e-2004
Wednesday, June 30, 2004
 
I'm pleased to be wrong, obviously.

btw, isn't Van Nistelrooy a sneaky, unpleasant cheat?
 
  Portugal-Holland half-time
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.

Mark
 
Tuesday, June 29, 2004
  Mark's Law
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.

Mark
 
Monday, June 28, 2004
  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.

Mwanji
 
Sunday, June 27, 2004
  Larsson of Sweden
Jaap Stam was closer to scoring a goal the other night than the ex-Glaswegian god.

Hmm.

Andy van der Meyde: why?

All hail Charisteas (as wondrous as Figo was laughable the other night).

scott.
P.S.
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.
 
Saturday, June 26, 2004
  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).

Mark
 
Friday, June 25, 2004
  We mugged ourselves
I think that France's problems were painfully obvious to all:

Henry and Trézéguet proving Mark right.
Santini having apparently forgotten to provide his team with a game plan (were they even trying to win this game?).
Zidane looking like he had another car accident on his way to the tournament.
No offensive movement whatsoever (contrast that with run that drew Thuram away from the Greek #9, who was then wide open to score).

We sucked and deserved to lose. In fact, we didn't even deserve to qualify for the quarter-finals: at no point in the four games did France actually play well.

Mwanji
 
 
Ahhh Mark, lets leave aside our debating over the failings of the England team and rejoice in the fully deserved dumping of a lazy, slow and unexciting France from this competition. Aside from a dodgy 15 minutes caught in the headlights of the biggest win in their footballing history, the Greeks were every bit deserving winners. They defended resolutely, played some lovely one touch football in the midfield, and had the greater share of good chances in the match. The only downside is the departure of Zidane from the stage, the only French player to perform in this tournament.

The Czechs must be rubbing their hands together with glee.
 
  The penny has dropped
I think we're more or less in agreement now Philip.

I'm Scholes' harshest critic. I would have dropped him before now. If you look back, you'll see that I said he was highly overrated. He's a bit like David Platt - not really good enough either as a passer or certainly as a tackler to be considered a top-class midfielder, but justifying his place because of goals. When he's not scoring, well...

I agree in fact with almost everything you've said. Gerrard is not as good as Ballack at the moment. But he's young and impetuous and will, I hope, learn. Beckham has cut a somewhat pitiful figure. There's something wrong there, the Rebecca Loos nonsense has clearly had an impact on his game. (Plus there are nagging doubts about his ability to impose himself in major tournaments.)

Where I would differ is on the view that England's failures are somehow inherent in the English game. Partly because of the impact of high-quality foreigners in the Premiership, English football has improved out of sight in the past few years. None of the top English teams play kick and rush or anything remotely like it now. At their best, English teams - and the national side - can play an exhilarating high-speed passing game. There was no way that, in the seventies or eighties, or even the nineties, that you could seriously imagine England winning a tournament. It is now at least thinkable. The quality gap is nowhere near as vast as it once was, if it is there at all.

The problems last night were tactical, not, or not primarily, technical. No team can defend for 87 minutes and expect not to concede. Whilst I admire Eriksson and hope he stays (who would we replace him with?), he does seem to have a tendency to want England to play cattenaccio. This doesn't suit England, who are much better playing a high pressure attacking game.

The two-footed thing is something that bothers me, too. How can people who are paid to play football not play with both feet? What do they do all day?

Mark
 
  The only thing more negative than me, was England's tactics...
Ok so I've taken a bit of a roasting from the other commentators in this parish, but I stand by what I said. I don't rate the English midfield as highly as the rest of you. Beckham can't carry the ball forward more than five yards, and defenders are getting closer to him, preventing him bending that ball around them. Scholes can defend his poor performance by saying he was out of position, which is true, but still, a vastly over-rated player (Mark, if you think Scholes is less of a flatter-to-deceive player than Figo, we really are at opposite ends of the footballing spectrum). Gerrard might be great one day, but currently is merely very good. Compare him with Ballack... similar playing styles, not overly fussy, no Zidane-esque trickery on the ball, just dynamism and purpose and product. Who would you rather have in your team? I'll go for the two-footed German thanks.

An aside... two footedness seems a fantastically useful ability that English football is incapable of producing. As evidence, look no further than the generally woeful Simao; he still produced a telling cross with his 'wrong' foot for Postiga's equalizer.

Lampard at least produced goals, for which I can't fault him. The rest of his game was pretty average though, having the same inability to retain possession that hampered Gerrard all tournament.

England just couldn't keep hold of the ball, through a combination of tactical and technical deficiency. It was as simple as that. No team in international football these days should back themselves to defend for 87 minutes against a team they constantly hand possession to from every defensive situation. Time and again the Portuguese played their way out of defense; telling balls to Figo and Ronaldo, hit over 40 yards, produced a great first touch and above all retained possession. England just didn't look capable of it, either last night, or really throughout the tournament.

The Spanish may well be established tournament failures, but frankly, since 1966, so must England be regarded. No major final in almost 40 years, and only two semi-finals. When is the penny going to drop?
 
  We Mugged Ourselves
The goal, of course, should have been allowed. But the same principles of natural justice that have benignly presided over Euro 2004, ensuring the exits of the conservative Italians and the ambitionless Germans, last night saw an inhibited England fall to an effervescently positive, if somewhat guileless, Portugal side.

The game was there for the taking but - as against Brazil two years ago - England inexplicably retreated into their shells. Portugal, like Brazil, are an accomplished, but eminently beatable side; despite England retreating ever deeper, they conjured very few scoring opportunities worth the name.

The early goal was of course a killer. How many teams, I wonder, have taken the lead in this tournament and have gone on to lose? It's become a running theme. But England never look comfortable with an early lead. Remember Shearer's goal against the Germans in Euro 96, Owen's against Brazil in Japan. The goal introduced a paralysing fear that was only dissipated once Portugal themselves had socred. Only after Postiga's equalizer, and again, after Rui Costa's superb strike, did England look remotely purposive or threatening.

It's impossible to overstate the importance of Rooney's exit of course. It was a double loss. First, there is obviously the matter of his individual talent, his running power, speed and linkplay, unmatched by anyone else in the tournament. Secondly, and of at least equal importance, is the tactical changes Rooney's absence forced. Would that we'd got Teddy Sheringham on the bench. Because what was lost was England's ability to start attacks from deep, to keep the opposition on the back foot with penetrating runs and passes from the hole. Without Rooney, we reverted to the dread two-striker nightmare last seen, I think, in England's disappointing opening game of the Japan World Cup against Sweden, when Vassell and Owen were again paired. With it came the same tendency to bang hopeful (but hopeless) long balls forward to the two centre-forwards, stranded uselessly in front of the play, isolated from a midfield that had retreated to the extent that they were functioning as an extra back four.

In retrospect, Sven should have sent on Hargreaves (our most reliable and effective midfield player last night by some distance; England looked revivified as soon as he appeared) and pushed Scholes up into the hole. That way, we would have kept our shape and could stuck to our game plan.

Who knows what would have happened if Rooney hadn't been injured? Idle speculation of course.

On the positive side, the defence were excellent. From being a player one could never be fully confident in, Sol Campbell has emerged as a quietly but ruthlessly and imperiously efficient centre-half, the match for anyone in the world at the moment. And never let it be said that Ashley Cole cannot defend. Last night, Cole - scandalously given a 4 out of 10 in the Times this morning - was magnificent, tenacious and strong, snuffing out the fancy-dancing preening of the smug, simulating Ronaldo (Moan U and a teenager; forgive me if I can't summon up much affection for him).

It was the midfield that lost England the match. Gerrard was leg-weary, mediocre and impetuous (Steven, it really is not necessary to play a quick, first-time pass every fucking time you get the ball). Beckham has taken disciplined self-effacement to the point of anonymity. Scholes never really sparked and Lampard, while he merited his inclusion because of his goal threat, did little else. One of these must go and Hargreaves must start if England are to progress.

Good luck to Portugal. They certainly deserved the win, and while the tabloid headlines caused me to chuckle ('You Swiss Banker' - The Sun), they're wrong. We weren't robbed. We mugged ourselves.

Mark
 
Thursday, June 24, 2004
  Ah, well
Clearly, I was wrong...

On the plus side, there is Sinatra and OutKast to take off the rough.

It's strange, below; I certainly agree with Philip about the (fairly bloody fundamental, when you think about it) two striker issue, but the Mind take on England seemed rather unfair to me.


scott.
 
  Don't shoot the ref
Of course the goal should have been allowed. However, in my experience as a spectator of team sports and basketball player, I've never seen or played in a match where a team has dominated and deserved victory, only to have the referee steal it from them. England made exactly the same mistake they made against France and the same mistake several teams have made throughout this competition: scoring a goal, then waiting for the match to end. Portugal was offensively impotent for so long and not particulary solid at the back, had England continued to apply pressure, they surely would have scored one or two more, with or without Rooney.

Still, as a more-or-less neutral observer, the second half was quite snooze-inducing until Portugal scored.

Mwanji
 
Wednesday, June 23, 2004
  There is a Gott!
After the travesty of the Germans' World Cup final appearance in 2002, it might have seemed that normal service - which is to say, the perverse inequities of a Sadeian Real - was restored.

Not so. The Germans' implacable, inevitable advance through international tournaments - a triumph of the will, to coin a phrase, over limited technical ability, over inspiration, over opposition superior in every way - has for three decades appeared like a force of nature, interrupted only by their glorious humbling at the hands of Bulgaria in 94 and their humiliation at Euro 2000. A force of a cruelly unjust, appropriately Nietzschean nature.

Incredibly this year, Germany have got exactly what they deserved. Which is nothing. Improbably, a moral order has been restored to the footballing cosmos.

The Germans, clearly inferior to the Dutch, looked like they might sneak through to the quarter finals - again - simply because they had the fortune to meet the Czechs when they were already through. But the Czech reserves had a hunger that swept them past the lackadaisacal Germans, who, for the first half at least, seemed to make the fatal error of waiting for Destiny to carry them through, rather than recognising that they must be the agents of that Destiny.

'Auuffff Wiedersen', as Jon Champion put it in the commentary.

Mark
 
  Owen, the abandoned mother
'I cannot recall all of the signs of the apocalypse, but England midfield players hitting left-foot screamers at will in big tournaments is surely among them.' Quote from a brilliant article by Martin Samuel in The Times today.

Samuel argues that Owen remains integral to England and that what he is going through at the moment is an adjustment of role analogous to that undergone by a mother whose teenage children have just flown the nest. Once, the whole team depended on Owen. Now, with Rooney and Lampard regular scorers, and Scholes hitting the net again, the team can fend for themselves.

Owen's new role - supporting team-mates, providing assists, making runs, creating space - is less glamorous and much more unselfish than that of the sole provider. Yet, Samuel says, Owen will be needed in that role again.

Mark
 
Tuesday, June 22, 2004
  Off with his head!
How many headers did Vieri miss in the last two games? I counted 6 against Sweden and, what's more in less time, almost that many against Bulgaria. Let's say 10. Half of those, were difficult, fair enough. The other half should have been at least on-target...

France seems to be already rejoicing over facing Greece rather than Portugal. As if this team isn't complacent enough already.

Mwanji
 
  Azzuri exit
I'm with Venables (and not only because he echoed my remarks on England having more scoring power than the Portuguese :-) ): Italy deserved to go out. That group was always going to be tight and Italy needed to show more ambition. I've always been an Italianophile, but the Azzuri lacked a cutting edge in this tournament. Yes, they were gloriously vibrant in the first 45 minutes against Sweden, but even then they didn't look like scoring, with the hapless Vieri especially profigate (continuing his World Cup form, really) and the Swedes thoroughly deserved the draw. Sadly, Italy's best attacking players were their two full-backs. Tonight, they looked nervous and lacking in belief. If the Bulgarians had taken the game by the scruff of the neck, they could easily have won the game. Their goal wasn't against the run of play and they did more than enough to draw the game.

Mark
 
  Reverse jingoism (Blind Espana)
(btw, I'm completely unable to make comments on my computer at home though, mysteriously, I had absolutely no problem with doing it at work....)

Philip. Come now...

Hod-carriers? Who exactly?

Beckham? Scholes? Gerrard? Really?

If not them then who? Our full-backs look second only to Italy's from where I'm sitting. Campbell is one of the most assured central defenders in the world. Everyone recognizes that Owen is a world-class player, albeit one that - like the Portuguese trio you list - is performing below potential. (Actually, Owen is the closest to a hod-carrier in the team, if not in the squad - that accolade naturally uh falls to Heskey [but hang on, hodcarriers have to stay on their feet, don't they? Perhaps not then.] Owen's close control is simply awful; how many times does the ball just bounce off him?

Don't get me wrong; I'm not blindly chauvinistic. I remember when England did have hod-carriers (with Bryan Robson foremost among them) in the side: Paul Mariner, Steve Bull, Alvin Martin, Terry Fenwick , Steve Mcmahon, the list went on and drearily on. The first two world cups I remember, England didn't even qualify. Then I had to endure Hoddle being kept out of the side by Wilkins and fucking Robson. Christ, how much we've come on in the four years since the last European Championship. Dennis Wise! Dennis fucking Wise! David twatting Batty. Gareth Southgate in midfield.

Any objective spectator would have to say that, on their performances in the tournament so far, England have been at least the equal in every sense, including the technical, of the much-vaunted French. Yes, there have been passages of poor play. But England no longer lump the bull up senselessly to a target man. They pass. And for long patches of the match last night and in the match against France, they passed as well as any team in the tournament.

They didn't beat Switzerland and Croatia by harum-scarum Effort and Hard Work, but with patience, skill and incision. Credit it where it's due.

To say anything else is just reverse jingoism...

Spain certainly have no players I would choose over England's. There might be a Platonic Spain who play elegant and imperious samba football - but the actual Spain (with the embarrassing Raul bottom of the barrel) were not a patch on England in this tournament. It's not a tragedy that they're out. They simply didn't play well enough, nor did they look like they were capable of playing much better than they actually did.

Plus ca change...



 
 
Aah mark, I have to make one thing clear... I admit, I do like bashing England, but it's got nothing to do with pre-emptively soothing the pain of defeat. I have never liked English football, I dislike the sneering attitude to individual skill that sees great footballers derided as 'luxuries' while mediocre work-horses are seen as the heroes of the game.

On Sunday I watched Spain go out of the tournament with my brother, and was turning the air blue with rage as one of my favourite teams stuffed it up again. On monday I watched the England game with the same brother, and couldn't even muster a smile; aside from Rooney, there's not an England player I'd pay to watch, and frankly, aside from Southampton, the rest of football is just entertainment isn't it. I can only afford one partisan weakness, and that is for my hometown club. The rest of the time I want to see players who are at least capable of exciting football, even if they don't always produce it. Hence why I shall be cheering on the underperforming Deco, Figo and Ronaldo, rather than a bunch of hod-carriers surviving in the slip-stream of their one genuine talent.
 
  England the blind...
Rooney had an excellent game, playing deep better than any of our midfielders, and up front better than Owen... lets get that out of the way, I'm not traitor enough to suggest that Rooney is anything other than player of the tournament so far.

However, to suggest that a classic insecure reaction from the Croats, caused by their too-early goal is indication that England were impressive is highly dubious. Beckham and Scholes both again had poor games, though hopefully a goal will gee ginger up a little. Gerrard and Lampard were decent in spells, but dire in others - misplacing easy passes and making poor attacking decisions.

The defense also looked vulnerable, better finishers will flourish against England. France was a test, but both teams played too defensively; you can't afford those tactics in the latter stages, and I fear for England (not really, I'm rejoicing in truth) if Deco, Figo or Ronaldo get so many opportunities to shoot from the edge of the box. For some reason both Croatia and Switzerland spurned these opportunities, but certainly over the past two games, the Portuguese have shown greater willingness to try their luck from 18 yards. And who knows, if we get past them it could be the Czechs next.

All that said, it has been demonstrated before in World Cups, that a single brilliant player can lead a team of no-marks to glory, and if Rooney keeps converting his chances to goals at such a remarkable rate, England might just have the firepower to cover up the many frailties in the rest of the team.

Prediction for Thursday - Whole of England will write off the Portuguese, who will find their form. Neville and Cole to get an absolute roasting from Figo and Ronaldo, and Portugal to run off 3-1 winners.

Philip
 
  England - Croatia
A highly impressive display. Even when England went 1-0 down, they looked the better side. Despite Joe Royle's unbelievable whining ('They've got to make a substitution, bring someone on to shake this up...' - about a minute before the first England goal), England totally dominated the first half and richly deserved the equaliser.

Scoring so early quite clearly wasn't in the Croatian plan. They didn't know what to do when they were ahead and looked confused and lost.

Scholes looked much more confident once he'd scored. It's only a pity that Owen couldn't have put one away. But you sense there's more to come from him.Ledley King seemed as assured in midfield as he did at the back.

Note: all four goals England have conceded have come from set-pieces. I'm inclined to blame James for this. Not only does he fail to command the area, the defence look disorganized and anxious. A confident goalkeeper would tell them exactly what to do.

There's no doubt that England have looked much better than Portugal. If England play as well as they can and Portugal play to potential, England should comfortably win. England have goalscorers all over the pitch now, whereas Portugal never look like scoring. Their approach play has been over-intricate and lacking in directness, and Gomes' goal against Spain, however brilliant it was, was a bolt from the blue. England are just the opposite - you always feel they are likely to score. The only reason England lost against France was because the game ended. More time and they would have equalized. Thursday: payback time for all those recent Portugal defeats?
 
Monday, June 21, 2004
  Scholes scores goals
'For my money' (&c.) Rooney is so much better than Owen or Fowler or anyone else I can recall in the recent past at that age (here I must salute my pal Evertonian Dave).

The only other young Englishman who excites me as much (and you knew I'd say this) is Man City's very own Shaun Wright-Philips, but even then SWP is about 3 years older than Roonaldo.

Based on the displays of the English and the hosts so far I honestly believe England will do Portugal on Thursday (just a shame the Swiss couldn't have held on for another twenty and it would have been the Greeks and a virtual shoo-in for the last four).

scott.
 
  France-Switzerland
Take away the first and last 10 minutes, and you have an extremely disappointing, worrying and demoralising game from France. Lazy, even, letting Switzerland play and show a shocking lack of aggressivity. When the (French TV) commentator said that "This isn't the triumphant France we're seeing," he hinted at a point France seems to have had its head in the sand about for over 2 years now. "Triumphant France" hasn't been seen for 4 years now. 2002's performance was so shocking (apart for those who actually paid attention to the 3 friendlies prior to the competition) that it seemed like a fluke, something that could be ignored. Maybe I'm over-reacting (and I didn't see the game against Croatia), but there is little doubt in my mind that the French "reign" is over.

I saw no progress whatsoever since the England game. The team played mostly like it was awaiting an easy way out. Take Robert Pirès's excellent game, to largely indifferent support. Take the salvatory goals: Saha comes in and deviates a long pass into Henry's path; Henry makes one of his characteristic runs and finishes beautifully. Otherwise, there was little offensive movement, little in the way of real work, ie. winning the ball in mid-field. Complacency is, to me, the only explanation for a steady-as-clockwork Swiss team nearly running circles around the French defence.

Trézéguet has been fairly ineffective throughout the tournament, but Saha's entrance seemed to liberate Henry. Hopefully Saha will get to come in earlier in the next game.

Mwanji
 
  Primera Liga, congrats Fiorentina
No one will ever stop making these predictions about the Spanish, because we all love their domestic competition because we are all football fans and romantics, and we want them to do well (unless perhaps we are Portuguese, or from certain regions of the country in question).

scott.
P.S.
Not championship related, but the Football League letting Franchise change their name [BBC story] just seems slightly seedy to me.
 
  A few brief observations
Russia ('playing for pride') beating the Greeks is just about the only prediction I've got right so far. Huh!

I must echo the comments about the Dutch-Czech match, which was all very nice, apart from - of course - Pavel's diving and Ruud's offside goal (speaking of RVN, who one does not usually defend, whilst acknowledging that last season he had a bad patch, I assume below Mark is saying that he is ineffective as a single striker for his national team; for his club team, RVN can be, and has been, very effective alone).

Also on Mark's views, I think I've worked out his disappointment with Scholes' current malaise is partly down to the fact that - re. the striker debate between he and Philip - an onsong Scholes sounds exactly like the sort of player that Mark likes grabbing some goals. The Langley redhead better sort his life out this evening.

There was a touching moment on a BBC message board when a Spanish fan dolefully observed it was - essentially - the shocking performance of Portugal on the opening day that sealed his team's fate.

And finally (writes ITN staffer), how shite has Pauleta been so far in all three of his performances?

scott.
 
Sunday, June 20, 2004
  1 down
Well, after France cruelly destroyed the first of the three predictions I made on k-punk - England not to lose to France - Portugal came through tonight to ensure that the most confidently asserted of the three - Spain will do nothing - came to pass, albeit quicker even than I imagined.

Will this all be forgotten come the next international tournament? Will people still say that Spain have always done poorly in the World Cup/ European Championship, but this time, they'll succeed?

Why do I even ask? Of course people will continue to say that. They never learn.

Neither Portugal nor Spain looked particularly impressive. Certainly neither looked in the league of either the Czechs or the Dutch. Portugal demonstrated how not to play with one striker (if you are going to play with one up front, you have to get midfielders into the box - this Portugal signally failed to do); Spain's caginess should serve as a warning to England about the dangers of being negative.

Mark
 
Saturday, June 19, 2004
  What a game...
By far the game of the tournament, and perhaps the best match I've watched in years, The Czech republic Holland match was superb. The Dutch played well, Robben, Davids, V D Saar all excelled, but what can we say about the Czechs. Mark is absolutely right; they were patient, intelligent and demonstrated the most consistent level of ball striking I've seen in a team - Nedved, Rosicky, Baros and Heinz hit the ball so sweetly all night. The Czech midfield has everything, a strong presence in Galasek winning the ball, Rosicky demonstrating that there can't be a better play maker in the tournament than him, and the dynamism and power of Nedved and Poborsky on the wings... fucking glorious to watch.

A note on broadcasting though... when will TV pundits realise that although a draw might be a fair result, for a game to really stick in the memory, to gain that hallowed status, you really need a result...

Philip
 
  Incomparable Czechs
Managerial conservatism, again.

It was all going well for the Dutch until Advocaat replaced Robben. That looked a terrible decision at the time and so it proved to be.

Another atrocious piece of refereeing (the sending-off).

But the Czechs, the Czechs: surely the best team in the tournament at the moment. Intelligent, patient, elegant, absurdly industrious, indefatigable. Nedved the most explosive midfielder we've seen.

Fabulous.

Mark
 
 
I've just been watching Faust on BBC2 after the Germany Latvia game (very stirring it is too), but what has this got to do with football you ask? I merely wish to point out that Christian Vieri and Bryn Terfel look very much alike.
 
  Managerial conservatism
The German's start without Schweinsteiger, their most exciting-looking young player.

Latvians are definitely impressive, far more threatening than the woeful Bulgarians were.
 
  Germany-Latvia half-time
Latvia look well up for this.

The Germans have created almost nothing, the Latvians look a yard quicker and much sharper on the ball.

Second-half should be intriguing.

Mark
 
  Italy-Sweden half-time
Well, the personnel may change but the wounded innocent expression on the face of Italian defenders remains the same. (Hello, Panucci...) You gotta love em...

Fantastically intriguing game of football, especially after this afternoon's unspeakable tediothon. (Not that this was Denmark's fault - congratulations to them for despatching the Bulgarian dullards, although I suppose after the Sweden thrashing, a measure of caution was er understandable).

I don't think this is over yet. There's no question that the refreshingly positive Italy - you have to pinch yourself to remind yourself that this is a team managed by Trappatoni - have dominated the game so far, with Panucci, Zambrotta and Del Pierro especially impressive.

But the Swedes are not out of it. Ljunberg has looked the player I've half forgotten he could be after a disappointing last few months at Arsenal. Ibrahimovic is a threat, and Larsson will have at least one gilt-edged chance in the second half.

Question: why was Jon Champion so incredulous about people in Sweden believing that they can win the tournament? Why ever not?

Mark
 
  Two strikers (slight return) (this one will run and run)
The two strikers thing is obviously not an exceptionless law (what in football is?) But I still think it's a useful rule of thumb. One clarification: it's not two strikers per se that is the problem, in my view, it's two out and out strikers.

The Dutch are not a particularly persuasive counter-example for three reasons. Firstly, their change in fortune was as much due to a radical switch in tactics - to Howard Wilkinson-Sheffield Wednesday 1988 vintage route 1 football - as much as to the introduction of a second striker. And surely no-one would want to make that into a universal principle! (Admittedly the change in tactics entail the introduction of someone who could operate as a target man). Secondly, the Dutch team's previous failure was down to one of my other bugbears - the use of two wingers. This tactic can work spectacularly well, but more than not it leaves your central midfield pairing exposed and over-worked - especially if you insist on playing two centre forwards too. Thirdly, Van Nistelrooy is neither comfortable nor effective as a single striker.

In the case of England since 1986, there's no question that they have only played well when using one deeper forward. Beardsley (with Lineker), Sheringham (with Shearer) and now Rooney (with Owen) have given the England team that extra dimension they need.

Using two strikers does not necessarily put extra pressure on defenders. On the contrary, in fact. They can just hold the line and mark all afternoon. It's players who operate in an ambivalent grey zone between defence and attack who can produce anxiety in defenders. Also, unpredictable runners from midfield.

Mark
 
Friday, June 18, 2004
  Italy-Sweden full time
I rest my case, m'lud.

Mark
 
  Time anomalies
Does anyone know how to sort out the bizarre date and time problems?
 
  Two Strikers
Mark, I agree with you that Henry and Trezeguet are not working together as they should, though I think you're stretching it too far to suggest that this is a vindication of the idea that one striker supported from deep is better than two in principle. I could equally cite the performance of Holland after the substitute appearance of Van Hooijdonk (apologies for the spelling, lunch break and no time to google) as evidence of how important it is to have two presences in the box, pressurising defenders who otherwise have an easy time doubling up on a lone striker like Pauleta/Vieri/Kuranyi/every other team playing a lone striker and thus negating many promising attacking positions.

Don't get me wrong though, a dynamic attacking midfielder is usually the difference between a good team and a great team. Decent support from the wings for France (again there was none) would have made them far more dangerous, especially with Zidane then free to patrol the edge of the box.

His flick from that corner that Gallas wasted though was absolutely divine. Moment of skill of the tournament so far.

What do you think about Italy for tonight? Personally I think losing Totti might be good for them. He is too talismanic for that team, he doesn't have quite enough ability to back up such a totem-role. Cassano alongside Vieri with Pirlo in midfield (a better passer than Totti in my opinion) would be a more threatening formation than the Totti-Camoranesi-Del Piero-Vieri formation they played against Denmark. Above all though, Camoranesi must not play. Along with Simao he is my Euro 2004 hate figure, a crap journeyman keeping out much more talented, much more exciting younger players who might have the hunger to really kick the competition into gear.
 
  And...
Whilst England should not be complacent against the Croatians (not something to be concerned about, really; there are many things England could be accused of, but complacency isn't usually one of them), it should be remembered how France let them back into the game.

The French failure was due to a curious mixture of arrogance, complacency and recklessness. The defending for the second goal was appalling. Everyone had been sent forward, there were gaps all over the shop.

The French team's confidence in their own ability can be a double-edged sword. On Sunday, against England, it gave them the assurance to persist even when all seemed lost. But, when all is in danger of being lost, they don't have that extra urgency. cf their world cup campaign in 2002, in which they cheerfully assumed that it would all come good in the end.

On the England game: well, none of us are satisfied with the performance, but - remember when we strolled past Denmark in the world cup two years ago? 3-0 up at half-time. It just wasn't like an England game. Where was the masochistic jouissance in seeing your team easily and deservedly win?

Mark
 
  Matters arising from last night
1. England looked far more effective when Scholes was replaced by Hargreaves. This for a number of reasons. (1) As Philip says, Scholes was always drifiting off the left flank, leaving the excellent Cole exposed time and again. (2) Hargreaves is a better all-round midfielder than Scholes; his tackling, tenacity, work-rate and passing are much more reliable. I've never regarded Scholes as a midfielder proper any way; his tackling is a liability, and he is basically a deep-lying striker. (3) Gerrard is much more effective down the left than Scholes (partly because, see 1 above) he has the discipline to stick to the role.

2. However, Scholes', Owen's and, to some extent though much less so, Beckham's current level of under-performance could be regarded as a bonus for England. It means that they still have something to give. (Must say I was shocked this morning to see Becks only get 5 out of 10 from the Times since, in addition to being involved in two of the three goals, he - as ever - hardly eve, if at all, gave the ball away. It was an understated performance, but disciplined and effective).

3. Vassell continues to be a threat. His presence alone terrifies opposition defenders.

4. James is our weakest link. He never commands the area, he doesn't seem to organize the defence and if someone threw him his car keys, he'd probably punch them.

5. Re: France, I consider my two-strikers point to be vindicated. The Trezequet-Henry partnership clearly is not working. Trezeguet's goal shouldn't distract from a performance of staggering anonymity (we may be concerned about Owen, but he's been more effective than either Trezeguet or Henry). France need to drop Trezeguet and put Zidane into a roving central role. They could use Wiltord AND Pires (who has been strangely peripheral).

6. Zizou's work-rate, never mind anything else, was astonishing. Pity that Vieira was the only other French midfielder to offer him any sort of support.

7. The defence is a mess. Desailly will be put out to pasture, but why is Santini persisting with Thuram at centre-half? Gallas is clearly the better bet in that position, and the French miss Thuram's running power down the right flank.

8. ALL FOUR of the goals France have scored have been gifted by the opposition. The Zidane free-kick was atrociously defended, while the Trezeguet goal (a) shouldn't have been allowed and (b) like the second goal against England arose from a dreadful and unnecessary back-pass.

9. England fans: imagine how we'd feel if England were France....

Mark
 
Thursday, June 17, 2004
  What I learned today...
1. Paul Scholes and Michael Owen might be in the worst England form of their careers. Scholes passing was sloppy, and he left his wing too many times. Ashley Cole is weak when attacked directly, he needs cover. What to say about Owen? Good cross, but aside from that, lacking pace, touch and he just seems so harmless.

2. Rooney is comfortably our best player. Gets riled far too easily though.

3. A better free kick from Yakin would have beaten James again... is it finally England's turn to have a really dodgy keeper?

4. The result flattered England enormously. The sending off was unfair, a second yellow for a fairly ordinary foul on the half-way line. I expected a little leniency. Up until that point the two performances were even, Switzerland carrying a reasonable amount of goal threat.

5. Trezeguet's goal should not have been allowed. The hand ball *might* have been accidental (I thought there was enough arm movement to claim intent) but even so, his hand prevented a strong clearance from the keeper. Accidental or not, that's still a foul in my book. Not every mis-timed sliding tackle is intended to scythe a player down, play still gets stopped though.

6. England will have a hard time against Croatia. They aren't an especially quick side, and lack a stand-out player, but they are strong, reasonably technically proficient, and in the latter stages of the France game, played a few beautifully weighted through-balls (Mornar should be slapped about by his fellow players, ditto Tudor). Having their qualification still in their own hands will surely motivate the Croats as much as being 1-0 down to a show-boating France did at half-time today.

Philip
 
  Sigh of relief...
... and yes, I know the scoreline doesn't reflect the performance, but nevertheless the England match was a relief and something of a thrill.

But gee -- those ker-azy Croatians. I only caught the second half, missing what I believe was a dull opening round, but what spirit. Amusing to hear the commentator saying they were bound to sit back and defend just as they geared up to give France a real fright. They'd have beaten them if they hadn't cocked up with that own goal.

Shite referreeing though. No way was Henry off side.

paul.meme
 
  England - Switzerland @ halftime
The first twenty minutes went totally the way of the Confédération Helvétique, thanks notably to Yakin's superb set kicks and England's inability to conserve the ball in Switzerland's half. Things were going swimmingly until the goal off a rather silly mistake. England gained confidence from that point on and, despite Switzerland continuing to remain threatening, should go on to win this (as I'm the only (?) foreigner here, I can revel in the ITV-effect).

One thing I don't understand is Beckham's positioning. While hugging the right-hand sideline (and shade) has allowed him to make some trademark crosses, every time he ventured into the middle of the field and took on the role of the play-maker, the team seemed to flow far more freely.

Finally, Rooney and Lampard seem like most disagreeable characters. And, though I'll admit it makes me sound like the token woman every TV station sends along with their commenting delegation to report on "side issues," I'll congratulate England for having the best jersey's I've seen so far (and scold Italy for having gone from those great tight-fitting tops to their current, horrid, gold-letter jobs).

Mwanji
 
  Mine eyes may see the glory
Rejoice comrades, as here is one particularly cheering bit of good news pre-today's matches.

Yours truly has so far only caught all the games (bar Switzerland-Croatia, which was merely viewed on a text-updates website) through the medium of the wireless (yes, it is nice to have at least heard all the games, but hearing is not the same as seeing for those of us blessed with vision; this is also why my views so far tend to resemble recycled Alan Green opinions, as there is little else to go on).

Exile in middle America means limited opportunities for viewing as funds do not permit the purchase of entry into one of the (admittedly, many) local watering holes that are showing the games, for all watering holes levy a ridiculously high cover charge upon the person before one has even bought one's first beverage.

But there are capital developments!
One's American sugar mommy has come up with some cash and I am now in, to see the Switzerland game (& imbibe some ale; alas, I cannot see the French match, as I have to scarper to see a man about a regrettable dog, but these things happen).

Hopefully the Swiss press tactic of distributing voodoo dolls of Beckham in their daily rags won't mean my viewing pleasure is sullied within the first few minutes if Goldenballs were to collapse with acute hamstrings.

In other areas, I must say more than ever to me Philip seems on the money with his plea for Scolari to start with two strikers; my mind is made up. Look how ineffective a lone striker proved for the Dutch the other day, they only really sparking into life when Van Hooijdonk came on. Prior to his arrival, they'd been about as threatening as the motorbike gang in The Wild One (that may also have been linked to that preening buffoon Zenden being preferred over the lovely Robben).

Also glad to see that Totti has been banned for three games, disgusting habit. At least he will apologise.

scott.
 
  The Express Confirms My Worst Fears
So, it really is true.

According to the front page of the Express, there is an ITV jinx on the England team. It's been eight years since England last won a game shown exclusively live on ITV.
That was the 4-1 drubbing of Holland back in Euro 96.

Hmmm. Could this have anything to do with ITV's commentators' propensity for 'counting chickens before they're hatched', as previously identified here?

Whoever's commentating tonight, remember: caution please.

Mark
 
Wednesday, June 16, 2004
  Little Philip on Big Phil
Surely I'm not the only person to have grown tired of Scolari's relentlessly defensive tactics (actually I know I'm not, tens of millions of Brazilians agree with me). Even people who HATE football could have seen on saturday that Simao was a wasted player. He has none of Ronaldo's control, none of his speed; even his delivery was worse (on those rare occasions he actually got near enough to the box to put in a cross). Equally he contributed very little defensively, Rui Jorge was still exposed with him on the left wing, there was no greater compactness or solidity to the Portuguese midfield with him prancing ringleted up and down the touch-line.

However, the arch conservative 'Big' Phil, decided to give him another start, and moreover to continue playing with Pauleta up front on his own. To digress briefly, its ok to play with Ronaldo (Brazilian) up front on his own, as he is a genius. Pauleta is not, he's just a talented if somewhat slight opportunist. You have to support him. I can't agree with Mark on the two strikers issue, properly drilled, a good strike partnership will always cause more problems for a defense than one isolated striker; the demands on the attacking midfield are just too great otherwise. Not every team has a Michael Ballack in it to dominate the edge of the box. No, Portugal needed to start with two strikers, but they didn't, and an absolute gem of a pass from Deco (surely pass of the tournament thus far) got them a goal which briefly obscured this still tangible fact.

The Russian resistance in the second half perhaps does justify somewhat the retaining of two defensive midfielders, in Maniche and Costinha, but the footballing romantic in me says that's bullshit. When you have a team down to ten men, you press your advantage, you don't cower behind a solid defense and hope against hope that the past-it legs of Rui Costa will finally come good and haul you to victory (wonderful outside-of-the-boot cross from Ronaldo for the second goal). Deco must start against Spain, Rui Costa must stay on the bench, he must play with two strikers, and Ronaldo is currently by far the most threatening wide player in the Portugal squad (and along with Vicente and Joaquin, in the tournament). All that said, I really hope Spain go through...
 
  james on f.a. video
james comment on f.a.'s video of france with omission of zidane's free-ki
icks. hello james are you the only one in the footballing fraternity not to know of zidane's skillz. what do they do all day , treat it like a job cause you get paid like you're doing work of 7 men.oh forgot in the words of rooney a hard day is based in the arcade.
 
  Tempting fate
Was Peter Drury, deputy chairman of the ITV Moan U Supporters' Club (second-in-command to Tyledesley, natch), determined to outdo even Clive in his commentary tonight?

Bearing in mind that this was not even an England match, Mr Drury exelled himself in tempting fate. 'This time tomorrow,' he prophesied, 'England should have their first points'. And: 'England could meet Portugal in the quarter-finals'.

Someone have a word.

The Portugal-Spain game, though: what a prospect.

Mark
 
  Russia bow out
An inspired 13 minutes from brilliant substitute Cristiano Ronaldo that included setting up Rui Costa for the second goal (Costa apparently winning his 92nd cap when he came on) ensure that Portugal finish two-nil victors, and retain some hopes of qualifying for the next stage.

Russia definitely had a better second half but as soon as Ronaldo came onto the pitch it seemed the game was up for them. He must surely now play from the start for the Portuguese.

As Mark notes, their next match is against Spain - who are just ahead of their neighbours on four points, which is also the tally that Greece can boast - so the home team must here go for broke and hope that Russia, in playing for pride, can demonstrate some of the spirit that had Portuguese hearts in mouths during periods of the second half and thereby make life difficult for the surprisingly highly-placed Greeks.

One other youngster who would be nice to watch from the start of that derby match between the hosts and Spain would be Atletico Madrid striker Fernando Torres, brought on with barely ten minutes left against Greece today, to replace Raul.
Coach Saez is right when he says that Spain should have beaten Greece, but maybe he should consider how right it is we're only seeing Torres in patches at the moment.
Raul has hardly covered himself in glory at major championships to date, so perhaps it's time to take a risk on the youngster and see what he can do for more than a handful of minutes.

scott.
 
  Plenty of drama at the Estadio da Luz
Ten-man Russia go in at half-time wholly deserving to be a goal down, cursing a stupid backpass that results in keeper Ovchinnikov getting his marching orders (which he was clearly unhappy about).

The real story here is a Russian fan who somehow ran down half the length of the pitch to confront, and wrestle with, one of the linesmen, before a frankly pensionable-looking steward restored some form of order with the assistance of the authorities.

Worrying.

scott.

 
  Greece confound expectations yet again
Four points off the Iberian giants is not a return I'd imagine anyone outside of the motherland was envisioning at the start of the tournament.

Spain certainly had plenty of chances to ensure they took more than a point from this game, but it was not to be, and the Greeks are to be commended for some stout-hearted defending.

What all this means, of course, is that Group A has now turned, and we are left with an utterly fascinating tussle for the two quarter-final places.
Before this afternoon's match it seemed that - even with Portugal's shock opening day defeat - Group A, along with B, was more cut-and-dried than either C or D's 'Group of Death'.

Meanwhile, in Lisbon, Scolari has wisely opted to drop some of his grandfatherly figures (Couto and Rui Costa both out), and let Deco strut his stuff in the middle of the park. As Portugal grabbed a goal within the first ten minutes, the Russians were being battered.

I'm sure this early period of Portugal bossing it unopposed will eventually be tested by Russian resolve but - at time of writing - it looks like we can say with confidence here are the first team for who Euro 2004 is officially over.

Sorry Moscow.

scott.
 
  Yeah, what is wrong with France?
Aside from the fact that I thought both Zidane and Pires had very quiet games, the main issue for me was lack of width (obviously, Trezeguet thrives on good delivery from wide positions, he gets that from Nedved at Juve even if that no-mark Camoranesi seems unaccountably to be popular with both Lippi and Trap)... with Zidane and Pires almost certain to do their best work cutting in, and neither being especially pacey, you'd expect the full backs to come forward. Enter the ageing Lizarazu and the not-that-great Gallas (why wasn't Thuram played at RB exactly... mysteries abound).

Anyway, with these two a combination of slow, out of sorts, and perhaps even scared of England counter attacks, it wasn't until the second half that France got into ANY crossing positions. Henry drifted out to the left early, and put two balls in on about the 50 minute mark. And that was it.

Philip
 
  What's wrong with France
France's getting out of jail shouldn't conceal the problems with the French team.

The defence lived down to expectations. Barthez was a hero on the day, but you always sense that you're only one slip away from a catastrophe with him.

The midfield looks incoherent and unbalanced. The central pairing of Vieira and Makelele lacks creativity. Pulling the strings was left to Zidane, and the cost of that was his continually drifting off-station. More adventurous - or, if you prefer, less disciplined - right-sided players could well exploit this more effectively than did the predominantly cautious Neville and Beckham on Sunday.

Furthermore, I'm not convinced by the Henry-Trezeguet pairing. It's not only that Trezeguet is unproven at this level; it's that he and Thierry don't seem to combine especially well.

I confess I'm not a fan of using two out-and-out strikers. Rather than leading to more attacking play, it can actually mean that you're unable to get the ball forward. Two of your players, stranded ahead of the play, are taken out of the game for most of the time with the result that you can easily be overrun in midfield. (Let's not forget that when France won the World Cup in 98, they didn't have even one centre-forward of any quality. Guivarch anybody?)

Besides, Henry is always more effective when deployed alongside a deep-lying striker. He never likes quite as good whenever Bergkamp's not in the Arsenal side.

Mark
 
 
Half time thoughts... Spain are the most composed attacking side I've seen so far. Would like to see Torres in the second half though, accepting that Morientes swerve and finish were sumptuous. Ole.

Philip
 
  Spain - passion for life...
...as the tourist board slogan has it.

Just a quick one to observe that - at time of writing, as Greece trail Spain thanks to the 28th minute composure of Morientes - Gordon Strachan, commentating for Five Live (he doesn't quite sound as much like Frank McAvennie today; commentating on the radio for the Russia game on Saturday, I thought it was Frank for some time), has opined the buoyant Spanish fans are the best he's seen so far.

The sea of orange in Oporto yesterday was quite a sight.

scott.
 
  Is this true or does it only feel like it is?
England always perform badly on ITV. Which bodes ill, since the second game is also on that benighted channel.

Tyldeseley should be tried for treason when he comes back. As everyone, everyone knows, it's the cardinal sin of commentary to assume that your team has won until the final whistle blows. Tyldesley wasn't so much tempting fate as swaggering up to it and actively taunting it. His crowing that 'opposition fans will be chanting 1-0 every time Santini takes to the dug-out in the premiership next season' - without even the hint of a conditional - made the previous low in this genre - Keegan's 'There's only one team gonna win this now, Brian', a mere matter of seconds before Rumania scored two - look positively cautious.

Mark
 
  Are England the best team in Euro 2004?
King was undoubtedly excellent.

In a way, I was secretly glad that Terry was out; nothing against Terry, but King's always impressed me mightily whenever I've seen him.

England the best team in it? Well, you'd have to ask yourself, who's better? Not Holland, appalling until Pierre came on yesterday. Not Italy, who, admittedly always start sluggishly, but who were lacklustre in their opening game.

The problem is, it's seldom the best team that does win a tournament.
 
  A brief note on the positive
One thing I would like to observe is that - in terms of their respective back lines - the English defence was far better than the French back four.
The French were often found wanting by Rooney whereas Cole and Neville performed well, whilst King and Campbell were both excellent.

I am similarly optimistic about a Terry and Campbell partnership.

scott.
 
  Apportioning blame misses the point
As Mark says below, finding fault with Eriksson's substitutions to explain - from the Anglophile perspective - what went wrong in stoppage time during the England-France game is a little harsh (if not churlish).

Bringing on Hargreaves was the right thing to do (see about Eriksson on Rooney below), especially as the boy wonder Scholes does indeed need to start pulling his socks up: he was fairly quiet really.
Hargreaves is one of the few in the squad who seems able to really effectively aggressively keep possession as a way of protecting a lead.
And although Rooney vied with King as the revelation of the match from the English point of view, bringing him off was correct as well (it's just a shame it's the likes of Heskey on the bench as regards attacking options and not, say, a player of Alan Smith's calibre); Eriksson has since explained his concerns that he felt a riled Rooney was ready to blow, and that seems like a good call to me.

What really happened to England is that they met Zidane and - this is a terribly cliched thing to type - that couldn't be legislated for (appalling individual errors by certain players could be, admittedly).

One other thing of interest is that nearly everyone agrees in the English press that the panicky Silvestre should have been sent off for when he recklessly brought down Rooney.
But - to be fair, James should have walked near the end too, if we're being consistent.

And, yes, England were negative against France, as they were against Argentina two years ago, but it was largely effective.
That is the one point that Martin Samuel makes that seems to really stick for me, and it's a bit of a disturbing one, as it cuts to the heart of what many of Sven's critics say.
But for now, that really is on the back-burner.

Incidentally, Alan Hansen has apparently said he thinks England are the best team he's seen so far. I normally don't pay any attention to his views (all those years on MOTD when he wanted to discuss Liverpool's terrible defending and little else, Man United not winning anything with kids, and so on), but obviously I'm clinging to that right now!

scott.
 
  WAS IT ALL ERIKSSON'S FAULT?
Martin Samuel in The Times today saying that England's defeat was down to Eriksson and Eriksson alone. Why? Because he took off our best player and replaced him with our worst. Samuel thinks Eriksson's negative tactics, the same ones he employed against Argentina in the world cup two years ago, were responsible. He was lucky against Argentina, but he was found out by the French.

This is slightly harsh in my view. I wouldn't have brought on Heskey, for sure. I would have tried another midfielder - Nicky Butt probably. But the replacement of Scholes by Hargreaves was an enforced change and one that worked really well - Hargreaves is so tenacious on the ball, so level-headed, so tigerish in possession, he's exactly the sort of player you want when you're holding onto a lead. The only other player who could have made a tackle as bad as Heskey's was Paul Scholes. Sven really must instruct his strikers not to make challenges. Bringing on Vassell was an excellent decision and nearly brought immediate dividends.

The result was freakish. But the only team to win the European championship after losing the first game were Holland in 1988. They also lost 2-1, to Russia, the team they eventually met in the final.

Mark
 
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