Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Saturday, August 25, 2012
Manchester United survived a far more nervier finish than they would have liked as David De Gea struggles continued. RVP popped up for a trademark classy goal, but did precious little else, and Wayne Rooney picked up a bizzare gash which will somehow keep him out for a month, and the best player on the field was not wearing a red shirt.
De Gea- 4 - The inconsistency continues. He seems a bit skinny for a keeper, doesn't he? And if you can't grow a full beard, then just keep the peach fuzz at home, (speaking from experience here)
Rafael- 5 - For all that he offered going forward, he was equally a defensive liability. Showed his inexperience again by committing two inexcusable fouls in the dying moments.
Carrick- 4 - Some defensive midfielders make great center backs, some do not.
Vidic- 6 - Hardly called on to defend, classy own goal.
Evra- 6.5 - The type of performance we've come to expect from Patrice. Always offering that out ball for his midfielders.
Cleverley- 7.5 - Took advantage of the acres of space given to him. Distributed nicely. Not as much a defensive liability as Scholes either.
Anderson- 3.5 - Looked tired after 30 minutes, couldn't believe Fergface left him in as long as he did. Not sure if God himself could have stopped Dembele today, but didn't do himself any favors for repeatedly diving in.
Valencia- 9 - The rating is as much a reflection of Briggs poor afternoon, but you can't ask anything more from your winger than to consistently deliver inviting balls which is exactly what he did.
Kagawa- 8 - No problems adapting to the prem so far, he's been given the keys to the offense.
Young- 5 - Excellent chipped cross to set up third goal, but that was one of the few highlights in what was otherwise a fairly forgetful afternoon.
van Persie- 6 - Brilliant goal, otherwise a peripheral figure. Never really linked up with Kagawa.
Schwarzer- 5.5 - Could have done better to prevent the rebound leading to the second goal.
Riether - 7 - In the right place at the right time every time, brilliant last ditch defending.
Hughes - 6 - Mostly reliable, a few miscommunications with his partner.
Hangeland- 6.5 - Has grown accustomed to life in the Premiership, provides a great calming influence on his teammates, and isn't bad on the ball either.
Briggs- 3 - Yes Valencia is a handful, but continually allowing him to fizz balls in cannot be your strategy, simply over-matched.
Duff- 6 - Great goal, was the benefactor of an awesome deadball routine which I wish we saw more of.
Diarra- 5 -Useful in a tackle, but sub-par on the ball
Dembele- 10 - The kind of player that shows you a glimmer of the ball, and then takes it away, must have evaded 20 challenges using the same trick. But what earns him the rating is how many times he won the ball back for his team. Strong, pacy, just outstanding.
Kacaniklic- 6.5 - Got the better of Rafael more than once. Wish we'd seen more of him on the ball.
Ruiz- 5 - Doesn't quite have the physicality for these types of games. Clever player, but needs to work harder on defense as well.
Petric- 6.5 - Made the most of what limited service he had, and won the free kick for the first goal.
Man of the Match - Dembele
Flop of the Match - Anderson
Saturday, August 18, 2012
Both teams will need to improve if they want to come in 4th or 5th in the league again as they last year. A dressed-down AVB's Spurs looked like a team who had just lost one of the top 5 players in the league and are still struggling to find their feet. Gylfi Sigurdson was certainly not the answer to their prayers they might have hoped him to be on this day.
While Alan Pardew was cementing his reputation as classiest manager on the British Isles, his team were lucky to come away with three points in what was a somewhat static performance. They should be sending a Christmas card to Rafa Van der Vaart who didn't do his defensive reputation any favors by gifting the magpies what would be the winning penalty.
Krul - 6.5 - Excellent shot stopper, begs questions as to his foot-skills.
Simpson - 6- Did well after an early yellow card, Bale did him a favor by drifting inside.
Taylor - 7.5 -Rock solid at the back, him and Coloccini have to be in the conversation for the leagues top pair if they can stay on the field.
Perch - 6 - Looked rather comfortable at CB where he'd looked like he didn't even belong on the pitch in years past. Safe to say he's shed the title as worst player in the Prem.
Santon - 5.5 - Was done in by the tricks of Lennon, but who wouldn't be?
Tiote - 7 - Imagine him when he's fit.
Cabaye - 4 - Failed to get involved in the game and his delivery wasn't great.
Guitierrez - 7.5 - Endears himself to his fans by applying his defensive insticts, and is a handful going forward down the left wing as well. His brief cameo at center mid in the second half highlights his versatility, great player to have at your disposal.
Ben Afra - 8.5 - Rumored not fit to play beforehand, he was in fact the difference in this match. It remains to be seen whether his African strikers can get on his wavelength.
Cisse - 4.5 - Dissapointing.
Ba - 6.5 - Save from an incredible finish, Ba too offered little impact to the game, though he was at least more willing to try and find space.
Anita - N/A - First game jitters for sure.
Friedel - 6 - Like a bottle of wine, old Brad.
Walker - 7 - Never realized he had such a long throw on him as well, as if he doesn't have enough tools already.
Kaboul - 6.5 - Much improved last season, and showed a newfound poise on the ball we haven't seen in years past.
Gallas - 5.5 - Shaky at times, but just about got the job done to use one of my least favorite cliches.
Assou-Ekoto - 7.5 - Played some delightful diagonal balls, and offered the width when Bale drifted inside.
Sandro & Livermore - 5 - One of them needed to be a bit braver.
Sigurdson - 5 - What do you know about pressure?! He knows something of it now.
Lennon - 8 - I maintain that Aaron Lennon should be starting for England no questions asked.
Bale - 7.5 - Needs to resist the temptation to drift inside.
Defoe - 5 - I wouldn't trust Jermain Defoe as a lone striker no sooner than I'd trust him to hand in his homework.
Man of the Match - Ben Arfa
Flop of the Match - Cabaye
Tuesday, July 17, 2012
From guest writer Aaron Segal-
I am writing this with the intent to share the experience of Euro Cup with all of you who care about soccer want the unique perspective I was able to get during my most recent trip to Europe 2012 (and because Deyan asked nicely). While there is plenty I missed, particularly in the beginning and the end of the tournament, hopefully you enjoy the stories of what did happen. Plus this should be fun…
As the tourney opened I was painfully stuck working. Quick background, I now work for a global education company and was given an assignment to go to Rome for 10 days to meet as many teachers and student groups as possible to meet and greet, make sure everything was going well, schmooze and buy stuff for VIPs. Afterwards I flew to Poland…Opening night I was meeting a group for dinner but did manage to take out a group of the adults on the town. We got back just in time to watch the Russian demolition of the Czechs. Funny how that ended up working out…
The next day I finished work in time to get to Piazza di Campo de Fiori to watch the beginning of the Netherlands v. Denmark. You would not believe how many Dutch fans were randomly in Rome but you probably can believe how much they stand out in a crowd. In the Piazza every bar/restaurant has tvs that are facing the square and there are distinct areas devoted to certain countries that are marked by flags. I sat with a cute Dutch girl and started talking about the potential the Dutch clearly had to make an impact on the tourney. For those who watched this game, it was the beginning of the end for the Dutch. Plenty of good possession and individual skill but completely lacking teamwork, especially in the final third. Surprisingly, the Dutch I spoke with after the game were not upset about losing at all; they were more upset that they didn’t play well together. They calmly said, “well, now we need to beat Germany.” Yikes, that’s optimism.
Again fail as I had to meet a group outside the city during the Italy v Spain game. This blew and I was pissed. I went to the restaurant half an hour early so I could watch the first 30 minutes in a side room with the staff before the group came into the restaurant. It was still kind of visible so I was jumping up from the table strategically to check the score and watch replays when something had clearly happened. I did however make it back to an Irish pub in Rome for the Ireland v Croatia game. Despite the enthusiasm and drinking ability of the Irish fans, they never stood a chance and I was impressed with Croatia (and very much looking forward to attending Spain v Croatia).
I’ll speed up a little bit here because even with maximum creativity license, I was still watching games on Tv’s, cool part was that it was at night and in Italy. England v France attracted some fans but they got along (oddly) so nothing interesting happened and the game wasn’t that good. Afterwards I went to this really cool neighborhood called the Travestere in Rome which you should check out if you are there. Kinda like an Italian hipster neighborhood without any of the negative hipster traits. In part due to this find I really enjoyed the Ukraine v Sweden game. Also because of the throwback for Sheva.
Moving ahead, Blaszkowski’s goal was sick and I only caught the end of the much anticipated Germany v Netherlands bc of evening work. The last 20 minutes were really entertaining as the Dutch fans started to get really excited but ultimately they were let down tremendously. Also screw Portugal for scoring late against the Danish.
So 3rd match day of round 2 I flew to Krackow. Krackow is really small and really old (not destroyed in WWII) and has beautiful Polish girls. There is one main square where all of the night life is and there were flags announcing Euro Cup everywhere. Every single tv in Poland was playing each match all tourney long. They were such proud hosts that it was genuinely pretty heartwarming. I watched the Spanish rip Ireland apart as once again the Irish fans got drunk and silly but couldn’t compete. Vodka and beer are dangerously cheap in Poland and I ended up seeing a friend from work, completely randomly, and raged with jubilant Spaniards all night. My Spanish was flowing…
I’ll save specific site seeing stories for another time as this is explicitly a Euro Cup thing. Next set of games began after we dragged ourselves very hungover through a couple of walking tours of the old town and Jewish quarter of Krakow. France and Ukraine had that stupid rain delay which threw off the timing of what I think was a Friday night. Anyways, I was hanging out with some dude from LA who just got a massive severance from some defense contractor and was down to party. We went to this outdoor bar in the square showing the game where Trotsky and Stalin (or whatever his name was at the time) used to sit and rip vodka shots, this felt cool… Possible game of the tourney for me between England and Sweden, not necessarily in terms of quality but in terms of drama. I was rooting hard for Sweden because I was headed to Sweden on the day of the last round of matches and it would have been sweet if that game had meant something. Cue Welbeck’s cheeky finish and the last Sweden match didn’t matter.
Now for the GOOD STUFF (sorry it took so long). Train to Warsaw arrived at maybe 4 pm. The Warsaw FanZone was right next to the train station so I check it out before going to drop my bags off at the house I was Couch Surfing at. Went downtown to the main area again and walked all the way to the stadium, very legit. Also, seemingly very easy and cheap to get a ticket to Russia v Greece but I preferred to watch the final Poland match with all the Poles. Lots of Russians in town though and a weird vibe after the rioting the previous round. Side note on what happened; apparently it was some kind of national holiday so the Russian federation submitted a proposal to allow the supporters to march down to the stadium. Many Polish people said this would be a bad idea… So during the march, Poles would put scarves over their faces, go in for a few slugs and then bounce, remove the scarf and act like nothing happened. Clearly the police got involved and it was shown all over the news. Oh well.
Anyways, I end up meeting the couple I was staying with and after debating where to watch the match, the wife and I won out and we decided to go to back to the FanZone. Marek, the husband, was convinced it would be too crazy…def correct. At around 7:30 it took almost an hour of strenuous pushing, mob style, to get through the doors of the FanZone. I shit you not, this was highly unsafe and stampede like. You saw the big pictures on TV, half of Warsaw was in the FanZone. Once the fear of death/missing the game was quelled by getting inside I took a look around. The pictures I took don’t do it justice but some of the aerial shots we saw on the screens do. Imagine not a city block or two closed but the majority of the downtown area. There were I think 7-8 screens the size of an intersection with people as far as the eye could see facing each screen. They were positioned so that there were many city blocks facing each screen. 100% of people were wearing red and white. Almost everyone had a scarf, face paint and any number of other silly costumes. Very music festival-esque. Unfortunately, despite a strong start, Poland deprived us of what would surely have been one of the craziest parties anyone has ever experienced. Bummer.
Next day, just watched the games with Mark, the Polish homie, all the while discussing what could have been. He was bummed.
MATCH DAY! I took a train to Gdansk from Warsaw, about 5.5 hours and got in at 2:30. I figured I would check into my random hostel and then check out the Old Town before getting into game mode. Not possible. The entire city was already FLOODED with Spaniards and Croatians just raging. Interestingly enough and a very positive dynamic to step into, they got along quite well and everyone was being extremely gracious towards the Polish hosts. Everyone of every language knew the chant of “POLSKAAAAAA biały i cerwony” This was included in the mix of every other chants throughout the entire day. The next 4 hours consisted of beer drinking, singing, dancing, occasionally starting random conversations (Spanish to Spaniards and English to Croatians). Everyone was deliriously excited and it was here that I vow to attend every international soccer tournament possible, period. It’s just the f’ing best atmosphere possible! Also really funny were the many chants of “Arrivederci Italia!” Come on entertaining 2-2 tie!!
Getting to the stadium was easy but time consuming as Gdansk is a small town and not used to transporting 40,000 spectators from the main area to the brand new stadium about 5 km away. Side note, no idea what this stadium will be used for in the future, seriously…
Once I got off the train and started following the hoard of people towards the stadium we finally got a glimpse of the stadium. Sooooooooooooo sick. I was a little nervous as I still needed to pick up my ticket from the UEFA version of will call but that process was actually really easy. Ticket in hand, I giddily went toward the stadium finishing the last beer of the game, beer inside is non-alcoholic, silly. I tried to walk around and take pictures of everything so I could share it with everyone; I think I did an ok job. Walking in I realize that my ticket is literally on the midfield stripe and row 25! This is what buying “section 1” gets you. I got inside in time to check out warm-ups and am only reminded of the Barca games I used to see of the skill and touch of all the players. The Spaniards are playing the fastest games of 1 touch keep away that is humanly possible. For anyone who has ever played the game seriously, it is humbling.
The entrances are chilling and the stadium is pretty much full. Advance planning and knowing where your team will be helps out the euro fans. The game itself was one of Spain’s “boring games” where all they did was artistically pass the ball around with incredible touch and control. They controlled everything. The pace of the game was so leisurely that we might as well have been relaxing on the Costa del Sol with a table of sangria, just like the Spanish prefer. The only real break in Spain using superior skill and lackluster ambition was in counter attack. Luka Modric is spectacular and clearly a world class talent. He took the ball and flew past people to create the only real Croatian chances of the match. I will be furious if he moves to Madrid and I am forced to hate him.
Spain casually decides to win the game at the end and completely screw over Croatia. Kind of a bummer for the Croatians and messes up the friendly dynamic of earlier in the day but nothing bad happens. Probably 30 minutes after the game and just as everyone is getting on the trains it starts to rain as hard as humanly possible. After seeking cover in the underground train station of the old town people start to venture out into the rain because there is no beer in the underground train station. This creates a dancing street party of Spaniards, very fun but very wet. I have no idea what this town of Gdansk is actually like because this experience was so unique to this particular day.
I’ll stop here because the next day I flew to Sweden and nothing particularly unique to Euro Cup happened here. I watched the Sweden game at my friends apt in Stockholm and everyone wished the game had mattered. If you like blondes, move to Sweden immediately, it’s all true!
On that note, I hope you enjoyed reading this and see you in Brazil!
Sunday, July 15, 2012
Would I rather be a fringe player on a perennial title contender or a star man on a mid-table side?
This is hardly a question unique to one player, but no man illustrates this dilemma better than James Milner. Here is a player who has been described promising, inspiring, frustrating, and currently: disappointing. And this is a man who should theoretically be in his prime at 26 years old. Let's have a a look at his CV shall we:
- 2002 - Crashed on to the scene at age 16 for Leeds, youngest player to score in the Premier League at the time.
- 2004 - Sold to Newcastle for £3.6 million at age 18, showed glimpses of promise but wasn't given enough opportunities to become a mainstay in the side.
- 2005 - Loaned to Aston Villa, continued to improve, is one of the few bright spots on a poor team, announces desire to make loan permanent with hopes of becoming regular starter
- 2006-08 - Returns to Newcastle, enjoys his two successful campaigns and starts the majority of games, integral to Newcastle's success
- 2008-10 - Signs permanently with Aston Villa for £12 million, is a key piece of a formidable Aston Villa squad
- 2010-12 - Signs for Manchester City for £24 million, sees gradual decrease in role as Man City beef up their squad and pedigree.
Because of The Times
The modern transfer windows have become dominated and ultimately driven by insatiable media speculation which in turn fuels several select clubs' lavish spending and egregious stockpiling of talent to the extent that there are always a few newly signed players that will start their campaign with only an outside chance of breaking into their new teams' starting XI. We cannot take the misinformed assumption that regular football is the goal of every player as countless careers have gone to fester and rot away on the benches of big name clubs. I know that I would not like the idea of never getting to play a meaningful game if I were a professional, but that is an article for another day. Yes, much like the ill-informed, starry-eyed NCAA freshman who hires an agent only to not be selected in the NBA draft, this ridiculous state of affairs has robbed some of the more naive players entire years of their career . This problem is not new of course, but it has only become more visible as the financial distance between the haves and have-nots is more exaggerated and the UEFA's laughable "financial fair-play" (rule/slogan/mantra/credo, I don't even know what to call it but unenforced) continues to claim its victims.
Manchester City have quickly added themselves to the likes of Real Madrid, Chelsea, and Liverpool as some of the worst offenders in this area that spring to mind in the last decade. These clubs quickly pounce on want-away signings fresh off their best full season to the promise of playing time, a focal role, and champions league football (well, not in Liverpool's case) only to find themselves firmly rooted to the bench on matchday. Like the spinning of the wheel, each year these signings raise eyebrows and beg the question: how the hell is he going to get minutes in that squad? (I'm looking at you, Romelu Lukaku)
But you really can't blame the clubs for this policy as the laws of transfers clearly allow this unregulated behavior. Although managers might be guilty of misleading players in terms of playing time, it is the players who all too often more than happy to oblige, perhaps living under some egotistical cloud of their own perceived abilities and stature. There are of course other considerations to factor: age, international future, position depth, etc.
Enough is Enough
How long will a young James Milner persist with Manchester City before he reaches his breaking point? At what point does reality set in? How long does one stick with the big club? Shea Given, like many others before him, had to swallow his pride and take a familiar trip down the M6 to Aston Villa where he'd be assured of first team action.
Although we cannot completely dismiss the factors of age and positions, (goalkeeper being the extreme exception in terms of playing time) one could posit that these two men found themselves in similar situations at the beginning of last year's campaign, on the outside of the Manchester City starting 11 looking in. Given left, Milner stayed. Given is the everyday keeper for the previously respectable Aston Villa, (before Alex Mcleish got a chance to inject his odious brand of crosstown Birmingham style football and almost got them relegated). But Milner is sadly stuck in this fringe role at Manchester City and seems unlikely to break free of its shackles unless he would leave the club. The problem he faces if he leaves is that this would be seen as detrimental to his career and as a failure in too many people's eyes and perhaps even his own.
The hard truth of the matter is, James Milner simply is not good enough to start every game for today's Manchester City. Such is the culture that encourages footballers like him to jump at every opportunity to move on to a bigger club at any cost. There is not enough room at the top of this pyramid for every player to thrive. What makes these players stay? For those that insist on plodding away and making the odd 15 minute Carling Cup cameo you have to assume that the answer to this question is the same answer to many others in this world. To quote DJ Shadow, "It's the money."
Will Milner return to Villa Park for the third time? Or will he add himself to the likes of Sean Wright-Phillips, Nuri Sahin, Alberto Acquilani, and who will join this unenviable list of under-utilized, unfulfilled stars? Only time will tell, but a safe bet is that many will be temporary Mancurians and Madridistas.
Wednesday, July 4, 2012
(Will anyone ever top this feat?)
Spain's 4-0 drumming of Italy meant they immortalized themselves in footballing lore and will be on the short list of best teams ever in any semi-educated conversation for years to come. It also glossed over what was a relatively underwhelming tournament in terms of high-quality, high-scoring, memorable games that European Championships usually produce. Perhaps that's symptomatic of the tactical state of the game that Jose Mourinho has inflicted upon us. None the less, it was gratifying to see Spain return to the previous heights they had set themselves and not limp into history but march into it.
- Jordi Alba plays like this for Barca. Chills are running down Madridistas' spines.
- Alan Dzagoev made enough of a splash to escape from Moscow and land on the continent somewhere. Russia getting out of their group might have helped his cause.
- The USA changes its anthem to America the Beautiful. Will this happen in my lifetime? Probably not, but it really needs to. And I realize I'm risking offending 4 of my 7 readers here, but whatever. Seeing Tim Howard hum the silly, dated, star spangled banner just does not have the same emotional effect as Gigi Buffon belting out his canto italiano with his eyes closed. (granted poor Timmy probably wouldn't be the one to keep his eyes closed, but none the less)
- Pirlo gets the praise he deserves. Incredible he was under the radar for so long. Anyone who watched those great Milan teams of the mid 00s knew about him.
- Ibra moves to the premiership and tosses around John Terry weekly
- Germany didn't make the final. Everyone was looking forward to the two best teams in the world meeting in the final, but credit Italy, they deserved it.
- Neither the hosts progressed. Would have added more atmosphere.
- Ashleys were allowed to take penalties. They are a slight improvement over Darius Vassell though, who had no business even being included in the squad in Euro 2004.
- We don't have commonly known nicknames like our Spanish speaking counterparts. Apart from Kobe, I can't think of any players off the top of my head that any announcers even refer to by their first name (though I'm sure they're are a few). Granted I'm not talking about the Hawk Harrelsons home town radio announcer. I'm talking about the ESPN guys. After reaching my breaking point with Darke and Macca answering their own questions, "That wasn't a very good ball Macca, was it." I flipped over to ESPN Deportes and my enjoyment level went up 5x. My favorite nickname is David Silva's, "el chino" because he's "short." Maybe I would get tired of my Mexican hosts as well, but there was a candidness, and nice back and forth banter that they had going which is basically the opposite of anything Darke and Macca put us through. Mustoe was the pick of a bad bunch.
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
what do you mean you don't have tzatziki
Czech Republic - B+ - Saying that they've overachieved is obviously an understatement. To beat the Poles on their own soil without their only real star (Rosicky) is an achievement enough in itself. Pilar the left winger and Selassie the right back have had a couple of decent games, and the introduction of Hubshcman forged their identity. But Milan Baros by himself isn't going to scare the Portuguese and it's difficult to see them getting a goal much less progressing.
Greece - C+ - Yes they were unlucky against Poland and might have won. And they have gotten better as the tournament has worn on. (players like Samaras come to mind). But it's more than fair to say that their luck has evened out. They really didn't play the football to earn their way to the knockout round, and were it not for a catastrophic error by a Russian center back they would be back home dusting off their drachmas and standing in the unemployment line. Will be interesting to see how they react after Germany score...
Russia - C - Put the ball in the box! Every Russian must have been pulling their hair out watching that agonizing last 20 minutes against Greece. As great as they looked against the Czech Republic, it worked against them in hindsight as they must have thought that they'd waltz through the group. I thought their holding midfielder, Denisov was excellent, and Zhirkov was a bit unlucky that his good work didn't lead to more. I couldn't help but feel a little bit of schadenfreude too when Arshavin's lackadaisical tendencies that mutinied the arsenal on several occasions this year started to creep into his team, especially against Greece. With everything to play for, Russia looked like a team who had accepted their fate.
Poland - C- - The Poles too must have thought that they'd waltz right through the group after their first 20 minutes of the tournament which they came out all guns blazing. But how fast did that peter out? The Dortmund stars were all impressive. But to lose at home to a rather toothless Czech side speaks to the lack of a backup plan that most of the nations failed to incorporate.
Germany - A - You don't really get the feeling that we've seen the best of Germany. What we have seen is a cool and composed Mario Gomez who is choosing a decent time not to poop his pants on the big stage as he has in the past. They are definitely vulnerable, but a wise man wouldn't bet against them. They are confident too, and have a great team collected that is epitomized by Ozil, the most selfless play I can remember. They'd have to be the favorites to lift the trophy as unconvincing as Spain have looked.
Portugal- A- - They must have been licking their chops when Denmark beat the Dutch in the opening game which blew the group wide open. And despite the fact that they had the advantage against Holland in that they didn't necessarily need the 3 points, you have to give them credit for taking what the group has given them. It's painfully obvious that they are at their best on the break with two of the world's best players with the ball at their feet, Nani and Ronaldo. But I just wonder whether there is enough of a passer in Meireles, Mountinho, and Veloso to overcome the kind of challenge that the Czechs will give them.
Denmark - B - They will be kicking themselves for allowing that late winner against Portugal because that was the goal that effectively ended any real hope they had. But it was a decent showing from the Danes although we were left wanting more from the supposed Ajax starlet Eriksen who hardly seemed to see much of the ball. I guess the word got out about him. Their left back, Poulsen was impressive.
Holland - F - And they earned their F. Bert Van Winkle or whatever their coach's name is clearly no Phil Jackson. And I can't remember seeing a team that clearly did not have any sort of collective spirit and high of a profile as this Dutch team. Sure we wouldn't be talking about this if they had progressed. Because this is essentially the same team that made the world cup final and played some incredible football two years ago. But what a failure. The tactics, the selection, everything they touched turned to shite. Sneijder was their best player, but what is it worth to be the best player in a failing system? Ask Felix Hernandez.
1 vs. 11
Spain - C - Does Del Bosque know something we don't? He must, because no one else can figure out why he persists with this incredibly frustrating formation. Spain will continue to pass the air out of the ball, and the air out of the stadium, but you get the feeling that this won't win them the tournament. Surely Del Bosque knows this and will shake it up? Por supuesto que si. Meanwhile, Andres Iniesta, is just fine playing tiki-taka, thank you very much. Is there a player that could be more ideal for the type of Barca-induced style of football that Spain have made their trademark?
Italy - A - You can take the Italians out of Italy...but you'll still get a vintage Italian team with a modern edge that look very dangerous. It's gratifying to see Andrea Pirlo, a longtime personal favorite of mine, having such a tournament in the twilight of his career. As ever with any Italian team, the key for them is to score first. They aren't built to come from behind, and they haven't had to do it at this tournament yet.
Croatia - B+ - Croatia are surely the best team that will not be playing in the knockout round. And were a bit unlucky in the way the fixtures lined up for them, having to play Spain last. Luka Modric is just incredible, you can't say enough about his touches, passing, movements, just outstanding. Bilic had to roll the dice and go for it in the second half against Spain, an unenviable task. You just felt that they missed the energy of Olic who might have given the dog-tired Mandzukic a much needed lift.
Ireland - D - They were out of their depth and they knew it. They didn't do themselves any favors conceding in the first five minutes, but at the end of the day Trapatoni just didn't have the players at his disposal to hang with three of the world's elite. St. Ledger was especially outclassed throughout (sorry buddy if you're reading this, but you were, it's not your fault you're just not that fast).
England - B+ - Job done. I'm not entirely sold that they players have completely bought into Hodgson's style of play. It's one thing to defend, but surely England shouldn't be sitting back against the Ukraine as they were? Or maybe they should. I really am puzzled by England because it's so difficult to look at them objectively whilst we are so used to the players being stars for their club team while England are really just a bunch of mugs having a scruff. Gerrard has unsurprisingly flourished without having to worry about Lampard playing next to him. They still strike me as too mistake prone to lift a trophy or get by a team as solid as Italy.
France - B - A bit of a mixed bag. They showed what they are capable of in spurts. But god knows it's gonna take more than that to repeat their epic 2006 world cup defeat of Spain. And it will have to come from the same man who scored in that game, Ribery, who all of France must be wondering if he's going to have his breakout game. Also, Phillipe "the hamburgler" Mexes begs the question to whether he'll be able to keep up with the Spanish maestros.
Ukraine - B - That first game was a bit of an aberration, but they put themselves in great shape to qualify and let themselves down in the end. I thought they could have gotten something out of that France game if they had played with that same recklessness as they did against Sweden, but it wasn't to be for the host countries this tournament. Yarmalenko certainly turned some heads, and someone will snatch him up from Dynamo Kyiv no doubt.
Sweden - B- - Why beat around it, this team is a one man show. And what a show it is. But just as with Ronaldo and Portugal, teams that rely too much on one player are ultimately doomed. Sweden gave us some great moments though. Like Zlatan getting in Joe Hart's face after they took the lead. Joey had the last laugh though. Could have used an Henrik Larson as Elmander didn't offer much, it was unclear whether he was even fit.