Saturday, June 14, 2008

Earning the (re) cap: A Dutch treat

Photo: Dutch players celebrate a goal against France. (Photo from Unprofessional Foul).

Highlights and lowlights from Day Seven of the European Championships...

Match XIII: Italy 1, Romania 1

Not a particularly inspiring performance from the Italians. I thought they'd bounce back harder after getting thumped by the Netherlands, but they didn't look fired up at all, even after the massive lineup changes manager Roberto Donadoni brought in at the start of the match. Full credit to Romania again: they played excellent defence, and could have taken all three points if Gianluigi Buffon hadn't made a brilliant save off of Adrian Mutu's penalty. Still, the tie was probably a fair result, as Italian striker Luca Toni had a goal called back due to an offside.

Romania is now in prime position to qualify from the Group of Death, a result few (including myself) envisioned at the start. If they win their final match against the Netherlands (who will probably be resting their stars), they're automatically through. If they draw or lose, they still have a good shot at advancing depending on what happens between France and Italy.

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

Match XIV: The Netherlands 4, France 1

A very impressive showing from the Dutch. They continued their brilliant offensive play and handily clobbered the French in a game that was beautiful to watch. As John Doyle points out in his column [The Globe and Mail], this Dutch team has taken the old "Total Football" style where players fluidly shift between positions and adapted it for the skills of their own players, never an easy thing to do. Remember that "Total Football" isn't foolproof, though, and it's never won a World Cup or European Championship: the 1974 and 1978 Dutch teams that used it came up short in the final, and the only Dutch victory to date came in the 1988 European Championships, where they played great attacking football, but not really the "Total Football" style.

Take nothing away from the Netherlands, though. As Mike Cardillo writes over at That's On Point, their performance to date has been nothing short of spectacular.

"Brilliant Oranje? Clockwork Oranje? Total Voetbal? Say whatever hyperbole you want, the Dutch have just chumpatized the last two World Cup finalists by an aggregate 7-1. You'd be hard-pressed to find a better back-to-back performances in an international tournament group play in a long time."

Indeed, but it remains to be seen how those group play performances translate into the knockout stage.

Coming up next:

Match XV: Sweden vs. Spain (Kick-off: 12:00 ET)

This should be an interesting fight for control of Group D. Spain destroyed a good Russian side in their opener, while Sweden just edged out the underwhelming Greeks. Spain's attacking flourishes should be enough to see them triumph, but Sweden can hit the net too with the likes of Henrik Larsson and Zlatan Ibrahimovic up front. Expect plenty of goals.

Prediction: Spain 3, Sweden 1

Match XVI: Greece vs. Russia (Kick-off: 2:45 ET)
And here we have the polar opposite, two defensive teams clashing. Both are coming off a loss, though, which might give them more motivation to go for the win than normal. I thought Greece would be better than they've shown so far, but they didn't give me anything to get excited about in their first match, so I'm taking the Russians here.

Prediction: Russia 1, Greece 0.

Related tournament pieces:
- Fox Soccer Channel analyst Bobby McMahon has the usual greatness on his blog.
- The usual quality stuff from the Globe cast [On Soccer].
- Duane's recap [Out of Left Field].

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