Alright folks, the first round is done. Sorry I didn’t get in the final two days of highlights, but they were mostly anticlimactic anyway, except for maybe the disallowed Ukraine goal and the two very good goals from Balotelli and Ibrahimovic. Anyway, on to the quarterfinals! All times Pacific.
Thursday, June 21
Czech Republic vs. Portugal. (11:45 a.m., ESPN) Probably the least expected – and also least boosted by star power of the four games. Which is amazing, considering His Hair Gel is playing. Yes, I mean Cristiano Ronaldo. Nonetheless, it should be a good match. Portugal is favored, but the Czechs have been very good since their tourney-opening thumping at the hands of the Russians. Since neither team could really be called an offensive juggernaut, what happens is pretty much down to how successful the Czechs (and right back Theodor Gebrie-Selassie, who has been quite good so far) contain Ronaldo. The winner of this takes on the winner of Spain-France. Prediction: I want to pick the Czechs, but I just can’t. Portugal 1-0.
Friday, June 22
Germany vs. Greece. (11:45 a.m., ESPN) The other big shock of the tournament so far, with the Greeks coming back to knock off the heavily favored Russians. If they pulled off the upset again, it would be a really really really big upset. It’s not impossible, but this is an aging Greek team, not as defensively sound as in the past, with arguably the worst forward pool in the competition. Germany, meanwhile have stars at every position and are probably the most unstoppable attacking force in the tournament. But hey, it could happen, right? The winner takes on the winner of England-Italy. Prediction: Germany 3-0
Saturday, June 23
Spain vs. France. (11:45 a.m., ESPN2) This is the one game in the quarterfinals that is on ESPN2 – we can only presume that the Tennessee high school girls’ championship is on at this time. The media seemed pretty shocked that France, which was basically qualified by this point, didn’t seem all that upset to lose to Sweden in their final match, thus ceding the group to England and meaning France takes on Spain. Here’s the thing, though: France would probably have to play Spain at some point in the tourney anyway, and the winner takes on either the Czechs or Portugal, far less daunting than a possible semifinal date with Germany. So in a way, it makes sense. the defending champs haven’t lost a match yet, but aside from a 4-0 win over hapless Ireland, they haven’t been convincing. Prediction: France pulls the upset, 2-1.
Sunday, June 24
England vs. Italy. (11:45 a.m., ESPN) As kind of noted in the Spain-France preview, I thought people’s reactions to the seeding from Group D was curious. England fans cheered wildly with news that they were getting Italy instead of Spain in the quarterfinals. It’s true, Spain would probably beat England, but Italy are also very good. There is a question whether an England team with a not quite fit Wayne Rooney, an underperforming Ashley Young, and well, Andy Carroll (I think Danny Welbeck is decent, so I’m not including him) will be able to break down an organized Italian defense. They struggled to do just that against France (no shock there) and Ukraine, and both teams were inept defensively in the match with Sweden, so this will be the English team’s first chance to show they can score goals against a good defensive team. Italy aren’t high scoring, but Andrea Pirlo has played well, and their rotating cast of forwards has shown at least one guy can pop up and put the ball in the back of the net. Prediction: 1-1, Italy wins on penalties.
Sorry for the delay in updating, but if you’re anticipating regular, multiple-post-a-day type stuff the next couple weeks, you’ll be sorely disappointed. But I’ll do what I can. On to the games!
Greece 1, Russia 0: Greece improbably both qualifies for the quarterfinals and knocks Russia out on the final day, thanks to a goal from Giorgos Karagounis. Russia had 24 shots on goal but failed to score, and after a rousing start to the campaign, throttling the Czech Republic, whimpered their way out of the tournament after a draw with Poland and this game.
Poland 0, Czech Republic 1: The co-hosts continue their pattern of getting out to flying starts to matches, then gradually petering out at the end. In this case, they didn’t even escape with a draw like the last two matches and were eliminated at the first stage. Petr Jiracek scored the loan goal for the Czechs, who rallied satisfyingly to qualify for the next round, but don’t look like a very threatening team, particularly with Milan Baros as the lone striker.
Final Group A standings
*1. Czech Republic 2-0-1, 6 pts
*2. Greece 1-1-1, 4 pts
3. Russia 1-1-1, 4 pts
4. Poland 0-2-1, 2 pts
*Qualified for next round
Player of the Group
Giorgos Karagounis, midfielder, Greece. After one half of their first match, Greece looked dead and buried. After 10 minutes of their second match, Greece looked even more dead and buried. Starting their third match, Greece looked very unlikely to advance to the next round. Then Karagounis stepped up with the lone goal in the match to send them through and break Russian hearts, or at least, they would have if Russians had hearts. He’s 35, but exemplifies the “Never Say Die” (I hate myself right now) attitude that has the Greeks believing they can win this competition like they did in 2004, though let’s be honest: the Greeks aren’t going to win this competition.
Denmark 1, Germany 2: Arguably the dullest 3-goal match you’ll ever watch ended with the Mannschaft booking their place in the quarterfinals as expected. Goals were scored by new Arsenal signing Lukas Podolski and Denmark’s Michael Krohn-Dehli, then the winner for Lars Bender. It wasn’t a bad showing by the Danes, who were widely expected to finish last in the group and didn’t. Germany was imperious in this round and won’t be satisfied with anything less than the title, though obviously Spain will have something to say about that.
Portugal 2, Netherlands 1: Cristiano Ronaldo finally wakes up and fires Portugal into the second round with a 2-goal match. He probably could’ve had more – he had 12 shots on goal, only two less than the Dutch team. For the Netherlands, who got a goal from Rafael “Play defense? What? Me?” Van Der Vaart and faded meekly with no points from the competition. Considering they were the World Cup runners-up, this has to be considered one of the worst showings from a major team in this tournament in a long time. Well, since France in 2008, anyway.
Final Group B standings
*1. Germany 3-0-0, 9 pts
*2. Portugal 2-0-1, 6 pts
3. Denmark 1-0-2, 3 pts
4. Netherlands 0-0-3, 0 pts
*Qualified for next round
Player of the Group
Mario Gomez, forward, Germany. There were several candidates for this, and though Gomez didn’t score in the final group match, considering that he scored all of Germany’s goals in the other two, I think he was probably deserving. Gomez is often ridiculed by fans, both German and otherwise, but his combination of size and skill will make him extremely difficult for opposing defenses to deal with in this tournament moving forward. It’s saying a lot that his form is keeping Miroslav Klose (63 goals for Germany) on the bench.
1. Germany (3-0-0, 9 pts). Beat Denmark 2-1. It wasn’t a pretty match, but all Germany had to do against Denmark was not lose. With *what should be* an easy match against Greece, Spain could be their semifinal opponent. Up next: Greece, June 21
2. Spain (1-1-0, 4 pts). Up next: Croatia, June 18
3. Portugal (2-0-1, 6 pts). Beat Netherlands 2-1. No one was really expecting Portugal to advance to the second round, but they were excellent defensively and mostly opportunistic in attack (except for Ronaldo in the first two matches). Can they win this whole thing? Up next: Czech Republic, June 21
4. Czech Republic (2-0-1, 6 pts). Beat Poland 1-0. Group A ended up being much more entertaining than anyone expected, and after getting thumped by Russia, the Czechs made some changes to their squad, came back and were the best team in the group. They deserve their second round appearance, though Portugal will likely be happy to be taking them on. Up next: Portugal, June 21
5. France (1-1-0, 4 pts). Up next: Sweden, June 19
6. Croatia (1-1-0, 4 pts). Spain, June 18
7. England (1-1-0 4 pts). Up next: Ukraine, June 19
8. Greece (1-1-1, 4 pts). Beat Russia 1-0. After the second match, I thought there was NO WAY that Greece would advance to the next round. They’re missing both central defenders through injury, probably the worst forwards at the Euros, and their two starting midfielders are in their mid-30s. But, they’re in the quarterfinals. Up next: Germany, June 21
9. Ukraine (1-0-1, 3 pts). Up next: England, June 19
10. Italy (0-2-0, 2 pts). Up next: Ireland, June 18
11. Russia (1-1-1, 4 pts). Lost to Greece 1-0. Poor, poor Russians. How does this team look so dynamic to start the tournament, then so wasteful and ineffective by the end. And thanks to fan trouble, they have a six-point deduction in attempting to qualify for the next Euros. Yuck. Up next: отдыхать
12. Denmark (1-0-2, 3 pts). Lost to Germany 2-1. The Danes will be disappointed at having given up the late goal to lose to Portugal, because they could very well be in the quarterfinals now. Nonetheless, it was a mostly good performance by them, except Christian Eriksen, who was terrible. Up next: Enjoying whatever season they’re having in Denmark right now
13. Poland (0-2-1, 2 pts). Lost to the Czech Republic 1-0. The Poles looked lively in attack, speedy and skillful, but couldn’t score goals when it counted. Now there are stories of players blaming mismanagement and not getting enough tickets for their family for the defeat. On the bright side, uhh … I heard Krakow is very beautiful this time of year. Up next: A mess of consonants and ill-fitting vowels
14. Sweden (0-0-2, 0 pts). Up next: France, June 19
15. Ireland (0-0-2, 0 pts). Up next: Italy, June 18
16. Netherlands (0-0-3, 0 pts). Lost to Portugal 2-1. Europe’s six-year love affair with the Dutch is probably over now, so it remains to be seen whether their players will return to Dutch club teams like PEC Zwolle and RKC Waalwijk after playing in the Champions League with the likes of Inter Milan and Bayern Munich the last few years. Up next: In-fighting, bitter recriminations, accusations
Player of the Euros So Far Rankings
1. Mario Gomez, Germany
2. Karim Benzema, France
3. David Silva, Spain
4. Mesut Ozil, Germany
5. Pepe, Portugal
Portugal 3, Denmark 2: Arguably the best match of the tournament so far. Portugal jumped out into an early lead thanks to goals from Pepe and Helder Postiga, then almost threw it away when Nicklas Bendtner scored twice on headers. In the 87th minute, though, Sylvester Varela took advantage of a broken play to score and give Portugal the three points. Obscured in the win was a horrible performance from Cristiano Ronaldo, who missed two one-on-ones with the keeper and has only scored three goals in his last 15 tournament matches. Denmark were poor, but show great resilience. They’re like the Greeks, except with better players.
Germany 2, Netherlands 1: An efficient, dominating performance from the Germans reminds everyone why they’re one of the favorites to win the tournament. The Dutch, meanwhile, are *this* close to being eliminated, though they can still qualify – I’ll explain how in a bit. Mario Gomez scored twice for Germany, running his total to three in two matches, and Robin Van Persie scored the consolation for the Dutch, though it was another poor performance from him. Germany has essentially qualified for the second round, though maybe if Portugal and Denmark both win, they wouldn’t? Wait, that doesn’t seem right – they beat Portugal. I don’t know.
Group B standings
1. Germany 2-0-0, 6 pts, 3 goals scored, 1 goal against
2. Portugal 1-0-1, 3 pts, 3 gs, 3 ga
3. Denmark 1-0-1, 3 pts, 3 gs, 3 ga
4. Netherlands 0-0-2, 0 pts, 1 gs, 3 ga
Who advances? (I think I got this right)
Germany qualifies with a win or draw against Denmark, or if Portugal fails to beat Netherlands (loss or draw), or if they lose to Denmark by one goal but score at least two goals and Portugal score two or less in beating Netherlands. (Yeah, I know)
Portugal qualifies by beating Netherlands, or if they draw against the Netherlands and Denmark fails to beat Germany. They also would qualify if they lost to Netherlands by a goal, but only if the Netherlands scored 2 or fewer goals and Germany also beat Denmark.
Denmark qualifies if they beat Germany and Portugal fails to beat Netherlands, or if they beat Germany by at least two goals. They would also qualify with a draw if the Netherlands beat Portugal.
Netherlands will qualify if they beat Portugal by at least two goals and Germany beats Denmark.
Next Match Day: June 17
1. Germany (2-0-0, 6 pts). Beat Netherlands 2-1. A powerhouse performance against Netherlands has the Germans in the driver’s seat to move on – they just need to take care of business against Denmark. Up next: Denmark, June 17
2. Croatia (1-0-0, 3 pts). Up next: Italy, June 14
3. Ukraine (1-0-0, 3 pts). Up next: France, June 15
4. Russia (1-1-0, 4 pts). Up next: Greece, June 16
5. Portugal (1-0-1, 3 pts). Beat Denmark 3-2. Portugal were dominant early on against Denmark, then nearly threw the match away before Sylvester Varela saved them. They might advance to the second round, but Ronaldo needs to play better. Up next: Netherlands, June 17
6. Czech Republic (1-0-1, 3 pts). Up next: Poland, June 16
7. Italy (0-1-0, 1 pt). Up next: Croatia, June 14
8. Spain (0-1-0, 1 pt). Up next: Ireland, June 14
9. France (0-1-0, 1 pt). Up next: Ukraine, June 15
10. England (0-1-0 1 pt). Up next: Sweden, June 15
11. Denmark (1-0-0, 3 pts). Lost 3-2 to Portugal. The Danes were dreadful in the first half against Portugal, then almost came back and drew the match. They need to play better against Germany for the whole match to have any hope of moving on. Up next: Germany, June 17
12. Poland (0-2-0, 2 pts). Up next: Czech Republic, June 16
13. Sweden (0-0-1, 0 pts). Up next: England, June 15
14. Greece (0-1-1, 1 pt). Up next: Russia, June 16
15. Ireland (0-0-1, 0 pts). Up next: Spain, June 14
16. Netherlands (0-0-2, 0 pts). Lost 2-1 to Germany. Another match, another performance devoid of inspiration, good defending or team spirit. Don’t be shocked if the Dutch exit the tournament with no points. Up next: Portugal, June 17
Player of the Day: Mario Gomez, Germany. The often-maligned striker answered his critics with two well-taken goals. He might be the best striker at the tournament.
Disappointment of the day: The Netherlands. Sure, Cristiano Ronaldo had the worst individual performance, but for one of the favorites to win the tournament to be clinging barely to the slimmest hope of qualification for the next round after only two matches is just unacceptable.
Goal of the day: Mario Gomez, Germany
Player of the Tournament So Far Rankings
1. Andrei Shevchenko, Ukraine
2. Mario Gomez, Germany
3. Alan Dzagoev, Russia
4. Mesut Ozil, Germany
5. Pepe, Portugal
A Mario Gomez goal in the second half of the match lifts Germany to the win. Not much really to say about this one. It was by far the dullest match of the tournament so far. After the Dutch lost earlier in the day, it began to look like two of the favorites would open with defeats, but though they came close, Portugal never scored, and this makes the Netherlands’ chance of advancing even more difficult (though not impossible).
For Germany, the usual lightning quick attacking you usually see from them was missing, and they didn’t play with their usual fluency either. Portugal played well, but doesn’t have much creativity in midfield, and as is a common refrain, they haven’t gotten a great performance from Cristiano Ronaldo in ages.
By Jeremiah Paschke-Wood | Only Love Soccer
On Friday, the European Championship begins, and the biggest question going into it is “Can a Spain team that will be without its all-time leading scorer (David Villa) or one of its defensive stalwarts (Carlos Puyol) be able to be the first team to win three successive major tournaments, especially with the likes of Germany, France and the Netherlands gunning for them, or will they wilt under pressure like the Spain teams of old?” It is possible to shorten it to “Can Spain win again?” but then it would only be the most pressing question, not the biggest. Get it? Because it’s really long?
Oh man I’m good.
Anyway, you get the feeling that this Spain team is perhaps more beatable than the last two additions, what with Villa and Puyol’s absence, the fact players like Xavi and Xabi are getting older, and the fulcrum of the attack, Fernando Torres, has been, shall we say, less than prolific lately? Nonetheless, the mind-numbingly dull way Spain ground out the 2010 World Cup title shows that they are a team that doesn’t need to be firing on all cylinders to beat Europe’s other top teams.
The Netherlands and Germany are considering Spain’s main challengers, with other old standbys like France, Italy, Portugal and, ahem, England, thought to be longshots to win the title. Italy, however, is undergoing it’s yearly match-fixing scandal and has been rocked by player injuries. England has also had its share of injuries, and France in the post-Domenech era is still a bit of an unknown quantity (But I think they’ll be good). The Dutch and Germans stream-rolled through the qualifying process, though it remains to be seen if the Germans are still reeling from Bayern’s penalty shootout loss to Chelsea in Champions League.
Pre-Euro All-Euro Team
Goalkeeper: Gianluigi Buffon, Italy. The Italians will struggle to advance to the knockout round, but if they don’t make it, it won’t be the fault of Buffon, who allowed the least goals in the European club season and saw his team, Juventus stay undefeated in all competitions until the last match of the season.
Defender: Gerard Pique, Spain. Pique has struggled this season, but must be dominant for Spain, particularly with Puyol’s absence, if they have any hope of repeating.
Defender: Mats Hummels, Germany. Hummels has quietly been the defensive linchpin of the best team in Germany. With error-prone defenders Per Mertesacker and Jerome Boateng his competition for a starting spot, he should get a shot.
Defender: Ashley Cole, England. England is suffering an injury crisis, is missing Wayne Rooney through suspension and elected not to pick Anton Ferdinand due to a row with fellow defender John Terry about racially abusing his brother, but Cole is a good player, even if he’s just in it for the money.
Defender: Gregory Van Der Wiel, Netherlands. The Ajax full-back is highly coveted by many European teams, and since the Dutch’s only “weak” point is probably their defense, he’ll need to play well.
Midfielder: Xavi Hernandez, Spain. Spain’s midfield metronome might be playing his last tournament (unless he decides to try and stick around for World Cup 2014, when he’ll be 34), so enjoy his ball retention and passing range while you still can, casual fans.
Midfielder: Christian Ericksen, Denmark. Denmark are almost always woefully disappointing in these tournaments, but Ericksen, one of Europe’s most sought after young players, will at least show glimmers of his talent, especially when paired with Christian Poulsen, who is like the Winston Garland of European soccer. (That is for NBA fans)
Midfielder: Wesley Sneijder, Netherlands. I feel like Sneijder is a good player who gets unfairly slapped with the “World Class” tag more than he should, but nonetheless, he starts for the Dutch, and if he ever wants to get out of the aging morass of the Inter Milan team, he’ll need to have a good tournament.
Midfielder: David Silva, Spain. I think technically Andres Iniesta is more important to Spain, but hey, we need to get some wingers in there, right? Silva is clearly one of the best in the world, as his assist total (22 in all competitions for Manchester City) shows.
Forward: Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal. Ronaldo is a winger for Real Madrid, but starts at forward for Portugal, and though he doesn’t often show it for the national team, he is far and away the most talented offensive player in this tournament, even if you want someone, anyone, to take a red card for smacking him.
Forward: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Sweden. My first impulse was to pick Robin Van Persie for this spot, except for two things: 1. There are already enough Dutch players on this team. 2. If this was an actual team, we’d need someone that didn’t spend all their time fussing with Ronaldo over hair gel and who gets the shower next, and Zlatan isn’t what you’d call a pretty boy, though I’m sure he probably thinks he is the most handsome guy in the history of the universe.
Who will win, from first to last
15. Czech Republic
Ranking: 4; Qualifying record: 9-0-1; Best finish: Champion, 1988; Coach: Bert van Marwijk; Nickname: Oranje
After their run to the World Cup final, the Dutch will be one of the favorites to win this tournament, though they have some pretty good competition in Germany and Spain and some of the old standbys who haven’t done so well lately (France, Italy, etc …). They’ll have to be careful in what is undoubtedly one of the toughest groups in the competition.
Player to watch: Robin Van Perie. The Arsenal striker scored 37 goals this season in being named the best player in the English Premier League. Though his international record hasn’t been quite so gaudy, he needs to score for the Dutch to win. Probably.
Ranking: 10; Qualifying record: 6-1-1; Best finish: Champion, 1992; Coach: Morten Olsen; Nickname: None. Can I recommend Cykel Maend?
Yes, Denmark have won this tournament before, shocking their way to the title in 1992. It’s unlikely to happen this year, though, as their group is stacked, and this Danish team, Christian Eriksen aside, is fairly uninspired. They did manage to beat out Portugal to automatic qualification, but they probably didn’t expect that would mean that they’d take on Portugal again in the tournament, but oh well, I guess.
Player to watch: Christian Eriksen. The Ajax midfielder is one of the most coveted young players in the game. The question is whether opposing defenses will give him any opportunity to create, since there’s not really any other Cykel Maends who can create anything on offense.
Ranking: 2; Qualifying record: 10-0-0; Best finish: Champion, 1972, 1980, 1996; Coach: Joachim Loew; Nickname: Nationalmannschaft
The Mannschafts are certainly one of the best in the world, but are starting to stray dangerously into the label of “nearly men” (I think that’s an expression British people use) in tournaments, finishing as runners-up at the last Euros and losing in the semis in the last two world cups. With the Spain squad slightly weaker and slightly older than they’ve been for the last eight years, the Mannschafts have to hope that this is their year. But first, they have to beat the dreaded Dutch and Cristiano Ronaldo to advance.
Player to watch: Miroslav Klose. Klose has long been an OK club striker and an outstanding international performer (63 international goals!), but the question is, at 33, how much gas does he have in the tank. If he doesn’t perform to his usual high standards, it’ll be up to Mario Gomez to actually show up at a big match, for once.
Ranking: 5; Qualifying record: 5-1-2 (Beat Bosnia and Herzegovina in playoff); Best finish: Runners-up, 2004; Coach: Paulo Bento; Nickname: Selecção das Quinas
The Portuguese are one of those teams (See: England) that somehow continue to be very highly ranked by FIFA without winning anything. In fact, Portugal have never won any tournaments, so far as I’ve been able to find out. Nonetheless, they’re still ranked in the Top 5. Go figure. Of course, any team with Cristiano Ronaldo is always going to be dangerous – and will have an extremely high hair product bill, no matter where they go. This tourney, their best bet is probably either Germany or Netherlands self-destructing a la France.
Player to watch: Cristiano Ronaldo. The Real Madrid winger had another incredible club season, scoring 60 goals in all competitions, but has never quite raised his game in international play, though if you asked him, he’d probably give himself a 10 out of 10, and the rest of his team, a 7.
Netherlands vs. Denmark
Germany vs. Portugal
Denmark vs. Portugal
Netherlands vs. Germany
Portugal vs. Netherlands
Denmark vs. Germany
Jeremiah says: As boring as it is to overplay the “Oh, the Dutch and Germans will win this!” aspect of the group, the most important match will be the one pitting the two teams against each other on June 13, particularly if one or both of the teams fail to get a full three points in their first matches. Though they’re clearly the two best teams, it wouldn’t be a shock if one of the two collapsed in grand style in this tournament, since that always seems to happen to one of the favorites. And if that does? Well, Portugal probably has the best shot of advancing.
I neglected to mention this yesterday, but the Chicago Fire signed former German international Arnie Friedrich. He has 82 caps for his country, played most recently with Wolfsburg after spending nine years with Hertha Berlin. He hasn’t played since 2010 after suffering a long-term injury with Wolfsburg, but he’s very experienced and should be a good MLS defender once he gets up to speed. Also, he’s not Colombian, so I’m not sure how it happened.
For more info on the Friedrich signing, go here. If you’re too lazy, here’s the money quote:
Under cover of darkness, the club brought Friedrich in for a medical in the days between the team’s preseason stays in Ventura, California and Charleston, South Carolina.
“Under cover of darkness.” How mysterious!