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The European Championships


[NB: I wrote this before today’s results.]

This might be a bit rubbish.  If you want a solid analysis, turn to long time friend of LGM Randy Paul, who did a better job than I ever could.  Find it here.

16 teams, four group.  Who will be this year’s Spain?  Or Greece?

Up front, I’ll say I’m pulling for the Irish, which shouldn’t be a huge surprise.  I believe that either the Dutch or the Spanish will win it, which is likewise not going out on a limb at all.

As I live in England, it is unfortunately the English side I know the most about.  I’m a fan of Roy Hodgson.  He’s a solid appointment.  Uninspiring, but he has a track record for both club and country.  The England side in 2012 is their weakest in decades, so it’s going to take tactics and organisation to get the Three Lions to progress.  I think boring Hodgson is precisely the guy to make it happen.

He has made a couple of egregious blunders on selection, however.  First, the Rio Ferdinand / John Terry problem.  In my opinion, if you’re going to drop one, you drop the guy about to go to jail, and not the guy pissed off that the first guy is going to jail.  When Hodgson first left Ferdinand out, he could logically argue that it was for footballing reasons.  But once Gary Cahill goes down, and you choose to replace him with Martin Kelly, all of 22 years old (and one cap, earned just the other day) and is lucky when he gets a game with Liverpool, over Ferdinand, you’re caught out, mate.

The second mistake is the keeping.  Hart and Green are obvious.  But when John Ruddy goes down with an injury (sorry Canary fans, but who?) you replace him with Jack Butland, on loan from the well regarded Birmingham City to the equally well regarded Cheltenham Town (fourth division) this past year?  Hello?  There’s an English lad playing that position for a quite small club in Scotland called Fraser Forster, who has spent the past two seasons on loan from Newcastle to a side called Celtic.  He’s used to playing in front of 60K people, in cup finals, and winning leagues.  So Butland is better than Forster how?   I get that Cheltenham Town are a power, toe to toe with Barca etc., but seriously?

The parenthetical is the current FIFA ranking, which is a pretty sketchy measure, but people give a damn about it, so I list it here.

Group A:

Greece (15), Russia (13), Poland (62), Czech Republic (27) [one above the USA (28)].

By miles, the softest group.  And the most boring to think about, let alone writing about.

So I won’t.  Considering their respective run ins, I’m going with this: Russia, Czech, Greece, Poland.  Russia impressed against a number of sides lately, including a draw against Uruguay (2) on the 25th.  Poland have an ex Celtic keeper, who was great for Celtic for several years.  Greece are great at teaching the rest of the world how (not) to balance your checkbook (and they won the damned thing back in 2004, with a Hodgson like tactical acumen).  I once named a beer after the Czech Republic.

Group B:

Netherlands (4), Denmark (9), Germany (3), Portugal (10).

A comfortable walkover, this one.  Or, in other words, holy fucking crap.  Seriously?

In my assessment, it’s going to be the Oranje, Germany, Portugal, Denmark.

When Dirk Kuyt sits on your bench, you’re a good side.  (I know.  One of my best friends here in Plymouth, lives just down the street from me and flew out to my wedding in Oregon last summer, is a Liverpool supporter.  I’m inviting the shit here.)  But previous to my interminable sentence in England, I did live in Holland for three years.  They remain an important part of me.  Like ex wives.

Group C:

Spain (1), Italy (12), The Republic of Ireland (18), Croatia (8).

There are two international sides I support AFTER the USMNT.  The Republic and the Six Counties.  Even if Chris Brunt were playing for the Republic this year, it wouldn’t make a difference: Spain, Italy, Croatia, Ireland.

As a Seattle supporter, I’m not at all upset that Robbie Keane is off for a few weeks.  That, and I’ll never forget that day, when I lived in Amsterdam, me and my best friend in AMS (German) went to the one authentic Irish pub in Amsterdam (address is 100 Amstel if you’re interested) to watch Ireland – Germany during the 2002 WC.  Keane’s stoppage time equaliser was pure sporting magic.  And, oddly enough, everybody in the pub was happy.  Aside from the aforementioned German guy.

Group D: Ukraine (54), Sweden (17), France (14), England (6).

I love the English media.  They call this the group of death.  I think they call it that because they know damned well that England will fail to flatter, as they always do.

This will play out: England, France, Sweden, Ukraine.  But don’t be surprised if Ukraine pip Sweden for third.

I’ll be following, and writing about this, in the coming weeks.  I do think either Spain or Holland will win it in the end, which I know is a mere reconstruction of the 2010 WC.  But both of those sides are that good.  And, I am shocked that I’d ever use these words in this order, but England might surprise.  Like I said above, Hodgson is not flash, but he is organised, and he organises his side.  And that’s the key to a short term tournament with players who typically do not play together: organisation.  Hodgson is as sexy as Greece 2004, but look what they did.

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  • Fighting Words

    Cheering for Germany and Ireland!!!

  • howard

    don’t you think england is a bit shy in the talent department to be surprising anyone?

    particularly given their very special lack of talent in keeping the ball….

    • Dave Brockington

      England are always over rated. But this year, they’re really bad. Is there any wold class player in their XI? Meaning, any player who would be an automatic choice for any club on the planet? Rooney, when healthy, Gerrard, maybe, but neither are automatic. Compare that with Spain or Holland.

      • Leeds man

        England are always over rated

        Who does this overrating? I haven’t seen it. Maybe I read the wrong tabloids.

        Never mind England. The idea of needing world class players to win a tournament is just silly. How many world class players did Chelsea have when they beat Barcelona in the Champions League semis? Greece 2004?

        • pete

          Yeah, that’s the horrid prospect: England grinding out a series of 1-0s (like both of Hodgson’s friendlies) … because they finally accept that they’ll never beat a good footballing team by playing good football. They might even do better by leaving out both Rooney and Gerrard. (That’s probably going too far, but you catch my drift.)

          • Leeds man

            Guess you missed the “never mind England”. England’s last two wins were meaningless, and based on their performances, they won’t beat a really good side.

            And, by the way, a good footballing team is one which wins. If you think Barcelona was “good” because they had possession, you really should rethink your definition of “good”. Chelsea (a very non-English team) beat them with fucking good football.

            • Dave Brockington

              I agree with Leeds Man, in that I think good organisation and tactics can overcome limitations in skill. Hence, my positivity for Hodgson. Yes, it will be a lot of one nils to England. But that’s how Greece won it in 2004. And, when was the last time the English won a Euro? Close in 1996, shame that Germany still exists on the planet . . .

            • Avattoir

              Everyone – Brockington, his buddy Paul, the podmonsters at The Guardian, Men in Blazers, etc – greatly over-credit Chelsea, and just as greatly under-credit what the strange stupid progress of the Le Liga did this year to the top teams, and by necessary extension to the national team.

              There’s passing mention of the Spaniards being tired, and of course missing Puyols and Villa, and Pique having played poorly of late; but that’s not the half of it: they’re absolutely nackered.

              At the outset of the season, the owners of La Liga faced down a protracted strike, then determined to ‘save’ their season (and make their expected profits as usual) by playing the whole damn thing in an sharply abbreviated time period, plus then all the top clubs (where the La Liga owners and the government conspire to stash the entire national team), went just about as deep as it’s possible to go into the Champions League and the Europa League. There was a reason the best two squads in the world failed to make the Champions League final: they were both of them injured, hobbling, and nackered.

              People have justifiably marvelled at the play of Xavi & Iniesta over the last 4 years; but it was the passionate and tireless play of their partners at midfield, Puyols & Pique, who facilitated.

              When you’re nackered, the last thing you need to go to is some new combo in the middle – or to dip deeper into the pool of the nackered (Lorrente, Mata and Torres all qualifying for such) up front.

              • Leeds man

                playing the whole damn thing in an sharply abbreviated time period

                They started a week late, ferchrissake. Barcelona didn’t look tired against Chelsea, they just couldn’t break through, and refused to take shots from outside the area.

            • pete

              I was overly concise but I think misunderstood. My point was that England do not at present have players with the individual skill to play a system that produces free-flowing, high-scoring, imaginative (shorthand: “good”) football; more precisely, that if they try to do that they will lose against any decent side.
              Hodgson’s evident organizational goal makes perfect sense, and I do actually think I might prefer Welbeck alone up front to Rooney, who I think is likely to try to do too much and then get frustrated (not to mention red-carded). Rooney has more talent, but then (to show my age) Jimmy Greaves had more talent than Geoff Hurst, not to mention Jackie Charlton, who always stressed that he was picked for a role, as were Nobby Stiles and Norman Hunter. The point is to use a system that maximizes your possibilities.
              Chelsea were effective and well-organized, I grant you. “Fucking good football” … well, I’d say they got lucky three times. But they did win.

              • Leeds man

                Fair enough. Greaves would have played in the ’66 finals, but he was injured.

                • pete

                  You’re right that Greaves lost his place because of injury, but he recovered, and Alf rightly would not disturb the team. He also played Bobby Charlton defensively, to stop Beckenbauer. This all supports your point, really.

        • scott

          Chelsea had Drogba. Anyone in any country would take him.

  • Mitt “Mitt” Romney

    Gosh this is great to see this kind of sporting talk. These European Championships of course aren’t as great as the American Championships, but I love the playing surfaces there, the grass is just the right shade of green, don’t you think? And the field is always the right size, which is wonderful. Ann and I don’t keep up with a lot of the performers and so forth in these leagues, but some good friends of mine happen to own teams in the various European leagues and we certainly do enjoy vacationing with our good friends in their various homes around the globe.

    I’ve always been a big fan of Europe–sure the big countries, the Germanies and the Frances, but also all the little countries like Hollandaise and Slokia and Abaleez and the like–and that’s why I want to stop President Obama from turning us into Europe, because they’re against everything America stands for. I spent a lot of time living in a mansion in Paris when I was younger, which was personally very painful for me because I longed to be fighting in Vietnam, and was prevented from serving there only by the four draft deferments I sought and obtained.

    But this football, gosh, my friends, don’t you prefer the American football that you play with your hands? I don’t know, I think it’s uniquely American that we took your more primitive foot-based game and turned it into a hand-based game, while oh by the way still keeping the name “football.” That’s something else, isn’t it? It’s why America is the greatest country in the history of God’s involvement with mankind, am I right? President Obama doesn’t believe in the American exceptionalism that it takes to do something like that; he’s too busy traveling the world apologizing for our keeping the name “football” to really understand what it means that we did it that way.

    Is everybody familiar with the great English footballisher, David Beckman? There’s a song, a classic really, that talks about Mr. Beckman, it’s “Dey Know (Dirty South Remix)” by Shawty Lo, featuring Jeezy, Lil Wayne, Ludacris and Plies; I’m sure you all know the words, won’t you sing it with me?

    Guard your woman dawg or I’ll take her
    You’ll hear her scream from College Park to Decatur
    I was a snotty nose with no paper
    Now my crib sitting on 22 acres (woooo)
    Get it right fool I get money (yep)
    If you think Ludas not filthy you’re a dummy (yep)
    I was allergic to the roof on the cutty
    So I took the top off like a Playboy bunny (what’s up pops?)
    Catch me pimping in a robe and some slippers (oh)
    Riding down 85 while I’m stuttin on my Gixer
    Mouth full of swishers or riding with your sister (wooo)
    and Six David Beckham’s or a trunk full of kickers (hahaha)
    Take a picture of the mister it’ll last long
    And these haters get stretched out like a bad thong
    So partner mash on or get mashed up
    Think you can fuck with Luda then put a million of your cash up (hi)

    • Bart

      Isn’t anyone going to thank the Governor for joining our discussion?

      Sir, we do know David Beckman. He has come here to the U.S. to savor American exceptionalism and played with our beloved Landon Donnelly.

      • Bill Murray

        Shirt on

  • Leeds man

    it is unfortunately the English side I know the most about

    Word. Still cheering for the fuckers though, as if I had a choice. Then the Irish. But Spain, Holland, Germany most likely winners. Russia looked good today, but the Czechs ain’t what they were.

  • Alan Tomlinson

    Three weeks of this shit-dear God, please give me patience. Where I live(group B), this crap is more important than breathing to the hoi polloi. Oh well.


    Alan Tomlinson

    P.S. Watching sports is like watching sex-you can orgasm, but it’s a lot better if you’re actually participating.

    • firefall

      I thank god I got out of London before the Olympics :)

  • Barack Obama

    Let me be clear, I will visit the country of Europe after I finish seeing all 57 states. Also, the private sector is doing just fine. The economy is great, and when its not, its not my fault. Nothing ever is.

    Hope! Change! FORWARD!

    • Alan Tomlinson

      You left out the funny.

      Alan Tomlinson

    • Furious Jorge

      Yeah, see Mitt “Mitt” Romney above for an example of how to do what you just tried (and failed) to do.

      • dave brockington

        That was awesome, I must admit.

  • somethingblue

    Who will be this year’s Spain? Or Greece?

    Estonia, in a walk. Their style may be a bit austere for some, but at the end of the day it’s all about confidence.

  • wengler

    Just saw the US finish out the mighty footballing nation of Antigua and Barbuda. Not terribly convincing, but the US has a tendency to play down to competition every once in awhile.

    About the Euros, I don’t know why everyone is discounting France. Sure they laid a turd of epic proportions in South Africa, but the dirty laundry has been aired, changes have been made, and they have great talent that can take the whole thing.

    • I’m certainly not discounting them. I expect them to win their group.

  • Bill Murray

    The Netherland’s defense seems very weak, so I don’t know if van Bommel and de Jong can hack down enough attackers to take them to victory

  • Bill Murray

    Also, is a Celtic-less SPL (what Forster faced) that much better than nPower league 2?

  • sven

    The Guardian is offering a daily version of their podcast Football Weekly for the length of the tournament. I look forward to a much improved commute over the next few weeks.

    As for predictions, I suspect Spain is slightly past their peak and that after looking dominant early, the Dutch will fall due to weakness at the back. My (entirely hypothetical) money is on Germany. A young but surprisingly experienced team, they may hold up somewhat better than the other giants after a grueling season.


  • “Soccer is a game for 22 people that run around, play the ball, and in the end Germany always wins.”-Gary Linekar
    It would be nice in Holland got up for it but I will not have my hopes crushed again by them choosing a semi-final to play Sleepsoccer.
    I would really just like to see some good football.

  • The Netherlands have just lost to Denmark. They played like the God of Football has put them under a curse.

    • bph

      Who would have thought that finishing would be the problem for the Dutch? The top scorer for the Bundesliga and for the Premier League and they cannot score?

      At least RvP is use to playing with a shaky defense…..

      • Thlayli

        France showed up at the 2002 World Cup with the top scorers from England (Henry), Italy (Trezeguet), and France (Cisse). And they scored zero goals in three games.

    • Yes, the Dutch are in serious trouble. You lose to the weakest team in the group you are almost forced to beat everyone else as four or even six points may not be enough to get you through. Plus the tie breaker is head to head, not goal differential.

      • dave brockington

        I’ve got a great track record with predictions. I say it, it ain’t gonna happen. 2006 I’m live on the BBC, confidently predicting that the Republicans would retain both houses. 2008, same network, I went with McCain. 2010, I went for the Dems. Just the other day, I was on the radio saying Obama would eek it out. Just. I predict it, obviously, it’s rubbish.

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  • Hi,I would just like to say what a great Article by Kim Roach it’s the first time i have ever read anything by Kim but i am now a fan of Kim’s.Thanks very much Kim for all of the tips you gave us.

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