Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Goodbye Group Stage, Hello Quarterfinals

The group stage is finished, and I have to say that the tournament thusfar has been very enjoyable to watch with lots of exciting soccer- more good attacking stuff then boring defensive negative stuff.

And looking at the quarterfinal matchups, it looks damn tasty with arguably 7 of the 8 teams playing wide open attacking soccer with only Italy being stereotypically cautious and defensive, although they have not been all out catennacio thusfar and have created a number of chances of their own.

The thing to remember is that what is done is done, and now the etch-a-sketch has been well and truly shaken up and it's a whole new ballgame with a clean slate. Meaning- just because Holland were the best team in the group stage, that's no guarantee of success in the knockout stage. You only have to go back to World Cup 2006, when Spain were undeniably awesome in the group stage, only to flame out in the first knockout stage, and just like that they were out. It happens all the time- such is the nature of knockout competitions, as anyone who has watched an NCAA basketball tournament knows. So as good as the teams that have been good have been {if that makes any damn sense}, they now have to refocus and do it all again. Conversely, do not sleep on a team like Italy that just snuck in- they are dangerous and will be feared by everyone else in the field. Remember that both Italy and France didn't play very well in the group stage at World Cup 2006, they both snuck through to the knockout stage by the skin of their teeth, and then proceeded to pick off a bunch of teams that had played better in the group stage and ultimately they both made it to the World Cup final.

So here are your quarterfinal matchups:

Portugal v Germany
Thursday 6/19
11.45 am PST ESPN

Croatia v Turkey
Friday 6/20
11.45 am PST ESPN

Netherlands v Russia
Saturday 6/21
11.45 am PST ABC

Spain v Italy
Sunday 6/22
11.45 am PST ESPN

All four matchups are looking super tasty on paper- here's hoping they live up to their potential.

Although I was able to correctly predict 7 of the 8 quarterfinalists, I got the matchups all wrong so there's not much left there other than my Spain over Germany in the final pick. And as I've said before, picking knockout stage is a fool's errand. Two years ago I picked 15 of the 16 teams that made it to the knockout stage of World Cup 2006, but then it all went pear shaped. Quickly.

If I had to predict again based on these matchups, I'd say any of these could easily go either way, but if pressed I'll get crazy and pick Portugal to beat Germany, Turkey to beat Croatia, Russia to shock Holland {just for shits & giggles}, and Spain to beat Italy, and for Spain to beat Portugal in the all-Iberian final.

But other than my longstanding dislike of Italy, I wouldn't mind any of these teams winning the title, although it would be easier to accept Portuguese success if CR7 tweaked a hamstring and was out for 2 weeks, or if he played rubbish but the team did well- neither scenario seems likely.

I'm on a flight to Chicago this afternoon for the weekend- I may get to post, I may not, so this may very well be the open thread for the next for days. I always enjoy reading your opinions, so have at it.

Can't wait for these playoff matches. Enjoy!


beast in 'bama said...

Really looking forward to watching the big, powerful Germans against the tiny, quick Portuguese today - talk about contrast. With a healthy Podolski, I would have picked the Germans without hesitation. Now I'm not so sure.

I would pick Croatia to win it all right now, but the Turks are proving very difficult to put away. Could be an upset...

I'm still rooting for Spain to win it all, but my head tells me Croatia or Germany.

Kanu said...

Agreed on Podolski being a big loss for Germany, although they are always a tough out and if Gomez and Odonkor get going they can beat anyone in this tournament.

I think it would be great if Holland or Spain, Europe's 2 biggest underachieving powers {although England could certainly claim that title as well}, won the title, or if a non powerhouse that plays attractive soccer won it, like Turkey, Russia, or Croatia.

Killing My Liver said...

That Spain - Italy match might be the best of the cup. Looking forward to that. I would also like to see Tyrkey do well.

Kanu said...

Frings is out too- cracked ribs.

That's 2 pretty big cogs in the wheel.

beast in 'bama said...

Schweinsteiger: pig sticker?

Whatever, he's sticking Portugal pretty good right now: 1 goal, 1 assist. The free kick was better than the goal he scored.

beast in 'bama said...

One of the all-time great crowd shots just now: a Portuguese couple in the stands, the woman is smiling and holding something in front of the man. He flicks whatever it was away, never taking his eyes off the field, not saying a word - with a look on his face that we're all familiar with:


Kanu said...


Funny, the dude next to me at the pub asked me: "Schweinsteiger, doesn't that mean Pig Killer?". I only know about 10 words of Deutsch, and that sure as shit isn't one of them. If it is Pig Killer, then the question becomes is he a tribal hunter, the owner of a butcher shop, or Woody Harrelson in Natural Born Killers?

Also, I much preferred the crowd shot of the lovely Portuguesa looking despondent right after the full time whistle. Muita bom!

beast in 'bama said...

Definitely Woody Harrelson in NBK. The amount of blood in that movie was comparable to a good pig-sticking.

Those cameramen earned their pay today - I saw the Portuguese brunette you were talking about. Right before the end of the game, they had a brief shot of an equally respectable blond German girl.

I was under the impression (from yesterday's reports) that Podolski had an injured calf. He certainly didn't look injured setting up that first goal to the pig-sticker. Of course, he didn't contribute much after that, either.

Michael said...

1. I think Schweinsteiger means "pig climber." Do with that as you will.

2. Is it really fair to call the Dutch underachievers when they have a very small country and have won a major tournament while making the finals or the semis in a bunch of others? They aren't in the same league as England and Spain in terms of underachieving.

3. Italy had two wins and a draw in the '06 World Cup group stage, despite the fact that they were in a difficult group. They did not get off to a slow start by any means. In fact, the last World Cup winner to get off to a slow start was Italy '82. Since then, the winners have all done well in the group stage:

Argentina '86 - two wins and a draw.

West Germany '90 - two wins and a draw.

Brazil '94 - two wins and a draw.

France '98 - three wins.

Brazil '02 - three wins.

The Euros have been a little different:

Greece '04 - 1-1-1 (although I think they had clinched a second-round spot when they lost their last group game).

France '00 - two wins and a loss (and they had already clinched a second-round spot when they lost their last group game).

Germany '96 - two wins and a draw.

Denmark '92 - a win, a loss, and a draw for a team that was on vacation until Yugoslavia ceased to exist.

Holland '88 - two wins and a loss.

France '84 - three wins.

Short answer: Italy would be an exception to the rule if they win the cup after a poor showing in the group stages.

Moin said...

Out of the 390+ minutes of football they've played thus far this tournament, Turkey has been in the lead for about 2 minutes. And they are in the semis. Incredible stuff.

Kanu said...


2- probably not.

3- Well said. With Italy06 I meant more that they didn't play especially well in the group; I chose my words poorly- thanks for putting me in check.My bigger point was not to write off teams that aren't hitting on all cylinders in the group stage, thinking of Italy this time around, although I obviously should have included Germany in that thought.

Moin- it is amazing. I was trying to think if any team in a major competition has ever scored goals in the final minute of 3 consecutive matches like that. Couldn't think of any int'l teams, closest & thought of was ManUtd's super late wins in semi & final of CL99. Really amazing stuff, but they are totally up against it against Germany w/ Tuncay, Arda, Asik all out on yellow suspensions(the 1st two being totally soft 2nd yellows).

moin said...

Before you get too excited about Arshavin, I have two words for you: Tomas, Rosicky. Just a reminder.

beast in 'bama said...

Do ya think Arshavin's price tag has gone up in this tournament? The leprechaun was talking about Celtic being interested in him earlier in the match. After this game, he's moved up to La Liga, EPL and Serie A territory...

I'm desperately hoping he grew up a Liverpool fan:)

Signal to Noise said...

Spain survived the ref's awful officiating today, but the better question is whether they can survive Aragones' line-up decisions or substitutions.

No matter how crap Torres plays, he doesn't do stuff that might cost you games like Guiza did. I mean, playing a cross with your arms!

Killing My Liver said...

Turkey = done. I'll be suprised if they even get eleven men on the field. Nihat is already hoime, and with all the suspensions, and Germany playing like they are, it's going to be a long day.
So, Torres was pretty much the only person getting through Italy's D all day, and in come Guiza, to catch the ball in his hands on a cross. Brillinst move.

moin said...

KML, you must've been watching a different match than me. Torres did absolutely nothing before he was taken off.

On a related note, sure Guiza was not better, but this Torres worship has got to stop. He is the exact same player he was when he was at Atletico, one season of English coverage and suddenly he's the great Spanish hope? Guiza did more in last season in La Liga than Torres ever did, for much less talented teams. So Guiza didn't exactly rise to the occasion this last match, but what has Torres done since the Russian match to show that he could?

Oh, did I mention Torres was a notoriously bad PK-taker while at Atletico?

I, for one, thought all 3 substitutions were spot on. It was obvious that the midfield and forwards weren't going to get it done playing the way the they have, so why not bring on two much more direct and physical midfielders as well as another forward to see how things go? And if you are going to take off a forward, you don't take off the great PK-taker who is currently the tourney's leading scorer.

Killing My Liver said...

I'm pretty sure I watched the same match you did. What I was saying is that while he might not of scored, he was in the right position most of the time. It only takes one bounce the right way for the pundits to say "he worked all game for that chance", etc. I think the sub was poor.
I cannot speak for his PK taking ability, I have no knowledge. But I do know where the best footballers are, and that's in the EPL. La Liga is also stock with talent, but we all know where the truth lies. All the Torres worship comes from his performance this year. He made the best players in the world look outclassed. So, I don't see your correlation.