Monday, June 11, 2012

Euro 2012 Thoughts - Part 1

Some quick thoughts thus far on Euro 2012:

Poland vs. Greece (1 -1)
I really liked the look of Poland in the early exchanges of the game - they allowed the Greeks to have possession but once the ball was won - they attacked with great speed. Their RB Pisczek (dunno how to spell his name properly) was impressive bombing down the flanks as he combines pace, control and intelligence. I also agree with many the Robert Lewandowski looks a favorite to be tournament top-scorer. I was thus, happy to see him get the 1-0 and put the Polish on the advantage. 
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The Greeks didn't help themselves with their sending off and for a while, I thought I was about to see a 3-0 win by the Poles. I was wrong of course. The Greeks re-grouped very well at halftime and managed to keep Poland at bay - even managing an equalizer. The Greeks will lament that missed penalty though which could have easily won them the game. 
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Verdict: The Poles had a great start and must learn to use their speed and sustain it for 90 minutes. The Greeks did well with their post-sending off tactical adjustments but will rue the chance to win a game that in the early stages, they thought might have never been within their reach.
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Denmark vs. Netherlands (1 - 0 win for Denmark)
Some will call it a shock result. But is there really such a thing as a shock result in a Group of Death? Denmark sucker-punched the Dutch on this one. Plain and Simple. The Dutch played this game the way they probably imagine they would - but then again, so did the Danes. People were asking all game long - where the hell was Premier League Top Scorer Robin Van Persie???? The answer as many have hilariously suggested: in Daniel Agger's pocket. 
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Verdict:
The Danes have now suddenly gained a huge advantage to get past the groups stage with this win while the Dutch face the tall task of having to put points on the board at the expense of the Germans. Johan Cruyff was said to be displeased by Bert Van Marwyk's decision to play with 2 holding midfielders (Van Bommel + De Jong) as neither of the 2 can facilitate the fluid passing game the Dutch WERE known for. I can't help but agree. Having lost with 2 of the masters of the Dark Arts of fouling in the middle of the park - perhaps they should try something a but more positive next time? I for one would like to see their young box-to-box dynamo from PSV (Kevin Strootman) get a run out.... or even better - play with both Sneijder AND Van Der Vaart. If you're going down, might was well do it in a blaze of fire right? 
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Germany vs. Portugal (1 - 0 win for Germany)
Jose Mourinho was in attendance with his son decked out in a Ronaldo Jersey. I do suspect that Mou was not just there to cheer for his beloved Portugal, but also to cast an eye over his German Real Madrid boys (Ozil and Khedira). If I was Mourinho, Ronaldo aside, I'd be very happy with what I saw from the Real Madrid players that night. Ozil was his usual self... Khedira on the other hand was even more impressive. Sami somehow looks more assured, confident and capable of more things on attack with his country than with his club (even attempting Ozil-esque through passes!). With Portugal, Coentrao looked pretty good while Pepe was solid. Cristiano Ronaldo however, failed to rise up again. Don't get me wrong - Ronaldo was not awful, but he didn't rise up with his "Don't Worry Guys, I'll sort this out" mentality for Portugal like he's learned to do with Madrid.
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Portugal will feel bad to not get a point from this one - but their weaknesses were there for all to see: The lack of a reference point in the final third. Whether it's a '10' or a '9' - they need someone there to establish an 'attacking platform' in those advanced positions. Perhaps they ought to try playing Ronaldo in a '9' position at least in the final 30 minutes of a game, especially with alternatives on the wings available on the bench (Varela looked good in his substitute appearance and they have Quaresma too). That might also just be the right position for Ronaldo to make his presence felt even more during the game.
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For the Germans, I have to say that I'm impressed with Borussia Dortmund CB Mats Hummels who started ahead of Mertesacker at CB. Hummels combines a German CB's imperious positioning, defending and physicality with a nice touch and his audacious Lucio-like propensity to charge up the pitch, ball at his feet to rattle the opposing defense. On attack, I often wondered if Mario Gomez was going to make this tournament a repeat of Euro 2008 (which I remember distinctly for the no. of sitters he's blown) - he didn't of course: scoring the winning goal a big, burly Center Forward would. Andy Carroll should watch DVDs of this dude.

Verdict:
The Germans retain their tags as tournament favorites (for me at least). With the Dutch needing to WIN to get their tournament hopes up again, the Germans now have the benefit of playing the game that made them so effective in South Africa: play on the counter. 
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The Portuguese might take a sort of 'moral victory' from this one: they didn't get badly beaten by the Germans and almost looked like they could scrape a point from the game. If they take this game as a confidence booster, they just might beat the Danes and get within an earshot of the quarters.
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Spain vs. Italy (1 - 1)
Last night's match between Spain and Italy might just have been the most interesting from a tactical point of view: Italy played with a 3-5-2 (or 5-3-2 on defense) while Spain played with a striker-less 4-3-3... or perhaps you can call it 4-6-0? 
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I generally dislike Italian sides but i have to admit that I really liked the look of them last night. De Rossi at the Center of Defense playing a role similar to Busquets at Barca gives them both solidity and dynamism at the back. I was too shy to suggest once upon a time that Real Madrid should have picked up Pirlo for free when he left Milan given the voracious 'he's over the hill' judgement passed on upon him at the time. I regret not speaking out. Instead, he's had a renaissance season at Juventus and was fantastic last night. Claudio Marchisio also gave a clinic last night on box-to-box midfield play. I'm delighted with how Prandelli has embraced the 3-5-2 and has, as a result created a very unique-looking side. 
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In contrast, despite the fact that the 3 'front men' Del Bosque fielded looked great, I really dislike this striker-less system that Spain played. Iniesta was an absolute monster last night: his performance reminded me of the likes of Zidane and Ronaldinho: menacing dribbles and runs that completely bamboozle defenders, excellent passing and shots on goal that would get opponents queasy even if they weren't on target. Spain tried to rattle Italy's back 3 with their runs into the box - often creating 3-on-3 matchups which they might have fancied scoring from. It was not to be though. I can't help but wonder however if they would have won if they had someone in there to physically disturb the Italian CBs? Del Bosque would send Navas later in the game to spread the field but who was he going to cross too? The midgets Iniesta and Cesc? He would send Torres late in the game who had a few good chances but was foiled by Buffon (whose saves have inspired a series of 'you think I'm as dumb as Victor Valdes?' images on Facebook).
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Verdict:
Spain are still favorites to top the group. I can't see how the Croats or the Irish can thwart them. I'd imagine that their 3 attacking midfielders in front would be more effective against a back 4 (with 2 at the middle) than against a back 3. They will need to watch out for those counters though - the world knows it's their weakness. Also, they should stop whining about the state of the pitch - as they are starting to sound like those pontificating, self-righteous zealots from Barca. Oh that's right, these guys whining ARE the Barca boys....
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I'm shocked at how enjoyable I found Italy last night. Solid yet incisive, intelligent and can attack with purpose. The result between the 2 last night changes nothing: they will both go through and look like they will leave us with some memorable plays while doing so. 

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