their opening match, and Turkey couldn’t cope. A traditional British style of play was employed (is it always us who must learn from the Europeans?), and was thoroughly enjoyable to watch, with the ball being played forwards with urgency to two wingers attacking at pace, who regularly got behind the full-backs before delivering crosses for a big target. And those crosses, they kept coming in, causing difficulty almost every time, and Koller inevitably got his head to one to register his 55th international goal.

Turkey, who had virtually surrendered all possession in the first period, had to make a change and they did. Tuncay was moved in from the wing to play in the centre of midfield and ran himself into the ground in order to get the Turks back into the game. It initially worked, as Turkey began to apply pressure, but then they were caught by a Czech break which resulted in a second for Jaroslav Plasil. The Turks on the touchline raged that they had not been allowed to make a substitution with one of their defenders clearly injured, but the ball hadn’t gone out of play in order to allow this to take place.

ITV’s Jon Champion, like the rest of us, thought that this would be the signal for Turkish meltdown. On previous evidence it’s difficult to argue that this did seem the most likely outcome, especially with the disappointment at going two down exacerbated by the injustice they felt about the second Czech goal. The final half an hour might easily have seen Turkey end the game without their full compliment. As it turned out, that’s exactly what happened, but by the time it did Champion, and all of us, owed the Turks an apology.

The Czechs came within inches of burying the match when Jan Polak smacked one against the post, but Turkey survived that, then launched a quite staggering comeback. The inspiration for this was the much-maligned (especially by me) Tuncay, who ran and ran and ran some more, and set a magnificent example to any fragile temperaments there may have been amongst his colleagues. His endeavour embodied a never-say-die attitude that began to rub off amongst his team mates, and was encapsulated when he ran twice across the pitch to receive a replacement linesman’s flag, and deliver it to the official who had managed to break the original.

Still two down with a quarter of an hour left, the Turks were piling everyone forward. It was by this time that the Czechs had made the fatal error of retreating to the edge of their own box, guaranteeing that they would only the final period one way – under intense pressure. Turkey finally broke through thanks to a smart finish by Turan, and the Czechs knew they were hanging on for dear life. They made it to within three minutes of the ninety ending before Petr Cech made surely the biggest howler of his career, though by no means his first of the season, and handed an equaliser to Turkish captain Nihat on a big shiny solid silver plate. Bedlam ensued at the Turkish end of the ground, and on the bench, as they celebrated a well earned shot at a place in the quarters via a penalty shoot-out.

The drama, however, had barely started. The predicted Turkish indiscipline had not materialised, but there was now plenty of it from the Czechs, who lost their way completely. The next Turkish attack resulted in a shambolic Czech defensive line being comfortably breached by that man Nihat, who stunned everyone with a majestic curling finish off the underside of the bar. The bewildered Czechs, who had taken off their wingers and now had no attacking shape whatsoever, attempted to launch a response, and Milan Baros inevitably began to strip off but amongst the mayhem never actually made it onto the pitch.

Four minutes of injury time were signalled almost immediately after the third Turkish goal, but these were barely underway when suddenly curtailed by yet more craziness. A disbelieving crowd saw Turk goalkeeper Volkan Demirel make a valiant attempt to secure himself a chance of saving some penalties after all, by first flying out of his goal to flap at a ball, leaving an empty net which the Czechs failed to find, then following it up by shoving Koller to the ground in full view of the referee who dismissed him immediately. What Demirel had almost certainly forgotten was that the Turks had used all their subs. So, the question was, who would go in goal for the remaining time? There was only one answer of course, the heroic, if completely insane, Tuncay pulled on the gloves, and safely kept a three minute clean sheet.

The broken Czechs slumped, and amid the chaos there was no real chance for them to bid goodbye properly to two heroes, manager Karel Bruckner, and the magnificent Koller, both of whose careers came to an end with the final whistle. They should have had more to show for a fantastic Czech dynasty, and they will always look back knowing that Euro 2004 should have been their moment.

What this incredible match offered was yet another example, and once again I beg TV executives to take note, of what makes football the phenomenon it is. In fact if all games were like this there would surely be no non-believers left. At face value, this match was as far from being box-office as it gets, and therein lies the problem. Czech Republic v Turkey, ask our TV friends? Who’s interested in that? Where are the superstars? I can’t see anyone from a cola commercial on this pitch, which one out there earns 80 grand-a-week and dates a model? How the hell do we sell this? Surely the people would rather watch Portugal?

The truth is you don’t need any of the above. When left alone, football looks after itself. Without any help at all this match descended into glorious anarchy. Don’t these people realise the lifeblood of football is it’s unpredictability, and that’s the very thing being eroded by the Premier League and Champions league as every season goes by. Perfection isn’t exciting, we want disorder, pandemonium and instability. This match had them all in spades, which is why it will live long in the memory of anyone lucky enough to have seen it.

The Swiss bowed out of their home tournament against Portugal reserves, and happily went out with a victory for their departing coach Kobi Kuhn. He will surely look back on Hakan Yakin’s scoring record of 3 in 2, and wonder why on earth the last part of that stat is only 2. The man who provided the Swiss’ only threat of the tournament was not given the opportunity to do so in the opening game, and they’ll always wonder if it could have been different. Only saw highlights of this one thanks to the simultaneous kick-offs, but from what I could tell Portugal appeared to be offended that they’d actually been asked to play the match.

Their early demise was a great shame for the home fans, who are a massive part of any tournament. For national bonkersness we must now look to Austria, and if they beat the Germans believe me, it will be on a grand scale. If it comes about in as dramatic a fashion as last night’s game, I think I shall need a lie down. As this incredible tournament has gone on, each match has had more and more to live up to, but has somehow risen to the challenge. We just have to hope now that Czech Republic v Turkey doesn’t end up as the match of the tournament.


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Filed under Football, Group A, ITV, Sport, TV, UEFA Euro 2008

A Powerful Statement Of Intent

“What? From who exactly?” I hear you ask. Certainly not from our opening victors, the Czech Republic and Portugal, who recorded victories that looked impressively routine and untroubled, without suggesting that they have any credentials on the title. No, the beligerent start was made my our old friends at ShITV, who ensured that any lingering doubts that they would be unable to reach deep down to match the depths of past embarrassments were swiftly and ruthlessly extinguished.

As the opening titles faded out, the very brief wide angle shot of the studio before cutting to presenter Matt Smith was more than enough for any of us inititated to make out the figure of Gary Neville on the sofa alongside Andy Townsend. It is worth taking a moment to remind oneself that this was ITV’s opening match of the tournament; are we to assume that this is their punditry first team? If so, fair play to ITV, this is the equivalent of gallows humour from supporters of a hopeless team who know they have know chance of escaping relegation. This is ITV singing to their audience “we’re shit, and we know we are”, loud and proud, and every football fan can appreciate that.

The full hand was yet to be exposed though, having sat through a turgid build up to Portugal v Turkey, in which messrs Neville and Townsed imparted upon us as much wisdom as we might have expected, we were soon to learn that, incredibly, the lowest point of the evening was not to arise from the studio. When we were taken to the match itself, we were left in the hands of Clive Tyldesley and David Pleat. These are two men who display very different kinds of incompetence; Pleat is really just a lovable old fumbling Grandad who gets his cliches mixed up and can’t pronounce names correctly, which is highly embarrassing for his broadcaster, but fairly tolerable for any viewer with a sense of humour.

Tyldesley is a different animal altogether. He doesn’t make mistakes, in fact he is articulate and assured at the microphone, and he sets about his job with supreme confidence. The problem is that his job, it would appear, is to sell as many shares in Manchester United as possible. Never have I heard such a nauseating amount of grovelling in a commentary in my life, if ITV haven’t received a million complaints demanding this man’s immedate sacking then the viewing public’s apathy has reached a terrifying level.

I would have expected, and accepted, that Cristiano Ronaldo would receive more attention than anyone else during this match; he’s a superstar, he’s the subject of a transfer saga, and he’s just had an incredible season for his club. He is not, however, playing for United in this tournament, this is an international fixture between two teams playing for a rather important trophy, more important in fact than either of the two that United won last season, which Tyldesley obviously saw as a vital piece of information for the viewers, as he deemed it appropriate to remind them of it on at least three occasions. This was bad enough, but to give similarly disproportionate amounts of attention to Nani, an insignificant part of both United’s and Portugal’s squad, was unforgivable.

“Let’s not forget, Portugal can still call on the services of RONALDO’s UNITED team-mate NANI”. “Oh, and UNITED fans will be interested to know that NANI is warming up, are we about to see a UNITED combination for Portugal?”. “Will Portugal now benefit from the fact that they have two UNITED players on the park? RONALDO and NANI must have developed an understanding together at UNITED”. And so on, and so on..

Tyldesley’s crawling is one of the worst examples of a huge misjudgement made by both broadcasters, that of believing that nobody in England can possibly be interested in the tournament without English reference points, and without an England team to provide it the result is that every last effort is being made to sell the fact that Premier League players are in the tournament. A piece of advice for the broadcasters: Anyone not interested in watching the tournament without England is not going to watch. They are watching something else, they are down the pub, they are visiting their Gran, but THEY ARE NOT WATCHING!! Please get this into your head. The people that are watching however, are football fans, of which there are a great many, and WE ALL KNOW WHO THE NAFFING PREMIERSHIP PLAYERS ARE AND WHO THEY PLAY FOR!!! Please understand that your audience for this tournament are the initiated and knowledgable when it comes to football and stop insulting our intelligence. Please also fire any commentator who cannot deliver a commentary without constantly talking about the club he supports, especially during an INTERNATIONAL TOURNAMENT! Thank you.

The football? Well it was largely uneventful, which is why the dreadful broadcasting was a more interesting topic for discussion. The Czechs nicked a 1-0 against the co-hosts in a poor quality opening match. The Swiss, presumably over excited after an abundance of cows and milking maids during the opening ceremony, forgot that they were supposed to play with ten at the back and actually showed some attacking intent, but that only served to expose the fact that they don’t have a single player who looks like he’s been near an opposition goal for several years. The nearest thing they have to it, Alexander Frei of Borussia Dortmund, limped off just before half-time, making a Swiss goal even less likely. They should have secured a 0-0, as the Czechs looked devoid of ideas without the retired genius Nedved and the injured Rosicky, but they were caught by a ball down the middle which Sverkos got on the end of and fluked a mis-hit finish past the wrong-footed Swiss keeper.

Portugal were more impressive against a Turkish side that fielded surely one of the least threatening forward lines ever seen at this level in Tuncay and Colin Kazim-Richards, both of whom have failed to trouble the not altogether impressive defenders in the Premier League, so seem even less likely to succeed here. Portugal scored two nice looking goals, thanks to an enterprising centre-back and a team caught with too many bodies forward in injury-time. The Portuguese however, failed to convince anyone that they can get around the gaping hole in their centre-forward position. Nuno Gomes was predictable in every sense bar five minutes of looking threatening. Bizarrely this period was restricted to just five minutes by his manager Scolari, who chose to take him off immediately after he had hit the bar.

Overall, everyone in this group needs to improve in order to achieve their respective realistic goals. Unlike reliable old ITV, who have set an example to all in this tournament by finding their desired level immediately.

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Group A Preview

Trying to make predictions in this event is a mug’s game , so I will openly admit here and now that I haven’t got a clue who will qualify from this group. It’s far easier to make predictions of style and content (or lack of either), so I will go with that. Stick with what you know, that’s what I always say, and what I know is that most of the teams in Group A would rather spend the tournament in a cuckoo clock museum than in the opposition’s penalty area. Anyone hoping for score-fests please try another group. In fact you’d probably be best off skipping this tournament altogether. Come to think of it, have you ever tried Basketball?

Switzerland – That is probably the one and only time you will see the co-host’s name spelt with one ‘Z’ in this blog, for once they have taken the field I usually find it appropriate to add several more. Lest we forget, this is the side that exited the 2006 World Cup after keeping four successive clean sheets, but so unfamiliar were they with the concept of scoring that, when it became a necessity in their penalty shoot-out against Ukraine, they failed to find the back of the net even once. The Swiss basically have Plan A – get everyone behind the ball and hope for a streaky counter attack/deflection/dodgy pen/bored opponent to get red card. There is no Plan B. Hang on a minute though – this sounds familiar doesn’t it? Don’t Greece currently hold the trophy thanks to this exact tactic? The truth is that any team organised enough to bore the opposition to death cannot be dismissed, and host nations generally don’t flop whoever they are, so the Swiss are not without their chances. Any tournament is improved 100% if the home fans unite behind their charges, so from that perspective, I’d like to see the Swiss do something. However, it shall not be pretty, you have been warned.

Portugal – Oh dear oh dear, this group is cursed. Blessed with midfield talent but (still! after all this time!) no striker, the Portuguese can be incredibly frustrating. Big Phil Scolari is clever, and not just because no amount of money could persuade him to manage Manchester City. He realises that no amount of showing off from Ronaldo and co is going to do him any good if there’s no-one up top to stick it in the net. So he goes back to basics; defend properly, men behind the ball, la la la, you know the rest. I cannot believe I’m about to watch Nuno Gomes play with his hair whilst defenders around him head balls away for yet another tournament, surely someone must have pointed out by now that this doesn’t work! Portugal were pretty dire in qualifying, and scraped through at the expense of the likes of Finland and Serbia, but qualifying form is pretty meaningless here. The facts are that Portugal’s record in the last two big tournaments is losing semi-finalists, and losing finalists, and with a striker they would probably have won both those games. It’s a record to be respected, but if someone’s prepared to really have a go at them I think Portugal could be vulnerable. Can’t see that coming from at least two of their opponents in this group though, so they’ll probably come through.

Czech Republic – Ah, a shining beacon of light for Group A. The Czechs arrive with their inevitable ‘dark horse’ tag, but the truth is in the last two tournaments they have been genuine contenders and missed their chance. Euro 2004 really was theirs for the taking, but the loss of their creative genius Nedved early in the semi-final cost them dear against the Greek defensive wall. They should still have had enough to win though, and thoroughly choked on the day. In Germany, the Czechs started the World Cup playing like champions, but injury to their talisman, the giant striker Jan Koller, destroyed their campaign. All of which suggests the Czechs were a class outfit with their best first 11 on the park, but never had much depth in the squad, which means that the subsequent retirement of Nedved and the injury which robs them of Tomas Rosicky may be too much for them to overcome. They will, however, at least try and score the odd goal here and there, and that courageous nature could be enough to see them through against the lily-livered company they have in this group.

Turkey – Turkey will start this group a comfortable fourth in the betting market, but I’m not sure why. Their matches against Portugal and Switzerland are likely to be turgid affairs which will be settled by one goal, and there’s no reason that goal couldn’t fall to them. It must be said though, if Turkey had been given a tougher qualifying group, they may well not be here. They qualified in second place, just seeing off Norway, and finishing seven points behind the group winners Greece, which doesn’t exactly make them a form horse. Also, their strike force contains such Premier League giants as Tuncay of Middlesbrough, and Kazim Kazim, better known to us as Colin Kazim-Richards, relegated with Sheffield United in 2007. Not exactly a strike force to be feared. However, Kazim appears to have improved since then, if his stunning goal for his current club Fenerbahce against Chelsea in the Champions league is anything to go by. The Turks can be a little unpredictable tactically, mostly setting out to keep it tight, but with a tendancy to indulge in some tomfoolery at the back, which can on occasion lead to some excitement.

So, my verdict for this group – is that I still have no idea. I just have a suspicion that the Swiss will qualify because tournaments where at least one host nation doesn’t qualify for the second stage are incredibly rare, and that responsibility appears to be solely in the hands of the Swiss in this competition. I can visualise qualification being a complete scramble after a succession of draws in the earlier games, which could at least provide us with some fun in the last ten minutes of the final matches. Just don’t expect too much before that.

Match to Watch – Czech Republic v Turkey

Match to Miss – Portugal v Switzerland

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