Euros prove it's still a beautiful game
I have seen ALL 16 teams at the Euros and I am glad that, despite the best efforts of some irresponsible coaches, the beautiful game is still alive.
Watching some of these players show the technique and movement one always wants to see is heart-warming. I had feared that Chelsea’s win of the Uefa Champions League was going to affect many teams’ styles. Touch wood, that hasn’t happened. Yet.
Co-hosts Poland started like a house on fire against Greece. The ref added to the drama by his mindless second yellow card to defender Papasthopoulous; this after the much sought after Lewandoski had scored for the home side.
The Greeks recovered and showed fantastic courage of their convictions to play a passing game and keep possession, with Karagounis, the skipper, at the hub of it all. The sub Salpingidis gave them the impetus with his directness and willingness to get into the box. He scored and won a penalty that should have won them the game had Karagounis tucked it away.
The Russians were just sensational against the Czech Republic in the second game. Again, the confidence to play the ball to feet in tight areas was evident. The technique and movement of the midfield trio of Zyryanov, Shirokov and two-goal hero Dzagoev is as good as you are going to get from any trio in these championships. These three were at the top of their games and thus liberated Arshavin, who reminded us of the form we always knew he had when he was captaining Zenit St Petersburg before Arsene Wenger took him to London. The 4-1 score line flattered the Czechs and I strongly believe that much more is going to come from the Russians.
One of the pre-tournament favourites took on the ’92 Champions Denmark in the second day. Now I am sure Arsenal fans will disagree with me but I do not think Robin van Persie has done enough in his international career to warrant a starting place ahead of Klaas Jan Huntelaar.
I mentioned in my preview of the tournament that Holland will likely suffer or thrive depending on how the Schalke striker is used. Yes, the Arsenal striker was unlucky in some instances against Denmark in a match where skipper Daniel Agger was imperious and his partner Kjaer at the heart of the Danish defence played above his Roma form.
The Danes have been given scant praise for their one nil win but one which they got because they again had the courage of their convictions to play the ball out of defence and into midfield and were soon breaking at the Dutch back four again and again. Lack of composure in the final third denied them more goals than the excellent one scored by Michael Krohn-Deli in the first half.
My favourites Germany had a proper contest with Portugal. The major difference was how unlucky the Portuguese are that they do not have a centre-forward. In all honesty, it is a disgrace that Helder Postiga still gets called up and is given national caps. He is a waste of a valuable shirt.
Ronaldo, Nani, Moutinho, Contreao and Veloso all had good games and even the subs that came on, except Postiga, who stank out the stadium. He really should not get another game. Nani tortured Lahm all through the match while it took a fantastic tackle from the obdurate Boateng to deny Ronaldo after a flowing move had freed the Real Madrid forward.
Germany on the other hand possess two of the best players in the world in their positions. Bastian Schweinsteiger is a midfield conductor of the highest order. He receives every ball in a sideways position so that he can give it and move and then move some more to receive another pass. Brilliant.
The other is Mesut Ozil. There are few players who play in between that corridor between the defence and the midfielders in international football other than the Real Madrid player. Portugal could not live with his influence at the start of the second half and it led to the winner that Gomez plundered with a fantastic header from a Khedira cross. Germany might need to find a proper wide right player in place of Muller but you just get the sense that they can play better
The arrogance or foolishness that informed Vincente del Bosque’s decision to start a match without a recognised striker might come to haunt the world champions. Yes, later, after Torres came on, they could have won it but it would have been cruel on an Italy side that were worth at least a point from a match in which they were ready to give as good as they were getting.
Coach Prandelli threw a surprise when setting out a three-man central defence with De Rossi as sweeper. The Roma man went ahead to play in a manner that the late great Gaetano Scirea or even Franco Baresi would have been proud of. De Rossi tackled when he needed to, but it was his confidence to pass the ball out of defence in the face of usual Spanish pressing game that gave those in front of him the confidence to take the ball on.
Andrea Pirlo rolled back the years to bamboozle Busquets and Xabi Alonso time and again. Around the veteran, Thiago Motta and Marchisso were excellent. Spain’s problems might be political. For why must a team have Busquets and Xabi Alonso in the same starting line-up? Especially when Xavi and Fabregas are available.
It seems that Del Bosque is worried about something not to do with football. Anyway, there surely cannot be a better sight in world football than Andres Iniesta on the ball and in full flow. The little man’s ability to beat men and at pace is simply bewitching and he does it so effortlessly. He suffered a lot because they had no focal point of a striker at the start.
An honourable mentions to Modric and Srna for Croatia. The Spurs man in a deeper position was excellent and made the game look easy against Whelan and Andrews of Ireland. That group is still wide open.
If anyone ever wondered why Roy Hodgson has not succeeded at any big club he has managed I think the way he set England out explains it all. He is a dour defensive coach and honestly they run a risk of not getting out of this group. Every tournament they complain about not having the players “to play in between the lines” when they have been knocked out and yet they have chosen managers in Erikson and now Hodgson; men who seem slaves to the conventional 4-4-2 formation.
I do not think Scott Parker is worthy of an international shirt, especially in tournament football. The Spurs midfielder is highly rated for his blocks by the strident London-based press but, in reality, his desperate measures are more indicative of his very poor timing and positional sense that make it such that he has to resort to last ditch efforts.
Offensively, he is such a liability as he is more prone to passing the ball backwards than forward. With better penetration and a centre-forward more inclined to be in the box than Benzema, the French could have won it. The trio of Cabaye, Malouda and the giant Diarra were too good for the stretched Gerrard and the limited Parker. Young and Welbeck did their bit but you just knew that only a ghastly mistake might let them in as they were badly isolated. Maybe Blanc could let Ben Arfa off the leash earlier and who knows they could get a win against the hosts.
Speaking of the hosts, Ukraine’s favourite son, the wonderfully gifted Andriy Shevchenko, scored two glorious goals to complete a comeback that did not look on the cards after Ibrahimovic gave the Swedes the lead. Anyone who has watched Sheva from his early days at Dynamo Kyiv will not have been surprised at the quality of his finishes.
Sheva will get the accolades for his goals but the hosts have three or even four players that were excellent on the night. The youngsters, Yarmolenko on the right and Konoplienka on the left, were confident, comfortable and penetrative all night. The former’s delicious cross set-up the first brave diving header by Shevchenko while the latter delivered the corner for the winner.
The shaven headed Azarenko grew into the match and bossed the midfield with a powerful engine and not a little amount of invention. Sweden could and probably should have had a point; Ibrahimovic planted an easy, unmarked header against the post when he really should have scored and, in the closing minutes, Elmander shot hopelessly high and wide after great improvisation by Ibrahimovic.
In those last 10 minutes with Svensson, Karlstrom and Wilhemson on the pitch, the Swedes showed that they are not just a workman-like team. This group is so very wide open and any two from these can still qualify.
More of these matches please.