The Beautiful Game
Tuesday, June 22, 2004
How It Stands
Unforeseeable computer problems have prevented me from writing more regularly, and my regular work schedule has kept me from watching a majority of the games live, but I can watch the replays later in the day. A few games have been spoiled for me, due to knowing the score or the eventual outcome, but overall it has been an exciting tournament.
Group A brought me the most excitement by far. I’m of Portuguese decent, and I root for the Portuguese squad. After Portugal lost to Greece my expectations were very low. Portugal winning the group comes as a great surprise. They have played fairly well, but there is always that sense that they can do better. I also feel that their defence looks vulnerable to the counter-attack. The quarterfinal match between Portugal and England is bound to be a memorable one.
Greece is a very resilient team and they displayed that when they battled back to earn a point against Spain. That draw proved decisive in their qualification, and in Spain’s dismissal. I think Spain fell victim to not playing the entire match, and this often proves to be disastrous, especially in short competitions.
Group B, sees the French, and English through to the next round. This much was expected, but the manner in which it was accomplished is what was somewhat surprising. Everyone expected the French to dazzle and demolish everyone in their path, but they have just barely been grinding out the results. Perhaps they are saving their best for the second round. England, who were expected to grind out the results are the ones to dazzle. They were unlucky not hold off France in the opener, but they made no mistakes in their next two matches, handing both Switzerland, and Croatia decisive loses.
Croatia proved to be better than I expected. They too were unlucky not to come away from the France game with full points.
Group C, which I believed to be the most evenly matched group in the competition has proved to be just that. Bulgaria disappointed throughout, so far, but they have the opportunity to send Italy packing, and that would be a victory of sorts. Italy need a victory in their final game to advance, and even then they are not guaranteed a place in the next round. Italy would do well to field two teams, one to face Bulgaria, and another to ensure an adequate scoreline in the Sweden – Denmark game. I would not be surprised to see the Italians exit this tournament early. The Azzurri face an uphill battle. They have only scored once in the tourney, and it seems like Vieri, and Del Piero are just not getting it done, and Totti had himself foolishly suspended. I for one would like to see Bernardo Corradi get a run out there, so that he may try his chances. We will have to wait and see
In Group D, tiny Latvia has to be commended. Everyone, myself included, believed that they were the group’s whipping boys, and the proved everyone wrong and have battled valiantly enough to take a point against Germany.
The Czechs have played fabulous football so far. Now more than ever, I believe that they have what it takes to win be European champions. Nedved is in amazing form, as is Karel Poborsky. The Czech’s game against the Netherlands has been the best of the tournament so far. The Dutch were unlucky to lose that game, and now see their qualification in danger.
The Germans despite their poor performances might be able to sneak into the second round at the expense of the Dutch, but it is clear that the Germans have a serious problem on their hands. They don’t look like a team that deserves to be called World Cup runner-ups.
Monday, June 14, 2004
With Euro 2004 underway the eyes of the world are on Portugal. Portugal opened the tournament in typical fashion. The Portuguese squad did not fail to disappoint. As I had previously said Portugal lacks the concentration and killer instinct displayed by the world’s top teams. Portugal looked as if they did not know that the opening whistle had sounded, and that the game was underway. They looked flat footed and disorganized at the back, they failed to hold possession of the ball, and thus failed to feed Pauleta. The Greeks took advantage, and scored a quick opening goal. After that, they defended superbly, and gained a deserve victory. Some would say that Portugal played better than Greece, and that they dominated the game, but what matters in the end is the final score. Portugal continues to disappoint. They will need to win their next game in order to stand a chance, and even then they will need to gain points against Spain if they wish to continue taking part in their Euro.
Spain cruised to victory over Russia in their Group A bout. They attacked all game long, and forced the Russians back into their half. Spain created more opportunities, but had a hard time breaking through to victory, that is until Juan Carlos Valeron scored just seconds after coming into the game. Spain’s next match against Greece could see them qualify for the next round with a victory.
Sunday’s first match sounded rather unattractive. Croatia and Switzerland are not names that would immediately arouse interest. The game turned out to be very entertaining, despite the goalless draw. The 10 man Swiss held off the Balkans to gain a much deserved draw. The Swiss looked more likely to score a goal, even while being a man down.
The biggest game of the weekend was worthy of being a final. England – France started out slowly but ended with a bang. England was first to tally, and relied on the counter attack effectively. Wayne Rooney even gained a penalty, that had David Beckham converted, we could very well have England sitting at the top of the group. Beckham’s missed penalty was the turning point of the match, from that moment on the French clamped down and forced England further and further back towards their own goal. A marvelous Zinedine Zidane goal tied it with very little time left, and at the game’s dying moments French flair created an opportunity whose only result could be the winning goal. Henry was brought down inside the box, and Zidane banged it in for the win.
Friday, June 11, 2004
The Czechs will be looking to make up for the disappointment of missing out on Korea/Japan 2002. They have the quality players that can make a difference in this competition. At the time of the draw this was deemed to be the “group of death”, but the warm up results have downgraded this to the “group of the severely ill”. The team that can benefit the most from this is the Czech Republic. They have an excellent young keeper in Petr Cech (Stade Renne). Midfielder maestro Pavel Nedved will be conducting the midfield. Milan Baros (Liverpool), and Jan Koller (B. Dortmund) will want to add to their internationally goal tally. The strong point for the Czechs is that the rest of their squad is capable of bringing their A- game, and perhaps all the way to the final.
Germany look like they will have a very, but I mean very tough trip to Portugal. They lost 5 nil against to Romania, and 2 -0 against Hungary in the run up to the tournament. Gone are the big names that usually dotted this squad, and this squad seems to be in the need of a major facelift. I believe that Ruddi Voeller needs to leave some big names aside and inject the team with youth. One such case is that of goalkeeper Olivier Kahn (B. Munich). Kahn had a season to remember, and I question that he should be the number one this time around. Timo Hildebrand (Stuttgart) had a much better season, and should be the starting goal minder. I believe that Michael Ballack will step up his game and he should be one of the few bright spot for Germany in this tourney. The other will be Kevin Kuranyi (Stuttgart). In the end I see the Germans retreating home early, to plan for their own World Cup in 2006.
Success for this team is just being part of this tournament. Not much is known about most of their players aside from a handful of players that play in England, Israel, and Russia. The fact that they are unknown will result in any surprises and the rest of the teams in group should overcome the Latvians with out much of a problem. Players to watch for this squad are Southampton’s Marian Pahars, and Maris Verpakovskis (D. Kyev). Look for this team to be bounced out in the first round, but they still hold bragging rights over all the former Soviet Republics, for being the first to qualify to a major tournament.
The Mechanical Orange has been in the need for some tinkering. All the parts are there, but the machine is still not firing on all cylinders. This team is capable of great things. Their strength is in attack.. Dick Advocaat will have some tough choices to make as to who will play upfront, with the like of Ruud van Nistelroij, Roy Makaay, and Patrick Kluivert to choose from. Edgar Davids will be the player to watch for Holland. The “Pitbull” is a midfield tough guy that will gather the ball so that the Dutch strikers can have the ball at their feet to create goal scoring opportunities. The safe bet is that the Dutch will join the Czechs in the knockout stage.
The Bulgarians are the team that can surprise many people in this tournament. They are yet to replicate the success obtained by the historic team that reached third place in the 1994 World Cup. This time around they have a good opportunity to do just that, or at least Hristo Stoichkov thinks so. This team is expected to do well. Group C is an accessible one for all involved. Aside from Italy, the remaining teams have a good possibility of moving on to the next round. This squad has a nice mix of youth and experience. In Dimitar Bervatov (Bayer Leverkusen), the Bulgarians have a highly prized striker. Some European super powers are inquiring about his services. A good run in the tournament will increase his value even further. Along with Stilian Petrov (Celtic), Berbatov will be the player to watch. If they display the resolve, and fighting spirit that was displayed by the ‘94’ team expect them to pipe their way into the next round.
The Danes are former champions of this competition, and always seem to well in the big competitions. Most of the Danish squad plays abroad, with some of the players grazing on the most important European pastures. As I said before this is a very tight group, and any of the four teams has the possibility of making the second round. Denmark will rely on experience of players like Jesper Gronkjaer (Chelsea), Jon Dahl Tomasson (AC Milan), Thomas Helveg (Inter Milan), and Dennis Rommedahl (PSV) to carry them to the next level. This team is capable of going to the knockout stage, but it is highly unlikely that they will repeat the historic achievement of the 1992 team that walked away from the Euro as champions.
The Italians are favorites for every tournament they compete in. This Italian squad is very well balanced, and like the French team that squad is extremely deep. The fact Italian champions Genaro Gattuso, and Andrea Pirlo (both AC Milan) might be on the bench shows you the strength of squad at the disposal of Giovanni Trapattoni. The Italian boast an incredible defence, made up in part by the trio of Alessandro Nesta (AC Milan), Fabio Cannavaro, and Inter Milan hard-man Matteo Materazzi. The man on goal, is in my opinion the best in the world. That man is Gigi Buffon (Juventus). Up front they are not too shabby either. Francesco Totti (Roma) can inspire this team to great things, and Christian Vieri (Inter) is as deadly a striker as you will find in all of Europe, but if you ask me who will turn heads in this Italian squad. I would have to say Roma’s Antonio Cassano. If he gets his chance, the world will get the opportunity to see a magical young player, on one Europe’s biggest stage. It is no wonder that this team is a tournament favorite.
The Swedes come into this tournament very much the same way that they entered the 2002 World Cup. They are not impressing, they seem to lack the build up necessary to create goals. They presented the same problem in Korea/Japan and they made it through to the second round from very tough group that contained Argentina, England, and Nigeria. They can yet again spring a surprise. Their effort will be boosted by the return of Henrik Larsson (Celtic) into the international mix. Arsenal midfielder Fredrik Ljungberg will be responsible for creating the opportunities that the striking duo of Larsson, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Ajax) need to guarantee the Viking’s presence beyond the group stage.
Wednesday, June 09, 2004
Long gone are the days of Davor Suker, and Zvonimir Boban, that saw Croatia achieve a third place finish in the 1998 World Cup. Croatia’s new generation of players has been far less successful. They failed to qualify for Euro 2000, and failed to make an impact in Korea/Japan 2002. Their qualifying campaign for this edition of the competition was a struggle for them, and their run up to the tournament has been far from impressive. Odds are that they will not be able to spring a surprise on France or England. If they are to be successful their key players must step up to the task. Igor Tudor (Juventus) must display the qualities that impressed the Italian giants to sign him. Croatia will heavily rely on in-form Monaco striker Dado Prso for scoring, but I feel it will not be enough to get them past the group stage.
England are potential finalists, and potential disappointments at the same time. My opinion is that they are somewhat overrated. They have some very good players in their rank and file, but lack the depth of squad needed to stand head and shoulder above the competition. They have the world’s most famous player in their roster in David Beckham, but the key to England’s success lies beyond the England captain. Several players must replicate their club form for England to be successful. Arsenal’s Ashley Cole is one of those players. He must provide speed from the back, the same way he did for Arsenal this season. Steven Gerrard should provide England with the fighting desire. He did that for Liverpool this season, and almost single handedly save the Reds from further disaster. I feel that he should captain the England squad instead of David Beckham. Another key element to England’s success will be Chelsea’s Frank Lampard. Despite the millions spent by Chelsea, this homegrown talent managed to impress in a star studded squad. England will reach the second round, beyond there injuries and suspension will play an important role in their progress.
Les Bleus are again favorites to win the tournament. They will be looking to impress after the disaster that was their last World Cup. France, unlike England, is stacked in all positions. France has enough depth to cover every position twice. Their defence is as solid as any in the world. This time around Robert Pires is available, and this provides a midfield option that was not present in the Far East in 2002. The forward tandem of Thierry Henry (Arsenal) and David Trezeguet (Juventus) will be hard to keep scoreless. If France has a weak point, it’s under the sticks. Fabien Barthez (O. Marseille) is a mercurial. He can be very good or simply atrocious. He is somewhat accident prone, and often makes horrible decisions, as he did for his club in the UEFA cup finals this year. France is yet to taste defeat since qualifying for the tournament began. Which French players should we watch for? We take your pick. They are all capable of making an impact, but keep an eye on some of the lesser known players such as Monaco’s Jerome Rothen, and Marseille’s Benoit Pedretti. This team can go all the way to the finals, and it would not surprise me if they end up singing “La Marseillaise” in the end.
As one of the co-hosts of the 2008 edition of the European Championships, the Swiss will attempt to perform well in this tournament in order to build momentum for next time around. Although I don’t believe that they can win the tournament, they can push their opponents into dangerous situations. The Swiss are an experienced and organized group. Most of them have experience in Europe’s top leagues. Murat Yakin, and Hakan Yakin were part of the FC Basel team that surprised some top European clubs in the Champion’s League a few years back. They should be the players to watch along with Liverpool’s Stephane Henchoz, and Stade Renne’s Alexander Frei.
Monday, June 07, 2004
The Greeks stamped their passport to Portugal by finishing first in a very tough qualifying group containing the Ukraine, and Spain. They will look to continue to ride their wave of success into the championship. The Alpha Ethniki will rely mostly on players groomed by Greece’s most successful clubs including AEK, Panathinaikos, and Olympiakos. Players to watch will be Panathinaikos defender Yourkas Seitaridis, who will almost certainly join a top club this summer, and Inter Milan’s Giorgos Karagounis. Greece will find the going tough because they must face the host nation, and they must also face Spain, a team that will be looking to extract revenge for forcing them to qualify via the play-off.
Portugal will look to put a disastrous World Cup, and a poor run-up to this tournament behind them. Portugal failed to defeat any nation that has qualified for the finals. Although the team has seem some significant changes, much needed concentration and a killer instinct still seems to be missing. The elements for success are present for Portugal. Luis Figo seems inspired and better rested than prior to the 2002 World Cup. The defense is more stable thanks to the influx of younger players, most of them coming from Champion’s League winner FC Porto. Rui Costa on his A game is second to none. A mix of youth and experience can be seen on this team. Youngster Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United) will be the player to watch. He is perhaps the most exciting player to watch in all of Europe. Portugal has the privilege of having a World Cup winning coach in Luis Felipe Scolari, and they will essentially be playing with an extra player in every match in the form of the crowd. The big question surrounding Portugal is, if all these elements will combine into a successful formula? I believe they will. Look for Portugal to qualify for the second round.
Spain needed a play-off victory over Norway to qualify for this tournament. One of Europe’s eternal underachievers will look to shed that moniker once and for all. The injury sustained by defender Michel Salgado (Real Madrid) did not help matters at all, but look to experienced youngsters Carles Puyol (Barcelona) and keeper Iker Casillas (Real Madrid) to anchor the Spanish defense. For many, Spain’s success lies on the performances by Real Madrid striker Raul. Although he seemed lackluster all year, he might have been saving his energies for the Euro. If that is not the case, Spain has a more than capable deputy in that position. That man is Fernando Morientes. Morientes was one of Europe’s best this closed season, and look for him to make an impact even if it’s off the sub’s bench. Spain should make it past the first round, but beyond there, no one knows.
Russia is not the football power that it once was. The European Championships was always where Russia had its strongest showings. Injury worries have been a concern to the Russian National team in the lead up to the finals. Expect the Russians to display their characteristic Russian resolve. I will expect them to play a physical game, and attempt to impose themselves over their opponents. The team will attempt to replicate the relative success experienced by Russian teams in the European club competitions this year. Most of the players were part of those teams (CSKA Moscow, Lokomotiv Moscow, and Dynamo Moscow). Players to watch will be Alexander Mostovoi (Celta Vigo), Rolan Gusev, and speedy forward Dmitry Sychev. The Russians will find it difficult to contend with the class and finesse of the Spanish, and Portuguese. Look for them to be fighting it out for third place in the group with Greece.
The European Championship is the premier European National team competition. It is the second most prestigious football competition, behind only the World Cup. France maestro, Zinedine Zidane has recently said that this competition is much more difficult than the World Cup. In many ways he is right. Every group in this competition can be considered a “group of death”. If Brazil, Argentina, Cameroon, and Nigeria were able to participate, the best national teams in the world would be represented. This year's edition in Portugal should be an exciting event with wonderful football, being played by the world's best on sun drenched pitches. In the next four days I will analyze each group, give my opinions on each team’s prospect of winning the competition, and which players to watch.
Welcome to "The Beautiful Game" blog page at www.ojogobonito.blogspot.com . This blog will be dedicated to the beautiful game that is soccer. In this page you will find my opinions relating to the world of soccer. In the coming days, I will analyze and give my opinion on the European Championships which are fast approaching. Hope that you enjoy this page, and check back soon.