Sunday, June 08, 2008

Earning the (re) cap: Germans and Croats triumph

Photo: Lukas Podolski, who scored twice for Germany against Poland (Photo from

Breaking down Day 2 of the Euro 2008 Championships...

Match III: Croatia 1, Austria 0

I didn't get the chance to watch this one live, as I was watching the Jays finally snap their losing skid. Still, I caught up with the details afterwards, and according to reputable authorities such as the Globe's John Doyle, the Austrians surprisingly gave the Croats all they could handle. In the end, the only difference between the sides was a fourth-minute penalty kick. Croatia did well for the first half, but the Austrians rallied and were the dominant side for much of the rest of the contest. Really, the only reason this finished 1-0 was Croatian keeper Stipe Pletikosa, who was recognized for his superb play with the award of Man of the Match. As Doyle points out, this not only shows that the Austrians (ranked 92nd in the world going in, beneath Iceland, Qatar, Mozambique and Armenia and a whopping 77 places behind the Croats) are much better than expected, it also suggests that the Croats may not be the giant-killer everyone had predicted. It will be interesting to see how both sides do in their next match: Austria may be able to achieve a decent result against a demoralized Poland, while the Croats will have their plate full against the in-form Germans.

: John Doyle's column on the game [The Globe and Mail]

Match IV: Germany 2, Poland 0

I saw most of this one live, and I'm quite glad I did. The Poles put in a valiant effort and created several good chances, but they really weren't a match for an impressive German side that looked quite capable of living up to the hype surrounding it. Michael Ballack was his ever-dangerous self in midfield, Miroslav Klose and Mario Gomez constantly threatened in attack, Bastian Schweinsteiger made some crucial runs and even Jens Lehmann looked to be in fine form. Oh, and how about that Lukas Podolski? Many thought he'd been going downhill since his FIFA Young Player award at the 2006 World Cup, and he wasn't even in his natural position, shifted from striker to the left wing. He silenced the critics with a brace of goals against the country of his birth (his family moved to Germany shortly after he was born), both particularly well-struck. The second one was a real cracker: a cross from Schweinsteiger found Klose in the box, but he mishit it and the ball looped its way over to Podolski, who smashed a thunderous left-footed volley into the netting and secured his Man of the Match title as a result. All in all, a great performance from the Germans, and a debut that should strike fear into the hearts of the other teams in the competition. Yes, there's a long way to go, and Germany will eventually draw tougher sides, but they looked absolutely capable of lifting the trophy with this win.

- The Associated Press game recap [The Globe and Mail]
- Another take on the game [ESPN Soccernet]
- Stephen Brunt was very impressed with the Germans [On Soccer]. As he writes, "But they just keep on running, they have a remarkable work-rate, they know what they're going to do with the ball before they get it, they're beautifully organized, and in this tournament, it's going to take an awfully good team to beat the Germans." My pick of them to win it all is looking good so far.
- Cathal Kelly is accepting all bets against Germany [Star Sports Blog].
- John Doyle describes the German side as "awesome".
- Graham Wood has an interesting story on the Euro 2008 website about Podolski's conflicting feelings over scoring against Poland.

Today's matches

Match V: Romania vs. France
(Group C, kick-off at 12:00 p.m. ET)
Well, the Group of Death gets underway with what should be a very interesting match. Romania's currently the dangerous outsider in that group, whereas France has a solid team with plenty of experience: the question for them is if their older players still have enough gas in the tank. This game should be pretty crucial: France will be eager to take full points, given that they still have to play the Netherlands and Italy, while Romania will be eager to prove that they belong in the group. If they pull off the upset, it will make Group C even more interesting. France should be able to take this, though.

Prediction: France 2, Romania 1

Match VI: Italy vs. the Netherlands (Group C, kick-off at 2:45 p.m. ET)
This is the first match of the tournament between two sides that most consider true contenders, and as such, it should be fantastic. Both sides are missing key players, though: for Italy, it's 2006 World Cup MVP Fabio Cannavaro (out for the tournament with a) and defender Cr, while the Dutch will be without star wingers Arjen Robben (groin) and Ryan Babel. The Dutch will also likely miss Robin Van Persie and Mario Melchiot due to their own injuries. They apparently plan to use Liverpool's Dirk Kuyt instead of Robben, which Bergkamp of Drunk Jays Fans compared to using David Eckstein as a "replacement" for Scott Rolen (for the non-Jays fans, think not-so-good for good: Georges Laraque replacing Sid the Kid, Curtis Sanford in for Roberto Luongo or Brian Scalabrine in for Paul Pierce). It will be interesting to see how both sides react to such key losses.

Prediction: Italy 1, Netherlands 0

Record so far
: 2-0 (results), no scores exact

Other tournament pieces of interest:
- Stephen Brunt's column on the detached nature of Swiss fans [The Globe and Mail]
- Morris Dalla Costa of the London Free Press has an interesting piece on the on-pitch rivalry between Germany and Poland
- Cathal Kelly's column on how international matches are less violent these days [Toronto Star]
- Kelly has quite the story on his Star blog about an Eastern European journalist and his bag [Star Sports Blog]
- Duane Rollins on how Canadian media are now taking the tournament seriously [Out of Left Field].

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