Friday, 29 June 2012

Forza Italia

Last night’s game is worthy of its own post so here we go. The title of my last post was a reference to the words Julius Caesar was supposed to have said before he crossed the Rubicon on his way to become ruler of Rome. It was my allusion to the belief that Italy would prevail against Germany, but I did not want to say it outright, it teaches me that one should go with ones gut feelings.

A word to the Germans, I have a number of readers in Germany and I say to you today that I know how you are feeling today but have no empathy. I will explain. I am a fan of Leeds United, a team that is reviled around the world despite having had periods of success. Two things about Leeds, they also came second a lot when they should have one and their fans are amazing. One of their most favourite chants, has the following words.

We are Leeds, Super Leeds, no one likes us we don’t care.

Today my Shermans, that is the attitude you must adopt, for when Super Mario blasted his second goal, the camera panned from a picture of him shirt off, almost saying to the crowd “come on, who’s next I’m ready”, to a shot of a German fan crying in the crowd. Most people around the world enjoyed that moment, they love to see Germany being beaten and their fans in despair.

Italy was magnificent, they should have won by more and in the second half as they missed chance after chance, one had to wonder if the Shermans would capitalize on their profligacy in front of goal. The Italian team signing of the national Anthem before the game had to be seen to be believed, first of all they all seemed to know the words (even super Mario)and they belted it out with gusto. The words to the anthem follow and they are a great battle cry.

Italian Brothers, Italy has awakened,

She has wreathed her head With the helmet of Scipio.

Where is Victory? She bows her head to you,

You, whom God created As the slave of Rome.

Let us band together, We are ready to die,


Italy has called us.

(repeat previous four lines)

(author’s note, there were a number of Scipio’s in Roman history , the most famous being the victor Over Hannibal of Carthage, Rome’s great enemy)

We shall look forward to the final on Sunday.

Forza Italia

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Alea Jacta Est

Surprise, Spain is in the final and awaits the winner of tonight’s game. The last two matches have produced four hours of foot ball without a goal. This is the reason that our American cousins do not warm to football, they would cut straight to the penalties. The Portuguese stopped the Spanish from playing their usual game, which meant the fare on show was more dire than usual.

There is one thing about the penalties that I do not understand. Have you noticed how many defenders take penalties? One would have assumed, that it would be the role of strikers or midfielders, the players usually charged with scoring and considered more skillful, to take the responsibility. Last night as Alves, strode forward, I said to an empty room that he was going to miss, as I had said to a rather more full room as Ashley Cole strode forward for England, before he missed as well.

I suppose it must be to do with the fragile state of mind of the so called gifted players who crack under the thought of having to take a penalty as opposed to the mindless donkey of a defender who it does not occur to, that he will probably blast the ball into row Z, until it happens and then he is disconsolate as he is comforted by his more skillful teammates, who are thinking thank god is was not me.

Germany Verses Italy, two titans of European football, Germany three times winners of the Euro and three times the world cup against Italy four times world cup winners and once the Euros.  Italy have a very good record against Germany in these games stretching back to Mexcio in 1970.

If you are old enough to remember, who can forget the image of Marco Tardelli after scoring the second Italian goal in the 1982 world cup, as he ran towards the touchline looking like a screaming berserker, or Gentile the mustachioed Italian Assassin, who despite his name was far from gentle.

It is a contest that interests football fans round the world and this one should be no exception. The Shermans have been the most exciting team so far, but now they have to break down an opponent with a strong defence, very good on the counter attack and most important of all, without an inferiority complex.
There is also the statistic which I mentioned before the England game, that the Italians have only lost two knockout games in the last 25 they have played in major tournaments, which includes their victory over the Shermans in the 2006 world cup semi finals which by the way was played in Germany.

The NationalMannSchaft, is however very young and powerful, and will probably welcome back Gomez and Mueller who were “rested” for the game against Greece. The Shermans have made it look easy so far, but tonight could be a cracker.  As long as it is not another nil-nil draw anything will seem good.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Peninsular warfare

A word about the quarterfinals, three out of the four games were a return unfortunately to the type of football, we are too used to seeing in these tournaments. The fear of losing takes over and stifles the game.

A word or two about England, so much had been written that there is little I can add. In all the statistics about foreign players in domestic leagues, for example 70% of players in the premier league are foreign, whereas it is the opposite way round in the Spanish and German leagues, one point has not been made which I think is very telling.

How many Englishmen ply their trade abroad? I can’t think of one player of note. The only type of player who any foreign team might consider buying say a defensive midfielder like Gerrard for example, is still not as good in possession as say Busquets or Meireles, so why bother. Add the fact that the average English player is never going to learn a foreign language and doesn’t like the oily spicy food, and England will never get past the quarter finals in any future tournament apart from via a stroke of luck.

So, to tonight’s game. There is a saying in world which has different versions all around the world, but which basically means the same thing, a derby (a game between neighbouring teams) has its own rules. In this clash of the Iberian peninsular, I want Portugal to win, they have played nice attacking football and Spain is boring to watch. The Spanish players especially those from Barcelona know all about Cristiano Ronaldo and what he can do single handedly if he is on song. Portugal, however are more than just Ronaldo, they have a strong midfield which can match and perhaps overpower the Spanish, they have hard defenders who can also play the ball and Nani is also a player who with the attention focusing on Ronaldo, can utilize the space he will be given to hurt the Spanish.

I can’t believe that del Bosque, will go without a recognized striker again,  he doesn’t seem to like my man Llorente but even Torres will do, maybe he will play Pedro so that he can fall down a couple of times, to win some free kicks.

To sum up, the Portuguese are not afraid of the Spanish, they will attack them and will not let the Spanish dominate possession as much as they usually do. I will stick my neck out and go for Portugal.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

One more game, being played tonight, to decide the line up for the semi-finals. Over the weekend so far, a couple of things have been confirmed. Germany look the best team in the tournament, they scored four and could have had more and that was with resting three of their first team. Did you see Frau Merkel celebrating, gave me goose bumps.

Spain is officially boring to watch, they scored an early goal and spent the rest of the game making those one or two yard passes to each other without trying to score. Apart from one through ball to Fabregas, neither goalkeeper really had a save to make. The English commentator summed it up nicely, Spain anesthetize the game, which doesn’t only put the opposition to sleep but the audience as well. The French did not turn up and reports of tension in the dressing room have returned. The Portuguese with Ronaldo, will be a much stiffer examination for the Spanish.

Italy and England will face each other tonight for the dubious pleasure of facing the Shermans in the second semi-final. The two nations do not have much of a footballing history, they have never faced each other in games that really matter. Italy beat England in the third place playoff in the world cup in Italy in 1990, but who cares about that.

Let’s have a bit of fun and play the Good, the Bad and the Ugly based on the famous Spaghetti Western.


The Good- they have managed to find ways to win, Welbeck’s heel and Rooney Hair transplant, which leaves a goal off somebody’s backside, the next option.

The Bad, they can not retain possession of the ball, this is not good as it is difficult to play without the ball.

The Ugly, Joleon Lescott, he was in a terrible car accident when he was five, being dragged along the road by a car that had hit him. It makes a scary sight for opposing strikers.


The Good, nobody gave them much of a chance before the tournament due to the match fixing scandals raking Italian domestic football.

The Bad, so far there is no bad

The Ugly, the center back, Chielinni, has great a nose for a defender and he smiles when he kicks you, but as he is not playing due to injury we shall go with Balotelli and his hair do

The press in both countries has been going on about how England now play like an Itlaian team of old, very organized and disciplined. This is partly attributed to the fact that the manager Roy Hodgson was manager of Inter Milan in the 1990’s and has a good understanding of Italian football.

The worrying thing for England is that Italy has only lost twice in the last twenty four years when they have reached the knockout stages of a major competition. They are like a bottle of Chianti, they improve as they go on.

Anyway it should be fun, and we of course hope for an English win, to set up a semi against the old enemy, the Shermans.

Friday, 22 June 2012

The Battle of the Pyrenees

One down, three to go, Portugal duly proved they had too much for the Czech Republic, in a game which if it had not have been for the flashes of brilliance from Ronaldo, would definitely ranked as the worst game so far. Tonight we have the Shermans against Greece, which we already previewed and on Saturday night we have the battle of the Pyrenees (the mountain range which straddles France and Spain).

This is a very hard game to predict, both these teams are former European and World champions, but there is a long held belief that both these nations should have achieved more with the pool of talent available to them.

I think the problem lies with the mentality of the two nations, both Mediterranean in nature, both teams quite sometimes play with a laissez-faire attitude, it is almost if they don’t care, that classic shrug of the French shoulders, the Spanish, it is time for Siesta.
Yet on there day, they are both capable of breath taking football.

Amongst my contemporaries, there is a general consensus of opinion that Spain is over- rated. Yes we know they are reigning European and World Champions, but it is not fun to watch. The fact that Xavi or Iniesta make three million one yard passes in a game as Spain enjoy total domination of possession does not make for the type of end to end football that the punter wants to see.

As for France, who knows, they have not been very good so far, but the knockout stages are where the men are separated from the boys. I suppose on form, we have to go with Spain, Let us hope it is a good game.

On Sunday we shall preview the last Quarter-Final Italy against England

Thursday, 21 June 2012

The Quarter finals begin

We are going to preview the first two quarterfinals, The Czech Republic against Portugal which will be played tonight and then Germany against Greece which is on Friday night.

However, before we start, I must add an addendum to my previous post, one of our American readers contacted me off blog to ask why I had not included Danny Welbeck’s goal for England against Sweden in the best goal category. He is correct it should have been in, but although it was a very good move and an excellent piece of skill and a goal of importance, it didn’t have the big bang feeling, but it is now on our list.

The first game poses somewhat of a dilemma for this blogger. Our mission statement is too try and entertain an audience who aren’t necessarily that interested in football, but just want to know what’s going on  and perhaps  they may learn that there is more to this football lark than they previously thought and come to appreciate the game for what it is.

However Portugal Verses the Czech Republic has nothing but football, there is no bad blood, no wars have been fought, no common borders are shared, so we shall try and keep it brief. The Czechs were always a good bet to get out of their group, but that is as far as it goes. The Portuguese are good when they are not under pressure and I expect them to win tonight, with Ronaldo putting on another classy performance.

The second game, however, is a very different kettle of fish. Apart from the nations who remained neutral during the Second World War, every country in Europe has some gripe with the Shermans. They were either duped into being on their side and then suffering the consequences of losing, or they were under a usually very nasty German occupation.

The Greeks are proud of their history and did not enjoy the weight of the German jackboot on their necks, resistance was fierce and German reprisals to that resistance were even worse. That was then, this is now and the Germans are again pressing hard on the Greeks to get there economy in order.

The Sherman's in the form of Frau Merkel are insisting that the Greeks tighten their belts, not easy on a Greek oily diet and the Greeks are not happy. The German tabloid Bild had the following headline which translated to something like. "Be Happy, Dear Greeks, the coming defeat on Friday will be a gift. There will be no rescue fund against Jogi Loew's team."

Coming back to Frau Merkel for a moment, she likes her football, she was present when Germany thrashed Argentina in the world cup and the team considers her a good luck charm. It is quite easy to picture Frau Merkel slapping her thighs and downing a Stein as she watches with the lads.

The Greek captain, will miss the game due to suspension and his absence will be massive for the Greeks. It is always dangerous to make predictions when dealing with the Greeks, but I can't see them stopping the Shermans.

We will preview Spain V France on Friday.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

What Do You think So Far

So the group stages are over and before we look forward to the quarter-finals, a time for reflection and a chance for you the reader to get involved with my best and worst moments etc

Biggest surprise; It has to be Greece, I don’t think anyone saw that they would qualify and it has given the Greek Nation a welcome ray of sunlight with the mess they are in economically.

Biggest disappointment; Another no Brainer here, Holland, no points and only two goals, this is not in the surprise category because they did have a hard group, but they have been rubbish for such a talented group of players.

Best Team; again no room for discussion, the Shermans, the NationalMannSchaft is as well oiled as ever and in Joachim Loew and Hansi Fricks they also have the best turned out coaches.

Here’s one open to discussion, best goal so far, the contenders are, Ibrahimovic’s against France, Balotelli against Ireland, and the Polish bloke with the ridiculously long name who scored against Russia. I am going with the pole because the other two goals were meaningless in the context of tournament.

Worst miss so far, there have been plenty, I am discounting those efforts where the player hit the ball straight at the keeper Like Badstuber against Holland or Nani against Holland but I think Ronaldo’s miss against Denmark must win the prize, the most expensive player in the world clean through on goal, he had to score.

Worst decision so far, well again pretty easy. It was a goal plain and simple. (Ukraine v England) What the fifth official was watching will remain a mystery to us. Perhaps he was looking at a pretty Ukrainian girl in the crowd.

Best fans; has to be the Irish, they came in their thousands, drank tons of beer and never stopped signing in support of their team, despite them being the worst team in the tournament. Roy Keane wouldn’t agree with me.

Worst haircut, I think Balotelli wins that award,

Anyway let us know if you agree or disagree or if there were any other categories I should have included. The Previews will start tomorrow

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

The Charge of the White Shirt Brigade

So now we know six of the last eight, with the Son and the Father in the shape of Spain and Italy going forward to the quarter-finals. The Holy Ghost at least put up a spirited performance in their two nothing defeat by Italy. It was a shame to see the Irish Player sent off in the last minute and you felt his pent up frustration as he kicked the ball into the stands and berated the referee.
It was less pleasing to see Mario Balotelli who having scored a wonderful goal having to have another player put his hand over Mario’s mouth as he directed a stream of invective at someone. A very talented player, but with a rather large loose screw.

The final round of group matches sees the return to the England team of the Prodigal son, one Wayne Rooney known to his friends as Wazza. In the second game, a rather poor Swedish team who have already been eliminated face a French team, who are quietly getting the job done and will be difficult to beat as the tournament progresses. The result of this game is of little interest, except for deciding who wins the group and thus avoids playing Spain in the next round, which is the fate which awaits the runner up of group D.

The poet laureate Lord Tennyson penned his famous words in 1854 during the Crimean war which if you were not aware is located in the Ukraine. We shall paraphrase them for our purpose. “into the valley of death ran the brave eleven” Shevchenko to the left, voronin to the right, Blockin in front, volleyed and thunder, theirs is not to reason why, theirs is but to do and die”

Obviously the original poem was glorifying a disaster in that way peculiar to the English of taking a terrible defeat and immortalizing it, as in the same way as Dunkirk which is remembered for the evacuation and not for the fact that British army was lucky to survive by the skin of their teeth.

To return to the football, England only needs a draw to qualify, but playing for a draw is a very risky option especially when you are up against the host nation. England are hoping that the return of Rooney, one of the true world class players England possess will enable them to ease pass the Ukrainians and get Rooney back to fitness for the stiffer challenges that lay ahead.

Rooney missed the first two games have been banned for kicking an opposition player off the ball in an act of petulance, reminiscent of when he stamped on the privates of a Portuguese player during the 2006 world cup. Rooney’s tendency to a red mist has earned him a red card or two in his time. I suppose the tattoo that Rooney sports on his arm sums it up “just enough education to perform”. If England does progress, we shall return to this issue. We shall finish off with another paraphrased section from the poem

When can their glory fade? O the wild charge they made!
All the world wonder'd. Honour the charge they made!
Honour the white shirt Brigade,   Noble eleven!

Monday, 18 June 2012

Time for Confession in Group C

So now we know the first of the quarter-final match ups, the Shermans will play Greece and Portugal will face the Czech Republic. Who would have predicted before the tournament that Holland would lose all three of the games?

A little word about the Dutch, they are undoubtedly have a talented pool of players but, there are too many egos in the Dutch camp, too many players who are used to being the star at their club and thus the focal point of their club team. This does not translate itself very well to the National team, where they have to play a more team orientated game and the proof of that was in the three displays we have seen over the last week and a half. They were lucky last night they should have lost by a lot more.
I think I wrote watch out for Ronaldo, well he looked very good last night, which is good for us the spectator.

A quick line about the other game, the Shermans roll on, is anyone equipped to stop them? A word of praise for Denmark, they did better than anyone expected.
So to Group C, the scenario here is relatively straight forward, The Father (Italy) has to beat the Holy Ghost (Ireland) to go up, which on paper seems a straight forward task. Ireland have conceded seven times and scored once so far to date.

A win for Italy secures qualification if Spain or Croatia win or is a scoreless draw. If that game is a 1-1 draw, then Italy needs to better or equal Croatia's 3-1 win over Ireland. If they equal it, Italy will go through because they are ranked higher than Croatia by Uefa. However, if Spain and Croatia draw 2-2 or more then Italy is out.

Did you follow that, good neither did I, The interesting thing to note is that this is the exact scenario which happened in Euro 2004 where Italy won their last game, but where eliminated because Denmark and Sweden played out a two-two draw.
Machiavelli must be rubbing his hands with glee, with all the possible claims for collusion between Spain and Croatia, if they secure a two-two draw. I don’t think it will happen but it will be interesting nevertheless.

The Irish only have pride to play for, but they are under no pressure, we shall have to wait and see. Tomorrow sees the conclusion of the group stage with England and France in pole position at the moment.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

The Grim Reaper readies his Scythe

What a weekend of football, we have had so far. France clinical in their dismissal of the Ukraine, England giving their fans a roller coaster ride of emotions in their thrilling three- two win over Sweden. (So much for my saying a nil-nil draw)
I don’t think any pundit in the world foresaw what transpired last night. That the Czechs verses Poland was winner take all, we knew in advance, but Greece beating Russia to qualify in second place is a shock of seismic proportions.

Any of Poland, Russia or Greece possibly facing the Sherman’s in the next round was enough to excite any headline writer looking to whip up the atmosphere before the game. Given last nights shocks we should not assume anything as we look forward to the deciding games in the so called group of Death, Group B.
Even the Dutch who have lost both their games still have a chance to qualify. A win by two clear goals together with a victory for Germany over Denmark would see the Dutch finish second.

Thankfully, there are no scenarios which allow two of the teams to settle for a specific result and thus eliminate the other two teams. There is the infamous example of Germany verses Austria in the 1982 world cup, where the Shermans needed to win either one or two nil , for both Germany and Austria to qualify, the Shermans duly scored after ten minutes and for the next eighty minutes, both the sides just passed the ball round making no attempt to score, thus eliminating Algeria who were the other team involved.

The Algerians called it the Anschluss, a veiled reference to the unification of Nazi Germany with Austria in 1938, in Germany it was known as the non-aggression pact of Gijon after the Spanish city where the game took place. This game instituted the situation we have now, where the last two games of the group stage kick off at the same time to avoid any attempts at collusion.

Holland, who have not looked very good defensively, face the Portuguese and it will be interesting to see how the Dutch defence copes with the pace of Ronaldo and Nani. At the other end now that Van Persie has finally scored maybe the Dutch can find the form which saw them reach the finals as top scores in the qualifying tournament. I have resigned from making predictions, this game is to open too call.

Having just written, that I have stopped making predictions, Germany will win, especially if they score first. We now know that the winners of this group will face Greece with the runners up taking on the Czech Republic. A clearer picture is beginning to emerge.

Check back in tomorrow as Group C also offers us a myriad of possibilites.

Friday, 15 June 2012

It;s a long wat to Tipperary

So far, only one thing has been decided for sure and that is that the Holy Ghost (Ireland) will be going home with their tail between their legs, played two, lost two, goals against seven goals for one, not very good reading for the paddy’s.
Although the Marquis Del Bosque didn’t pick Llorente as I suggested, he did pick a striker, Torres, who responded with 2 well taken goals, it is nice to be vindicated.
Italy and Croatia played out a one-one draw, which leaves this group intriguingly poised as well.

Today’s games do not inspire much excitement, in fact I would not be surprised if the first nil-nil draw of the tournament happens today between England and Sweden. The French should beat the Ukraine, but they will have to play better than they did against England and Shevchenko will cause the slow French central defenders some problems.

Now back to Group A, and the matches to decide who goes home and who plays on. All four teams are still in with a shout. Russia after the battle on the Vistula (a repeat of 1920 when the then fledgling state of Poland repelled Trotsky and the red army in a surprise result) are in pole position with four points and face the Greeks who only have one point. A draw would suffice for the Russians, and they will get that or more.

The Poles who are in an ebullient mood after pushing the Russians back from the said Vistula are playing the Czech Republic. The Poles with two points need to win, a draw would probably be enough for the Czechs assuming that the Greeks don’t pull off the surprise of the tournament and snatch a victory against the Russians, which would leave Greece, Russia, and the Czechs in a 3 way tie to the be decided on goal difference.

As you can see there are many possible permutations, which should lead to a nail biting night of exciting football

Thursday, 14 June 2012

No one expects the Spanish Inquisition

Well both games today were very exciting, Denmark clawing back a two goal deficit only to fall to a late great strike from the substitute. Before that the most expensive player in the world missed an absolute sitter, and he is a very relieved man at the moment.

In the late game it was a case of “a Gomez to far” for the Dutch, the ease and the nonchalance with which the Sherman striker took his two chances had to be seen to be believed. The Sherman Badstuber also had an appalling miss, where it was easier to score. Check it all out on

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition, except perhaps the Holy Ghost, i.e. The Republic of Ireland. After getting caught with their pants down three times against the Croatian altar boys, the Holy Ghost has its back up against the wall as they prepare to face the “prodigal son” Spain.

The sketch by the immortal Monty Python continues thus, amongst our weapons are fear, surprise and ruthless efficiency. “Fear”, yes I reckon the Irish are afraid, “surprise”, well I think the Irish know what to expect, “ruthless efficiency “, now that might be harder for the Spanish to prove.

In fact even surprise may be on the side of the Irish. The Irish have nothing to lose, they are under no pressure to win, so maybe they can pull off the type of surprise that Northern Ireland conjured up in the 1982 world cup held in Spain, when Gerry Armstrong scored with a header to stun the Spanish in a 1-0 defeat.

The Spanish will need to be more lethal in front of goal, in fact show more menace than they did in their first game against Italy. As the ruthless Grand Inquisitor Torquemada has been dead for around 500 years perhaps they should, as I wrote last time, turn to the Basque Llorente, to provide the killer touch, they so badly need in front of goal.

One has too think that Spain have too much for Ireland to cope with, but the Irish by their very nature are so unpredictable, it should male for a very interesting game.

The Italians were much better than expected against Spain, and Italy like a good vino always mature as the tournament goes on. Croatia has had their moment, but I think they will struggle today. Twelve games in and still at least one goal in every game, I don’t think that is going to change today.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Death approaches in Group B

Last night brought us the best candidate so far for goal of the tournament, scored by he Polish captain the draw with Russia, if you missed it. Check it out on the best site for goals on the web. In the other game the jokes were flowing as quickly as the goals as the Greeks quickly fell behind 2-0, the English commentator started talking about the Greek deficit. At half times as the Czech fans were jumping up and down in celebration, he made another joke about the Greeks facing bouncing Czechs. Group A is intriguingly poised and all the teams can still qualify, so it will be all to play for on Saturday night. It happens in almost every major tournament to one of the fancied sides who are not doing as well as expected, stories start to circulate about arguments between players, leading to feuding camps. This year it is the turn of Portugal, with reports emanating from the Portuguese of a clash between Ronaldo (no surprise there) and Nani on the other side, with most of the players siding with Nani. The pressure is on Portugal to win, otherwise they will be going home especially as they still have to play the Dutch. The Danes are in heaven, with a draw giving them a chance of beating the odds and cheating the group of death. As you know, Denmark is the home to “Probably the best lager in the World” and that will be flowing in the streets if they get a good result tomorrow. My Danish friend, Danny, still does not rate his team, but it is great to see him smiling so. I’ll go for Denmark here. I have to make a public correction pointed out to me by an observant reader, in my last post about Holland, I wrote they never won anything. Well they did in fact win Euro 88, beating the Soviet Union 3-0 with one of the best ever goals scored by Marco Van Basten. Thank You to Andrew for that. Holland against Germany, the Dutch are in trouble having lost the so called easy game and now they face the old enemy, this is the biggest game in Dutch football, and it has never ended in a 0-0 draw (good for us). We have to go back to 1974 and the world cup final. The Dutch were favourites to win with Cruyff and Neeskins orchestrating some magical moments during the finals, but in the final although they took the leader, they lost 2-1 in the end to a Germany led by “The Kaiser” Franz Beckenbauer . Check out the highlights here on YouTube You have got to love the German hairstyles, much better than today’s tattooed warriors. It took the Dutch until 1988 and the Euros which they as I wrote won before they beat the old Nemesis. This game is not like say, England, France, where the rivalry is felt on both sides, the Germans do not seem to be bothered very much by the Dutch at least in a historical sense and because of this they are not feeling any pressure. The NationalMannSchaft is going to roll on towards the next round.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

The battle of the Eagles (Poland V Russia)

The first set of 8 games is over with a rather remarkable statistic for a big event, there has been a goal scored in every game so far. For those who don’t necessarily follow the game on a regular basis, this is very rare and pleasing for us observers, especially as the early games are usually cagey affairs with teams more scared of losing than trying to win. Yesterday, a draw between England and France was a fair result from a poor game and then the longest serving player in the tournament, the home hero Shevchenko, scored a brace to lead his nation to an opening victory. He gave a master class in how through economy of movement, a 35 year old player could lead his team to victory. Check out the highlights. So the tournament continues and we are back to group A, first up is Greece against the Czech Republic. The Greeks were much better than expected and really should have between Poland and the Czechs were not very good in their thrashing by Russia. This is a must win game for both sides and this will hopefully lead to an entertaining game. The main course tonight throws up a juicy morsel, Poland against Russia. Most people associate Russia with the Bear, but the national emblem is actually a double headed eagle, while Poland’s is a white eagle with one head, so the talons will be sharpened tonight. This blog tends to call on history a lot, as in my opinion, it plays such an important role in the way especially the fans approach a game. An example, if you ask a Serbian why they hate the Bosnians so much, they will remind you of a battle which took place in 1381, the point being here that these nations don’t forget easily. In the case of tonight’s protagonists, the history is more recent. In fact the latest incident took place only two years ago, when a plane carrying the Polish President and a high number of senior military and political figures crashed while coming into land killing over ninety people. For the Pole in the street the Russians were responsible. One more example should suffice, when Poland was carved up between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia in 1939, the NKVD (the then name of what most of us know as the KGB) rounded up all the leading military and police officers and intellectuals in the Soviet occupied zone and summarily executed them in what became known as the Katyn forest massacre, the exact numbers are unknown, but the usual figure given is around 13,000. The Russians only owned up in 1989 as the Soviet Union crumbled around them. The Russians looked very good in their first game sweeping forward in wave after wave of Red menace. The Poles were weighed down by national expectations, because of the points mentioned above, it is possible that there is even more pressure on them tonight, as a win against Russia would be far more than a football event. Another very good game in the offing. Tomorrow we shall switch to the Western Front, and especially Germany against Holland, a match up which has produced some classic encounters in its time.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

We few we merry few (henry V)

Today gives us the final group to start, Group D, but before we preview that, a look at last night’s games. The Father and the son played out a very good draw, I wrote that you should look out for Llorente and I have a feeling that we shall see him before we see Torres again. In the second game the choir boys caught the Holy Ghost with their pants down 3 times to record a comfortable victory. England Verses France opens the proceedings today, but as I don’t have much to write about the second game, we shall get it out of the way first. There is an urban legend that Sweden has the highest suicide rate in the world, because it is either always dark or sunny, while that may be true, the bit about suicide isn’t, they actually rank 35 in the world when it comes to suicide. If they were to be any higher, it would probably be because they are so boring. To paraphrase Monty Python and the life of Brian “What have the Swedes ever done for us?” At a stretch, the answer would be Abba, Bjorn Borg, Volvo, the Carl Gustav machine pistol and probably the funniest thing would be the Muppets Swedish Chef. The football is not much better. As for the Ukraine, they are only playing because they are one of the host nations, and UEFA is probably regretting that as the tournament progresses. A draw is on the cards here. So, England against France. To someone not born in either of the two countries it might be difficult to understand what all the fuss is about. Where should I start? For nearly a thousand years now since William the Conqueror invaded the British Isles in 1066, the two nations have been at war if not actually literally then at least in a cultural sense. Nobody likes the French, but the small distance between the two countries and the many battles fought between them means that this game is a loaded fixture. The French are actually at the moment on a 21 match unbeaten run since their infamous exit from the last World cup with their snail slime trailing between their frogs legs. England on the other hand, have had to appoint a new manager, five weeks before the tournament, who has not had much time to shape the team they way he would want it. One of the most famous battles between the two countries was at Agincourt in 1415 where England led by Henry V defeated a far superior French force in a charnel house of a battle. The spirit of Henry V immortalized by Shakespeare and brought to life by Olivier and Branagh is what England must hope to come though today. Unfortunately, most of the current England squad probably thinks that Henry V is a pub and they thing they could draw from that would be a pint. So it is up to us to rouse the troops with this quote from the end of the speech Henry V gave on the eve of the battle “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers. For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile, this day shall gentle his condition. And gentlemen in England now abed shall think themselves accursed they were not here, And hold their manhood’s cheap whiles any speaks That fought with us upon” My heart so England, my head says France, May England win

Holy Sunday Group C Begins

A quick review of what has gone by so far, my group of boredom provided two goals, two red cards a missed penalty and a disallowed goal in the first game and five goals in the second game. The Czechs must have felt the Red Army rolling over them again in a comprehensive defeat. Group B, well that is why it is labeled the Group of Death, who gave the Danes a chance, granted the Dutch were profligate, but well done Denmark. As to the last game, it can be summed up thus, another example of Germany efficiency on the Eastern Front. Two out of four so far, in the prediction game. So to today’s games, Group C, which as I said stands for Catholic, also could be considered a group of death, has given us a modern version of the trinity. Italy, home of the Pope, being “the father” (or maybe godfather, as we shall see). Spain, the home of the inquisition, being “the son”. Ireland, too much Guinness, making them “the Holy Ghost”. What I hear you say about the 4th team in the group Croatia. They should be thought of as the pre-pubescent altar boy, they will probably spend most of their time coming from behind the bog boys in the group. The first game today serves up the reigning World and European champions Spain against Italy, a team that like Germany who usually performs well in big tournaments. This time however, both teams are under some pressure. Italian football has been racked by match fixing scandals over the past few years. Juventus, Italian domestic giants were relegated 2 divisions for alleged match fixing, although it only took them 3 years to come back to being Italian champions. A new scandal erupted a few weeks ago, which prompted the Italian Prime Minister to suggest perhaps suspending Italian football for say 3 years to sweep clean. Some of the players in the squad are under investigation and we should hope that this won’t affect their performance. The thought of the concrete boots awaiting them if they break Omerta (the mafia code of silence) must and pardon the pun weigh heavy on their minds. All is not rosy in the Spanish Garden either, the fact that they are champions does not paper over the large fissures in the squad between the players from Barcelona and Real Madrid, to say that they do not get on would be an understatement in the extreme. It is a testimony to the skills of the manager, Vincent Del Bosque, that he was been able to produce such a good side. Spain have been hit by injuries to two of their most influential players, Shaggy from Scooby Doo better known as Carlos Puyol, the rock of the Spanish defence and David Villa the focal point of the Spanish attack. Mr. Del Bosque who with his droopy moustache and hang dog look never looks happy is turning to another one of the fiercely independent Spanish Regions, the Basques. Watch out for Llorente the Spanish striker, he scored some amazing goals this year for his club team Bilbao. Have to go with the Spanish here. This leaves us with Ireland against Croatia. This is a very difficult game to predict, the Irish under their Italian manager have a very stingy defence and Croatia was very lucky to qualify for the tournament in the first place. I think the Irish exuberance will send their fans home happy in this one. Tomorrow we look at Group D which will bring us England against France and Sweden verses Ukraine.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Euro 2012 starts today

It begins today, the waiting is over and those of us who suffer from S.A.D. seasonal affective disorder (I know it usually applies to those people who don’t like the winter, but believe me, football fans suffer more in the long hot summer) can breathe a huge sigh of relief, There is football to watch, in fact with the 2012 London Olympics fielding a Great British Team, even the synchronized swimming may be survivable this year. A quick overview, there are 4 groups of 4 teams in the first round of matches. Each team play against the other team in its group once and the top two qualify for the quarter-finals. When the draw for any of these tournaments is made, everyone looks out for what is known as (drum roll) “The Group of Death,” This group is made of 3 supposedly fancied teams being drawn in the same group and with only 2 being able to qualify, well you see the reasoning. I personally think it is a stupid concept made up by the press to jazz up what is usually a very boring ceremony (the pre tournament draw) If you think about it, two teams are going to die in every group, but it is hard to swim against the tide, so group of death it be. However having said that, this tournament could be said to have 2 groups of death (B & C) A group that will probably bore us to death (A) and a group (D) which because England are in it defies definition. Group A which kicks off the show stars Poland who play Greece in the opening game and Russia verses the Czech Republic, not really much to excite a Western audience. We must write a few words about these games despite that. The pressure is always on the host nation to do well and I think the Poles will, the spine of their team is made up of players who have just won the domestic double in Germany with Borussia Dortmund. Watch out for their main striker, he is a deadly finisher and is married to a Polish karate international. The Greeks, well poor things, it will give them some respite from the dire economic calamity back home, although I don’t think they have been getting very good credit terms, all the suppliers want to be paid Cash on Delivery and not in Drachma. Poland to win The 2nd game in this group could actually be quite good, I know I said this group might bore us to death, but the Russians could be the dark bears of the tournament, they have nothing to lose except maybe a trip to the gulag in Putin’s new Russia. The Czechs still haven’t forgiven the Russians for invading them in 1968 so this one could be tasty. The fact that the Czech goalie Petr Cech, looks like a Russian tank commander due to the protective headgear he has to wear after he had his head kicked in a few years ago can only accentuate those memories. I’ll go for a Russian win. Group B is the so called Group of Death, the first game tomorrow features Holland against Denmark. The Dutch, the inventors of “total football” back in the 1970’s never won anything with their very pleasing on the eye style. It is well known that the cafes in Amsterdam have a very wide selection of brownies, and sometimes this could be reflected in a rather languid laid back way of playing, but this is changing, the Dutch have added a heart of Steel to their silk lining. Anyone who watched the last world cup final will not be able to forget the way the Dutch tried to kick Spain off the pitch. A Danish friend of mine does not rate the current Danish team and I won’t argue with him. The Dutch should win but stiffer tests lie ahead. The next game is the first in a series of clashes of the mega-titans. Germany verses Portugal featuring football’s prettiest poster boy Ronaldo, who despite his appearance is one of the most talented footballers in the world, and on the other side, my favourite named footballer Bastien Schweinstieger, who would not win any awards for his looks. The Shermans (from the old Jewish Joke about a man who enters a synagogue and says he is looking for Mr Sherman, the reply being that we are all Sherman’s here.) almost always perform well in tournaments and the Portuguese tend to flatter to deceive, all flannel and no substance. For the neutrals such as us, this game could be a cracker. As I have to make a predication, I’ll go for Germany. On Sunday we shall look at Group C for Catholic, the lesser group of Death.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Football as a tool for education

After a two year absence since the last major tournament, it is time to welcome you back, to the blog which will hopefully entertain and inform at the same time about the upcoming Euro 2012 Football championship which starts this Friday and is being hosted jointly by Poland and the Ukraine. Today’s posting will not actually have that much to do with the tournament itself but is going to focus on a subject of which the title would seem to be an oxymoron, “Football as a tool for education”. However before we get into that, just a few reminders about the blog, 1) It is not and will never be politically correct. 2) It will be full of racial stereotypes and nationalistic jingoism. 3) It is all meant to be a bit of fun with the added advantage of letting those especially American persons and other types who don’t follow football to be au fait with something their children are probably interested in. Numbers one and two reflect the nature of the game, which as has been written before is incredibly tribal in nature and tends to bring out the basest instincts of those who watch it. So education through football, it hardly seems possible. Until the last world cup in South Africa 2010 most people would have agreed. However the TV networks gave extensive coverage to South Africa’s troubled past focusing on the struggle against Apartheid and having excellent features for example on Robben Island, the brutal prison off the coast of Cape Town where Mr. Mandela was incarcerated for years. The internet played an important role and this was as especially effective as Football junkies will read and watch anything in the run up to and during a tournament. I for example learnt something following an interesting article about the battle of Spion Kop during the Boer War (1899-1902) Kop is Afrikaans for hill and that is what the famous stand “The KOP” which is in Anfield the home of Liverpool is named after When I was a lad, Geography was about places and what better method then learning European geography than by following the fortunes of British teams as they played in the then 3 European club competitions. So what I hear you say, if you know in which country Split or Craiova are located but all knowledge is good and you never know when you may need it. This could be especially useful for our American cousins, many of whom think that mosCOW is in Idaho, that it may be, but not the one with the Kremlin and Red Square. Fast forward to June 2012, the world is focusing on Poland and the Ukraine. The last time the world really focused on these nations, was between 1942-45 when Nazi Germany was implementing the Final Solution or as it is now better known the Holocaust in those said countries. One of the biggest issues in the build to the tournament has been of the apparent endemic racism seen at grounds across the 2 nations. Black players have bananas thrown at them and the crowd make monkey noises when they touch the ball. One particularly volatile member of the Italian national team Mario Balotelli has threatened to walk off if this behaviour manifests itself while he is playing. “Super Mario” is more likely to get himself sent off than walk off as anyone who has followed him this season will know. Of course the Holocaust is a very touchy subject in Poland and the Ukraine, the Poles definitely consider themselves victims as well. President Obama really put his foot in it last week, when in a ceremony to honour a polish resistance fighter who first brought news of the atrocities being carried out in the camps, he (Obama) referred to the Polish Death Camps. Now while in a literal sense he was correct, the Poles lost no time in demanding a retraction and an apology. They pointed out to President Obama, that the camps happened to be located in Poland but were run by the Nazis and that 3 out of the 6 million Jews who died were Poles and that at least another 3 million Poles died at the hands of the German and Soviet invaders. The Ukrainians are even more sensitive as their record of collaboration with the Nazis does them no credit. Four of the 14 visiting nations are slated to visit Auschwitz, The Germans have already been, no I mean they were there again on Friday, a delegation from the squad went to lay wreaths, there was mixed reaction to this in Germany. Some thought it was an important message, while others were worried how it would affect the performance of the team. Are the Germans making excuses already? Italy, Holland and England are also slated to visit. The visit of England is the most interesting. The squad has already been spoken too by two survivors, to quote Steven Gerrard the England captain “It was pretty amazing, we all sat there in stunned silence, you could have heard a pin drop while they talked to us”. It is even more amazing if you think that the average footballer can’t sit still for more than 10 minutes. England are going to be accompanied on their visit by Avram Grant the Ex Israel and Chelsea manager a very well known figure in English football and himself a child of Polish survivors. The BBC, not normally known for their sympathy to the Jews produced an excellent podcast detailing a visit to Auschwitz by Grant accompanied by a BBC reporter. The talkbacks were unbelievable. This is bringing the Holocaust to an audience who know nothing about it and who are very much in need of finding out about it. The link to the broadcast is here The English Football association is going to produce a DVD detailing the visit of the squad which it intends to use as a tool to combat racism in football. So there you go, football can be a positive influence as well. The next post will preview the first round of matches and will appear on Friday, the opening day of the tournament. Comments are appreciated