There were quite a few fireworks popping up in my corner of North London last night, I can tell you. Many congratulations to Greece. Deserved winners - not least because I think they're the only team that didn't drop their (very high) standards at any point in the tournament. For a while, I was rooting for Portugal, but only because I was hoping for a devastating display of attacking brio; when that didn't happen, it was Greece all the way.
I'm also perversely very glad that England didn't make the final. Greece would have done a similar job on us, and losing that game would have been far more heartbreaking (and even more of an opportunity for pathetic excuse-making) than going out to the hosts. At least at the moment we know precisely what England's problems are. Sadly, they're exactly the same problems that have afflicted every England side since time immemorial.
1) Those penalty things. Glenn Hoddle once jusitified not practising them because 'they're a lottery', and I've seen a few broadsheet commentators use the same word in the last few days. No they're not
. If you spend 15 mins every day practising penalities, you will be better than everybody else who doesn't. This is such a childishly obvious point to make, but one that seems to escape some of the richest players and coaches in the game. (One of whom made a significant part of his reputation because he recognised the value of practising free kicks.)
2) Passing. I'm fed up of people like Beckham and Gerrard (both fine players on their day), being praised for their 'range of passing'. What this means is that they can both hit an acre of space from 50 yards. Now, in some ways this is lucky, because this is the only way in which England play, wanging it forward so that we can watch a man who used to be the best young striker in the world sprint into the advertising hoardings. It's a terrible way to play football, but I suppose we do have the players for it.
Now, watch Greece. Every single one of their outfield players is comfortable on the ball (Compare Dellas and Sol Campbell for starters). They all have an accurate and reliable first touch, they all get into positions to be passed to, and while they don't play raking cross-field passes (yawn), they can faultlessly put together 10-20 passes around against the world's best. I can't believe that England players can't trap and pass a ball accurately, so the worrying thing is that they just don't want to: the team never looks like it wants to be in possession. They play the real game like I used to play the EA Sports version - attempting an over-ambitious ball from your own half then volleying into the net. Needless to say, it rarely worked, and I always lost. Rooney was the only exception - every time he had his back to goal, he simply passed inside, kept possession for his team, and tried again. Never mind the shots and the runs - this rare injection of common bloody sense was a joy to watch. England's best player of the tournament was the youngest of them all, but he was the only one who didn't act as though this was playground kick-and-run.
Here's a thought
Santini off to WHL got the perfect practice in latterly, at the helm of Les Bleus
The comparisons are all there, and valid:
Arrogant fans, team flattering to deceive, sulky players, etc., etc., etc.
Forgot to mention but obviously Maniche's goal was enough for a big ol' self-love moment...
Robben, Ruud, like to tumble...
...Robben especially so, last night; disappointing personally as I love him.
The hosts were just about value (if hardly excellent) and I'd assume most denizens of this board were rejoicing (those sullen jibes in the aftermath of the Orangemen's game against the Swedes stuck in my mind as accurate).
Mark below on England seems interesting and probably OTM. I'm sure we've all read plenty commentary going on about the numbers of attacking midfielders deployed by Sven during this tourney.
Whatever happens tonight, I'll be hoping the winners beat the hosts. I love Ronaldo and some of the Portuguese defence and midfield, but there's not much else.
Incidentally, there must have been a lot of dummies on the pitch for the ground staff to clean up post-match: Ricardo and a few of the Dutch especially...
Here's a debate:
Player of the championships?
I'm pleased to be wrong, obviously.
btw, isn't Van Nistelrooy a sneaky, unpleasant cheat?
Holland are so
going to win this.
On penalties probably.
Not because they're the better side - christ, no! Far from it. But Portugal haven't killed off the game and the Dutch are shaping up to be the new Germans - i.e. inexplicably surviving mediocrities.
RVN's goal was onside. The defender in the middle was playing him on.
Some credit to Scolari and Portugal for their smothering tactics. Davids and Seedorf reduced to the same ineffectual anonymity into which Gerrard and Lampard sunk. They are so much better at playing with one striker than the Dutch.
Memo to Sven G E: look what happens when you subsitute your 'best' player. Imagine if Beckham had been treated in the way that Scolari has treated Figo. Maybe that would have stirred him from his torpor; it appears that nothing else would.
Scott, yeh, I saw the snide dig at Hargreaves in the Times. I still think England enormously improved when he came on. (I'm less enamoured with the Times since they gave Ashley Cole 4 out of 10 for his masterful subduing of Ronaldo --- though at least Brian Glanville corrected this gross error yesterday).
See, I've got a theory. Every man and his dog now agrees that Sven is too cautious. But I wonder if he doesn't have the opposite
problem; namely, that the side he picked was too full of flair players. There weren't any pragmatists, any of what Eric Cantona, referring to Didier Deschamps, famously called 'water carriers'. The brave decision might perversely have been to go for a safer player, the question is who? Not Phil Neville, whose 50 caps are 50 too many. Not Nicky Butt, who looked sadly off the pace in the warm up game against Iceland the other week. Hargreaves is a strong candidate, but I would also suggest Scott Parker. I think Parker's move to Chelsea - like Joe Cole's - was a disaster for England. If Parker had stayed at Charlton and maintained the level of performance he managed in the first half of the season, the case for his inclusion would have been overwhelming. We need someone who can take the game by the scruff of the neck when things aren't going well.
Mwanji - who will win?
Well, we have Mark's Law to contend with. Mark's Law states that the team I most dislike in a tournament is always historically destined to win it. Hello Germany, Brazil, Argentina... On those grounds, Holland are a shoo-in. Like everyone else, I'd like the Czechs to win but they're the best team and the most exciting (never encouraging signs) and they also committed the cardinal sin of starting the tournament well (most winners pick up momentum as the tournament proceeds - another ominous portent favouring the Dutch).
So, while I'd much rather any of the other three won, I think it'll be Holland.
I hope I'm wrong.
Pick your side
Well, the wind seems to have gone from everyone's sails, as none of us have a team left in the competition to call (however grudgingly) our own. That said, I assume you are all still watching the matches? Time to predict the winners.
The Czechs must be favourites over the Greeks. I say 2-0, probably in somewhat similar fashion to the Denmark game (Baros's first goal must be one of the goals of the tournament).
Portugal-Netherlands will be close, decided in extra time. As an aside, is it just me, or does the phrase "winning by silver goal" sound rather anticlimatic?
Okay, now it's your turn to open yourself up to future ridicule.
Larsson of Sweden
Jaap Stam was closer to scoring a goal the other night than the ex-Glaswegian god.
Andy van der Meyde: why?
All hail Charisteas (as wondrous as Figo was laughable the other night).
There was a funny line in Mark's beloved Times
today about (his also beloved, I think?) Owen Hargreaves:
When Hargreaves stumbled to the ground on what had begun as a promising run late in the game against Portugal, it encapsulated why he is England's nearly man.
Two out of three ain't bad
It really didn't give me much pleasure to see the French go out.
But then the French team didn't give me much pleasure in the tournament either.
I've admired France since the first round of the World Cup in 1998. There has been something easy to enjoy, hard to resent, about their success since then. Their players inspire a real affection and respect that I think is shared my many English fans.
But they just haven't done it in Portugal. That extra drive, that feeling that your status is not a God-given birthright but something precarious, something that has to be defended and demonstrated every time you go out onto the pitch... well, the French were bereft of that.
As Philip says, you have to feel for Zidane, whose eccentric deployment in a midfield that, Vieiria apart, conspicuously underperformed, meant that he was reduced to fetching and carrying where he should have been shimmying and sashaying. In interviews, Henry seemed somewhat bemused that opposition defences weren't supinely falling at his feet, parting like the red sea in front of Moses - they're not letting me score
, seemed to be his odd complaint.
The Greeks, then, go on as worthy winners.
We must hope now that Sweden can see off the petulant, sullen and graceless Dutch (yes, Advocaat made a gross error in the game against the Czechs, but the Czechs were clearly the better side any way, even with Robben on the field, and there simply is no excuse for the disloyal and churlish way that the Holland squad has treated their coach).