Tag Archives: Turkey

What’s Luck Got To Do With It?

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The consensus after another breathtaking instalment of Euro 2008 last night was that Turkey were incredibly unlucky not to beat Germany and reach their first ever major tournament final. The facts are that Turkey outplayed Germany and should have won the match, but that they didn’t had very little to do with luck.

The conclusion of luck being the decisive factor is arrived at either by romantics who felt cheated by the denial of an exciting upset, or red faced pundits who so confidently predicted an easy German win, despite all evidence saying that the tournament is highly competitive and tough to predict. The latter were very much in evidence on the BBC, with messrs Hansen, Shearer and O’Neill learning nothing from their experience with Holland on saturday, and all making no case for even a competitive Turkish display let alone a result.

If, when reflecting this morning on how they let their chance slip despite wiping the floor with Germany for almost the entire match, Turkey also feel they were dealt a poor hand, I would ask them two things: Firstly, how unlucky was it that your goalkeeper got himself suspended for deliberately pushing someone over infront of the referee, and that the best you could do for a replacement was an ageing clown? Secondly, how unlucky was it that despite dominating possession and continually exposing the German defence as being average at best, you failed to nail your chances? As managers have been keen to remind us in many a post-match interview down the years, you make your own luck in this game.

Turkey should have ended the night celebrating a magnificent overturning of the odds, and a spectacular tactical victory. Fatih Terim produced another coaching masterstroke, with a gameplan of all-out attack that stunned the Germans and everyone else. Germany would surely have gone into the game fairly confident of spending most of the game in the ascendancy, thinking that their biggest problem would be getting past a Turkish back nine. This, after all, was how Turkey approached the quarter-final against Croatia, and they went into last night’s game with their side further damaged by injury and suspension.

The Turks’ radical change of tactics took the Germans completely by surprise, and allowed them to dictate throughout. They went for it pretty much straight from the kick-off, and the totally unprepared German defence looked a shambles in trying to deal with it. Turkey initially looked to have benefitted from one of their injuries, as Colin Kazim-Richards (or Kazim Kazim as he’s known to the Turks), in for the injured Nihat, caused Germany huge problems early in the game with his pace, though as the game wore on he ran out of gas. After a succession of near things however, it was Kazim’s shot that hit the bar and bounced out to Ugur Boral who snaffled the first goal.

In truth, the Turks should have been infront before then, and they were made to pay almost immediately; the lead they had worked so hard for was wiped out in the space of four minutes as lazy defending allowed Podolski to cross from the left, and Schweinsteiger to nip infront at the near post. A 1-1 half-time score was an unbelievable result for the Germans who desperately needed the break to try and formulate plan B, but whatever they came up with didn’t work as they were soon pinned back again.

The second half was quite different to the first, but still dominated by the Turks. In the first period they had whizzed around the Germans like eleven red blurrs, hurrying and scurrying and creating panic in the German rearguard with their urgency. They had relied on this defensive chaos for their chances however, rather than putting together moves that flowed cohesively. In the second half the Turks slowed things down a little, but this time gave the Germans a lesson in passing, movement and technique, knocking the ball around with complete assurance and starving the Germans of possession. They were forcing the Germans further back, but this time, ironically, failed to apply the urgency needed to create chances.

It appeared as though the pressure would eventually tell on the Germans, their play had descended into aimless clearances that suggested desperation and, incredibly for a German side, they were beginning to look beaten. Turkey however, were a team trying to cover up a massive weak spot, and 11 minutes from time, it was exposed. Philipp Lahm put in a fairly harmless cross, and the embodiment of the phrase ‘dodgy keeper’, Rüstü Reçber, duly obliged. The veteran idiot dashed out hopelessly after the cross, was beaten to it easily by Klose, and Turkey’s hard work appeared to have been undone in a moment’s madness.

Against anyone else Germany may have thought that the goal had come late enough to be the winner, but it would have actually been more of a surprise if Turkey hadn’t scored in the remaining time. They duly equalised with four minutes to go, and this time it was the Germans’ unreliable goalkeeper who came up trumps, Lehmann finding a dreadful position at his near post that allowed Semih Sentürk to pop up with his third vital goal of the championships, after the magnificent Turkish full back Sabri Sarioglu had embarassed Lahm for the umpteenth time down the right hand side.

If anything though, Turkey scored too early this time. I think they must have been confused when the final whistle didn’t go immediately after they’d scored, and I’m not sure they knew what to do with themselves for the remaining four minutes plus injury time. Unfortunately, whilst they were thinking about it, the Germans came in and gave them a taste of their own medicine. In the fashion we’d become accustomed to from the Turks the Germans replied “think that’s a dramatic late goal? Huh! This is a dramatic late goal!”.

Said goal came from that man Lahm, who had been a strong candidate for being the worst player on the field with an absolutely wretched defensive performace. Like all good modern full-backs though, he looks much better in attack, and went on a charge which resulted in him starting and finishing a beautiful little interchange, transforming him from villain to hero in an instant. The Turks quickly learned how Croatia felt about Rüstü at the end of the quarter-final.

The Jekyll and Hyde Germans had been unrecognisable from the victory over Portugal, and no German more so than Michael Ballack. Where was he? With the Turks running rings around the German midfield, this man who had given a herculean display against Portugal was nowhere to be seen. Germany were missing everthing that Ballack provides, leadership, physical presence, a calm foot on the ball in midfield. There just appeared to be a huge Ballack-shaped hole in the German team. How could his form turn around so quickly? The question could easily be asked of both teams, such was the sea change in their performances from their previous outings.

It was an especially interesting night for our beloved broadcasters, and not just due to the punditry team taking yet another disastrous stroll through the minefield of prediction – though there was one notable member of that team who negotiated himself across safely, the wonderful Marcel Desailly, who has easily become the leading punditry craftsman of the tournament. Desailly identified before the game exactly how Turkey could hurt the Germans, and his colleagues should hang their heads in shame for dismissing the Frenchman’s view until it turned out that he’d been right all along.

Upstaging all that however was a freak thunderstorm in Vienna, where the BBC studio was situated and where the worldwide TV feed was powered from. The storm meant a significant part of the coverage was interrupted. The BBC apologised profusely for this, clearly expecting an enormous backlash. But why? The loss of coverage meant not only a lack of picture but also sound. That’s right! John Motson and Mark Lawrenson were silenced! I would personally like to wholeheartedly thank the BBC, or whichever Austrian was responsible, for these precious moments of respite.

Not only this, but the BBC quickly moved to get the commentary from Five Live to accompany the broken pictures. Now, us cool kids had of course switched to the Five Live coverage immediately on hearing Motson’s voice in the pre-match build-up, via the red button. For everyone else though, can you imagine the delight? Suddenly all the inane drivel is replaced by actual analysis, sharp observations, humourous asides that are actually funny, and – gasp! – commonsense! I wonder how many people who had previously been listening to Motty and Lawro went straight for their red button or nearest radio as soon as normal service was resumed. Chris Waddle by the way, is a first-rate summariser who should be moved several places up the beeb’s pecking order.

This match was also another success for Basle, which once again proved itself to be the stage on which to see drama. Basle has now given us Switzerland v Turkey, Germany v Portugal, Holland v Russia, and now this. Vienna on the other hand has given us three matches involving Austria, plus Croatia v Turkey, and Spain v Italy. Is it too late to launch a campaign to get the final moved?

Perhaps Basle has just been lucky? Or maybe the conditions there are more condusive to an exciting game? Maybe the BBC viewers struck lucky getting Motson switched off? Or were they just denying themselves some decent commentary in the first place? Are the Germans lucky to be in the final? Or do they just have the spirit to hang in there even when they’re having a shocker? And did Turkey endure bad luck? Or did they just pay for having inadequate players at the sharp ends of the pitch? Depends what you have invested in the answers I guess.

Turkey have left this tournament with many of it’s greatest memories. Long after someone has finished waving the trophy around on sunday, we will remember the dramatic moments that Turkey’s unpredictable tactics and incredible fighting spirit have produced. For the fact that they won’t be adding to the legacy on sunday however, they only have themselves to blame.

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Follow Your Leader

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International football proved itself yet again to know no boundaries when it comes to cruelty, as Croatia were sent packing from Euro 2008 by Turkey in the most astonishing circumstances. If football was run on a basis of commonsense like most other sports, and timed matches offically rather than leaving it up to one individual’s watch, Turkey would now be on their way home. Instead they scored the latest goal ever in the history of the European Championships, 121 minutes and 4 seconds into the match, which was 4 seconds after their time should have been up.

Croatia themselves had broken the deadlock less than two minutes earlier, but couldn’t wait to indulge in wildly joyous celebrations, and failed spectacularly to observe Brian Clough’s old maxim that ‘It only takes a second to score a goal’. The brunt of the blame for this must be taken by the man who led them so magnificently to this stage, their coach Slaven Bilic. In a previous post I had commented that Bilic had given the impression of being the strongest leader amongst all the competitors coaches, but I was proved wrong as Bilic allowed himself to be swept away by euphoria when his side scored in the 119th minute, joining a pile of rejoycing bodies instead of calming and organising his players to see the job through. At that moment Croatia required leadership, but for once it was not forthcoming.

Croatia’s failure to spend 90 seconds nailing a victory which they had deserved exposed a lack of experience at this level both on the pitch and the bench. They also missed clearcut chances to win the game in normal time, and failed to heed the warning of Turkey’s previous match-winning late finishes, so any claims of bad luck on the Croatians’ part would be misjudged.

Bilic and his side were punished in the harshest way possible, as their nerve disintegrated in the penalty shoot-out where they were barely able to hit the target. The scenes afterwards told you everything about the expectation that they had carried into the game; crestfallen Croats littered the field, many in tears, others rendered numb by the sudden and untimely death their campaign had suffered. For Croatia this wasn’t meant to happen, mentally it seemed as though they were already in the semi-final against Germany and that was almost certainly their fatal mistake. Defeat at this stage, after winning three group games easily and convincing themselves and everyone else that they were genuine contenders for the title, was something they were utterly unprepared for and it showed on the faces of their shattered players and supporters.

The Turks showed once and for all, if there could have been any remaining doubt, that they don’t know the meaning of giving in; and yet unlike in their previous unlikely recoveries against Switzerland and the Czechs, this time they were genuinely beaten. None of the Turkish players could honestly say that on going behind they immediately steeled themselves for a 90-second attempt at retrieving the situation. What they did was win a free-kick in their own half, launch it hopefully into the area, and get lucky on two counts as the loose ball dropped at the feet of Semih Sentürk, and his shot took a deflection and flew into the top corner.

The drama in this encounter was almost entirely reserved for the final two minutes of extra-time and the resulting penalties. The 118 minutes that had gone before Croatia opened the scoring had been largely forgettable, Turkey basically setting out to run their legs off in an attempt to keep Croatia’s time and space to a minimum, which was negative but sensible, given that Croatia would have destroyed them had they been allowed this, and the Turks knew it. The Turks had to work so hard to prevent Croatia from playing that they had very little resources left for attacking themselves.

Turkey shouldn’t have got away with it, as even though chances were few and far between for Croatia, when they did arrive they were gift-wrapped, and Ivica Olic will be seeing the open goal he missed from 4 yards in his sleep for a very long time. Luka Modric, the best player on the pitch by a mile, escaped wonderfully from the attentions of two defenders to slip a ball straight to Olic that took the goalkeeper out of the equation, and the striker somehow contrived to hit the bar when needing only to tap it over the line. Chances such as this one should have been snapped up by anybody, and those citing the loss of Arsenal’s Eduardo from Croatia’s line-up as a reason for their failure to break Turkey down are off the mark; Croatia hadn’t missed him up to this point, and they did enough in this game to win without him again.

The second half was even worse than the first, and Croatia simply ran out of ideas. In extra-time they ran out of energy too, and sensing they had broken their opponents, Turkey became more ambitious, and began to look the more likely winners for the first time in the match. That was until their most vulnerable factor, veteran goalkeeper Rüstü Reçber, rendered all their hard work meaningless, or so it seemed, by wandering off after a ball drifting tamely away from his goal, only to beaten to it comfortably by Modric who centred the ball for sub Ivan Klasnic to head home.

Rüstü, quite frankly, had a dreadful night. Yet somehow, in Jan Tomasziewsi fashion, he managed to keep almost everything at bay despite quite obviously being ‘a clown’. That was until his faux-pas appeared to have cost Turkey the game, but the keeper was given a quite undeserved opportunity for redemption; firstly sending the free-kick into the box from which the Turks’ equalised, then saving the final penalty which sealed their semi-final place. That such an awful performer on the night should end as the hero must have been tough to swallow for anyone inclined towards Croatia, but for us neutrals the good news is that Rüstü may well be back again in the semis to provide yet more comedy, that is unless first choice keeper Volkan Demirel wins an appeal to have his suspension reduced from two matches to one. The biggest question posed by Rüstü’s display, is just how bad must third choice keeper Tolga Zengin be?

Only a complete fool would write the Turks’ chances off altogether, but with more suspensions collected in this game, plus another key injury to add to their list, to striker Nihat Kahveci, you have to fear for the first semi-final as a contest. If the Germans can wipe the floor with Portugal, they ought to do the same with a decimated Turkish side you would think, but then again the Turks will be more organised at the back than the Portuguese, and they will do everything they can to frustrate the Germans. If the Turks get through the first hour at 0-0 again, anything becomes possible, though if they find themselves within one goal as the game enters its final seconds, something tells me the Germans might just be a little more prepared to deal with a final desperate throw of the dice.

Croatia are a massive loss to Euro 2008, and have played a huge part in making it the great tournament it has been. I don’t think anyone watching them over the last year or so, and that will include plenty of English fans, could argue that England are close to Croatia as a team right now, or that anyone else should start as favourites for World Cup qualifying group 6. It was sad to hear Slaven Bilic say that he had thought about quitting, so devastated was he by this loss. Although his and the players’ inexperience proved costly for Croatia in this match, they will surely never find another coach who commands such respect from the team. They must stay together, and learn together.

Interestingly, Turkey’s win made it two out of two for the group runners-up, despite the ‘advantage’ gained by the group winners by resting all their players for the third match. Surely the idea couldn’t be proved to be entirely false logic? Could it?

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You Asked For It (Part 2)

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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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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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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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