The first round of the tournament has just come to an end with Poland, Russia, Holland, Denmark, Ireland, Croatia, Sweden and Ukraine all knocked out. Teams through to the Quarter Finals are Greece, Czech Republic, Portugal, Germany, Italy, Spain, France and England. I’ve made a few observations from the Euro’s so far, and here they are:
Italy know how to defend
This applies to both Croatia and Italy really, and partly Germany too. Italy has long been considered as the nation where real defending originated, with Italian teams happy to grind out 1-0 wins all over the shop, and it seems that even now in Euro 2012 not a lot has changed. Hell, they even play their strikers in defence with De Rossi happy to play as a general sweeper in front of the defence in the opening fixture with Spain – who went even one step further by opting to play with no striker at all to counter unorthodox but understandable Italian management. Both teams played out a dull 1-1 draw. A lot of Italy’s goals have come as a result of set-plays, and I think along with on the counter-attack this is when Italy plan to cause maximum inflict on their opponents. Their defence seems to suck the energy and motivation out of opponents, whom mentally must be questioning if it really is physically possible to beat Giorgio Chiellini.
Spain are boring
This heading is a bit unfair… I mean to say that Spain are boring when faced with quality teams. Take Croatia for example- tightly organised, hard working, talented, with a manager who gets the most out of all his players. Del Bosque knew what Crooatia would be like, and Italy too, when lining up against them in the Championships and so opted to play without a striker and to use an extra midfield player. Of course he did seem to change his mind momuntarily for the Croatia game by including Torres, but perhaps this was more of a response to public pressure and the fear that they could be eliminated if Croatia win. By flooding the midfield with extra bodies then Spain no longer have a focus point up front, sure they keep the ball extremely well (they do anyway regardless) but this exxtra body just seemed to slow down the play and they lacked a strikers instinct to have a strike on goal – they were guilty of over-passing on countless occassions, when a forward would have had more of an eye for goal. The one time Spain looked exciting and at their brilliant best was versus Ireland – who had a poor tournament. They tried to play the Italian and Croatian way but simply lack the techinical ability to do so, albeit they tried their hardest physically. This is the game in which Torres started, as they knew the same threat wasn’t there as with the likes of Italy and Croatia, and they went on to win 4-0.
Okay, I could have been proven wrong by Del Bosque taking off Torres and bringing on Jesus Navaz, and then Fabregas for Silva, as Navaz scored and Spain didn’t have a striker on the pitch but I think this only happened as Croatia were caught off-guard with a delicate Fabregas through ball which lead to the goal. I still believe that Spain are guilty of playing negative football despite being one of the most talented teams in the competition, and I find this frustrating when Spanish players complain when teams always play negative, defensive football against them – when here they are playing this way for their national team. And the players I’m including in this moaning are Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta and Xavi.
I really believe Spain got lucky against Croatia, and could have easily found themselves leaving the competition with their players apparently quite content to settle for a nil-nil draw – and with Croatia ruing missed chances themselves.
Holland are an awful team
Yeah you heard right. I don’t mean individually of course, but collectively. Individually they have some extremely gifted attacking footballers and a few superb defensive players. And this is what makes them even worse as a team – that they have so many brilliant players yet fail to perform at the current European Championships. I think the problem with Holland is that on paper, people are drawn to the big name players and overlook the minor ones that they don’t recognise. For example with Holland your attention is always drawn to the likes of Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneider, Robin van Persie and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar – extremely gifted attacking players. But you fail to notice the likes of Jetro Willems, the left back who became the youngest ever player to play in the Euro Championships. Its fair to say that he really struggled, and I don’t think it was very fair of Holland to play him during games of such importance. Harry Redknapp said in his position as pundit for the BBC that Holland would struggle in their group and other pundits laughed at him but you can see that Harry is a very wise man and astute manager. He recognised that defensively Holland were not a solid unit, and I was very happy when he was proven to be right. After one of Holland’s defeats in the competition another pundit said, and I forget his name (it definitely wasn’t Mark Bright…) that every Dutch player will have his own opinion on why the team lost that night. And I think this was again a very wise observation – Holland seem to have a group of players who are happy to air their opinions to the media when things don’t go right, or are fine arguing on the pitch with players, or for stropping like a kid when they get subbed (a la Arjen Robben, the biggest Dutch dick of all in my opinion). If only Holland shared a collectiveness, a team spirit, some kind of battling quality. They seemed to do fine in the previous World Cup, so why not now, whats changed? I have a feeling that they lacked a certain Clarence Seedorf, at the heart of the team, a leader and yet also a calming influence and very experienced head, who incidently was my favourite dutchman of the past few weeks, talking plenty of sense in his position as a pundit for the BBC.
Upsets can and do happen
Just look at what happened to Russia, and on a much smaller scale Poland too. Russia were stonewall certs to top Group A following the opening-game-thrashing of the Czech Republic, only for them to fall foul of some lacklustre attacking displays against a resilient Greece team. Greece looked down and out from day 1 in the group, it seemed as though everything was going against them, but then they manage to shock Europe by snatching a 1-0 victory against Russia to send one of the outside favourites home early. Meanwhile Poland seemed to be doing pretty well themselves with the talented young Lewandowski leading the line only for them to get narrowly beaten by the Czech Republic who seemed to struggle very much at times. I’ve a feeling Portugal will make easy work of the Czech side to book their place in the semi-finals of the competition, and Germany will be far too powerful (and efficient) for Greece – who seemed to celebrate as if they’d won the tournament.
I’d say that perhaps they were on some kind of a win bonus but that can’t be true because Greece have zero money in the bank. No, I definitely can’t say that… I’m sure they played extra well just to please their adoring fans.
England are still in with a chance
It wouldn’t be fair to conclude this article without acknowledging the achievements of the England team so far. They’ve tonight won their group quite comfortably thanks to a 1-0 win against Ukraine, although it wasn’t all plain sailing – Ukraine created many chances and could have taken the lead themselves, and even missed out on a goal which wasn’t given (although it was offside in the build up) but it shows that England are starting to have some luck on their side. I believe that you usually get lucky if you’re positive and play well – fortune favours the brave etc, so maybe this is the tournament where England can regain much of their reputation internationally. England fans haven’t expected too much from their players and I feel this has fallen nicely into the hands of the manager Roy Hodgson who’s always happy being the underdog where less pressure is upon his team to perform. Going in to the Quarter Finals with Italy and the pressure is likely to be on Italy to progress as they may be favourites but I’d be quietly confident that we could nick a result. Germany would await us in the semi’s and lets face it if we can beat Italy then anything can happen in the semi’s. As the tournament unfolded I felt that England’s chances have grown and grown – Russia were eliminated, Spain looked guilty of over-playing and not taking their chances, Portugal look beatable, Holland were knocked out, France were well beaten by Sweden – which probably leaves just one nation, whom are currently the favourites to win the tournament – Germany.