Thursday, June 19, 2008

Euro 2008: Day 12

Spain 2-1 Greece
Ok, I realize that this was an essentially meaningless game, with Greece already eliminated and Spain having won the group. But I still thought it was great, for one simple reason: Xabi Alonso wearing the captain's armband for Spain. That is awesome. (Yes, I am easily pleased. Shut up.)

Anyway, Spain made a whopping 10 changes to the lineup from their last game, which could have been dangerous -- remember the last World Cup, when Luis Aragones sent out the reserves to scrape a win against Saudi Arabia, draining all their momentum before meeting France in the round of 16. And it's possible that something similar could happed when Spain go up against Italy this time, but I think they should be encouraged by the fact that they came back to win the game after going behind. Also, I am clinging blindly to optimism.

You could kind of see, though, why none of these guys (aside from Andres Iniesta) are in the starting lineup regularly. Xabi was the only one who really made a strong case for his inclusion; he bossed the game from a position deep in midfield, and nearly scored three or four times, including a shot from his own half that was just barely wide and had the Greek keeper slamming into the post as he scrambled to backtrack.

Although they weren't as incisive as in their first two games -- they really missed David Villa and/or Fernando Torres up front -- Spain still dominated for most of the game, and Greece only took the lead against the run of play. It was a stereotypical Greek goal -- a header from Angelos Charisteas -- and some stereotypical Spanish defending, as they basically stood there and watched him. Oops.

Ruben de la Red equalized for Spain in the second half, from a knock-down by Dani Guiza, and Guiza scored himself with a header in the 87th minute to make it three wins in a row for Spain. And then he did some sort of stupid archer celebration -- apparently he is the La Liga equivalent of Robbie Keane. Now that's something to aspire to.

A final note: I have no idea why anybody would think that Gareth Barry is worth more money than Xabi Alonso. That makes less than zero sense to me. It's just a shame that more people would have watched this game so they could see for themselves.

Russia 2-0 Sweden
Has the real Russia finally shown up? After a pitiful loss to Spain and a so-so win against Greece, Russia claimed the last quarter-final spot with an impressive performance that partially explains why they're here instead of England. They got a huge boost from the return of Andrei Arshavin, who had been suspended for the first two games; he orchestrated most of Russia's best moves and just seemed to make the whole team look better around him. Plus, of course, you can't discount the Guus Hiddink factor. He has a great track record of getting his teams through to the knock-out rounds of international tournaments, and he's done it again in what was a must-win game for Russia (Sweden could have settled for a draw).

Russia were in control right from the beginning of the game, and they took the lead after less than half an hour, as Aleksandr Anyukov set up Roman Pavlyuchenko to sweep the ball in at the far post. Sweden had a couple chances to equalize, but Arshavin made it 2-0 for Russia in the 50th minute, finishing off a great counter-attack from Yuri Zhirkov's pass from the left wing (Zhirkov, incidentally, has looked pretty good in all three games so far). The Swedish defence, which had previously been so solid, fell apart under the whirlwind Russian attack.

Sweden briefly and half-heartedly attempted a comeback, but it was already too late. They never really looked like scoring one goal, let alone two. Zlatan Ibrahimovic was hobbling around despite painkilling injections in his dodgy knee at half-time -- his best moment was probably the attempt at a back-heeled flick over his head in the first minute of the game. And Henrik Larsson was showing the effects of being approximately 136 years old and already having played almost the full 90 minutes in their first two games. I lost track of the number of times the commentators referred to how "experienced" the Swedish team was -- which, as far as I can tell, just means "old."

(I am pleased to point out that I picked Russia to go through from this group along with Spain. Go me.)

So, all of the quarter-final slots are now filled, and it looks very promishing for the remainder of the tournament, because all eight of the remaining teams are more focussed on attacking than defending -- even Italy's traditional catennaccio has kind of gone out the window, considering that they're playing four fullbacks across the back line. I'm not even going to try to predict what will happen. But if I were to wish for anything, it would be for (1) Spain not to collapse for a change and (2) Cristiano Ronaldo to cry like a leetle baby. I live in hope.

Next up: Russia are rewarded by facing the Netherlands on Saturday, while Spain play Italy on Sunday.

Bad hair of the day award: Spain's Sergio Garcia, who was sporting a silly razor-thin beard and a ponytail that was roughly as big as he is.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Don´t be so cruel with Sergio GarcĂ­a! Probably it was last time you see him in the spanish national team. But maybe I´m wrong.
About Guiza: I´d say he´s like Crouch playing for Portsmouth scoring as many goals as Torres... which it´s not easy! Despite of this, he´s in one or two levels lower than Villa or Torres.
P.S. Probably you´re seeing Alonso in
the Spain´s lineup againts Russia. This time without the armband.