Friday, June 13, 2008

Euro2008 Day 7 Open Thread

Ever since the draw was announced months ago, the whole world has been creaming their pants about the final group stage match between Italy and France. How ironic it would be if after today that match is rendered damn near moot- if they both lose today then Italy are eliminated and France would need to beat Italy and then get lots of help in the other match. It's a funny old game...


9 a.m. PST ESPN2
Romania looked rather Greece 2004-like to me the other day- supremely hard to break down, and hoping to scrap a goal here or there. If Italy are flat again, with Toni a non factor and all "sixes and sevens" at the back, Romania have a great chance to win or get a draw. Hard to imagine Italy playing that poorly again- Del Piero comes in and takes the captain's armband, and apparently some other changes will be made as well. 1-0 to Romania or 1-1 would not surprise me.

Halftime. 0-0.
This ain't no bore draw. Very exciting- lots of chances by both teams, this could easily be 2-2. Toni's headed goal looked offside to the naked eye, and was called as such, but replays showed the he was on. This is really good stuff and this game may very well come to a boil in the 2nd half.

54 min. Italy 0-1 Romania. Zambrotta fucked up a headed clearance and instead knocked it down beautifully for Romanian striker Mutu, who slammed it into the roof of the net from about 12 yards. Azzurri on life support now but have 35 minutes to recover.

56 min. Game on! Less than two minutes later, it's 1-1, as Panucci scored from a header after a great header across the face of goal. The match is now pretty frantic with lots of back and forth. Strap yourselves in, the last 30 minutes are going to be quite a ride.

Italy 1-1 Romania. Final.

Wow. Probably the most exciting match of the tournament thusfar. Lots of end to end action, good chances for each team, and some outstanding saves. It all came to a head in the 81st minute, when Italian defender Panucci pulled down a Romanian striker on a cross into the box, and a penalty was given. It didn't look like a penalty in real time, but replays show that Panucci wrapped his left arm around the neck of the Romanian, which is why it was given. Adrian Mutu stepped up to the spot with a chance to basically put Italy to the sword. His penalty was a rocket shot but poorly placed, and Buffon guessed correctly but actually dove past the ball. He amazingly reached back to his right, behind his body as he was diving through the air to his left, knocked the ball with his hand, and then kicked the ball clear with his right foot. Remarkable save, although Mutu's penalty was pretty crap when you look at it again on replays. It's hard to tell on replays if the ball would have gone in if Buffon had only hit it with his hand and not his foot, but it was remarkable nonetheless. On replays is looks almost as if he knowingly pinballed it from his hand to his foot then kicked it out, even though in reality it was a split second reaction. Amazing stuff and he saved Italy from being eliminated from the tournament.

Italy felt hard done by on the penalty call, so you knew that in the last 10 minutes they would do what they do best, flop around in the box and appeal for a penalty of their own, hoping the referee would award them one to even things up. It was pretty embarrassing, 3-4 pretty ridiculous flops and appeals for a penalty ensued, but the referee didn't fall for any of them.

So it ended 1-1, as exciting a 1-1 as you'll ever see. Thanks to Buffon Italy are still alive, but they now know that no matter what happens in the late match, they absolutely have to beat France outright on Tuesday to have any chance at going through, and it looks like no matter what they will also need help from the other match as well.

Romania are still in with a shout, and they'll be hoping for the Netherlands to beat France and secure qualification as group winners; then they will very likely rest some key players in their final match against Romania, thus improving the chances of Romania getting the result they will need to go through themselves.

11.45 a.m. PST ESPN2

Can the Oranje possibly play that well again? Was it a one-off or are they a juggernaut? Vieira and Henry are back for France. Can PV4 put France on his back again and lead them out of trouble and into the knockout round like he did in World Cup 2006 against South Korea & Togo, or is he past it?

Netherlands 4-1 France. Final.
Yes. Juggernaut. No are the answers to the prematch questions above. PV4 failed to put France on his back and lead them out of trouble mainly because PV4 did not play.

First half was controlled by the Dutch, who created much more, but at halftime the only thing separating the two teams was a header from Cobra Kai's own Dirk Kuyt off a corner kick.

The French came into the game more in the second half, and had the better of it for the first 15 or 20 minutes. Then a beautiful team goal made it 2-0. Van Persie finished off a perfect Robben cross with a powerful volley that the keeper got a hand on but could only slow down. AS much as I have always disliked him, and as much of a one dimensional fox in the box finisher as he is, credit where credit is due to Ruud Van Nistelrooy, for it was his amazing spinning touch that started the whole move by saving the ball from going out of bounds, splitting 2 defenders, and right into the path of an onrushing teammate. A beautiful team goal.

But France kept fighting, and in the 71st minute Henry flicked in a Sagnol cross to make it very much game on, and also made up somewhat for TH12's pretty weak miss when all he had to do was lob the keeper and he hit it way over.

But as happens so many times, France were still reveling in their goal and probably not sufficiently focused back on the game, and Arjen Robben scored less than 1 minute later with a ridiculous shot from a ridiculous angle to make it 3-1. France created lots of chances and almost made it 3-2 a few times, only for Sneijder to add a Dutch cherry on top of the sundae with a rocket shot from the edge of the box in the final minute to make it 4-1. That goal was a crucial blow to France, as it dropped them to -3 on goal difference, which is exactly what Italy are on.

Holland certainly outplayed France and deserved to win, but to those who missed the match and only see the score 4-1 is a bit harsh on them.

What struck me watching this game is that France's problem- other than a lack of an inspirational leader a la Zidane or even Vieira- is that there is simply too much very average talent in their team. Bottom line is that Goivu, Malouda, Toulalan, and even Sagnol are just plain average {Toulalan especially has been decidedly average- why doesn't Diarra play?}, and Makelele, Thuram, and even Gallas are in the middle of the slide from special to average. Hell you can even argue that Vieira and Henry are also in the middle of that slide, which leaves Henry and Ribery or just Ribery alone depending on your point of view, as well as some very talented kids. It's simply the least amount of talent that they have had on the field since their run started 10 years ago.

So Holland win the Group and will face the runner up form Group D in the quarterfinals. For the other three there's everything to play for on Tuesday {you think Adrain Mutu felt bad before- imagine how he feels right about now?}. If Romania beat Holland then they are through no matter what; if they draw or lose and there is a winner in the Italy-France match, then that winner will go through as runner up. If Italy & France draw, then Romania can clinch 2nd place with a draw against Holland; if Italy & France draw and Holland beats Romania then Italy, France, and Holland will be tied on 2 points and it will come down to the tiebreakers and will likely depend on the scores on Tuesday {a scoring draw and Italy would win the 3 team tiebreaker on tiebreaker C- goals scored in matches between the tied teams; a scoreless draw and Romania would win on tiebreaker D- goal difference in all group matches, unless Romania lose to Holland by 4 or more goals. If I'm reading all this right then it means that France must win, as they cannot draw and win any tiebreak scenario}. So there it is.

Right now The Dutch and the Spanish look like the two best teams, but remember World Cup 2006 when Spain played probably the best soccer in the group stage and looked unstoppable, only to flame out in their first knockout game against France in the round of 16. Netherlands 2008 remind me of Spain 2006 in the group stages, but as we all know things can change rapidly from match to match.


beast in 'bama said...

What I dread about Dirk Kuyt? He flies around at 100 mph, and you never know what opportunities he's going to miss or what damage he's going to do.

What I love about Dirk Kuyt? He flies around at 100 mph, and you never know what good he's going to do or your team.

One thing is for certain about Kuyt: he will never, ever get out-worked on the pitch. You know, he's really having a really, really good tournament so far, with a goal and two assists in two games. Of course, it would be difficult to name a Dutch player who's NOT having a good tournament right now.

Thanks for the break down of the matches. I was on the road visiting a client today and didn't get to see a minute of either game.

Kanu said...


Yup- well said about DK.

No worries, I hope you get to catch the matches this weekend. Enjoy.

beast in 'bama said...

Continuing your looks-like theme...

Cameronesi of Italy: Bruce Springsteen c. 1973 - The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle. Check out the album cover if you don't agree. Hell, I'm not sure Cameronesi isn't actually Boss Jr.

And I'm gonna go all Larry King on you here: If there's a better goalkeeper than Buffon, I haven't seen him yet. I just saw the highlights, and he saved (no pun) Italy's collective ass today.

Kanu said...

Face= yes. Hair, not sure. Merits more research on my part.

Agreed on Buffon. Before the broken skull, I'd maybe put Cech as 1 and GB as 1A, or them both as Co-Best In The World. I think these days it's Gigi 1 and Cech 1A. Pretty amazing that Cech is still so good after a broken skull and a ripped up face.

beast in 'bama said...

Hate to admit this since he plays for Chel$ea, but I like Cech a lot. He's well-respected and a good sportsman at all times. But if I were choosing sides, right now I'd go with Gigi.

And when Camoranesi (sic, this time) goes with the ponytail look like he does so often with Juve, he's an absolute dead ringer for a younger Bruce.

Michael said...

A couple thoughts:

1. The French have loads of talent. Any side that can leave Nasri and Benzema on the bench has plenty of quality players. For me, their problems are two-fold:

a. Their tactics are inept. WTF are you doing with two defensive midfielders when you're trailing by two goals? Ribery and Malouda would be much better if they had any support from the midfield.

b. Their veterans - Henry, Thuram, Makelele, and Gallas - seem indifferent. That's where the leadership comes from.

2. After seeing RVN's array of touches, you can't call him one-dimensional any more.

3. I like Kujt on this team. With a bunch of very skilled players, you need a workhorse who doesn't need the ball at his feet to make plays. He blends beautifully with RVN, Sneijder, and van der Vaart up front. I've never been a fan of Kujt, but he's growing on me.

4. When the Dutch scored, didn't the camera show Cruyff? The ESPN guys said is was Neeskens, but I'm almost positive that it was JC.

Kanu said...


Good stuff as always.

1. I certainly see where you are coming from, but Nasri & Benzema are still young unproven talent at the national level, as is Gomis. My point is that when I see this team play, and I compare it to France teams of 1998-2006, there are several dudes on the field that would never have seen the field during that stretch. Toulalan? Goivu? I also think Malouda is pretty damn average. Hell, for me the fact that Sidney Goivu wears the #10 pretty much sums it up.

1a. Agreed, but then Domenech is a crazy old man, and I mean literally crazy. We're talking about a dude who has never selected Robert Pires a single time since taking over in summer of 2004 because Pires is a Scorpio. When you're dealing with that level of nuttiness there's a good chance you'll get head-scratching tactical decisions as well. Simply put the man is a buffoon.

1b. Yes the veterans are a bit indifferent. I wonder is this is subconsciously because for all those dudes mentioned, they came through and played under iconic talisman Zidane, and he was their leader, so they are used to following him and now that he is gone it is not natural for any of them to assume such a role because they are basically conditioned to be followers over the last 10-12 years. I think only Vieira can assume that leadership role, and he hasn't played.

2. Never liked RVN, but I will concede he has expanded his repertoire from the dude who scored 150 goals for ManUtd and 149 of them were from inside the box {read: one dimensional goal poacher} while diving cheating and whining all along the way. I've seen this expansion in the last year watching RM matches as well, and although I see less of him than I used to he seems to have toned down the diving & cheating as well, so good for him.

3. He's good at what he does, working his ass off to compensate for not being as skilled as others and playing the workmanlike role. Is he the Mark Lemke of Holland?

4. I didn't catch that, but Moin says it was indeed JC and was amused by his reaction: