Sunday, June 29, 2008

Euro2008 Final Open Thread

11.45 a.m. PST ABC

Before the tournament I picked Spain over Germany in the final, and based on what I've seen there's no reason to back off that now.

Germany has been the best team in this tournament on scoring goals from crosses from the wings and volleyed or headed goals, so watch for them to try to get wide and send in crosses and continue their same winning strategy.

Spain will have more possession and try to win with running and quick passing. Germany are very organized at the back and keep their shape, so they will have looked at the Italy-Spain tape and seen that the best way to defend Spain is to deny them space in their final third.

Enjoy. Viva Espana!


Spain 1-0 Germany.

Well deserved. They pretty much dominated. Senna was player of the game for Spain and for the tournament as well. He beautifully protected Spain's back 4, their 1 weakness, and was outstanding at link up and transitional play from defense to attack. Would have been well deserved if he finished off that great move and nearly goal that he missed my 2 inches.

Very happy for Spain; I've always dug them. Sucks that racist curmudgeon Aragones was the one who led them to their first title in 40 years, but you can't have it all.

World Cup 2010 qualifying is under way and the finals will be here before you know it- 24 months isn't that long a time period.

I'm still hoping to go climb Kilimanjaro in 2010 then jam over to South Africa for a week or two to soak it all in {although if the dollar keeps going at this rate there's probably no way I can afford it}. Anyone wanna go?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Semifinals Open Thread

Wed. 6/25 11.45 a.m. PST ESPN

Simply stated, Turkey are up against it. Several key players are injured: Nihat, Emre Belozoglu, Servet Cetin, Emre Gungor, and Tumer Metin. Adding insult to injury is that 4 more players are suspended: first choice goalkeeper Volcan, Tuncay, Arda, and Asik. This is extremely harsh as I detailed in the previous post, and leaves Turkey in all likelihood with only 13 outfield players to choose from. Sucks, because a full strength Turkey against Germany would probably be an awesome spectacle to watch, but as is it doesn't look like a game that will be very competitive unless Germany play as poorly as they did against Croatia earlier in the tournament, which doesn't seem too likely.

Turkey have nothing to lose, they are already the darlings of this competition, having played 390+ minutes of soccer thusfar and only being in the lead for TWO MINUTES, yet here they are in the semifinal. As such, I hope Fatih Terim has them attack and try to win, even if it is a bit of a Braveheart battle charge, but it seems the only chance for success. Sitting back and defending, allowing Germany to come at them for the whole match looks to me like it will result in certain defeat, so why not go forward and try to attack and win valiantly? Even if they fail they will be lauded for trying, and given what they are up against they will still be seen as triumphant heroes if they go out this way.

Germany have a full compliment of players to choose from and truth be told, given the circumstances, it will be an absolute shock if they don't win.

Germany 3-2 Turkey. Final.
One of the best games that you'll ever sort of get to see. Turkey did indeed go Bravehart at the beginning, raising their weapons, screaming "FREEEEDOOOMMMM!!!!" and attacking all out in damn the torpedoes- full speed ahead fashion, and they dominated the first 20 minutes, at one point outshooting Germany 6 to 1 and pretty much pinning them in their own end. Germany were lucky when a Turkish rocket shot blasted off the crossbar after about 10 minutes; then in the 22nd minute a funky spinning lob also hit the crossbar, came back to Boral who hit it in off Mad Jens {formerly} of North London. Kind of a fuckup by Mad Jens, although in his defense that ball was spinning as much as any ball you'll ever see, both when it came back off the post and then was shot at him in mishit fashion; the slow mishit and the spin seemed to throw him off. Either way the Turks were 1-0 up, and deservedly so.

Of course after leading only 2 minutes of the tournament to that point, out of 400+ minutes, they were able to hold onto their lead for all of 4 minutes when Podolski sent in a sweet cross and Sweinsteiger has an even sweeter one touch finish giving Turkish keeper Rustu no chance. Turkey then went back to dominating the latter stages of the first half, and it was 1-1 at half and very much game on.

One note- there was a nasty collision at the end of the half between Germany's Rolfes and Turkey's Akman in which they both went for a header and instead smashed their heads together, Rolfes in his forehead and Akman on the top/back of his head. Both men were bleeding pretty good and started getting attention from the trainers. It wasn't pretty. So at one point the TV camera focuses on the Turkish trainer trying to get a gauze or bandage on Akman's head, but it's tricky since he has a full head of hair and the cut is on the top of his head int he back, and the trainer is having trouble, so he grabs a fucking staple gun, places it on dude's skull, and pulls the trigger. Unreal. Not only did Akman just nut up and take it, he kept playing until he was substituted in the 81st minute of the match. Rolfes was worked on until halftime and then substituted at the beginning of the second half. So Ayhan Akman, you win the Euro2008 Hard Nut Award, hands down. Another in a never ending string of evidence refuting the soccer player are fairy sissy boys argument. 1 in 3 NFL players would have been crying for their mommies...

In the 2nd half Germany started to regain control, and you got the sense that the undermanned Turks were running out of steam just a bit going forward, but still holding out defensively pretty well. The big talking point came when Lahm was fouled on the edge of the box and the referee did not give a penalty or even a foul. Replays clearly showed that it was a foul; whether or not it was inside the edge of the box or just outside was less clear, but Germany should have gotten at least a free kick on the edge of the box, albeit out to the side.

Midway through the second half things got shitty, as the world television feed went out due to a lightning strike near the stadium. Being that the ESPN commentators were in a studio in Bristol and not at the match, they couldn't even provide play by play. After several minutes they got the feed back, but then it went out again, in about the 72nd minute. Then we find out that GErmany scored in the 79th minute from a Klose header, but still no pictures. Then right as the picture is being restored in the 86th minute, we see the Turkish bench erupting in joyous celebration and learn that amazingly Turkey has made it 2-2 with only 4 minutes left. Replays showed that Sobri totally used Lahm on the wing and then crossed low and hard which was poked in at the near post- a great goal. Replays showed Klose's goal which was a good header, although Turkish goalkeeper Rustu certainly helped by coming way off his line to get the ball but never making it, leaving himself in no man's land and the goal open for Klose. So 2-2 and it looked like extra time until Philip Lahm, his jockstrap still laying back at the other end of the field, played a great give and go and smashed home a game winning goal in the 89th minute. Turkey's heroic late goal wasn't late enough, and unlike their other victims Germany had a few minutes to respond. Then the feed went out again so we missed extra time only to learn that they match was ended {of course the feed came right back on after the match had ended and worked for the entire post match segment}.

So a damn exciting thriller that ended Germany 3-2 Turkey and Mother Nature 3-0 Switzerland Power Supply. Very frustrating to watch for me as a neutral- I can only imagine how maddening it must have been for those watching in Germany and Turkey. Of course, legendary DC Trojan had the quote of the day on the frustrating power outage for the world TV audience situation when he said: "You'd think the Swiss would have used all that nazi gold on a more robust electrical grid..." Epic.

The other frustrating thing about ESPN's coverage during the power outages was this- they kept showing fans in Basel or Vienna or wherever in fan zones watching on a giant screen in some square, and it seemed pretty obvious that they were somehow getting a different feed than the world TV audience, i.e. they could actually see what was going on. But ESPN just kept the camera on the fans as the talking heads talked- why didn't they just turn their camera around and point it at the giant public viewing screen? Duh.

Turkey were the romantic heroes of this tournament with their never ending run of late theatrics, and even in defeat today they battled against the odds, and came back at the end again, albeit 4 minutes too soon. Even in losing they are the darlings of Euro2008 and will be one of the first things remembered about this tournament years from now. They can be proud of their performance and will always think of what might have been if they had anything near a full strength squad available today.

Germany are through to the final and will play tomorrow's Russia/Spain winner on Sunday at 11.45 a.m. PST on ABC. Here's hoping the TV feeds are intact then as well as tomorrow.

Thu. 6/26 11.45 a.m. PST ESPN2

Spain beat Russia 4-1 in the first group match, but I watched that match and noted then that Russia actually played very well, it was just that Spain played unbelievably great, maybe the best performance by a team of any of the matches in the tournament. After seeing that first match it was obvious that despite the loss Russia were very talented and that they would be extremely dangerous when they got Arshavin back. Down 0-1 Russia hit the post which may have changed the complexion of the match considerably, and they created alot of chances that they squandered. So don't look at that scoreline and assume that Spain will win. Russia are obviously much better with Arshavin and after dominating the best team in the tournament in the group stage they will be full of confidence. Also, like all Guus Hiddink teams, they are supremely fit, which at this stage in a tournament is very significant, and they also have the youngest legs of any team in the tournament, so it was no surprise that they looked so strong against Holland in extra time.

Spain should also be much better against Russia than they were against Italy. Italy defended with 10 men, and clogged up the passing lanes, especially in the middle of defense; but Spain lack width, they don't have true wingers, so instead of getting wide and trying to spread out Italy's packed in defense, they repeatedly tried to go right up the middle to no avail. Russia will give Spain more room to operate, but they also might spend so much time pinning back Spain that, like Holland, they never get into an offensive rhythm themselves.

The only suspension of note is Russian centreback Kolodin, who had a nightmare in the 1-4 loss to Spain in the first match but had been outstanding since {and has been one of the very few players in this tournament to be able to shoot this new ball from distance and not have it sky way above the crossbar}.

Either way this match should be outstanding as both teams will go for it, which should lead to a very exciting match with tons of chances.

Given the unfortunate circumstances for Turkey, today is like an appetizer preceding a grand feast tomorrow.

Although I picked Spain to win it all {over Germany no less} before the tournament, and would be happy to see that final, if I was a betting man right now I think I might just take Russia to win the whole thing. How can you not after learning that they've been offered TWO WOMEN for every goal they score {hat tip to commenter Killing My Liver}?

Enjoy the matches.

Russia 0-3 Spain. Final.

Theo Leads Dawgs In Championship Game Tonight

Georgia plays Fresno State today at 4 p.m. EST {ESPN} in the final championship game at the College World Series to determine the 2008 national championship.

I'm not a college baseball head, but I have enjoyed following the Dawgs playoff run and as good as it's been Fresno State's cinderella run has been even more amazing. Should be a great finish to the season, tournament, and College World Series.

Win or lose, Bulldogs will be champions.

But forget all that. No matter what happens, it is plainly obvious to me that Gordon Beckham, Georgia best player, all time HR king, and 1st round draft pick, is actually Theo from MTVs Road Rules.

Don't believe me?

Here's "Gordon" giving you some backstage access to Georgia Baseball:

OK, now although I can't find any footage from Road Rules featuring Theo from New Orleans, here is some more recent footage from Theo, who apparently is now a comic:

The defense rests. QEDMF.

And Then There Were 4

Quick thoughts on the quarterfinals:

- Germany won two quarterfinals: their own, where they were a little lucky in that Ballack's obvious push in the back for their 3rd goal went unnoticed and what ended up being the winning goal should not have been given, and the Croatia-Turkey match, where they were again lucky that Turkey came back to win in the end, as they had 3 key players suspended through dodgy yellow cards {more on that in a minute} in addition to their injuries, and they won't have to face a Croatia team full of confidence that knows it can beat Germany because it already has, in the group stage. I'm not saying they're not good, they certainly are, but it helps in any competition like this to be lucky as well.

- Despite all their cardiac kids success and everyone concentrating on the Cinderella story, Turkey were extremely unlucky with 3 of their 4 suspensions. First and foremost, two of their best players, Tuncay and Arda received yellow cards against Croatia that ruled them out for the semifinal against Germany, and each of them could be described as soft yellows at best. More likely they were simply fouls, and not even bad fouls either- pretty poor refereeing to give such BS yellows when he should have already known which players were on a yellow and would potentially miss the semifinal with a booking. Asik is also suspended, and you could even argue that his yellow against Croatia should have just been a foul. Adding injury to insult for both Asik and Tuncay is the fact that in the 1st half against Croatia Asik was kicked in the face, right in the mouth, and a foul wasn't even given, and then Tuncay was kicked really hard right in the knee, with studs, and there was no foul given, even though his knee was bleeding and he limped off. That's tough. Hell, if you go back to the red card for the goalkeeper at the end of the Czech Republic match, yes it was silly and stupid, but a straight red? Koller made a total meal of it with a Dennis Rodman exaggeration, but being that it was a little push and not a punch, I'd go so far as to argue that the red card should have been a yellow at most, and he should even be playing today.

This isn't to say that I am a huge Turkey fan, although I like them just fine. I just think it sucks that they have been penalized so harshly and in my opinion, from seeing all the incidents, unfairly, because it really takes away from how good the semifinal against Germany could and should be.

- Russia have been the revelation of the tournament, and I'm happy that I was just a little bit ahead of the curve there on them as well as Arshavin, who I got to see play in the UEFA cup this spring and knew would likely make a big impression at this tournament. But let's remember how close they were to not being here at all. Grouped with Croatia, England, and Israel, they went to Israel in their penultimate match needing a result to clinch, and they hit the bar late and then lost to a late Israeli goal, seemingly knocking them out altogether. On the final day of qualifying they needed to beat Andorra AND hope that already qualified Croatia could go to Wembley and beat England outright, which seemed preposterous since Croatia had already won the group and had nothing to play for. Well Russia beat Andorra 1-0 and Croatia came from behind to beat England at Wembley and famously knock England out, but in doing so they also let Russia in. Russia should send a big fat thank you note or some oil billions Croatia's way, don't you think?

- After Guus Hiddink took South Korea all the way to the semifinal of World Cup 2002, the South Korean government have Hiddink his own freaking island, which left me wondering at the end of the last match- holy hell, what will Putin give him if they win this whole thing?

- Lots of attention has been given to Russia attacking play & domination- and rightfully so- and the Dutch being disappointing, but I'm not sure people are giving enough weight to the fact that the effect of defender Boulahrouz's tragedy had on the team. For those that don't know, Khalid Boulahrouz's and his wife were expecting a child, but complications happened on Wednesday and the baby was born prematurely and then died {that is why Holland were wearing the black armbands on Saturday}. Truly tragic, and I was amazed that he even played on Saturday. Looking back it seems that the Dutch lacked a certain intensity that they showed earlier in the tournament and were sleepwalking/going through the motions just a bit, as compared to their earlier romps. Not to take anything away from Russia, but it's hard to imagine that they psyche of the team was not significantly affected by this tragic loss. Be clear- I am not blaming them at all or saying that they should have worked through it and somehow overcome it, there's not really a way anyone can do that, no matter what people say, but I'm just saying that it was sad and unfortunate timing for the team and for my money it may have played a part in their performance.

- I've never been so happy to see Italy lose as I was on Sunday. They were actually pretty good in the group stage with all the diving, cheating, and usual theatrics- keeping them in check, or as much in check as an Italian team can, but like they so often do, when it gets into the do or die knockout stage, they pulled out all the stops. It was sickening, and even more sickening that the beyond horrid officiating by the referee allowed, enabled, and encouraged it. The whole game had a totally undeserved 1-0 to Italy written all over it, and I was certain that they would win on penalties. I have never liked Italy, but again that was the happiest I've ever been that they lost.

- It sure can't hurt Arsenal any next season that young Cesc Fabregas stepped up and slotted one of the biggest penalties in Spanish history on Sunday, which will do wonders for his confidence- as if he needed that. But it again makes me wonder about Aragones' use of him- it's been pretty obvious to me that in every match he has come on as a sub, Spain has instantly looked better, more dangerous and threatening {or is this observation because I am an Arsenal fan who absolutely loves Cesc? I've seen this written elsewhere, but is that just the English media who see everything through the EPL lens?} . So why doesn't Cesc start? I hear seniority but don't really get it- Aragones has the huevos to leave Raul out altogether but then plays Xavi ahead of Cesc- there's no consistency there. Also curious that Cesc, who despite all his good displays is still seen as the 12th man substitute and not good enough to start, is then assigned to take the 5th penalty kick, which is even crazier when you find out from Cesc himself that this was the first penalty kick he has ever taken at top level, and the first he has taken in any match since a youth game 6 years ago when he was 15. It's not killing me that Cesc is the 12th man, but those things just don't seem to really square up. Either way, fuck it, it's only going to help him be even better at Arsenal.

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!

Euro2008 Day 12 Open Thread

11.45 a.m. PST ESPN

Scenarios: Greece are already eliminated; Spain are already qualified as group winners and will play Italy in the quarterfinals on Sunday. As such, this is a glorified exhibition match.

Greece 1-2 Spain
. Final.

Or should I say... Greece 1-2 Spain Reserves. I didn't see a minute of this match, so I don't have much to say.

11.45 a.m. PST ESPN2

Scenarios: Sweden advance as group runners up with a win or a draw, as they have a better goal difference than Russia. Russia must win to go through as group runners up at Sweden's expense. Whichever team goes through will face Netherlands on Saturday in the quarterfinals.

I've been saying it since before the tournament started; 2 of Sweden's big 3 are past it, and I have predicted from the get go that they would lose this match to Russia. Now their best player and main offensive threat, ZLatan Ibrahimovic, is questionable to even play tomorrow with the knee injury that forced him to be substituted at halftime against Spain. Even is he plays he is clearly not at 100%, which just adds to my feelings about Sweden's prospects. Russia on the other hand, get their best player, Arshavin, back after missing him in the first two matches through suspension. That just makes me feel even stronger that Russia are going to outplay Sweden and beat them. For me they have more talent, younger legs {they are youngest team in the tournament while Sweden are the oldest}, a better coach, and they are healthier. If I lived in England then I would stop off at the betting shop tomorrow on my way to work and put down a nice juicy win bet on Russia. Sweden's time was in the past, especially with Larsson/Ljungberg. Russia's time is now. I'm no expert, but everything I know and have seen tells me that Russia should outplay Sweden and beat them, and that is what I expect to happen tomorrow; all that remains is whether they make me look wise or foolish.

Russia 2-0 Sweden

If a broken clock is right two times a day, then this match turned out to be one such time for the Kanu Wrong-O-Matic Prognostication Clock- it pretty much played out as I though it would. Russia were lively, ran circles around the aging Swedes, and looked significantly better with playmaker Arshavin. Truth be told they should have won this game by a wider margin, but they continued a bad habit of players going it alone when a simple square ball to a teammate would have resulted in a free shot on an open goal or a 1 on 1 with the goalkeeper. That said, both goals were things of beauty, clinical finishes after a buildup of several one touch passes- very Arsenal 2002-2004-esque. After watching today I am prepared to say that with Arshavin in the team, they will give Holland a good game and might even surprise everyone and beat them in the quarterfinal. Not saying they definitely will win, but don't think they will give the Dutch a much better match then they've had thusfar, and their wondercoach Guus Hiddink being Dutch and being supremely familiar with all of their players certainly won't hurt either.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Euro2008 Day 11 Open Thread

This should be the most intriguing and exciting matchday thusfar as three teams battle for 1 spot and any single kick in either game could change the entire qualifying scenarios at any moment- no matter the level of quality of the soccer it will be riveting stuff.


11.45 am PST ESPN

Scenarios: France qualify with a win as long as Romania fail to beat Holland. Italy qualify with a win as long as Romania fail to beat Holland. Italy also qualify with a scoring draw and a Romania loss to Holland on tiebreaker C- goals scored between the three teams in the tiebreaker.

Both teams have been underwhelming, so it's hard to analyze what will happen here. These two were in the same qualifying group- France beat Italy 3-1 in Paris in September 2006, just two months after the World Cup final between these two and the heated atmosphere in the wake of the Materrazzi-Zidane incident. The teams then drew 0-0 in Milan in September 2007 in a bore draw. Recent history here is thick, with France snatching the Euro2000 final from Italy with a last minute equalizer and then a golden goal winner, and Italy beating France on penalties after the teams were tied 1-1 after 120 minutes of the epic 2006 World Cup final. Add to that the whole Zidane-Materrazi thing, and there's a serious rivalry there.

I'm not the best person to analyze this match objectively, because I have always disliked Italy and always dug France, so obviously I would prefer France to win. What's so interesting to me is that this is the 1 match that the whole world has looked forward to since the fixtures were announced months ago, with everyone thinking it would be the be-all end all, and now here we are with the possibility that the "match of the tournament" will be moot if Romania beat Holland.

Italy 2-0 France
. Final.
France lost their best player, Tom Greene lookalike Franck Ribery, in the 10th minute when he was injured and stretchered off. Italy controlled it from the start, and then Abidal brought down Luca Toni in the box with a clumsy challenge from behind: penalty for Italy, Abidal sent off, France reduced to 10 men, penalty converted by Pirlo, Nasri- who came on for injured Ribery in the 10th minute- sacrificed for a defender, and it was all uphill from there. 65 minutes of playing a man down and a goal down against Italy, without your best player and with 2 of your 3 alloted subs already burned up it a tunnel with a very small light at the end.

Predictably Italy bossed it from there on out. France did well to basically hold them, but hold them was not what was needed- what they needed was 2 goals and that always seemed like a bridge too far. Grosso had a great free kick that French keeper Coupet palmed onto the post, and France hung around but didn't look especially threatening with Henry & Benzema isolated alone up front mostly without Ribery making threatening runs from wide spaces and linking up with them. Without Vieira, himself aging, and Ribery, the creative force, France's midfield just lack players that can turn a match.

Italy put the match out of reach midway through the 2nd half with a De Rossi free kick from outside the box that took a deflection off Henry's foot and completely wrongfooted the keeper, who had dived to his right to save the shot only to watch the ball deflect in behind him into the other side of the goal. Unfortunate, but every goal looks the same on the scoreboard, and at 2-0 up and 11v10, this match was well and truly over.

So thanks to Holland Italy are through, and France are out. France's play in this tournament was pretty much what I expected and predicted. They need to fire crazy & clueless Domenech, hire a new manager, and start retiring the aging stars to pasture and rebuild around the young but inexperienced talent.

Full credit to Italy, they played great and controlled the match from the get go. Yes, the match developed in such a way that was advantageous to them as well, but they still played good stuff, created lots of chances, and did what they needed to do- full marks to them.

So Italy play Spain in the last quarterfinal on Sunday- that should be one tasty soccer match.

11.45 am PST ESPN Classic

Scenarios: Netherlands are through as group winners. Romania qualify as group runners up with a win. Romania can also qualify as group runners up with a draw if France & Italy also draw. Finally, Romania can qualify as group runners up with a loss if France & Italy play to a scoreless draw, then Romania would go through on tiebreaker D- goal difference in all group matches, unless Romania lose to Holland by 4 or more goals.

Romania have everything to play for and Holland nothing, so Romania could win against a less than first team Dutch side. Even so, Romania are defensive minded opportunists, a la Greece 2004, while even Holland's B team will play the free flowing attacking stuff. Part of me wants to see Romania do it because they are underdogs and everyone wrote them off and I predicted before the tournament that they would go through, but another part of me doesn't want to see their defensive 1-0 grind it out style succeed at the expense of more offensive minded teams- just on general principle. On a third hand, I am no fan of Italy and would prefer the cinderella Romanians going trough rather than them.

It will be fascinating to see what happens if it's tied and Romania draw a penalty- will Mutu take it or refuse and make someone else take it. Will Holland try? Dunno, but can't wait to find out.

It should be really compelling viewing of both matches as the scenarios described above change over the course of 90 minutes with both matches being concurrent. Hopefully it will be exciting- with all the scenarios it will be riveting even if the soccer isn't as enticing as everyone is expecting.

Netherlands 2-0 Romania
. Final.
Romania today reminded me of Rocco Mediate in the US Open. They had their chances, didn't seize them, and it came back to bite them in the ass. {Rocco, for all his great play, had the ball in the fairway from 100 yards out on 18- the easiest hole on the golf course- both Sunday and Monday, and both times he made par, when a birdie in either situation would have knocked Tiger out and made him US Open champion}. Similarly, today Romania had three great chances that I saw to go 1-0 up and seize the match by the scruff of the neck; they missed all three, and then in the 2nd half Holland did what Holland does and scored 2 great goals to win the match, first with Huntelaar and then with Van Persie, and that was that.

If Mutu felt bad about his penalty miss to beat Italy at the end of their match last week, I wonder how badly he feels now. That penalty miss will probably haunt him for a long, long time.

Netherlands have scored 9 goals in their 3 matches, which is impressive. What's even more impressive is that those 9 goals have come from SEVEN different goalscorers- Van Persie{2}, Sneijder{2}, Van Nistelrooy{1}, Kuyt{1} , Robben{1}, Van Bronkhorst{1}, Huntelaar{1}. That's pretty scary stuff. This isn't a team that someone is putting on their back and carrying through with an amazing tournament- the goals are coming from all over. Holland play their quarterfinal on Saturday against the winner of tomorrow's elimination match between Sweden and Russia.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Euro2008 Day 10 Open Thread

Austria-Germany 11.45 a.m. PST ESPN
Scenarios: Germany earn the 2nd place qualifying spot with a draw. Austria earn the 2nd place qualifying spot with a win, as long as Poland do not beat Croatia by 2 more goals than they beat Germany {if Poland beat Croatia by 1 more goal than Austria beat Germany, then it will come down to the tiebreakers between those two, and it would likely come down to (e) number of goals scored or (f) UEFA co-efficient, where Poland is ahead}

This match will be going on at the same time at the US Open 18 hole playoff between Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate; if Austria beat Germany then it will be an even bigger upset than if Rocco beats Tiger over 18 holes. If Germany play like they did in their first match, they will cruise. If they play like they did against Croatia, then anything can happen. I'm betting that they sort themselves out and do the job. Germany's Schweinsteiger got a silly, albeit harsh, red card and misses the match through suspension. Striker Mario Gomez has been awful up front, and don't be surprised if he starts on the bench. Note that win or lose for Austria, there is still a lifetime supply of beer on offer for anyone who scores a goal.

Austria 0-1 Germany. Final.
Hard for me to offer any real insight on this one, as I was switching back and forth constantly between this match and the riveting US Open playoff between Tiger Woods & Rocco Mediate on the Slingbox, all while pretending to work. It's always really difficult to get a true feel for a soccer match if you don't watch the whole thing or at least long continuous stretches. I did see Ballack's rocket shot of a free kick live, and it was a worthy first free kick goal of the tournament. Austria didn't look too threatening from open play from what I saw, but it seemed like they put in a respectable effort but were just outmatched.

So Germany and Portugal in the first semifinal on Thursday should be awesome. Germany stereotypical discipline against Portugal's stereotypical flair.

Poland-Croatia 11.45 a.m. ESPN Classic
Scenarios: Croatia are through as group winners and will face Turkey in the quarterfinals on Friday; for them this is little more than a practice match. Poland must beat Croatia, and must have Austria beat Germany, and they must beat Croatia by 2 more goals than Austria beat Germany {if Poland beat Croatia by 1 more goal than Austria beat Germany, then it will come down to the tiebreakers between those two, and it would likely come down to (e) number of goals scored or (f) UEFA co-efficient, where Poland is ahead}

Croatia have absolutely nothing to play for and may rest several key players. In that respect you could say that Poland have a decent chance to win, but even so everything will hinge on the other match. They really need a perfect storm- something like a 2-0 win and a miracle Austrian 1-0 I think would get them there on tiebreakers {see above}. It's possible, but not probable- we shall see.

Poland 0-1 Croatia
. Final.
Didn't even watch it, as the golf had me split between Austria-Germany and Tiger-Rocco, and I can't get ESPN Classic on the slingbox and never made it over to the pub. So I can't tell you a single thing about it other than the score.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Euro2008 Day 9 Open Thread

11.45 a.m. PST ESPN2

An exhibition match, as Portugal are already through as group winners and Switzerland are already eliminated. Not much more to say, is there?

Switzerland 2-0 Portugal.

I have nothing to add, as I didn't watch the exhibition match but only saw highlights.

Turkey-Czech Republic
11.45 a.m. PST ESPN Classic
An elimination match for the 2nd qualifying spot and a date with Group B winners Croatia in the quarterfinals. As these two teams are tied in every way, if there is a draw then by a new UEFA rule this year the tie will be broken by a penalty shootout immediately after the full time whistle- no extra time. Again, it will be interesting to see if it's tied late if the teams go for it or play for penalties.

Pretty even matchup here, either team is capable of winning; I have a sneaking suspicion that the Turks are going to sneak it.

Turkey 3-2 Czech Republic. Final.
They made me look smarter than I am, for sure.

The match of the tournament thusfar- if the next 100 soccer matches televised in the United States all finished like this, soccer would pass the WNBA in popularity in this country.

I actually missed the first half, as my 1 hour pickup game this morning in Golden Gate Park turned into a 2.5 hour pickup match, but I cruised over to Pizza Orgasmica for the second half, and what a second half it was. Turkey were 0-1 down but having the better of it as they desperately looked for an equalizer, then Czech went 2-0 up and with Cech in goal it seemed like that was that. At some point they hit the post to get a 3rd goal, which at the time was not a big deal but in hindsight was huge. In the 74th minute they got one back on a wonderfully placed shot off the post by young star Arda after two absolutely perfect and beautiful passes to set up the chance- a beautiful goal. So 2-1 and game on. Then only 3 minutes from time Peter Cech, one of the two best goalkeepers in the world {Buffon- Italy} and certainly the best goalkeeper in the world with a fractured skull, dropped an easy cross and gifted the Turks an equalizer; this had everything to do with the driving rain- yes it was a brainfart/fuckup, but if it was dry you have to think that it never would have happened.

So 2-2 with only 2 minutes left, and before everyone could wrap their heads around the amazing comeback and that we were looking at a straight to penalty shootout tiebreaker, Nihat beat the offsides trap and slotted home a curler off the underside of the bar in the 89th minute. In real time he looked offsides by a mile, but replays showed him to be even, which is onsides. Amazing.

2-0 up with 15 minutes left with Cech in goal, and I'd have bet you damn near anything that the Czechs would not lose, not against Turkey, Brasil, Argentina, Netherlands, not anyone. That they conceded 3 goals in the last 15 minutes and two in the last 5 is beyond belief. Incredible, and the best turnaround finish of any soccer match since France was 0-1 down in their Euro2004 group stage tilt with England in extra time and Zidane scored on a free kick in the 91st minute to get a draw and then just a minute later Henry earned a penalty which Zidane cooly slotted- after vomiting on the field- to absolutely stun England, who like the Czechs today, went from winning to tying to losing in less than 2 minutes at the very end of the match.

So Turkey go through as the 2nd place team which means that they will face Group A winners Croatia in the quarterfinals on Friday.

Euro2008 Second Round Thoughts

After 16 matches, I still stand behind my theory about the new ball sailing high from long shots and free kicks more often than not.

Also, as much as we all hate ESPN and bash it, you have to credit them for their Euro2008 coverage. Hell just them buying the rights has been great; this is the first time for "mainstream" US coverage where we don't have to seek out footy pubs and pay $10 to 20 per day- that alone is great. Their World Cup 2006 coverage was abysmally bad, but this time they have done much, much better. First and foremost they have better talent, mainly that they have somehow hired BBC color commentator Andy Gray, who has been just outstanding. Compare that to Dave O'Brien and Marcelo Balboa which is what we had last time around. Gray has always been good for EPL matches in the past, but he has been just outstanding in this tournament, and he truly adds something to the viewing experience, which truth be told is something new for ESPN soccer coverage.

Also, they have taken a page from Univision/Galavision/Telemundo and come on the air early enough to show the pregame fanfare and national anthems, which really sets the scene and gives a much better sense of the atmosphere and occasion than before when they didn't.

They have actually improved quite a bit, so credit where credit is due- full marks thusfar.

Very strange that after 2 group stage matches all 4 groups already have determined a winner. With the final matches being concurrent, 2 of the 4 groups basically have an elimination match and an exhibition match, so for the ADD non multitaskers out there, 2 of the next 4 days you can just focus on one match- the other two days you'll have to find a place that will have both matches on and get your multitask on.

Lots of good matches thusfar, I have really enjoyed watching them. Here's hoping for more attacking go-for-it soccer in round and less of scared to lose defensive, timid soccer.

I'm sticking with all of my original predictions with the obvious substitution of Netherlands for Italy, and looking forward I'm hoping like almost everyone else for a Netherlands-Spain semifinal...

Euro2008 Day 8 Open Thread

9 a.m. PST ESPN2

I don't have much to say here that I haven't said already in my tournament preview and first round thoughts. Namely, that in my opinion Sweden is a past it paper tiger, and that their first match win was a bit flattering in that they had 1 moment of magic from Zlatan and that was it, and that I think Spain are far superior and that Russia will beat them in the last match as well. Don't get me wrong, I don't dislike Sweden, I've always kind of dug them and I like that they like to go forward and attack, but I just don't see it happening; they are the oldest team in the tournament with an average age of 31, and I think they are simply past it. If Spain play 70% as well as they played against Russia they should win comfortably; they were outstanding in their first match; scary good, just like Netherlands.

Sweden 1-2 Spain
. Final.
Spain played well early and took the lead in the 15th minute when Torres scored on a great sliding volley from a low cross. Spain were cruising but after the goal seemed to let off a bit, content to have possession and pass it around but lacking a driving finish- they were comfortable but not creating a lot of chances. Then in 35 minutes Sweden equalized when their only seeming threat, Ibrahimovic, turned and slotted a nice goal with an assist from Spanish defender Sergio Ramos, who made a mess of it. 1-1 and game on. The rest of the half was lively, and just before halftime Spain got jobbed when David Silva was absolutely barreled over in the box by a Swedish defender- a clearer penalty you will never see, but somehow it wasn't called.

Ibrahimovic had to come off at halftime {knee I think}, which didn't bode well for Sweden in the 2nd half, as moments of magic by him appear to be the only way Sweden are likely to score. Spain had a great opportunity to grab the game by the neck and kill it off. They dominated possession- I would guess they had 70% possession in the 2nd half- but although they passed it around for long stretches they largely failed to create good chances in the box. It seemed that their achilles heel, the lack of a wide winger with pace, hurt them, but credit to Sweden defensively, who held their shape and were extremely difficult to break down. On the other end Sweden offered nearly nothing without Zlatan The Great- other than 1 near miss from a set piece, I don't think they had a shot or a shot on goal in the entire second half. But it looked like they were going to hang on for a draw until the last minute: the key to the whole play was a collision in the Spanish end near their box- Swedish dude went down, and Spanish defender immediately screamed at him that he was diving and to get up. The referee did not give a foul, and the ball fell to a Spanish defender who booted it 70 yards upfield, it bounced, and striker David Villa ran onto it, split two Swedish defenders with a crafty first touch, and then opened his body and slotted it past the keeper to shock Sweden and get a Spanish win right at the death. Ironic that after an entire 2nd half of beautiful passing with little end product, Spain score a Route 1 goal off a thumped longball that a striker latches onto and finishes clinically.

Back to the key of that final goal- was it a foul at the beginning or did the Swedish striker dive? Replays are inconclusive, and none of the ESPN crew has talked about it or shown a close up camera angle of it. Surely Sweden will feel that it was a foul and that the goal was not legit, that they should have had a dangerous free kick themselves. I'd really like to see a closeup of the heretofore not talked about incident- we'll see if we get one. If Sweden's coach/players bitch about it in their post match pressers then hopefully some media will show a close up angle of the incident.

So surely Sweden feel hard done by, but Spain can argue, rightfully so, that they were jobbed from a drop dead obvious penalty in the first half, and they might add that Sweden did have a handball in the box in the second half, even if it was unintentional. Either way what's done is done, so it's time to move on.

So Spain are through to the second round, and if Greece fail to win the late match then they will also be group winners with a match to spare. I assume that Sweden will hope for a Greece-Russia draw; if that is they case then Sweden will only need a draw in their final match with Russia to go through.

One more thought- David Villa is set to leave Valencia this summer, and Valencia put a 40 million Euro price tag on him before the tournament started {which sadly is why you won't see him at Arsenal next year}. With 4 goals in 2 matches, I'm not sure if 40 million Euros will even get you a returned phone call from Valencia at this point.

11.45 a.m. PST ESPN2
Greece will be Greece; they will play cautious defensive minded soccer, and if they can nick a goal they will shut up shop, play for the 1-0 win, and maybe try to sneak another on the counter attack. Russia are more offensive minded, but are even more up against it than they were in the first match. Their best player Arshavin is still suspended, but now they are without not 1 but two strikers who are both injured- one might play but it looks doubtful. Even so, look for them to go forward and have a go at it, and if they can win or even grab a draw then in my opinion I think they are in a really good spot in the final match.

Then again, I may very well turn out to be completely wrong about things here- I often am. But those are my thoughts, so there they are.

Halftime: Greece 0-1 Russia
Greece have been a little less inept offensively than they were against Sweden. And Christenidas should definitely have scored on his free header from 6 yards out that he completely wiffed on. Russia were pretty good going forward, and they got their goal when the Greek keeper had a true moment of madness, came way out of his goal unnecessarily- there was a defender there marking the dude, and a clever ball by the Russian back over his head gave his teammate a tap in to an open goal.

Russia will be best served to try to go ahead and get a second goal, as Greece are supremely dangerous from set pieces and corners.

Greece 0-1 Russia. Final.

Russia had chance after chance after chance to put Greece to the sword, but they squandered great opportunity after great opportunity. Then with about 10 minutes left Greece got a goal but had a dude wrongfully ruled offside, so they got kind of jobbed. They were outplayed on the one hand, but they should have scraped a draw on the other but got a tough call against them. Two of the three goals they conceded were terrible defensive meltdowns/brainfarts- true keystone cops stuff, which is ironic for a team built on such a rock solid defense. So they are out, and Spain are group winners, and the second qualifying spot comes down to the Sweden-Russia match on Wednesday. Russia must win outright to go through; Sweden only need a draw because although the two teams are level on points Sweden have a better goal difference.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Feel Good Friday: Royal Flush Edition

I give you "Royal Flush", the first single from Big Boi's forthcoming solo album {sometime this year, allegedly} that was leaked onto the internet a couple of months ago. With Andre 3000 and Raekwon featuring, it's like Aquemeni all over again. Like most efforts when Outkast's 2 pillars team up, it's damn good.

Enjoy, and Happy Weekend.

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.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Euro2008 Day 6 Open Thread

9.00 a.m. PST ESPN2

Plain and simple, Croatia will need to play a hell of a lot better than they did Sunday against Austria or they will get beat fairly handily. Germany are playing much better and will be favored to win. Maybe Croatia can get back into the groove with their Pizza Hut tablecloth jerseys. This looks like a 2-0 or 3-1 for Germany, but they games are not played on paper as they say.

25 min- Game on! Croatia 1-0 Germany. A great goal from a perfect cross and finish. Croatia will be better served from here on out by continuing to push forward and look for a 2nd rather than shutting up shop. The former is more their style than the latter, so the rest of the match should be great for the neutrals.

Halftime: Croatia 1-0 Germany. Mario Gomez has been pretty worthless up front for Germany through a game and a half; is it time for Low to cut him loose and try something else? 2nd half should be wide open, with Germany pushing up to get an equalizer and Croatia counterattacking.

60 min - 2-0 to Croatia. Germany not showing many signs of storming back either. Group B is getting turned on its head.

78 min- Game on! 2-1. Podolski, who I believe now has all 3 German goals in the tournament. Half volley rocket shot. Last 12 minutes should be frantic and great.

Croatia 2-1 Germany.
You can't say Croatia didn't deserve it. The 2nd goal was a bit lucky, but overall they outplayed the Germans. Schweinsteiger's red card was pretty harsh after seeing the replay, but he was stupid to retaliate- I can only assume that he misses the next match. Of course Mad Jens ran over, went a bit mental, and got himself a yellow. Chances that he gets a couple more and misses a match due to card accumulation if they go through = significant. very significant.

Croatia control the group, and will be group winners before the final matches if Poland fail to beat Austria. This whole group went from the most boring one to very very interesting...

11.45 a.m. PST ESPN2

If Austria are going to do something, this is their best chance {although if Germany clinch group winner status today then they will rest starters and not try too terribly hard in the final group match, but will still not want to roll over against their neighbors}. Based on watching both teams' first match, a draw isn't out of the question, but at this point, Austria are just hoping for a goal- so much so that they're handing out free beer for life to any player who scores one. Poland will know the Croatia result before they take the field, so if Croatia lose to Germany then Poland will know that they if they go out and win then they will have a great chance to go through, and will be extra motivated. With both teams limited offensively and the kind of teams that focus on defense first then try to catch their opponents on the counter attack, don't expect this to be a high flying, exciting match. There may only be 1 goal in it, or maybe not even that.

Austria 0-1 Poland. Halftime
The first 25 minutes were as dominating a 0-0 match as you will ever see, it was one way traffic for Austria. They created 4-5 incredible chances but somehow managed to squander them all, including two 1-on-1s with the Polish keeper. A team with any proficiency at finishing would have been 3-0 after 20 minutes. So naturally the first time Poland even remotely have a sniff of any sort of threatening attack, they score. Totally and completely against the run of play. After the goal Austria lost their attacking momentum, and the game was more even. In one sense they are extremely unlucky; in another sense, they have no one to blame but themselves for their poor finishing, as they should have been 3-0 and this game should have been over long ago. If they play like they did in the first half they can definitely scrape a draw or even win- Poland has been very poor other than the 1 sequence that led to the goal, and they look very wobbly at the back. Come on Austria, finish one off- is free beer for life not enough of an incentive? Are y'all in AA or something?

Austria 1-1 Poland
Austria were a shadow of themselves in the 2nd half, and Poland controlled it but couldn't get the 2nd goal to put the match away. For Austria it seemed like the first 30 minutes were all adrenaline and emotion, and after they conceded the goal it burst their balloon, as they came back down to Earth and created almost nothing after that. Poland looked to have it wrapped up, but in a free kick lobbed into the box in extra time, a Polish defender grabbed an Austrian's jersey and pulled him down, and a penalty was given. With a lifetime of free beer on the line you would have thought a brawl might erupt between the teammates as to who wold take it, but there wasn't and captian Ivica Vastic, the oldest player in the tournament at age 38, slotted it to earn Austria a draw and keep them alive. Vastic also will be getting free beer for life. For his sake, here's hoping that their beer is good and not the Austrian version of Budweiser.

With the draw Croatia are through to the quarterfinals as group winners, and may very well rest players, setting up a really interesting final matchday in this group, where each of the other teams are still alive for that second spot, even if the smart money is on Germany handily beating Austria to grab the second spot. A quick glance says that all Germany need is a draw against Austria and they clinch 2nd place- you have to like their chances to do that.

Euro2008 Standings

Group A

Portugal 6
2 1
0 5 3
1 0 5
Czech Rep.
1 2
0 4
Switzerland 3
2 0 3
3 0

Group B

Croatia 9
0 0 4
1 +3
Germany 6
1 0 4
2 +2
Austria 1
0 2
Poland 1
0 2

Group C

Netherlands 9
0 0 9
Italy 4
1 3
Romania 2
0 1
France 1
0 2

Group D

Spain 9
0 0 8
0 4
Sweden 3
0 3
4 -1
Greece 0
0 3
0 1

Group stage tiebreak rules

Thursday 6/19
Portugal v Germany, 11.45 am PST ESPN

Friday 6/20
Croatia v Turkey, 11.45 am PST ESPN

Saturday 6/21
Netherlands v Russia, 11.45 am PST ABC

Sunday 6/22
Spain v Italy, 11.45 am PST ESPN

Pts= Points earned
GP= games played
W= win
L= loss
D= draw
GF= goals for
GA= goals against
GD= goal difference
green= qualified for knockout stage
red= eliminated from knockout stage

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Rock Bottom Expectations = Free Beer For Life. Perhaps.

Last week I hipped you to the less than overwhelming support and confidence that Austrian fans had in their national team going into Euro2008. And despite playing well in their first match, it seems the hope at this point is not for a single win, or even a single draw, but perhaps just for a single goal {actually a draw against Poland is possible after watching both teams opening matches} to avoid the goalless 3 loss trifecta.

As such, Austrian brewery Ottakringer Brauerei AG has offered free beer for life to any player on the Austrian national team to score a goal in their remaining two matches. Not a game winning goal. Not the first goal. Any goal, in either game.

Good free marketing plan by the brewery for certain.

So watch out Poland and Germany: if Austria romp 4-0 in these two matches, then clearly they are not Pavlov's Dogs, but Pavlov's Drunks.


Vastic FTW FTB!

Losing 0-1 to Poland, Austria were awarded a penalty in the 92nd minute. Up stepped 38 year old captain Ivica Vastic and he buried it: free beer for life, and a lifeline for Austria, who live to fight another day, specifically Tuesday against Germany.

Euro2008 Day 5 Open Thread

Portugal-Czech Republic
9 a.m PST ESPN2

You know, if Portugal cut out their disgraceful dive-o-rama from World Cup 2006, and C Ronaldo pulls a hammy just enough to rule him out for the next three weeks, I could get behind Portugal; they certainly play good stuff, and as a neutral you always have to like the teams that don't pack it in after going up 1-0 but rather look to score a 2nd.

Portugal 3-1 Czech Republic

I hate the fucker, but CWCID: CRoanldo's goal was a fantastic run and strike- and a GREAT pass from Dean Cain Deco, and he didn't roll around and whine too much {for him anyways} today. Once again Portugal got a tap in goal in the final minute to make their result look more comfortable than it was. The Czechs played well and created chances, and I think it will come down to them and Turkey on Sunday for the 2nd spot from this group. Portugal again was a little wobbly at the back a few times, will this be their downfall in the knockout stage? Also, VERY cool to see Eusebio in the stands celebrating the Portuguese win.

11.45 a.m. PST, ESPN2

Everyone's talking about the bad blood from the brawl 2 years ago during the playoff for a spot in the 2006 World Cup, but I think that won't be any sort of factor today. Note that Turkey & Swiss make up 1/2 of the hungry man's World dream group: Turkey, Swiss, Chile, and Hungary.

Switzerland 1-2 Turkey
The rain got so bad in the first half, and the field so waterlogged, that it turned into full-on Keystone Cops. World class players literally unable to dribble 5 or 10 yards with the ball. Fortunately it stopped at halftime; if it hadn't it seemed like postponement/abandonment was more probable than not.

Down 0-1 at halftime, that muck didn't suit the Turks, who are more technically proficient than the Swiss. The second half was great to watch, the Turks creating lots of chances and the Swiss getting some of their own on counterattacks. Turkey equalized at about the hour mark, and the last 30 minutes was end to end stuff, then 2 minutes into stoppage time Turkey got a nice winner, thus eliminating Switzerland- making their final game against Portugal an exhibition match- and keeping themselves very much alive and making their final match against the Czechs basically a playoff match for the 2nd spot in the knockout phase.

My question is: if Turkey & Czech draw, and Portugal get at least a draw with Switzerland to win the group, then how will the tie between them be broken? I know that UEFA uses head to head as the first tiebreaker {unlike FIFA, who use goal difference}, but if they draw then obviously that is moot. They have the same exact record {1-1-1 if they draw}, same goals scored{2}, goals against{3}, and goal difference right now{-1}, so how would the tie be broken? Turkey beat Switz 2-1 and lost to Portugal 0-2; Czech Republic beat Switz 1-0 and lost to Portugal 1-3. Are we looking at a possible drawing of lots or coin toss here? {where the hell is Moin when you need him?}

***Update*** According to Fox Sport World Report this evening, if the above scenario happens, this year UEFA has instituted a new rule and the two teams will go directly to a penalty shootout after the 90 minutes are up. Apparently in the past if the 2 teams were tied on record, head-to-head, goal difference, goals scored, and goals allowed, then it would come down to some wacky UEFA coefficient ranking or the drawing of lots. Portugal are also through as group winners, as they now hold the head to head tiebreaker over Turkey & Czech Republic, so if Turkey & the Czechs draw, it will go straight to a penalty shootout. It will be interesting to watch the 2nd half of the match and see if one of the teams plays for penalties based on the situation.

Also- Stunning that I hadn't noticed before today, but Switzerland manager Jakob "Köbi" Kuhn is most definitely Jack Lemmon.

Euro2008 First Round Thoughts

First off, the ball. It's a new ball made of the latest synthetics, moon dust, and red clay from Mars. There was talk before the tournament about it doing crazy swerving that would result in bizarre goals, and that goalkeepers would be punching more than catching. What I have noticed after watching 8 matches is that almost every shot from distance has been quite high, and either I'm baked or this ball is sailing more than players are used to, and this ball flies higher than they are intending it to, and higher than other balls. Announcers keep talking about how there has yet to be a goal from a free kick, and I think maybe this has something to do with it: we're seeing field goals, not goals, or even shots on goal. If I am in fact on to something with this idea, then it will be interesting to see if players are able to adjust as the tournament goes on. Something to keep an eye on as you watch going forward.

Now then, the first round started off pretty slow {1st two days} but has been getting better in the last couple of days. And I haven't yet seen anything to dissuade me from my pre-tournament thoughts as of yet, other than swapping my predictions of Italy and Holland {Holland & Romania going through, Italy & France going home}.

Even though Sweden won yesterday, I still think they are an aging paper tiger and still predict that they will not qualify. They had 1 moment of brilliance from Zlatan for their first goal, which looks like their only offensive threat. The second goal was Keystone Cops and very unlucky for Greece, and overall they were not impressive. I think Spain will beat them handily and then Russia will beat them as well. Speaking of which, don't write Russia off because they lost 1-4 to Spain. Russia were actually good yesterday, Spain were just great, but Russia played well, created several good chances, and hit the post. They were also without their best player in Arshavin, who is suspended for the first two matches. I feel very confident that with him back for the final group game, that Russia will beat Sweden, so for Russia going through it will come down to their match against Greece against Friday. A draw there and a win against Sweden could very well put them through.

Spain did nothing to change my thinking that they will win the whole tournament, but then again they are Spain, so we'll have to wait and see what happens. At this point is sure looks like they will go through as group winners, so keep an eye on the runner up spot from Group Of Death C, as that is who a group winning Spain would face in the quarterfinal.

Speaking of group C, I still feel confident in my thoughts on France not going through and Romania shocking the world and going through, but perhaps as runners up to The Netherlands rather than Italy? They looked like they really missed Cannavaro, and Toni was off, but write them off at your own risk. Romanina look like they might be similar to Greece2004, so don't be surprised either if they are able to scrape out a draw against Italy on Friday.

Also, No. 8 for the Netherlands is the shit. At first sight I thought "who is that? wow". He is a huge presence in central midfield, Vieira-esque in stature, is very good on the ball, with great vision and had some quality long passes. I had never seen him before but he really impressed me. His name is Orlando Engelaar, and I learned that last year he played for smallish Dutch club Twente, who famously have qualified for the Champions League next year. He was the captain of Twente so I can only assume that he played big part in their big achievement. Since it was only like his 7th appearance for Holland I assumed he was a young kid, but was surprised to learn that he is actually 28 years old. Apparently he was used as a striker earlier in his career and now is a late bloomer having found his niche & strength as a holding central midfielder. After the match I thought "if he keeps playing like this he will most definitely get snapped up by a really big club before the new season". A little research and I found that Schalke of the German Bundesliga have already signed him- their fans must be pretty excited. Anyhow, he is definitely one to watch for from here on out.

I am amused and bewildered by so many people missing the obvious on Ruud's opening goal for Holland against Italy, saying he was a mile offside. Well if you watch the replay you can clearly see that right before that a Dutch player and Italian player ran past the endline out of play, collided, the Dutch payer got back up and onto the field while the Italian player rolled around and stayed on the ground{no comment}, thus playing anyone and everyone onsides, including goalscorer RVN. Hell yes he was still active- rolling around on the ground hoping to get a call to go your way instead of getting up and getting on with it is being "active" in the play in this idiot's opinion. It was irritating to me that so many expert analysts on television missed that completely. And yes, that has to be the rule logically, or a defender near the touch line could simply run off the field past the end line, fall over feigning injury, and make an otherwise onsides player be offsides. Reminded me of the wrong call in the Arsenal-Liverpool match on Cesc's would be goal that was cleared off the line by Bendtner- similar situation.

Austria were impressive and surprised everyone, myself included. They were unfortunate to lose to Croatia on a 4th minute penalty, but from there on out they basically outplayed Croatia, especially in the second half- it was one way traffic- and based on how the teams played a draw would have been a fair result for Austria.

Germany coach Joachim Löw looks just like American documentary filmmaker Ken Burns.

I think Turkey can still go through as well even though they lost to Portugal. Switzerland lost leading scorer {and some would say only scoring threat} Frei to injury for the rest of the tournament, reducing them to a team whose main threats on goal will come from corner kicks and set pieces. If Turkey can play the kind of soccer they are most capable of, they should be able to beat the Swiss {mmmmm... Turkey & Swiss- sorry, couldn't resist} and set up a potential elimination match with the Czechs in the third match.

That's all for now that I can think of. I'll try to do a better job of updating daily and/or throwing up an open thread for your commentary/thoughts.

On to round two...

The 3 Groups That Loved The Belmont

1. The connections of DA' TARA of course.

2. ABC. Television ratings for BIG BROWN's failed triple crown bid were off the charts, up 169% from last year {10.5 compared to 3.9 last year}. Pretty ironic, since last year's race was one of the best Belmonts ever.

3. UPS, if you believe this report, although as I have said in the past such exposure projections are in my opinion bullshit peddling of the highest order.

You can throw in the NYRA and Belmont Park as well, as per usual {x= TC bid, xy=TC}, they got a much bigger crowd with a shot at the Triple Crown on the line. I heard the TV announcers on Saturday throw out 120,000 and even 140,000, but in the end 94,000 was the reported number. Still, there's never a doubt who the NYRA, and Belmont Park are rooting for in The Preakness Stakes on any given year. And ABC as well.