Monday, July 30, 2012

Olympic football

Spain's youngsters might be excused for being too young to remember Honduras against Spain in 1982, when Spain, as huge favorites in the World Cup at home, lost 0-1 to the little Central American nation that most Spaniards might be excused not to be able to find on a map.
Today Spain should have been at least as big favorites as they had been in 1982 when the two sides played in the Olympic tournament. But after Spain's poor performance against Japan, it was obvious that Spain was beatable, although surely they could not lose to Honduras!
But they could.
Spain is out of the Olympic tournament, and although many may say it doesn't matter, it is surely a huge disappointment for a country used to winning everything, not only at senior level, but also at youth level.
Uruguay is one of the other pretenders for a gold medal, but have not looked strong in their opening 2-1 victory against the UAE. In their second match they were up against a Senegalese side, that although not talked much about, are surely also a team that have set their eyes on Olympic medals. And with their 2-0 victory against Uruguay Senegal have shown that they must be counted with. Uruguay have a very important match next Wednesday against the British hosts, who after defeating the UAE are looking at the quarterfinals.
Uruguay looks like another big exit to follow Spain.
Brazil on the other hand should now be the number one contenders for the gold, after their second victory of the tournament, 3-1 against Belarus. But if anything, the tournament has shown that no team can afford to underestimate their foes. This is what makes the Olympic football tournament so exciting!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Olympic upset

As the hangover from the recent Euro 2012 has passed, I have had somewhat of a football break just until today when the Olympic football tournament has started. Olympic football has often been looked down upon by European sides (unless they win themselves), but the tournament is largely admired by the rest of the world, and the youth sides, combined with three "extra" stars, are usually very strong indeed. In fact, Brazil and Uruguay are both going to the tournament with sides that will likely will be very similar to their 2014 World Cup sides, while Spain has a team of players that have all won a number of youth European championships, as well as three world champion players. So as the tournament begins, there is no doubt that Spain were favourites in their opening match against Japan. But this is also the beauty of Olympic football: usual favouritism counts for little, and in this match Japan was truly much better than Spain. Their 1-0 victory was too small against a Spanish side with a very weak defense and no attacking prowess. Passing the ball around (and in generally poorly) they simply did not create any chances, and they are not looking like a gold-winning team at all. Spain may still rise in their coming matches against Morocco and Honduras, but they must improve if Spain is not to be among the best, as they have otherwise been ever time over the last years.

Monday, July 02, 2012

The best and worst of Euro 2012

After the end of the Euro 2012, it is time to reflect on what this tournament actually gave us. Here are my (personal) top ten best and worst things about the tournament, beginning with the bad:
  • 10)  Non alcoholic beers in the stadiums: Need I say anything...?
  • 9)  Petty nationalism: it seems an integral part of these tournaments to see European's propensity for petty nationalism that has nothing to do with football.
  • 8) Spain, until the final: yes, I know that they proved themselves in the final, but until then Spain had played holding back, passing the ball, and not shooting enough. Matches like the one against France were a bore. It would have been respectful to football fans to dispatch of a team like France with a humiliation.
  • 7) The pitch in Warsaw: A disgrace that Poland could not come up with a decent pitch in their major stadium.
  • 6) BBC Panorama: the way a sensationalist and exaggerated British TV show had slandered Ukraine before the tournament. Ukraine in particular were great hosts!
  • 5) Netherlands: they came into the tournament as huge favorites but disappointed greatly with their worst performance ever. I do hope they return to their former total football style.
  • 4) France: Many teams were a disgrace in this tournament, but France must take the cake. Full of talented players, it just seemed like none of them wanted to be there.
  • 3) The qualitative difference between teams: Europe is dominated by a few world class sides (Spain, Germany, Italy, Portugal) and a lot of mediocre sides. It showed in the quarterfinals, and in four year, with 24 teams, the number of mediocre sides and matches is set to make it Euro 2016 of mediocrity.
  • 2) Racism: Although greatly exaggerated by some media, it did show its ugly face among fans from Poland, Croatia, Spain and Russia. These countries should be ashamed of their brainless minorities.
  • 1) Russian and Polish fans: the biggest disgrace of the tournament was the confrontation of the fans from these two countries. If they cannot get these pseudo-nationalist idiots under control, their teams do not belong in these tournaments.
And the 10 best things about the tournament:
  • 10) I had the privilege of watching this Euro 2012 with great friends in four different countries, among them Ukraine, where I went to three great matches!
  • 9) Referees: I find it hard to say this, but in general the referees were really good. Except for the appalling mistake of disallowing a Ukrainian goal against England (and TV should be used in these situations!), I don't think there were really major mistakes by the referees, who were largely invisible, just as referees should be.
  • 8) The campaign for respect: In the face of football's capacity for dividing as much as uniting, I thought UEFA's Respect campaign was good. That said, they still need to do a lot more and follow up with actions against people from countries that did not live up to these important ideals for the tournament.
  • 7) Fans: In spite of the loud minority of idiots, far most fans were great, and I had the privilege to be among a great many fans from Denmark, Portugal, Germany, Ukraine, Poland, Sweden, England who were all great people and just out there to enjoy.
  • 6) Spain showing they can play beautiful efficient football in the final: when they needed to show it, they showed their overwhelming best, leaving no doubt as to them being the best team in the world.
  • 5) "Super" Mario Balotelli: A great player with great charisma who grew during the tournament, just to be crushed in the final. Still, his two goals in the semifinal against Germany stand out as some of the best in the tournament. 
  • 4) Andres Iniesta: One of the greatest players of the tournament, and the one that shone the most in the best side of the tournament.
  • 3) Italy: Until this tournament I had never supported Italy. But this was a great Italian team, offensive harmonious, with splendid players. One even felt sorry for them when they lost the final!
  • 2) Andrea Pirlo: In my view the best player of the tournament, and the ageing captain of a great Italian side, that probably played his last tournament for the national team.
  • 1) Ukraine: I had the privilege to visit the country for three matches, and met a well-prepared and friendly country, that more than lived up to being hosts. Thank you to Ukraine!

Simply the best

If there was ever any doubt about tonight's result of the Euro 2012 final they were thoroughly put to rest by a splendid Spanish side, that gave the most crushing victory in a major international final ever, 4-0 against an Italian side, where hopes (if not expectations) had been high after their victory against Germany in the semifinal. But simply, from the start to the end, Spain were superior. Granted, Italy had bad luck with Chiellini's and Thiago Motta's injuries during the match, that made Italy's quest to match Spain nearly impossible.
But Spain would have triumphed anyway.
Congratulations to their fans.
Spain is now the first team to win three tournaments in a row, and in this tournament they have proven their abysmal superiority over the rest of Europe's national teams. They have played boring, not really wanting (and they didn't need to, in spite of it being so boring to watch) to overstretch themselves until it really counted. They put all their technique in against Italy, and they seal themselves as the best team in the world, and the foremost candidates for the World Cup title in 2 years, when they can really seal themselves as the best team in history. Although many things can happen in two years I cannot see any team really being a threat to them in South America or in Europe - perhaps only Germany, who with a young team have a lot ahead of them.
But for now, and for the future, glory belongs to Spain.