Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Earning the (re) cap: Spanish style

Photo: David Villa celebrates with fellow Spain striker Fernando Torres after notching one of his three goals Tuesday in a 4-1 win over Russia. (Photo by Paul White, The Associated Press, via Slam! Sports)

Breaking down Day Four of the European Championships...

Match VII: Spain 4, Russia 1

Well, the Spanish won in glorious style as usual, and their striking pair of David Villa (who recorded a hat trick) and Fernando Torres looks to be one of the best in the tournament. The Russians were a bit unlucky that the score wasn't closer, as they created several good chances and rang a few off the woodwork, but Spain certainly deserved the win. Don't read too much into this for the long-term, though: Spain has a long history of excellent play in the group stages and then sudden collapses in the elimination rounds. As Stephen Brunt writes, they've broken plenty of hearts before.

"We have all been there, tempted by a car or a watch or another, sucked in by the magnificent aesthetics, the subtle, poetic touches, the aspects so beautiful it almost hurts to look.
Then it breaks down on the side of the road or stops running on your wrist or runs off with a sleazy musician or a jock or your best friend, and a vital lesson is learned.
Spain has long been the great tease of international soccer. Player for player, nobody is better, nobody is more creative and nobody can find more beautiful ways to stroke a ball down the field and slash it into the goal. Their play has little curlicues to it that no one else can manage. When they're right, all that's left is to shout bravo.
When they're wrong, as happens eventually in every World Cup and every European championship other than the one in which they emerged victorious way back when, they break down, they stop running and, even if they don't actually hit the road, they leave their supporters feeling betrayed."

Very true. You couldn't have asked for a better start from the Spanish, but I want to see more from them before I firmly join the bandwagon. They do look like a solid bet to win Group D, but I'm not sure they can continue to play at this level.

- Brunt's column [The Globe and Mail]
- Cathal Kelly has a good take on the match in his column [The Toronto Star]
- More from Kelly on his blog [Star Sports Blog]

Match VIII: Sweden 2, Greece 0

As many had expected, Greece again came out with their team-first defensive style, but it failed to work this time around. Greece actually played pretty well, I thought: it was only a supremely crafty 25-yard strike from Zlatan Ibrahimovic (his first tally for his country in three years) that broke the game open, and Sweden then added another when the Greeks got caught trying to get back in the game. I wouldn't write them off entirely yet, though: they're still very capable of getting a result against Russia, and if any defence can stop Spain, it will be this one. The going has gotten a lot tougher for Greece, but it's not impossible yet.

- John Doyle has an excellent column on this match, brilliantly titled "Greek philosophy as tedious as ever."

What's on tap today

Match IX: Portugal vs. the Czech Republic (Kickoff at 12:00 ET)

This should be an excellent clash of titans. It's the age-old battle of offence versus defence, individual stars against teams, Cristiano Ronaldo (and a strong supporting cast) against a cohesive unit. Yesterday, Spain showed that brilliant offence can beat strong defence: I'm expecting the same to happen here.

Prediction: Portugal 2, Czech Republic 0.

Match X: Switzerland vs. Turkey

This will be interesting as well: the two lesser powers of Group A going at it. There's some dark history between the two sides: the last time they met was three years ago in Istanbul to see who advanced to the 2006 World Cup at the end of a home-and-home series. The teams tied the series 4-4 on aggregate, but the Swiss advanced on away goals, and a brawl broke out [International Herald-Tribune] in the tunnel between opposing players and coaches. It's been a while since then, but those kinds of actions often aren't soon forgotten. I like the Swiss to win again here: they played well in their opening match against the Czechs, and they'll be eager to get a win in front of the home crowd.

Prediction: Switzerland 1, Turkey 0.

Update, 12:24 P.M. Some other tournament-related pieces:

- Duane's coverage of the Day Four matches [Out of Left Field].
- William Houston goes off at Craig Forrest and Dick Howard for not dumbing down their analysis enough for soccer neophytes [The Globe and Mail]
- Ben Knight has a good post about why Forrest and Howard are doing well, and why Houston's somewhat off base for asking the networks to cater to the lowest common denominator. [On Soccer: Globe-fight!] I especially agree on the Euro front: it's mostly a sophisticated soccer audience watching, and they'll probably prefer detailed analysis to catering to the neophytes. Knight also makes the good point that it's pretty easy for those who don't get a certain comment or term to look into it themselves, and that can even have an enticing effect.
- Duane points out that Houston's rating numbers have the preliminary round of the Euro tournament outdrawing the NBA finals substantially (284,000 average to 258,000) [Out of Left Field]. You can bet there will still be plenty of people (a certain Mr. McCown, perhaps?) referring to soccer as a fringe sport, though.
- My Journal colleague Amrit Ahluwalia weighs in on the matches thus far over at his new blog [There Is No Original Name For This Sports Blog].
- Another Journal colleague, Mike Woods, also believes Spain's play thus far is too good to last [The view from the Woods].

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