Monday, June 30, 2008

España Campeón!

Spain became a deserved European champion today. Six games resulting in five wins and one tie (against the defending World champions and winning on penalties) speaks for itself: Spain was by far the best teams of the tournament.
Lifting an international trophy (besides their somehow meagre 1964 victory, which I wouldn’t really count) has finally come to Spain. I must humbly admit that I doubted whether I would ever see this happen, but I am now delighted I did. Spain, the greatest footballing nation that had never won anything, has finally done it to take its rightful place among the greatest.
The best thing about this Spanish team was its depth: even with the top-scorer Villa out, new excellent players were there to take over. All players out-did each other in what must be a new generation of Spanish players who manage to look beyond the petty nationalisms that have overshadowned Spanish football.
Viva España!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Germany back! (But Turkey will be missed)

Germany defeated Turkey last night in a delight of a match, where the Turks again showed some of the greatest spirit seen on a football pitch seen for a long time: these “crazy” Turks shows that in football one should never give up!
The Turks will be missed: Last night they almost did it again, but against another of the traditionally figthing teams in the world: Germany…
Well, the German are again like in the good ole’ days: a boringly efficient team, that annoys by its pure efficiency and great players. You have to admire them! And I am happy to have Germany back like I like them, that is, to dislike them in my sheer admiration.
Football is much better like that - Germany could win the whole thing. I personally don’t hope they will win, but they’d deserve it for their tenacity and efficiency.

Friday, June 20, 2008

A trip

I am off on a long trip that will take me from one side of the world to another. I do hope, however, that I will be able to watch football: I am hoping that we will be able to watch football in desolate places, to repeat our 2006 World Cup road-trip.
In any case, I am expecting that updates will be difficult over the coming period. But I shall try.

Germany in the semifinal

I guess it was somewhat to be expected: the Portuguese were unable to stop the efficient Germans who, like in the good ole' days, just become better and better as the tournament goes on.
How far can they go? They will be facing Croatia or Turkey in the semifinal, and neither looks that intimidating after Germany's good game today against an also well-playing Portuguese side. Still, the Portuguese were unable to stop some German players who really excelled: Ballack was incredible (well, he did make a small foul in his third goal, but I am sorry to say, these things happen often, and mostly to the advantage of the defender... I can only blame the referee!), but was closely followed in great performance by many other Germans: Hitzlsperger, Podolski, Lahm and the returning Schweinsteiger.
This team can go far. But how far...?
It is a pity however, to see the Portuguese out again. They play good and positive football, and have some amazing players: Deco was stunning today, and Bosingwa an eternal threat on the right side.
But as a team, they simply were not as good as the Germans, and one is left with the impression that the Portuguese again lost to the cleverer team, just like when losing to Greece in 2004...
Sorry to Portugal, congratulations to Germany!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Euro 2008 quarterfinals

The group-stage of the Euro 2008 ended last night with a well-deserved Russian victory against Sweden. The Russians are a young exciting team that has tried to play football, and last night did excellently against an old and boring Swedish side.
I think this Euro 2008 has so far been great; it is long ago we have seen so much entertaining and good football on national level. Perhaps it is because at the European level, with only 16 teams, we tend to see less of the second-rate teams abounding in other tournaments, but truth is that teams like like Netherlands, Spain, Russia and Portugal all play entertaining attacking football, just like Croatia and Turkey play refreshing and beautiful football. Both Germany and Italy have also shown that they can, but still don't do it in every match.
But now, the quarterfinals look as follows:
  • Portugal-Germany: the Portuguese are favourites against the Germans. But the Germans are not to be underestimated!
  • Croatia-Turkey: The Croatians are favourites after three victories in a row, but the Turks have shown that they never give up! Predict a great match!
  • Netherlands-Russia: Russia's Dutch coach Guus Hiddink will face his country with a young Russian team that is not afraid to play up against the best. At the same time, the Dutch have an amazing side that has won three impressive victories and scored stunning 9 goals on the way.
  • Spain-Italy: Italy always defeats Spain, and I believe it will happen again, but I certainly hope to be wrong as it will be a pity to see the exciting Spanish team out of the tournament.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

God doesn't watch football

I have a friend called Søren. We met up last night at a pub in Copenhagen to watch Italy play France. None of us were supporting Italy, and prior to the start of the match, Søren said: "If Italy is eliminated today, it will be God's punishment because the elected Berlusconi!"

As it turns out, and it has been confirmed again, God doesn't watch football.

Italy ahead

Although it is hard to swallow, Italy won a well-deserved victory against a lame and unlucky French side. France is out and Italy is in, and will be facing Spain in the next round.
The Spanish are already nervous, anticipating the disappointment that the Italians so often give them: the Italians are quadruple world champions, Spain has never won anything, and has often been hindered by the Italians! Even Spain's biggest defeat ever, 7-1, was to Italy, in 1928.
Their last important match was in the quarterfinal of the 1994 World Cup, when Italy won 1-2.
Although I support Spain, and I think that Spain has been playing best, my prediction is that italy will win and continue ahead to the semifinal.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

France-Italy: Not for children

First time Italy played an official national football match was in Milan in 1910. They won 6-2 against one of the other best teams in history, France, laying the groundwork for an almost-centennial rivalry.

Tonight they are at it again in an all-for-nothing match in the first round of the Euro 2008. True, both teams have been a huge disappointment so far, but with their backs against the wall, the match tonight could truly be a drama PG-16.

The two countries have faced each other 35 times in official matches (tonight will be their 36th) with Italy winning 17, France 8, and 10 matches ending in a draw. The last includes two penalty shootouts: one memorable one in the World Cup final of 2006, where Italy won, and another one in the quarterfinal of the 1998 World Cup, where France won (and eventually became world champion).

In fact, the last ten years has only seen important matches between these two giants: besides the 2006 World Cup final, they also faced one another in the Euro 2000 final, where France won after exra time after Wiltord equalized Italy’s lead in the 90th minute, and Trezeguet scoring the winner in extra time.

In the qualifying for this current Euro 2008, the two teams also faced each other, and after the 2006 World Cup, France came out the best: they won 3-1 at home and managed to tie 0-0 in Italy to win the group.

Tonight will be a completely different story, but be certain that a new chapter of drama is to be written into the books of these two football giant’s rivalry.

I hope good and fair football will be the winner, and wish the best to all the charming fans of either team!

And in other news...

While the European Championship in Austria/Switzerland is currently taking much of the news here in Europe, there are still things happening in the rest of the football crazed world, not least of all, qualifiers for the coming world cup 2010 in South Africa.

In the South American qualifying group Paraguay has gone ahead of everyone else on top, after defeating the mighty Brazilians by 2-0, on goals by Roque Santa Cruz and Salvador Cabanas. At the same time, Argentina managed an uneasy 1-1 at home against Ecuador, to remain second in the qualifiers, and Colombia is third, after a tie with Peru.
With Brazil fourth, the match Argentina and Brazil next thursday will be another clash of giants between the two top ranked teams on FIFA's World Ranking.

In the African qualifying zone there were some very surprising results showing that some of the more "traditional" big teams will have difficulty qualifying. In group 5, World Cup 2006 surprises of Ghana lost to Gabon; they are still top of the group, but with Libya and Gabon tracing them in what could become very close indeed.
In group 8 Rwanda defeated Morocco, and is now topping their group, while Cameroun's stars only managed a 0-0 in Tanzania, but is still poised to win their group 1.
Another giant, Angola, lost 3-1 to Uganda in group 3 in a group where three teams (Angola, Uganda and Benin) are tied with 6 points at the top.

Finally, in the Asian qualifiers' group 2 Japan won 3-0 against Thailand, and is now poised for a clash against Bahrain to win the group. Also, poor Iraq, after not being allowed to play temporarily by FIFA, nevertheless managed to rise and win against China, and will hopefully continue to next round together with Australia by defeating Qatar in their last group 1 match (in the Asian qualifiers, as in the African, the top two teams go on to a second group stage).

The World Cup in South Africa is on its way!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Auf Wiedersehen

Tonight Germany defeated Austria 1-0 in Vienna. The Austrians are out, while the Germans have made it to the quarterfinals, where they will be facing Portugal.

The current German national team started the tournament with the same charm and offensive play we remember them for in the last World Cup. After what we saw tonight, that seems ages away: we saw a German team play for the result, boringly, against a spirited but inefficient and insufficient Austria side. This German team reminds one more of the 1986 team, and one had some flashbacks to another memorable game in 1982, between the same two teams, where the result was the main thing...

Besides Ballack's amazing free-kick, which gave the Germans the victory, there was nothing really noteworthy in the German side. On the contrary: they were slow, inefficient and at times the defense looked very shaky; if the Portuguese are given the space the Austrians at times had (and wasted), they are in for a bad defeat, and Austria will not be the only Auf Wiedersehen we'll see this week!

I do hope the Germans give us some of the nice playing of what we have seen them do before, because that could make an extraordinary match against Portugal!

In the meantime, thank you and farewell to Austria.

Football fanatic blog 4-years birthday

It is today 4 years ago I started this little football blog here, and I will celebrate by having a beer. The site itself is older: although I do not know the exact date I started to set up this web-site, I know it must be around 10 years ago these days, since it was up to the 1998 World Cup, when I decided to post all my information on the World Cups to share with the whole world.
Since starting the blog 4 years ago, it has been up and down with football and being unable to update the site.
I am no computer expert and I am deeply aware of the many technical faults on my site; but it is my little darling, where I can get my outlet for my football passion.
Cheers to everyone who reads this site: beer is on me.

Thank you Turkey and Czech!

Sometimes football gives you some amazing experiences, and tonight was one of them: in the last match of the first round, Turkey and the Czech Republic were playing a small final, as a winner had to be found on who would continue in the Euro 2008 or go home. Both teams had it all to play for, and the atmosphere was truly great.
The Czechs started off best, and went ahead in the first half by Jan Koller. Although the Turks started best in the second half, the always-dangerous Czechs scored to 2-0 by Plaitsil. The game looked set for the Czechs.
But the Turks have shown they don't give up, and in the last 15 minutes, scored 3 goals - the last one a great strike by Nihat (who also scored the second after a grave mistake by goalkeeper Peter Cech). It was an absolutely amazing comeback, and the match ended in drama when Turk goalkeeper Volkan was red-carded, and the Turks, out of substitutions, had to put a player on goal in the last nerve-wrecking moments of the match.
It is great for the super-Turks, but also sad for the charming Czechs (their fans shall be missed!). But that is football, and these kind of matches are what make it great.
Congartulations to the Turks, and thank you very much to both teams!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Champions are out

In spite of their boring style I thought Greece were deserved (albeit not worthy) champions of Euro 2004. Last night, on their second consecutive loss in Euro 2008 (0-1 to the Russians), the defending champions are out, and deservedly so. They are simply not as good, and their boring style should not be copied. This should be the year of entertaining football!
Sorry to the great Greek fans, but it is true.
Bye bye Greece.
The last match of the group between Russia and Sweden will be a nail-biter, as both teams can go through. Although I personally would go for the Russians, I (sadly) believe the Swedes are more disciplined and better organised, besides their absolutely wonderful strikers (Henrik Larsson is still, at 37, one of the greatest players ever!).

Viva España

Admittedly, I have not often supported Spain. But yesterday I gave one of my greatest shouts of celebration of the latest years, when Valencia's David Villa scored the winner for Spain against Sweden.
While it makes it so the better that a Valencia player is the most scoring in the tournament so far, I like this young Spanish team, who may be poised to exorcise the ghost of bad tournaments that has always hunted Spain. They entertain and they have shown they fight well in the face of boring defensive teams, like the Swedes, who - alwys difficult to play against - are mostly in the tournament to make us all sleep.
My support for Spain was enhanced from seeing so many obnoxious drunk Swedes who are blind to the fact of their team's boring and overly tactical display. While I am never blind to credit its merits in times when they win, it is boring and bad for football, when a team like Sweden can pull a good result from a team like Spain.

Although I think the Netherlands is the best national team I have seen in years, my support in this Euro 2008 is with Spain (for now...).

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Euro 2008 in Brussels

Brussels is a great place to watch football, simply because there are Europeans of every nationality around, unconditionally supporting their teams in the good old fashioned nationalistic manner.
On Place Luxembourg, people come out from their oh-so-important jobs in shiny offices to join crowds watching the games on many of the bars on big screens. I was there the day before yesterday, as Spanish flags were everywhere, together with goofy-looking Russians. Yesterday, Portuguese crowds led the way, but many charming Czech ladies were also around, more discreet, but certainly cathcing more attention.
There were even Swiss we could make fun of after Arda Turan scored the winner for the Turks.
Plenty of beer, friends, and football!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

First round of the Euro 2008

First round matches are over, and so far, there have been no major surprises, but too many disappointing teams.
In Group A Portugal confirmed their status as favourites by firmly defeating the never-to-be-underestimated Turks 2-0. At the same time, the Swiss hosts, in my view, disappointed by losing to the Czechs, and will have to show more in their coming matches if they are to hope going through. Portugal should be watched out for surely!
Germany was powerful in group B against a hugely disappointing Polish side, who made such defensive blunders that they qualify as the worse team so far in this tournament. At the same time, the Austrian hosts lost to the Croatians on Modric's lone penalty, but deserved better, and surely should not be underestimated by Germany. The Austrians should defeat the poor Poles.
Group C promises to be thrilling in spite of the Netherlands giving such a powerful display of football: it wasn't that they played so well (everyone should know that the Dutch can play like that), but it was the more amazing considering that they defeated the defending world champions, Italy, by 3-0! It was a powerful display, and the Dutch are looking like serious contenders for the title. The same cannot be said for the world's 2nd, France. They were hugely disappoiting in the 0-0 game against Romania - a match so boring I fell asleep prefering to watch paint dry.
Lastly, Group D started off with an exciting 4-1 victory of Spain against Russia, with three goals by Valencia's David Villa, who thus looks like a serious contender for most scoring player of the tournament. While Spain should also be considered a contender for the title, one should not forget their history of starting off well and disappointing later. Meanwhile, the Swedes were unforgiving in their 2-0 victory against the defending champions of Greece, who are looking at an early exit from the tournament.

In spite of this being the first round only, and many things could still happen, my top-5 favourites for the title are as follows:
  1. Netherlands: after their display against the Italians, they seem to be the team to beat. I hope they will be able to keep up that kind of playing, for the good of football!
  2. Portugal: Will be more interesting to watch against a big team, but surely played well, and Cristiano Ronaldo seems to be on a roll.
  3. Germany: Played surgically with an elegant Ballack leading the midfield against the Poles, who were nevertheless hugely disappointing.
  4. Spain: They often disappoint, but if they can play like they did against Russia throughout the tournament, they may put all historical critics (like myself) to rest.
  5. Italy: They lost, hugely, but can still bounze back and must show that they are world champions indeed!
But who knows...?

EURO All-time most scoring players

With one goal against Italy (albeit in a clear off-side position), Ruud Van Nistelroij has equalized the legendary Marco Van Basten with five goals, in the number of goals scored in the UEFA Euro finals of all time.
In fact, the table of all time scoring players in the UEFA Euro finals is probably going to go through some changes soon:
  1. Michel Platini, France, 1984, 9 goals
  2. Alan Shearer, England, 1996 and 2000, 7 goals
  3. Patrick Kluivert, Netherlands, 1996 and 2000, 6 goals
  4. Marco Van Basten, Netherlands, 1988, 5 goals
  5. Savo Milosevic, Yugoslavia, 2000, 5 goals
  6. Milan Baros, Czech Republic, 2004, 5 goals
  7. Nuno Gomes, Portugal, 2000 and 2004, 5 goals
  8. Thierry Henry, France, 2000 and 2004, 5 goals
  9. Zinedine Zidane, France, 2000 and 2004, 5 goals
  10. Ruud Van Nisterooij, Netherlands, 2004 and 2008, 5 goals
  11. Jurgen Klinsmann, Germany, 1988, 1992 and 1996, 5 goals
Michel Platini's achievement of 9 goals in 5 matches, as the tournament was much smaller then, is probably never going to be beaten. Nevertheless, as can be seen from the table, there are some players in this year's tournament which are contenders to the second and third spots, of Alan Shearer and Patrick Kluivert respectively: Milan Baros, Nuno Gomes, Thierry Henry and Ruud Van Nistelrooij are all in the current tournament with 5 goals.
Of these however, only Van Nistelrooij and Nuno Gomes seem with good possibilities, since
Milan Baros has had a poor season and barely starts in for the Czechs, while Thierry Henry is still dangerous but playing on a French team that seems more and more tired and demotivated.
And well, then there are other marginal players who may enter the list after this Euro: David Villa, or Cristiano Ronaldo or Lukas Podolski, depending on how their teams do in the tournament the coming weeks!

Friday, June 06, 2008

UEFA EURO 2008 Fantasy football

With the EURO 2008 starting on this coming Saturday, the fever is kicking in (and it is a great feeling to have it back!). And as is appropriate in such times, I have made a team called "The Ugly Outfits" on the UEFA Fantasy football site.
The team is as follows:
  • Goallie: Nikopolidis (Greece)
  • Defenders: Heitinga (Netherlands), Lahm (Germany), Sergio Ramos (Spain), Senderos (Switzerland)
  • Midfielders: Ballack (Germany), Robben (Netherlands), Kranjcar (Croatia), Nani (Portugal)
  • Attackers: Torres (Spain), Nuno Gomes (Portugal)
I am allowed one substitute, where I chose Frei (Switzerland).
It is not easy to choose these teams, and I am under no illusion that this is a brilliant side. But at least I have tried to choose some solid players not everyone takes, as well as some of the more conventional players. If they don't perform, one can substitute, although that surely also needs to be done with care.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

New and old coaches

Football rumours of coaches are plenty these days, but apparently some things are clear: Sven Göran Eriksson is out of Manchester City and will apparently turn to coach the Mexican national team. Surely pressure will be less than when he coached England!
And finally José Mourinho will be returning to the football world: the arrogant Portuguese is probably the best coach in the world, and an already strong Inter Milan side will be even more frightening with him as coach.

Monday, June 02, 2008

EURO 2008 predictions

The EURO 2008 is starting on Saturday with two matches in group A: the hosts of Switzerland are facing the unpredictable Czechs, while the favourites of Portugal are facing Turkey.

With a lot of exciting football matches ahead it is time to make my predictions of the tournament (where I am, to be honest, usually pathetically wrong...):
  • Group A: A strong defense and home support will bring the Swiss to the top of the group, with Portugal just behind (the two teams will share points in the last game of the group).

  • Group B: The Croatians have a young and talented team, and is ready to repeat what they did in 1998: they will defeat a German team which I believe will disappoint for its third EURO in a row. Croatia will win the group, ahead of Austria, which without a strong team will take advantage of playing at home.

  • Group C: This is the "group of death", and is thus the hardest to predict; I am certain we will see some close matches. The Romanians are an exciting young team, but they won't prevail. Instead, I believe the Netherlands will win the group, taking advantage of what i believe will be a tuff last repeat of the 2006 World Cup Final, but where the French will prevail ahead of the Italians, to take the second spot in the group.

  • Group D: This group is also hard to predict, but I believe the Russians will surprise by winning the group. Spain will largely disappoint, as usual, but will squeeze past the Swedes to take second place in the group. The Greeks will lose their 2004 title.

With these predictions on the first round, we are looking at the following quarterfinals (I will not make any further predictions here):

  1. Switzerland-Austria: The co-hosts clashing!

  2. Croatia-Portugal: Surely to be an utterly intense match!

  3. Netherlands-Spain: Can Spain do it?

  4. Russia-France: The surprising Russians against the dangerous French.

According to this, we could plausibly be looking at a final between Russia/France/Netherlands and Portugal/Switzerland.

In the Facebook UEFA Euro 2008 predictor (I have before written about the football applications on Facebook) the most predicted team for champion is Spain, closely followed by Portugal. Although one can seldomly count on history alone, this is interesting: Spain often go in as favourites, but besides their victory in 1964, they usually disappoint. I don't believe their team this time is particularly stronger than previously - who knows...? Maybe that is why they could make it...

The teams mostly picked as runner-ups are Germany and Italy, and this shows that people are perhaps hoping/expecting to see a new winner, in spite of one of the big powers who usually win. Neither Italy nor Germany have done well in the last couple of European Championships, and although one should never-say-never with these super-teams, I don't believe that they will do well this time either.

In any case, I have been wrong before, and the greatest fun is to discuss it over beer and watch some great games, as well as taunt our fellow Europeans!

Sunday, June 01, 2008

The Empty Chairs

I was just going through some old pictures and came by an old picture of "The Empty Chairs", a 7-side team I played on at the European Commission while doing the so-called "Stage" there in 2001-2002:

It was great fun, we were a great an charming side, but didn't make it beyond the first round, because the games were usually on a Sunday, after massive amounts of beer warmed us up on Satruday evening.
Still, I believe we are the best team not to win a tournament since Hungary in 1954 or Brazil in 1982.

Cheers for the old days!!

Michael Laudrup to Panathinaikos?

Michael Laudrup has always been one of my favourite players, and as coach, first in Brøndby and then in Getafe, he has also proved a highly qualified football personality.
Since announcing his leaving of Getafe a few weeks ago, there has been widespread speculation of where he would be coaching, and he has on-off been connected to Benfica, Sevilla and FC Barcelona. I have no idea how serious these rumours have been, but now it seems confirmed that Mr. Laudrup will be going to the Greek club, Panathinaikos, replacing the Portuguese José Peseiro.
While I think many fans would have liked to see Mr. Laudrup in one of the bigger clubs in Spain or England, Panathinaikos will no doubt be a challenge: the Greek fans are passionate, and there is great competition in the league which for the last four seasons have been won by Olympiacos (must be mentioned that the Greek league has been a pretty one-sided affair since 1997: Olympiacos has won every year, with the exception of 2004, when Panathinaikos won their last title).
There is no doubt that Mr. Laudrup will be under pressure to bring Panathinaikos back to the title, and that will be a challenge I wish him the best of luck with!