Monthly Archives: June 2012

Semi Final Reviews

Seems a lot of people would have upset bets by the result of the past two days semi finals. People seemed to have backed Portugal against Spain because they either think that Spain are poor (because they’re stupid) or because they’re bored with Spain’s rein. Because they’re stupid.

And in the other game we all backed the Gerrys didn’t we? Italy couldn’t even beat us, the Three Lions with hearts like pensioners. As a result, I think many people will be turned off by the prospect of a southern Europe final.

Most would say the Iberian clash on wednesday was not an entertaining game, that the only truly enjoyable bit was Ronaldo shouting ‘Injustica’ like a man losing a case against Nivea for Men moisturiser in court. My uncle even called the game a farce.

On the whole they would be right, but not my uncle. I enjoyed the game, the tension of whether Ronaldo could get a chance, the considered starvation approach that Spain took. The Spanish will again be charged with playing boring football though.

Yawn

When taken in small doses the Spanish tika-taka game can seem regressive. The ball goes out wide, the ball goes central, then back out wide. There is no striker, there is no goal focus, there is no way to win the game.

And we all thought this the case in the opening stages of the game. Spain didn’t look like they could win it, and Portugal surprised me with how much they had about them. But as the game went on and extra time loomed and came, the beauty of the Spanish tactic was revealed. Like a tapestry, it can only be understood and examined when viewed as whole.

The Portuguese had some good spells but they were dead by 85 minutes. Your opposition having that much possession is not sustainable. Sure the game went to penalties and it could have gone either way. Perhaps it would have gone further to the wire had Bruno Alves not put the willies up himself by forgetting the taking order.

By the key to Spain’s execution came around the 103th minute. Suddenly they shifted up a few gears to a level that many teams would struggled to match when they’re fresh, let alone physically shattered.

By that point, if there was to be a scorer in time, it would have been Spanish. There was no way for the opposition to muster an attack, no ball time to monopolise. Perhaps Spain should have turned the screw earlier, but there are very few teams that can guarantee the opponents won’t win by a certain point, and do it with such skill.

So leave them alone yeah?

The other game saw Germany against what may well be the closest they have to a bogey team – Italy. The Italians were always going to be more of a threat than they showed against England because Germany wouldn’t defend as deep.

Indeed Germany were taking the game to their opposite numbers, and with Gianluigi Buffon looking shaky for the first time in his career, it seemed an unpleasant time was awaiting for the Azzurri.

But this level of football will punish you for the most minute errors, and that’s exactly what Mats Hummels (I think, I’m writing this on a train) did. Cassano had received the ball wide on the area and was heavily marked. Hummels (maybe) for some reason entirely committed to one side and gave the little Italian a way out. With this space he was able to stand a good ball up which Balotelli, left with only one center half, was able to dispatch like he was playing against Wolves.

Get out of here you possible fool

The second goal was another error. The Italian counter attack was always going to look dangerous, but with the back pair letting Balotelli get the run on them – one by coming across and one playing offside which is atrocious play – they were doomed. It took a very special finish to make the move complete though and Super Mario was able to provide.

In that game he moved (not permanently) into the top level of strikerdom. The very best forwards will make very hard goals look basic, like any forward would have scored it. The control of the long ball, Lahm bearing down on him, a bobble, and a top corner thunderbolt – it was a special goal for the young Man City man.

It is widely agreed on that conceding a one goal lead to Italy is a dreadful idea, two is suicide. Loew mixed it up at half time by bringing on Reus who looked impressive against Greece, and the experienced Klose on for Gomes.

I have no idea what I make of Mario Gomes. His name seems Italian and he does remind me of Luca Toni, but he doesn’t play like an Italian. Or a German. His goal record was phenomenal domestically, and only Messi could keep him at bay in the Champions League tally – starting up front for Germany needs an impressive CV.

But for all the goals then, and the goal’s he’s grabbed in this tournament, he doesn’t really look any good. He has a Grant Holt battering ram style, but without the energy. He can look clinical but he misses more than puts in, and he generally ruins Germany’s attacks by touching the ball. I have no idea what he’s all about.

What followed was a host of missed chances for Italy to embarrass to the Germans, a consolation goal, and a lot of admiration for the men in blue. We also got a rare chance to hear Germans criticising their team.

‘God! We never win anything!’

So two ball playing teams are to meet in the final. They both have a fulcrum in Xavi and Pirlo, they both have excellent goalkeepers, they both have skilful and versatile midfields, but they don’t both have in-form strikers. Balotelli’s immense performance against Germany hasn’t been equalled in a Spanish shirt.

Sure Cesc Fabregas has been knocking them in, and Iniesta doesn’t normally let tournaments go by without getting a goal. It doesn’t look like del Bosque is a big Fernando Llorente fan, Negredo didn’t look very good against Portugal, and don’t mention Torres because, come on, it was the Irish. All this leaves you with a reliance on midfielders to combine and create, something that could prove troubling considering David Silva and the like’s form.

Italy don’t have this problem. In Super Mario they have someone who is at the highest peak his game has ever reached. He’s establishing himself for his country on a world stage, he’s chasing the golden boot, he’s winning games.

But let’s just see how he gets on without any of the possession. Remember, the above description could apply to Cristiano Ronaldo before the clash with Spain. He just ending up cutting a frustrated figure, not even getting to fluff a penalty.

If Spain’s starvation can cut Balotelli out of the game, and their midfield congestion can shut the door on Pirlo then they will beat Italy. And that’s probably going to happen.

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Quarter Final 4: Review

You may notice that the timing of this post hasn’t been consistent with the others, it’s a day late. That day was a day of mourning as England slumped out to a lively Italian team.

After spending an appropriate amount of time going through denial (‘there shouldn’t even be penalties anymore’), anger (‘give me Ashley Young’s address now!’), depression (reliving every penalty knockout of my life), and acceptance (watching the ’66 final) – I am ready to give my verdict on yet another (deserved) quarter final defeat. Let’s stick with the numbered list theme, say fourteen. Hey that’s just how many players we used…

1. Joe Hart – Had a good tournament in terms of not conceding many, but still isn’t as good as everyone raves. Has hardly been tested throughout the tournament and then floundered when he was. Nasri’s goal was weak, was saved by the linesman against Ukraine, and suffered the same old problem against Italy that has always made me think he’s part of the spillage people. Great to see his confidence going into the penalties though.

Verdict – England have no one better and he could/should keep this position for the next 15 years, just stop going on about his greatness until he actually shows some.

2. Ashley Cole – He is still the best left back in the world. Still quick, still overlapping, still always in the correct position – you can’t ask for more. He got his penalty on target so can have no complaints about that.

Verdict – If he stays fit could become a super-veteran in the Road to Rio. Deserves to get his 100 caps.

3. Joleon Lescott – Pretty solid all round. Excellent in the air and pretty reliable, even got a goal. Can get a bit carried away on the ball but generally keeps it in check.

Verdict – Nearly 30, he isn’t the long term solution to replacing Rio and Terry but should keep the position for a while longer.

I’m not saying anything

4. John Terry – Outstanding with consistency. Patriotic like a lion and firmer at the back than a So Solid Crew branded brick. Saved England against Ukraine, gives confidence to others around him, and made Balotelli question the meaning of life when he flew in front of his shot. If he could have only grabbed a goal from a corner in that game he could be the ultimate hero.

Verdict – Regardless of his impending court case, Terry should probably end his time with England now. Would be great to see him get involved in a coaching capacity though.

5. Glen Johnson – Seems to have divided opinions, by that I mean everyone hates him and I think he’s alright. Initially put down in public opinion by the fact he wasn’t the arrogant Kyle Walker or the man-baby Micah Richards, Glen has actually had a great tournament. Throughout the four games, he played stand-in sweeper for the other three numerous times and neutralised many threats this way. He tries risky passes and gives the ball away, but who didn’t against Italy.

Verdict – His chance to score against Italy was incredibly difficult and he isn’t a striker. A lot of shots didn’t happen because of Johnson, you don’t get that with Walker.

6. Ashley Young – Villain of the entire competition for me. Just how did he end up playing so badly in every game? Early on in the first game he put Milner through on goal then – nothing. He actually defended better than I thought he could but as for creating chances, he never looked like beating a man. I wasn’t enthralled by Young’s great start to his Man United career because I felt Rooney was the root of it. I stand by what I said then; Young will only play well if his link up is playing well.

Verdict – I don’t want him gone, but he needs to pull out his friendly form when it matters for England. Looked better when playing in the center.

7. Scott Parker – Parker did exactly what everyone expected. Ragdolled in front of the back four blocking shots, harrying opposition attackers, and looking increasingly lost the further past the halfway line he ran. He did it well for 75-80 minutes and then suddenly England never having the ball would really take its toll and he would run outta puff.

Verdict – It’s a shame his career took the path that it did. He could’ve been a regular for England but it’s time to call it quits now.

8. Steven Gerrard – ‘Captain Fantastic’ was just that for England’s group games. Deadly passing and crossing mixed with determined defending was a perfect example for his team. But all that energy took its toll on Gerrard and he found himself struggling against Italy. Unable to support in attacks and with legs cramping up, you would still have to tranquillize him before you could sub him off.

Verdict – England’s player of the tournament’s best performances have unfortunately come when his body could no longer keep up. Will be his last major competition but could bow out by getting England to Brazil.

Follow all his examples. Bar this.

9. James Milner – With Young being useless Milner showed his great love of symmetry. I’ve inquired why we play the Man City wideman to various fans and they all assure me it’s because he can defend as well. ‘as well’ as what? Running around like an inebriated bull can only do so much, and apparently that doesn’t include crossing or passing.

Verdict – Since when did England become so scared of their opponents that we only play one winger? Get him out and start attacking from the first minute not just when Walcott comes on.

10. Wayne Rooney – Oh Wazza… what happened? You didn’t play for five weeks because you were banned or you were in a coma? That new hair is doing you absolutely no favours when trying to head a ball that isn’t already on the goal line, and your feet could do with an implant of more toes so you could control the ball. Came in deep and passed well early on but that’s vanilla, especially when he pretty much lost the ball every time later on. Roy has even had to defend his fitness he played that poorly.

Verdict – The closest England has to a world class player he’ll be fine in the future and eager to prove himself on the big stage. We should never forget how he let us down with that red card all those months ago though.

11. Danny Welbeck – Was yet to convince me going into the game, as he often leaves an ant sized footprint on a game before Carroll takes his place. But he played well against Italy, winning balls, linking play, and even defending admirably. Still reminds me of Darren Bent in terms of goals though; he can run fast but needs you to put it on a plate before he’ll score.

Verdict – Great to know that England have players like this that can only get better. Will be interesting how his career and partnership with Rooney develops over the next two years.

12. 13. 14. Andy Carroll, Theo Walcott, Jordan Henderson – All had good tournaments. Perhaps the Liverpool pair were lucky to play considering their season (although Henderson had a good season) but they looked comfortable at this level for youngsters. Walcott unintentionally has made himself England’s impact sub forever and if he wants it to change he needs to improve his stamina. Carroll has something that no defence can deal with, he just needs a good supply line, and Henderson could end up being the next Scott Parker…

Verdict – All promising, especially if their club form improves. Maybe at the next tournament we’ll pass them the ball!

In terms of the game, England were second best. If I had to give reasons I would utter two words that make teams the world over shudder in fear – Andrea Pirlo.

I understand Roo, he’s only seven years older than you

On the face of it he represented England’s problem on the night. His seemingly simple movement found him always between the lines where he could produce incredibly dangerous plays with ease. The ultimate enemy of the 4-4-2, his deep lying position put him in a gap that England couldn’t cover.

It would drag Gerrard and Parker too far out, and the forwards too far back. For me it should have been Rooney’s job, you could even hear Neville shouting at Rooney to keep an eye on him but in the end he was given far too much influence. His Czechoslovakian penalty in the shootout embodied his experience, composure, and ludicrous stamina.

Pirlo represents England’s problem on a much bigger level too – they have no one like him. Some teams have one, some have benches full, we have none. And until we do, we are destined to always play the ‘bad football’, always be the underdog, and always go out on penalties.

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Quarter Final 3: Review

The penultimate quarter final wrapped itself up last night as France leaked out of the tournament to the superior Spaniards. Since the game Spain have come under criticism for being boring, mainly by morons.

I don’t see why Spain should have committed too much to attack when they were winning so comfortably for 70 minutes. The weren’t particularly ambitious in regards to smashing the French apart like escargot, but you don’t get two goals without attacking.

If you are determined to be a footballing philistine and call the game boring, the culprits are le Frogs. They didn’t manage a shot on target, and it’s hard to recall one off target. They didn’t force Spain to play any better than they were, in fact they got it all wrong.

The Valencia left back Jordi Alba was clearly targeted as the main threat from France’s point of view (perhaps because he is the only naturally wide player), and was countered by the advancement of normal right back Mathieu Debuchy to right midfield and Reveillere becoming the second right back.

Two defenders for one player? Didn’t look like it when Debuchy chowed down on some grass as Alba crossed for Spain’s opener. But there was more than one villain to this goal.

I’ve always seen Florent Malouda as more of a wide left player, actually I’ve always seen Malouda as more of a wet tissue, but whatever the case I’ve never fancied him as a center mid. My main reason for this being that central midfielders have to do things, such as marking, and that seems a bit beyond the Frenchman. There is being bad at the game, and there is being lazy; one’s unfortunate and one’s unacceptable.

‘I’m all over him, only 21 more yards to go!’

So playing a wideman in the center and two right backs didn’t work against the European champions, who’dve thunk?

Spain once again fielded their 4-6 masquerading as a 4-3-3 formation. And Arvalo Arbeloa again became the poster boy for needing deodorant as neither his team mates, the opposition, or the ball came near him. I don’t know how poor he is in training but I have never seen a team so reluctant to pass a teammate the ball. It’s most likely because he really only possesses a cross in the attacking third rather than any silk, but why play him then? Maybe he was just keeping his distance from Franck Ribery.

Face like a knife fighting pirate

It was interesting to look at the ‘boring, bland’ Spanish player’s positions during the game. Certain times when the camera zoomed out you could see that none of the six midfielders were in their starting positions, which is a nightmare for the opposition. By having such fluid movement of personnel, man marking is out of the question, leaving zonal.

This requires some excellent communication from the opposition as they pass players on through the zones, and great tactical discipline when it comes to issues like multiple players occupying the same zone and flooding the box. All in all, I have no idea why people are underrating Spain, they’ve got more gears left than a mountain bike. No one will beat them with ease.

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