Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Earning the (re) cap: A big win for the Dutch

Photo: Dutch striker Robin van Persie comes on for Ruud Van Nistlerooy (photo from The Malta Times).

Breaking down Day 3 of the Euro 2008 championships...

Match V: France 0, Romania 0

I was expecting much better from this one. Instead of going for a win, both teams played not to lose and generated remarkably little in the way of offense. That's perhaps understandable from the Romanian side, as they were the underdogs, but it was disappointing to see from the French. There were some strong individual performances from the likes of Franck Ribery, Claude Makelele, Lilian Thuram and Karin Benzema, but on the whole, it wasn't a good day for the Tricolour (yes, there are more teams with that nickname than just Queen's). Consider these quotes from Makelele on the Euro website:

"Claude Makelele conceded that France 'should have taken the three points' as he took the Carlsberg Man of the Match award following Monday's 0-0 draw with Romania in Zurich.
The 35-year-old defensive midfielder shone on a day notable for fine defending in the Group C opener at the Letzigrund Stadion, but he could not hide his disappointment after Raymond Domenech's side drew a blank. 'They are very compact and defensive,' he said of Romania. 'They defend together as a block and it is hard to find the space between their defenders. We worked all week long on this. It is a pity because we should have taken the three points but it is not over. We need to get the points against the Netherlands and Italy now. It will be very hard but we need to beat them and score goals against those two teams.'"

Indeed. France will have to improve dramatically if they want to get out of the group: the Netherlands squad is in fine form, and the Italians will be fired up after their loss today. Romania can never be ruled out as well, as the French now know.


Match VI: The Netherlands 3, Italy 0

This was a very impressive performance from the Dutch, who played attacking football all day long and generated tons of scoring chances. Yes, the first goal (when Ruud Van Nistlerooy snuck in behind the defence and fired home) was controversial due to a potential offside, but it appears the officials made the correct decision in the end due to the presence of an Italian player who pulled himself off the pitch behind the goal line with an injury. Austrian referees' commission chairman Gerhard Kapl backed the call, and Duane has the relevant FIFA rule posted, which seems to indicate that the refs got it right. In any case, it didn't particuarly matter: the Dutch were the superior side throughout the match, and they scored two more beautiful goals to seal the deal. They're looking very good to advance out of the Group of Death. The same can't be said for Italy, who didn't look anything like the side that triumphed at the last World Cup. Perhaps they miss Fabio Cannavaro more than everyone expected.

Related: Stephen Brunt's column on the match [The Globe and Mail].

Today's matches:

Match VII: Spain vs. Russia (Kick-off: 12:00 ET)

This should be a pretty good one. In Spain, you have the incredibly talented but perennially underachieving side. Russia's cast is less impressive individually, but they have technical wizard Guus Hiddink as a manager and they have a strong team cohesion. I think Spain will take this, but not without a fight.

Prediction: Spain 2, Russia 1

Related: John Doyle's column on why the Russians might be due for an upset [The Globe and Mail].

Match VIII: Sweden vs. Greece

Another good clash. Despite being defending champions, the Greeks have been almost written off. Sure, people are ready for them now, but they still have a great defence and a punishing counterattack. Sweden is also a good side and will give the Greeks a run for their money, but I'm sticking with the champs here.

Prediction: Sweden 0, Greece 1

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