Saturday, June 07, 2008

Earning the (re) cap: Portuguese, Czechs win openers

For the three people who didn't hear about it yet, the 2008 European Championships got underway yesterday in Switzerland (the matches in Austria will start later today). In honour of this fabulous tournament, I've decided to present a new feature: a daily recap of past games with a look ahead to the next day's action and predictions for the upcoming matches. The plan is to call it "Earning the (re) cap".

Aside: For the non-soccerphiles, a player is said to have earned a cap when he appears for his country in international matches: thus, the player's number of matches played for his country is referred to as his caps. This comes from the old tradition of wearing caps in soccer, which Colin Jose suggests originated in the English public schools. When international matches began, all players were issued with a cap for representing their country, and the term stuck even after that practice stopped.

So, without further ado (and certainly without further Adu or Edu, as the U.S. isn't in the tournament), here's the first edition of Earning the (re) cap.

Match I: Czech Republic vs. Switzerland
The Czechs were somewhat outplayed in this one, and the Swiss had some glorious chances. Their best probably came after a Czech handball that wasn't called due to advantage rules, when Tranquillo Barnetta was able to force Czech keeper Petr Cech into a great diving save and Johan Vonlanthen drilled the rebound off the post with a wide-open net to shoot at. For the Czechs, it was substitute forward Vaclav Sverkos who proved the difference, firing the ball home off a quick counterattack. Not a great game from the Czechs, but they got the three points, which is all that matters. The Swiss will surely be disappointed to come away empty-handed, though, and the loss of captain Alex Frei for the rest of the tournament due to torn ligaments will hurt their chances of going through.


- Stephen Brunt's game story [Globe and Mail]
- Cathal Kelly's column on the game [Toronto Star]

Match II: Portugal vs. Turkey

A superb display of attacking football by this incredibly talented Portuguese team saw them pick up a 2-0 victory over the Turks in their opener. It was Brazilian-born central defender Pepe who recorded the first strike after a brilliant give-and-go with Nuno Gomes. Pepe certainly got off to a good start: it was his first game for Portugal in a major competition. Raul Meireles added a second off a setup from Cristiano Ronaldo and Joao Moutinho. The result wasn't unexpected, as the Turks are one of the weaker teams here, but the quality of play Portugal acheived it with bodes well for their tournament hopes.

- Associated Press game recap [The Globe and Mail]
- A different AP story on the match [Toronto Star]

General tournament pieces:
- Ben Knight has a good piece on how the officials got all the tough calls right so far, which is always nice to see [Globe on Soccer].
- Some great stuff over at Cathal Kelly's Euro 2008 blog [Toronto Star].
- Bob Lenarduzzi, the Vancouver Whitecaps' president and former star Canadian defender, has his predictions in his regular Vancouver Province column [Vancouver Province].

Today's matches:

Match III: Austria vs. Croatia (12:00 ET)
I'm not expecting anything great from this one. Croatia is a very dangerous team, and should easily win over the hapless Austrians. Still, you've got to play the games, and there's always the chance of an upset. What will be more intriguing to watch is how Croatia performs without their Brazilian star Eduardo, who's been so important for their team.

Prediction: Austria 0, Croatia 2

Match IV: Germany vs. Poland
Hoo boy, this should be a good one. Poland has never beaten Germany, and you can bet they want to end that streak. Meanwhile, the Germans will have to adjust to the pressure of being the favorites, a new experience for them in recent tournaments. The history between these countries makes this much more than a mere football match, as well: I wouldn't be surprised if some fans do something stupid. The Polish newspapers have already reached the "do something stupid to inflame people and sell papers" stage, and the resulting increased tensions could lead fans on both sides into conflict. Getting back to the action on the pitch, Germany should prevail in the end, but it's not going to be easy for them. It will be interesting to see how Jens Lehmann does in goal after his recent struggles in their tune-ups and his lack of playing time this year at Arsenal.

Prediction: Germany 2, Poland 1

I'll check in with the next round of Earning the (re) cap late tonight or early tomorrow.

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