Monday, June 27, 2016

Top 10 excuses for England

England is out, and with that their boring team and hooligans are going home to lick their wounds after showing their "skills" in Europe. Surely their manager Roy Hodgson (the most highly paid of all Euro managers) will have to go, and England will be reflecting and making excuses about their 2-1 loss to a much, much better Iceland side.
So with that, I would like to help the English and their excuses:

10. "Uh! Is that an Icelander farting or a mighty volcano!?!"
9. "We contributed to making football history"
8. "The Iceland manager is a part time dentist, which explains why they have more Teeth than the English"
7. "At least we lost to a non-EU side; better than being humiliated by France."
6. "The Icelanders do not have a professional league, which means they have more time to train passes and free kicks"
5. "Russia is out anyway, so nobody to get into fights with"
4. "We are still second best among the British teams"
3. "There are too many foreigners in English football; that is why we cannot develop the skills of our players"
2. "We are better off outside Europe anyway"
1. "I thought Iceland was part of the Shetland islands...?"

I quit

It was indeed Deja-vu in New Jersey, much more than I, or any Argentina fan had dared hope for. 0-0 in ordinary time, only for Chile to take the title on penalty kicks. The third final loss for Argentina in three years, they seem unable to take a title (and Higuain to score in a final....).
I have to admit that this was another hard hit after a week with many hard hits.
Lionel Messi missed a penalty, and after the match announced that he is retiring from international football at the realtively young age of 29, and with what is a World Cup ahead in 2018.
I respect Messi's choice, although I wish he would wait until after the World Cup. He is quitting, and the message I get, is that I should quit too. If a man who has won everything is quitting after an admittedly great disappointment, why should I not quit too? Why should we all not quit our disappointing lives of dreading in a threadmill of everyday life, just awaiting for next weeks' 90 minute escape from reality's boredom?
I gotta quit football, and focus on... nothing....

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The best that could happen to Belgium

Belgium lost their opening match of the Euro 2016 to Italy, and as things now appear, this may have been the best thing that could happen to Belgium in the tournament. Winning over Ireland and Sweden gave Belgium second place in the group, avoiding a clash against Spain, and instead putting them face to face with the surprising Hungarians, who nevertheless had no surprises for Belgium. An awesome Belgian side seems to be coming together as a team and defeated Hungary 4-0, with a splendid performance by Eden Hazard!

Belgium's next opponent will be Wales, a team that has also surprised positively making it among the eight best sides in Europe, but are hardly a team that will make the Belgians tremble in fear. Indeed, Belgium should be favourites to take a semifinal spot, where they will be facing either Poland or Portugal. Both teams should be beatable by the talented Belgians: Poland has been solid, but not a team that would be expected to make it all the way, while Portugal has been pathetically bad, and although they can only improve, it is hard to see how they could improve so much as to defeat the Belgians.
So, although many things can happen in football, Belgium's way to the final seems to be paved with possibilities. In the meantime, the other half will struggle: Germany will be facing either Spain or Italy, and the winner of that match will face France/England/Iceland in the semifinals (Iceland would be great but highly unlikely).
Whatever happens, I hope Belgium takes one of the final spots!

Absolute boredom

I thought that now that we have reached the knock-out stages of Euro 2016 matches would get more dramatic and interesting.
How wrong I was...
When I sat to watch Wales-Northern Ireland I was not expecting much, but got even less than I bargained for in a match where neither team seemed to have quality to break the defenses, and only an own-goal gave Wales the victory to make it to the quarterfinals.
After this bore, expectations were nevertheless high for the next match: Croatia-Portugal!
But this was even a greater bore; an insult to paint drying, which is far more interesting than what both these teams showed. It took them 116 minutes to make a shot on target, and when finally done, it gave Portugal the victory. I drank many beers to forget these two dreadful hours of my life.
The match compares to another absolute bore, Ukraine-Switzerland in the World Cup of 2006, and probably is worse, since this is apparently the first match in a major tournament since 1966 without shots on target.
After big expectations, I am happy that Croatia is going home, but must now live with the terrible knowledge that a Poland-Portugal quarterfinal is awaiting, and I will have to find something better to do, such as watching paint dry.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Deja vu in New Jersey

Chile defeated Colombia 2-0 to make it to the final of the 2016 Copa America Centenario. They will face Argentina in what is a repeat of last year's "normal" Copa America, which was won by Chile at home in Santiago on penalty kicks.
But things point to a different outcome this Sunday in . Argentina has looked awesome, and in fact already played Chile in their opening match, winning 2-1 in a match where their superstar, Lionel Messi, did not even play. Messi has since been on fire, and Argentina seem eager to both get revenge for last years' final defeat, and for getting their first major international title since 1993.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Reflections on the Euro 2016 Group stages

  • 24 teams are too many: all due respect to some of the surprise teams, but there were too many defensive and risk-free matches. 
  • Some groups in qualification were not very strong. Everyone from Austria's group (including Sweden and Russia), ended at the bottom of their qualifiers. Portugal's group included Albania and Denmark (the last of which was eliminated by Sweden in the play-off, another bottom team).
  • The goal average has been 1.95 (47 goals in 24 matches), and if it continues below 2, it will be the lowest scoring tournament since 1980 (when 27 goals were scored in 14 matches). It is not surprising given the quality of defenses and lack of risk taking from many sides, and we are well below the averages of the last three tournaments, all above 2.4 goals per match.
  • Despite few goals, some have been truly fantastic: Dimitri Payet's against Romania in the opening match stands out, but so does Luka Modric's against Turkey, Ronaldo's first goal against Hungary, and Axel Witsel's against Ireland (following 28 passes!)
  • It is hard to say which has been the best team, but some stand out: Italy (following their brilliant performance against Belgium), Croatia (their fans stood in the way of making them the only team to go through with three victories), Spain (two strong easy victories and a defeat to a great team), France and Germany (both teams won their groups as expected, but more is expected of them).
  • Some players have stood out: Andres Iniesta, Ivan Perisic, Dimitri Payet and Gareth Bale
  • Iceland has been the biggest surprise of the tournament, with 8% of their population in the stands. Surely they are not a seeworthy team in the technical sense, but their organization and fighting spirit has carried them this far, and they are the darlings of the tournament.
  • The other big surprise has been Hungary. It is refreshing to see a side that has meant so much in football history, but not participated in a major tournament for 30 years, back among the 16 best.
  • Portugal has been the biggest disappointment. And they have not won many friends by being too full of themselves and looking down on opponents.
  • We will all miss Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
  • Hooliganism, nationalism and (in)security have rightfully been issues of concern, and have cast a shadow over the tournament. A pity for the many good fans, but it does not take away the disgrace of hooliganism again making such a return in 2016.

Euro 2016: Round of 16

With the last matches of the group stages we are now ready to the knock-out rounds of the Euro 2016. There were quite some surprises, with no team going through with maximum points:
  • Switzerland-Poland: Each came second in their groups, after France and Germany respectively, and with good results they are very evenly paired sides, with both having good options of making it to the quarterfinals, where the winner would face Croatia or Portugal.
  • Croatia-Portugal: Croatia won their group ahead of Spain and have been one of the best teams of the tournament. Portugal on the other hand have been a big disappointment, just making it to third place behind Hungary and Iceland. Croatia are surely favourites, although one never knows with Ronaldo...
  •  Wales-Northern Ireland: A British clash where Wales will surely be favourites after their outstanding group victory ahead of England, with Gareth Bale central in a fantastic team effort. The Irish just made it through on the last 3rd spot following their victory over Ukraine, and surely Wales are favourites. The winner will face the winner of Hungary-Belgium.
  • Hungary-Belgium: Hungary has been the second biggest surprise of the tournament (after Iceland), winning their group with a strong team effort and confidence. Belgium has been a bit disappointing after they had been so highly rated, but they still have a fantastic team that should be able to take Hungary. But do not underestimate the Hungarians!
  • Germany-Slovakia: As expected the German world champions won their group ahead of Poland, and will be favourites against Slovakia, who went through as the best third placed side after Wales and England. The winner will face Italy or Spain, in what seems to be the hardest path to the final!
  • Italy-Spain: If any match is obligatory, it should be this one. Both started as the best teams of the tournament, but looked more shaky when losing their last group match. Still, Italy lost to Ireland with a largely substitute team, and if they can put a display on like they did against Belgium, they should be favourites against a Spain side that exposed many weaknesses against Croatia.
  • France-Ireland: Ireland did what they had to do when they defeated Italy in their last match to just make it through to the knock-out stages. France won their group, although they had to struggle in every match, and still has to show their full potential. That said, the hosts will surely expect a quarterfinal against England or Iceland.
  • England-Iceland: The sensational Icelanders are the darlings of the tournament having made it through on second place after Hungary and ahead of Portugal (take that Ronaldo!). Again they will be up against the odds. England made it through on second spot, and have played fine on occasions, but  seem to lack the last quality. England are surely favourites by far, but if the tournament has shown anything, it is that Iceland are not there just to be run over! So look out England, as the world supports Iceland!
In my view this is when the tournament really starts; there were too many boring matches in the group stages!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Argentina in the final

Argentina, led by a splendid Lionel Messi, are looking more and more unbeatable just as they reach the final of the Copa America Centenario.
Despite improvements and a big home support USA stood no chance of challenging Argentina, who won 4-0 with goals by Ezequiel Lavezzi, Lionel Messi, and two by Gonzalo Higuain.
Colombia or Chile will play for the honour to face Argentina in the final.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Spain up against real opposition

I was wary of everyone being so impressed about Spain's performance so far in the Euro 2016. A meager victory over a weak Czech side, and a strong victory against a weaker Turkish side are not much to brag about.
So it was bound to be interesting to see them against a real side, Croatia, who despite of their fans and the absence of Luka Modric, remain a strong outsider to the title.
And Croatia's performance against Spain proved the potential of the Balkan side: a 2-1 victory on goals by Nikola Kalinic and a splendid Ivan Perisic means that they are now group winners ahead of Spain.
I find it impossible not to like Croatia a lot, even though I try not to because of their fans.

In the meantime the match proved a lot of vulnerabilities in Spain, and notably in the selections of Vicente del Bosque; the change of Nolito for Bruno showed a certain insecurity. Iniesta looked tired, and should perhaps have been rested, while De Gea did not look good at Perisic's goal (I still think they should use the legendary Iker Casillas). And on top of it all, Sergio Ramos missed a penalty after a Silva dive, and one has to wonder why Ramos, of all people, shoots the penalty?
It is now likely that Spain will face Italy in the last-16, and that is also real opposition that is, perhaps, even better than Croatia.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The semifinals of Copa America

Every single of the semifinals of the Copa America will be special for me:
  • USA-Argentina: Two countries I am very fond of, with my football heart being unapologetically Argentine. Argentina has been fantastic in this tournament, defeating Venezuela 4-1 in the quarterfinals. They will surely be favourites against the hosts, but if USA has ever showed anything, it is that they must never be underestimated; they have the quality to defeat anyone!
  • Colombia-Chile: The country of my mother, against the country of my birth, I will be supporting Colombia, who has nevertheless not been looking that good. They defeated Peru on penalties after a boring 0-0 match, and they seem to lack spirit. Chile are the defending champions, and are in the semifinals after a historic 0-7 trashing of Mexico in what must be the worst result in Mexican football history (their worse defeat ever in a tournament, and first defeat in 22 games).
If things go as predicted, we will see a repeat of the 2015 Copa America final, although all four teams have the quality to make it.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The impossible rejoicing

Cristiano Ronaldo is a football genious. But his comments after the Iceland game showed a man too full of himself, a bad loser, who did not have the magnanimity to acknowledge the achievement of a team that uses its resources to the maximum (contrary to Portugal...).
But I acknowledge that it is because Ronaldo is a highly competitive man, and that is what makes his a football genious.
But when Ronaldo missed his penalty against Austria today, I must admit that I was more than delighted when Ronaldo missed his penalty.
No excuses, just himself, and that is the payback for his stupid comments after the Iceland game.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Go home Croatia

Croatia had in my view become the dark horses of the tournament: after an efficient victory against Turkey, they were again incredibly good against the Czech Republic. Up 2-0 on goals by Ivan Perisic and Ivan Rakitic, the Czechs got an undeserved goal on an outstanding header by Milan Skoda. Still, Croatia were in control, concentrated, to take the victory.
But then the Croatian fans stepped in: riots on the stands as flares were thrown into the pitch (I still do not understand how they can get flares into the stadium? Isn't France supposed to be under heightened security!!??? I feel so much safer....), and the match was stopped by the referee. Starting again, the Croatians lost some of their concentration, and gave away a silly penalty that Tomas Necid converted for the end result 2-2.
Croatia were on their way to the next round, but now they will be facing Spain, and if UEFA is in anyway consistent (don't count on it), they will hand Croatia a conditional disqualification, such as they did with Russia.
Sadly, a great team does not deserve to be in France, thanks to their Croatian supporters.
Go home Croatia.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Copa America Quarterfinals

We are now at the quarterfinals stage at the Copa America. These are as follows:
  • USA-Ecuador: The hosts won their group ahead of Colombia despite losing their first match to the South Americans. They will of course have an advantage with home support, but never underestimate Ecuador!
  • Peru-Colombia: Peru sensationally won their group after their controversial win against Brazil. They are surely a strong side, if inconsistent. Inconsistency can also be applied to Colombia, who started with two victories before losing their final match to Costa Rica, although with a team full of subs. Colombia will probably be slight favourites when playing with all their superstars.
  • Argentina-Venezuela: Personally I look very much forward to this match between two countries I am personally attached to. That said, I support Argentina, and they have won all their matches, even only playing Messi in one. They will surely be favourites, but Venezuela has shown they are difficult to defeat, and also, they have the confidence that they have lacked for a long time.
  • Mexico-Chile: Mexico won their group ahead of Venezuela on goal difference, and will now be facing the defending Copa America champions, who were runner-ups to Argentina. Both teams are strong, with Mexico playing with a big home-crowd, but the Chileans should probably prevail, also knowing they are defending their title!
This is the real football starting!

Reflections on the first round of Euro 2016

All teams have now been in action in Euro 2016, and I have some initial reflections:
  • Italy have been the most impressive team so far. Their ice-cold victory against the Belgians was what can make a team champions. Emanuele Giacherinni's and Graziano Pelle's goals were fantastic.
  • Belgium is not bad, and still has a chance, but needs to show much more commitment from their highly paid superstars.
  • Germany also looked in complete control against Ukraine, and with Italy, seems like the other team to beat after the first round.
  • Spain were good, but lack striking force. Then on the other hand, they have the splendid Andres Iniesta! Croatia, with their incredible midfield and an inspired Luka Modric, will certainly be able to challenge the Spaniards
  • England in the first half against Russia is one of the best England sides we have seen for a long time, but as so many Spanish fans, they seem unable to keep their heads cool.
  • Wales has been one of the best surprises in their 2-1 victory over Slovakia, and they should be able to defeat both England and Russia.
  • The biggest surprise has been Iceland after their tie against Portugal.
  • The biggest disappointment has been Austria, but not a big disappointment, as there have not been many.
  • France managed their obligatory opening victory against a hard-fighting Romania. That said, Romania would not have deserved a tie, and Dimitri Payet's goal remains the best of the tournament (with very hard competition from Emanuele Giacherinni's incredible control in his goal against the Belgians).
  • Northern Ireland has been the poorest side of the tournament. Poland should have scored more than their lone goal.
  • Much has been made of the hooligans. But there are also some great fans, and the best are Sweden's and Ireland's (who needs to be champions with fans like this?):

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Iceland is in the House!

Iceland qualified in style for the Euro 2016 from a very difficult group ahead of Turkey and the Netherlands (and behind the Czechs). So it is perhaps surprising that they have been considered the minnows of the tournament.
Not after today, where they are rather the Cinderella of the tournament, after an outstanding 1-1 against Portugal. Portugal were not as disappointing as they so often have been in these tournaments, although one cannot but feel that they again fell into their common trap of arrogance whenever they play "smaller" teams.
Iceland were equals to the Portuguese stars throughout most of the match and that should be a wake-up call for the other two teams in the group, Austria and Hungary (where the Hungarians surprisingly defeated Austria 0-2 earlier in the day). But what is interesting in this group is that all teams are strong and could make it to the next round.
Even the Cinderella of the tournament.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Brazil is out

Brazil lost 0-1 to Peru, and is out of the Copa America Centenario after 0-0 with Ecuador and a useless 7-1 victory over Haiti (Ecuador beat Haiti 4-0 in the other group match).
Despite the controversial nature of Peru's goal, in remains an inescapable fact that Brazil were poor, lacked teeth and strength  all over. It does not bode well for Brazil's World Cup qualification, where Brazil is currently not in one of the qualifying spots.
But what is Brazil's problem? For years now they have been sleeping on their former glory and not following all the changes happening in modern football. Dunga is certainly not the man to take Brazil into the 21st century football world, and it does not seem that the Brazilian FA is aware of the dire state of Brazilian football.
I hope Brazil gets back to being a footballing super-power, because they have given so much to football. But in the meantime, I congratulate Peru and Ecuador, who certainly deserve to be in the quarterfinals much more than Brazil.

Prelude to Russia 2018?

I cannot see there was such a surprise by the violent scenes inside the stadium after the England-Russia match in the Euro 2016. Let us face it: this had been building up for three days, with violence in the streets of Marseille, and anyone watching even on TV could feel the negative atmosphere in the stadium at the start of the match. It is fortunately not so common that fans buh during the other team's national anthems, but not so in last night's match.
There is understandably a lot of attention at the poor security arrangements in the stadium (it is truly incredible considering the apparent terrorist threat that they forget all other, more real, threats), but why is there not attention to the much deeper problem of European society?
UEFA, understandably, has campaigns against racism, but xenophobia is something that is inherent in all these tournaments, and with rising nationalism and economic and social crisis in Europe, the ghost of xenophobia is on the rise.
Because let us face it: football does NOT bring people together. Perhaps a few naive fans still think it is all about the friendly clash of sport. But reality is that football is increasingly becoming the  outlet for European nationalist sentiments; people who do not even know how to appreciate football, watch it because they get their hard-on with the national anthems and flags, and can look down on other nationalities.
This is, in my view, the real tragedy of the Euro in France and the clashes of the last few days.
I agree that UEFA should send the teams home if the fans cannot behave, but in the end it will do nothing to dampen the ugly nationalism. Football is only an image of wider society.
I hope I am wrong, but I think what we saw yesterday is only a prelude to much uglier things ahead in Russia 2018.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Best goal of the tournament

France won against Romania 2-1 in the opening match and an outstanding Dimitri Payet scored an incredible goal when the score was 1-1.
I do not care what will happen in the rest of the tournament, but that was the best goal of Euro 2016.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Champions of 100 Years and out

Uruguay has been the most winning team in the 100 years of the Copa America, and as one of the best teams in the World, expectations were justifiably high as they entered the 100 anniversary tournament in the USA. But after two defeats Uruguay is out.
Last night Venezuela, one of the few team never to have won a Copa America, defeated Uruguay 1-0, Uruguay's second defeat after losing 1-3 to Mexico.
Mexico defeated Jamaica, and incredibly, Venezuela and Mexico will now be playing for the honour of group winners, while Uruguay goes home, 100 years after they were the first winners of the tournament.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Euro memories

The Euro 2016 is soon to start in France. I must admit that I have a hard time getting excited about a tournament that comes in the background of political crisis in Europe and all the nerves it implies.
In football terms, the expansion of the tournament into 24 teams has in my view watered down the quality and excitement of the tournament; there are simply too many mediocre teams and too many matches before the excitement starts to get there in the quarterfinals. I predict that, as in the World Cup, the first round will be full of defensive careful teams who are more afraid to lose than wanting to take the risk of winning.
That said, in my continuing attempts at getting excited about the tournament I have reflected of some of the good memories of this tournament, based on the top 10 matches that have stuck to my memories. It is purely a subjective list, based not on the matches themselves, but on the circumstances under which I watched them (friends, place, time...);

10. Germany-Turkey 2008: This was the early build-up of a Germany that would take the world with storm and a Turkey side that took Europe with charm. This semifinal, won by Germany 3-2, I watched on a boat between Denmark and Iceland, with friends in a ship-bar where one could not help by get excited about what was a fantastic match.
9. Netherlands-USSR 1988: My first Euro memories are from the 1988 tournament. The 1988 final was an exhibition of a historic Dutch side with the fantastic Marco Van Basten scoring a fantastic winner.
8. Denmark-Sweden 2004: I watched this match full of dilemmas in a bar in Copenhagen. The problem was that 2-2 would put both teams through instead of one of the least charming Italy sides in history. And this was also how it ended after Denmark had tried to defeat their arch-rivals. So it was in many ways a great but bitter-sweet tie. On top of this I should mention that I started this blog right after the Italy-Denmark match in this tournament with the most boring post ever.
7. Spain-Yugoslavia 2000: I was in Spain for this match that Spain won 4-3. I watched it with a bunch of Spanish friends and one Yugoslav friend, and the taunting and good atmosphere of a fantastic and legendary match makes the day and the match specially memorable.
6. England-Germany 1996: In 1996 I was biking around the Danish island of Bornholm with two friends from High School. We watched the match in a bar in a small town. The bar was full of Germans, but all Danes in the bar supported England. The Germans in the end won on penalties to the delight of the Germans and disappointment of the Danes (who were not very gracious losers).
5. Spain-Germany 2008: This was the start of Spanish World football dominance, being their first victory since their meager 1964 Euro win, and I watched the match in a restaurant called "Matstofan" in Borgarness in Iceland, during a great road-boat-trip of the northern Atlantic, where football was constantly in the background (see 10 above).
4. Denmark-Netherlands 1992: I was actually in a hotel in Sweden, alongside my uncle and cousin, for this match. I had just returned from one year in the USA, where it had been difficult to follow football, and could not believe Denmark had made it to the semifinals. In the end Denmark won an incredibly dramatic match against the defending champions, and we were delighted.
3. Sweden-England 2012: I was there, in the beautiful Stadium in Kiev, for a great match won 3-2 by England. The Euro 2012 is the first and only time I have traveled to a tournament, alongside a great friend, and it was great.
2. Portugal-Denmark 2012: This match was won 3-2 by Portugal, and I was also there at the stadium in Lviv. Of course it was a bit disappointing to lose, but this was only secondary to the fun day in the beautiful and welcoming city of Lviv alongside many fans, and even ending the day in a karaoke bar after the match, singing alongside drunken Portuguese fans.
1. Denmark-Germany 1992: Every Dane alive in 1992 remembers what they were doing when Denmark won the European Championship. This was one of the miracles in footballing history. I had just returned from one year in the US, and was one week in Denmark before joining my parents in Spain. By the time I returned to Spain, Denmark were European champions, and I had watched the semifinal in Sweden (see 4 above) and I was in the small town of Ikast for the final. Ikast is not a city that is memorable for anything, but that day was an incredible party that I will never forget (just like everywhere in Denmark).

Sunday, June 05, 2016

A football match lasts 90 minutes

Liberia had good options to qualify for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon. Today they needed to defeat Togo at home in order to only need a tie in the last match in Tunisia to win the group. Eventually, a loss in Tunisia could be enough for Liberia to qualify as one of the best second-placed teams.
And Liberia started well, and were 2-0 up at the 60th minute in the Samuel K. Doe Stadium. But the Liberians seemed to have forgotten that a football match lasts 90 minute as they were celebrating their lead. The experienced Togolese managed to get 2 goals in the last half hour for a 2-2.
The tie is not enough for Togo, but puts the experienced Tunisians in the drivers' seat before the last match in Tunis against Liberia, where the Lone Star will now need a victory to win the group. Liberia defeated Tunisia in Monrovia, but it will be a totally different match in North Africa, and the Liberians cannot afford to be as sloppy as they were today.
I really hope that Liberia makes it; the Liberians deserve it, and it would be a great boost to the country. But it will not be easy, and they will have to remember that the match is 90 minutes!

Copa America Centenario

The extraordinary Copa America (recall one was celebrated in Chile last year) celebrating the 100 anniversary of the oldest national team tournament in the world started this weekend in USA.
This tournament is the first held outside South America, and I guess it is truly American, in the sense it includes the 10 teams from South America, and adds the six best teams from the North American and Caribbean region.
That said, it is a strange tournament in the sense it comes between years, in the middle of World Cup qualifications, and previous to an Olympic tournament that Brazil has decided to prioritize (that is why Neymar will be playing the Olympics and not the Copa America). It seems the tournament is more aimed at spreading the interest of football to the North American and Caribbean, and capitalize on an expanding market.
The priority seems to be money rather than football...

The 4 groups are as follows:

Groups A:
  • Costa Rica
  • Paraguay
  • Colombia
  • USA
Group B:
  • Brazil
  • Ecuador
  • Haiti
  • Peru
Group C:
  • Mexico
  • Uruguay
  • Venezuela
  • Jamaica
Group D:
  • Argentina
  • Chile
  • Paraguay
  • Bolivia
As is becoming more and more often the case with these national tournaments (including the Euro 2016), the expansion of teams does not augur for better football, but rather more mediocre first round matches. The first four matches of the tournament seems to confirm this: while Colombia started out with an important 0-2 victory against the US hosts, there have been two boring 0-0 matches with Paraguay-Costa Rica and Ecuador-Brazil, and a meager 1-0 victory of Peru over Haiti.
The most interesting match in the first round will undoubtedly be Argentina-Chile on Tuesday. This will be a repeat of the 2015 Copa America final, and both teams are going to the tournament with their strongest teams, and are thus two of the favourites to go all the way.

While it is hard to get fully excited about this tournament, it will probably have some very interesting matches to watch.

Friday, June 03, 2016

The Greatest Euro Matches: Spain-Italy (2012)

When the tournament started in Poland and Ukraine, there was no doubt that Spain were the huge favourites. They had won the European Championship of 2008 and the World Cup in 2010, and were favourites to make history by taking their third major title in a row.
With a base from FC Barcelona, complemented by some of the strongest players from Real Madrid, Spain's style of retaining the ball through passing (inspired from FC Barcelona) was proving highly efficient, although critics did point out repeatedly that it was boring football that did not seek goal enough (in 2010 they became world champions scoring the least goals of all time). The team largely consisted of players from the two big clubs in Spain: Iker Casillas was the captain on goal, behind his Real Madrid teammates Sergio Ramos, Raul Albiol and Alvaro Arbeloa, as well as Barcelona's Gerard Pique. Perhaps the best midfield in the world included a luxury choice of players such as FC Barcelona's Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Cesc Fabregas, Sergio Busquets, Real Madrid's Xabi Alonso, Manchester City's David Silva, and Arsenal's Santi Cazorla. Up front was surely Spain's least strong link, with Barcelona's Pedro Rodriguez, Chelsea's Fernando Torres and Sevilla's Alvaro Negredo all having been tried by coach Vicente de Bosque, but with him often preferring to play without a striker at all.
Spain had been awesome in qualification with eight victories in as many matches and scoring 26 goals. In the first round they had opened with 1-1 against Italy before defeating Ireland and Croatia to take first spot in the group. A poor French side had been dispatched with 2-0 in the quarterfinals and in the semifinal Spain defeated Portugal on penalties after a long 0-0 match. With only one goal scored against them and only six goals, Spain seemed to be confirming their defensive credential before they were to face Italy in the final.
Italy had for many years been a hindrance for Spain's advances, but in 2008 this had changed when Spain finally had defeated them after penalty kicks in the quarterfinal and gone to win the final (until then it had been 88 years since Spain had defeated Italy in a competitive match). Since then Italy had changed a lot under coach Cesare Prandelli, who was implementing a more offensive style than Italy had normally been used to. In qualification they had overwhelmingly won their group and had started the tournament well with 1-1 against Spain. They then tied Croatia 1-1, but a 2-0 win over Ireland put them in the quarterfinals where they defeated England on penalty kicks, and in the semifinals they defeated the German favourites 1-2.
The captain of the side was the veteran Juventus goalkeeper Gianluca Bufon. The team was otherwise built around Juventus midfield general Andrea Pirlo, who had at the time been the best player of the tournament, barely failing any of his many passes. Additional weight was given to the midfield by Paris St. Germain's Thiago Mota, Juventus' Claudio Marchisio, Fiorentina's Ricardo Montolivo or Roma's Daniele de Rossi. The team also had some quality strikers with Udinese's Antonio Di Natale and AC Milan's Antonio Cassano, as well as Manchester City's controversial Mario Balotelli.
In spite of it all it was somewhat surprising to see Italy in the final. They had fought hard, and it seemed like a bizarro world when Italy were not favourites against a defensive Spanish side. Coach Vicente de Bosque again started the match without an outright striker, instead playing the midfielder Cesc Fabregas as a type of striker.
Spain took the lead early on with a goal that bore the Barcelona trademark: after a long spell of possession Xavi made a perfect deep pass to Cesc Fabregas, who ran to the backline and passed the ball backwards where it hit David Silva in an awkward header, but making it 1-0 for Spain. Interestingly, David Silva was the only player in the starting lineup who was not from Barcelona or Real Madrid.
More bad luck struck Italy when they were forced to subsitute the experienced Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini due to an injury. In spite of this Italy tried to fight back, but Spain's domination was proven yet again when FC Barcelona's Jordi Alba made it 2-0 on a goal that looked very easy: Iker Casillas kicked out the ball to the left side where Jordi Alba passed it to Xavi, and then Alba himself rushed forward to receive a deep pass from Xavi on the right side of the offside trap. Alba's composed finish went past Bufon.
It was 2-0 at halftime and it barely looked like Italy had a chance. Prandelli replaced Antonio Cassano with Antonio di Natale, and soon after the start of the second half also put in Thiago Mota for Ricardo Montolivo, but after only a few minutes he had to be carried off on a stretcher. With all substitutions done, Italy had to play with only ten men for half an hour, and it was clear that all hope was gone by then.
Six minutes to the end of the match Xavi took the ball from Andrea Pirlo in midfield, perhaps symbolizing that Pirlo had been in his shadow the entire match. Xavi immediately found Fernando Torres with a deep pass and the Chelsea striker scored as he had done in the European championship final four years ago.
It almost seemed a repeat three minutes later when Xavi again found Fernando Torres with a deep pass, but this time Torres passed the ball to his Chelsea teammate Juan Mata as Bufon was coming towards him. Mata had just come on for Andres Iniesta and hammered the ball into an open goal.
The humiliation of Italy was total, and in spite of only a few minutes left one could see goalkeeper Casillas tell his players not to score more goals. In this match the Spaniards almost doubled their tally of goals in the tournament. It was the biggest victory in the history of European Championship history and Spain had become the first European team to win three major tournaments in a row with the 2008 Euro, the 2010 World Cup, and this. They were undoubtedly the best team in the world.

Kiev, July 1st 2012 Olympic Stadium 
Attendance: 63,170 
Referee: Pedro Proenca (Portugal) 

Spain-Italy 4-0 

Spain: Iker Casillas (c); Alvaro Arbeloa, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos, Jordi Alba, Xavi, Sergio Busquets, Xabi Alonso, Cesc Fabregas (Fernando Torres, 75), David Silva (Pedro, 59), Andres Iniesta (Juan Mata, 87). Coach: Vicente del Bosque 
 Italy: Gianluca Bufon (c); Ignazio Abate, Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini (Federico Balzaretti, 21), Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio, Ricardo Montolivo (Thiago Mota, 57), Daniele de Rossi, Mario Balotelli, Antonio Cassano (Antonio di Natale, 46)

1-0 David Silva (14) 
2-0 Jordi Alba (41) 
3-0 Fernando Torres (84) 
4-0 Juan Mata (88)