Sunday, June 29, 2008

FINAL: Germany v Spain:

Well, it's all over in less than 24 hours and the final, I can't decide is either the least appealing of all options or bound to be a good final in any event regardless of the fact I can't stand either team.

Germany did it by lucking out against the Turks in their semifinal, out-Turkeying Turkey by scoring a last-minute goal of their own just moments after Turkey had a late score, yet again to come back and tie the match. For me, Turkey are the team of the tournament for their dramatic finishes, even if they didn't make it as far as the final. They made it further than anyone envisioned.

Spain did it by derailing the Russian over-hype train that everyone was knocking each other over trying to climb aboard. Let's face it, it's difficult to recall a more overhyped player than Arshavin, who didn't play in the first two games, allegedly dazzled for two more and then fizzled out on the big stage like a wet firecracker. I was rooting for Russia since they aren't Spain, who I can't stand anyway with their nancy boy strikers, rubbish backline and sometimes middling midfielders. But Russia didn't show up for the big match, shot their wad against the Dutch and that was that. PLUS, you had to figure after the first three underdogs advanced to the semifinal it only made sense that Spain, even though they were favoured, were the real underdog against the Russians solely for their storied history of choking in precisely these sorts of situations, and would therefore go through.

So it's the North against the South in the final and I don't really care which side wins.

*****

Although the final is still to be played I'm ready with my all-tournament team which is subject to change should someone unexpected score a hat-trick.

Keeper: Iker Casillas will be in the final but so is that glowering douchebag, Lehmann, so being there doesn't mean much. Casillas' high point was probably stopping the penalties against the Italians that sent them forward. The man who didn't however, Gianluigi Buffon, had a more stunning tournament from the three goal debacle against the Dutch (one of which was wrong and two more of which were virtually unstoppable), to the penalty he stopped against Mutu which kept Italy from immediate elimination, to one spectacular save against another when the Italy back line was one of the worst they've fielded in a decade. Buffon more than anyone, kept his team in the running and deserves to be the starting keeper.

Right Back: Hamit Altintop, Turkey.- the man of the match against both the Czechs and Croatia, Altintop was solid throughout. Other possible choices, Vedran Ćorluka, Croatia - or Sergio Ramos for Spain. Ćorluka in particular, a bright young spot with great forward motion who will likely end up as the team's starting centre back in due course.

centre back: Hands down, Carles Puyol - for once his team hasn't crashed out early and Puyol, one of the best defenders in the world, consistent throughout bar the early exit against Sweden with the bum knee. He helped shut the Russians down with a brilliant performance and might well be one of the keys if they are to defeat Germany tonight.

Left back: Very close between Yuri Zhirkov whose every game sounded like jerk off jerk off jerk off but was one of Russia's better players despite being held scoreless, and my favourite, Giovanni van Bronckhorst whose clearance sent the Dutch forward for their 2nd goal against Italy and set the Dutch scoring machine in motion, the king of the fastbreak for the Dutch. There will be those whingeing for Philipp Lahm, especially after his game-winner against the Turks but less face it, his defence was quite often rubbish, including the opening half against Turkey and he relied too often on cheap fouls to compensate for a lack of skill.

Defensive Midfielder: Konstatin Zyryanov comes to mind although he was more forward than defending, he scored the winner against Greece and was solid against the Swedes to get the Russians back on track after that hideous opening (and closing) match against Spain. The winner though, is Marcos Senna for Spain who did a brilliant job helping Pujols shut down the Russians in the semi-final. Orlando Engelaar may have found himself in this tournament performing quite competently, gets a vote for honourable mention.

Right midfield: Bastian Schweinsteiger was, along with Wayne Rooney, one of the bright young stars of Euro2004. Rooney was busy marrying his ChavCow girlfriend in a crass display of imperial money wasting and Schweinsteiger was busy kicking ass, getting a red card against Croatia and scoring against the Portugese and Turkey. Andrés Iniesta had a brilliant semi-final against the Russians but too little too late. Darijo Srna was one of the strongest on a strong right sided attack for Croatia.

Centre midfield - Sorry, gotta go with the Germans here again in the form of Michael Ballack. Very true he was nearly invisible against Croatia but that sizzling goal against Austria was one of the strongest of the tournament and his engine in the middle when he was running well, was driving the Germans forward. However, he might miss the final which would knock him out of the running, as far as I'm concerned. There's a real glut here though. A vote could be made for Cesc Fàbregas who was absolutely brilliant in the matches he played in, even coming off the bench and he clearly outplayed Arshavin who might have been given the nod if he wasn't so overhyped and had played better in the semi-final. Likewise Luka Modric, the new Tottenham Spur who will likely be crushed in the Premiership ultimately but has quite a motor on him and watching his pace is worthwhile. And Hakan Yakin certainly merits a vote considering he was a scoring machine for a team with no offence. My favourite would be Wesley Sneijder for the Dutch, who was great whilst the Dutch were hot but they plunged out so suddenly and quietly that you almost forgot about those first two matches against Italy and France wherein he was simply brilliant and had two memorable goals. Yes, there is your winner.

Left midfield: You might be tempted by Lukas Podolski as the easy choice with three goals but he disappeared after the first two games and unless he scores a hattrick in the final, he's not my guy. Arjen Robben would have been a logical choice, that brilliant goal against France but as he was with Chelsea and in Spain this season, he's a brittle little fucker who is hurt more than healthy and that in the end, spells his demise. David Silva has had flashes, and normally Ronaldo would fit in here automatically but he had a rather rubbish tournament combined with a disappointing finish so eff him, he's won enough stuff this season with Man U. Instead I'm picking Roger Guerreiro, the anti-Pole when you consider that nation's skinhead racist tendancies it must be difficult for a Brasilian to survive in Poland even if he is a decent footballer. Impressed against both Germany and Austria.

Forwards: : One thing for certain, it isn't going to be Toni who had the worst tournament for a forward and most certainly the most missed shots of anyone on earth. Good thing Mario Gomez was there to keep him company in ignominy. I would have voted for Ivica Olić but for those crossbars against Turkey. Nope, the guy I'd want most up front would be Semih Sentürk and I would pair him with David Villa more because of that late, clutch winner against Sweden than his hattrick against the Russians. If I were desperate, I'd play Hakan Yakin up instead of in midfield and there you go, quite a side.

Manager: No doubt about it: GUUS

As for tonight's final, traditional winners against traditional losers. Simply because I think Lehmann is a big, noisy douchebag and a rubbish keeper to boot, I'm going to go with Spain. Class over Schmutz. Spain 3 Germany 2. And it will be a good match.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Turks unveil third consecutive gob-smacking come-from-behind shocker.

If they waited any longer to launch their comebacks they would have to have a time machine to go back in time and score their goals to avoid elimination.

Just when you thought three goals in 15 minutes to win 3-2 after being down 2-0 against the Czechs was the most amazing comeback you've ever seen here is the unimaginable score by Semih Senturk against the Croatians with no time left in the match to draw even, force extra time and then penalties which of course, they won.

Which of course, saved the Turkish keeper's bacon. It was Rustu Recber's screw up, coming out of the goal mouth to chase a ball he had no chance of getting, that helped the Croatians score their goal, the goal they and all the world thought, with so little time remaining, was going to be the clincher for Slaven Bilic and his lads, who will be forever haunted by this loss. Now all they've got is preparation for England in the World Cup Qualifiers.



The Turks are a hard side not to love demonstrating unparallelled determination, desire and of course, results.

So far in the quarterfinals there have been two results with the advancement of two underdogs, Germany and Turkey.

And now the two will be paired against each other with the Turkish population of Germany swelling to over two and a half million or about 3 percent of the entire German population.

The Germans made short work of the Portugese. Sort of.

The Portugese dominated many sections of this match but seemed content with long, sloppy passes into the box rather than clever man to man to man elusive passing, the kind of lazy sort of football that see the English out early of every tournament they're in.

Of course, the Portugese were sore losers, blaming Chelsea for announcing their manager was going to be Felipe Scolari once the tournament was already underway. But equally the argument for the distraction of Ronaldo with ongoing tug-o-war between Man U and Real Madrid, could have been made. A distraction, it should be pointed out that was essentially of Ronaldo's own doing.

So now we move on to the other two quarterfinals this weekend - should we expect equally a shocker from the Russians over the Dutch or will the favourites make it out this time? My guess, all of which have been wrong so far in the QFs, is that the Dutch will take it 3-1. Just don't count on it.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

RUSSIANS ARE STILL A FORCE TO BE RECOKONED WITH

It's difficult not to be tempted into imagining that this, the Russian slot, is in essence, the England slot, had the English actually played up to expectation, if they'd managed to beat the Russians in Moscow after holding a 1-0 lead.

But they didn't.

The Russians were minced by the Spanish in the opening game of the Group and by a deceptively large margin, 4-1. The truth in that match was that after the Spanish scored, the Russians had them on their heels in the 2nd half and looked quite capable not only of taking the lead but winning the game. Alas, a counter attack set them back and before they knew it the momentum was crushed as were the Russians' hopes.

Hiddink had the team refocused and working hard to achieve that little extra that would put them over the top.



But they've bounced back under the steady hand of Guus Hiddink, the manager with a history of taking pretty much any team he manages and making them a threat.

They beat the Greeks, eliminating them and last night made easy work of the Swedes, who they also eliminated 2-0, presenting themselves as the second seed of the group set to face the Dutch next.

Imagine the connotations of the a Dutch born manager of the Russians facing the Dutch national team, knowing all their secrets. The Dutch are hot but this has all the makings of a upset.



So, two years in to a five year plan to get the Russians up to the world class level, not suprisingly, Hiddink has them there already. The quarterfinals and almost as suprisingly as the Italians considering their shoddy beginnings.

Tonight, Germany face Portugal in what is likely the most anticipated of the tournament in the knock out phase. Given Germany's last two performances; a surprising loss to Croatia and an uninspired 1-0 victory over the Austrians, they will have to play their best football of the tournament to hold the Portugese quiet. Don't count on it. Prediction Portugal 2 Germany 1.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

So, Groups A, B and C are done.

Yesterday's match between Italy and France surely must have marked the first time a team lost 3-0 in the opener but still qualified to the next round.

On the other hand, even though they're through, they've now got to face Spain without their midfield force of Pirlo and Gattuso, who are both suspended. Never fear though, they've got plenty of Roma reserves ready to come in replace them like any combination of Aquilani e Ambrosini Aquilani e Perrotta Aquilani e Camoranesi Ambrosini e Perrotta Ambrosini e Camoranesi Perrotta e Camoranesi, etc.

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De Rossi celebrates the free kick that shot into goal for a 2-0 lead off of
Henry's foot.

And beating France? No big thing. After all they played the least inspired football of perhaps anyone in the entire tournament. Yes, maybe Austria or Switzerland, it might be argued, were worse sides, but even that is arguable and in any event, both sides showed considerably more spirit than the old mutts of France. Good riddance to them. England would have been a better represenatative.

The Italians were given a second life after Romania's Mutu missed that penalty kick in that 1-1 draw last week and they made the most of it, bravo!

Meanwhile in the other Group match, Holland's second side put Romania out of their misery as well. It's difficult to imagine the Romanians weren't up for it with a quarterfinal berth at stake but losing 2-0 to the Dutch's reserves means either they didn't care or wow, the Dutch really ARE that good. Quite likely the Dutch attack will make mincemeat out of their next opponents however, it would be a tense exciting match against the Swedes and perhaps a higher scoring affair against the Russians.

****

On Monday, the only relevant match in Group B was Austria against Germany which ended, not suprisingly perhaps with a 1-0 victory by Germany punctuated by the fastest missile goal of the tourney off the foot of Michael Ballack. Whilst the match remained 0-0 throughout the first half the Austrians had a prayer but the suddenness and fierocity of the Ballack goal simply sucked the life right out of the Austrians. The Germans are now destined to meet their fate against Portugal, rested and ready to roll.


Make sure to bank on the Russians tonight. Hiddinck v Dutch will be a great quarterfinal.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Tři góly za 15 minut a Češi jedou domů!

Well, the Czech team has now redefined disaster after surrendering 3 goals in 15 minutes to see a 2-0 lead and advancement to the quarterfinals of the Euros destroyed by the Turks and perhaps even by Petr Cech, considered one of the top keepers in the world, whose howlers were the final nails in the coffin.


It's all over but the crying.

Stunning. Probably the greatest comeback in the European Championship history and to top it, this is the 2nd time the Turks have come from behind for victory, having erased a 1-0 deficit to the Swiss in the match before this one.

Question is, are they any good?

Seems like a silly question considering their two most recent performances but let's face it, neither the Czechs nor the Swiss are world class. Whilst their performances have been pretty amazing it doesn't mean they are going any further than as far as they've just gotten. But they would appear to be a very, very dangerous underdog.

In the other, meaningless Group A match, the Swiss defeated the Portugese, 2-0 against a Portugese side that was missing most of their starting 11.

Turkey will face Croatia in one quarterfinal whilst the Portugese await tonight's matches to see who they will face.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

BLOODY SPANIARDS DON'T QUIT, TOP SWEDEN IN WANING MOMENTS

I can't shake the feeling that this Spanish side is the most over-rated of the tournament.

Everywhere, all these accolades and all this sweet talk about what a brilliant side they are and frankly, their finish of yesterday's game was disappointing. They deserved the one point they were heading for, not the three that clinched it for them.

Sure, Sweden were efficient but dull. Touch defending, the type of team like Greece last Euro, that could have surprised.

The Dutch counter-attack would eat this flimsy Spanish defence for a snack.

Yeah, David Villa, four goals in two games is scary. And Torres is equally scary. But the Spanish back line is even scarier. Almost as scary Marchera, the Butcher of Bilboa, possibly the filthiest player in the group.

So now the Spaniards will likely play the Romanians in the quarterfinals. There, I've said it.

The Dutch are making a mistake resting their players because they're riding on momentum right now and the minute you start resting those players is the minute that momentum is going to disappear. I'd rather see the Italians or French play the Spanish than the Romanians. IF The Russians meet the Dutch in the quarterfinals I think there's a chance for a massive upset. No one would know the Dutch mind better than Guus Hiddink, Russia's manager.

And so the Greeks are out of it, suprise. The magic was gone as quickly as it arrived. YOu can't fool everybody all of the time.

So today the only meaningful match will be the Czech Republic against Turkey. The Portugese will take their foot of the gas for a match and look to face the winner of Austria-Germany. Notice I didn't say Germany. That's because who knows - the Austrians just might have it in them. The least likely candidate advancing to the quarterfinals would be a nice touch.

Friday, June 13, 2008

FAVOURITES EMERGING

After two games each played through Groups A, B and C, three favourites have emerged whilst the others struggle to beat each other down far enough to make it to the quarterfinals.

Of the three who are already through to the next round, Portugal, Croatia and Holland, it is difficult to say who is the better side but surely quite simply to be impressed by all three of them.

Portugal cruised past a solid Czech side on Wednesday night by a deceptive 3-1 margin with Ronaldo scoring once and assisting on another, the final last second goal that made the match seem more of a route than it was. They have shown fluidity and pace throughout both of their matches so far and as expected, have made it through with two victories in two games.



On Thursday, Croatia stunned Germany with such ease that it appeared they were actually the better football team, not just lucky in their 2-1 victory.

Despite the fact Germany controlled the majority of possession, 56 per cent overall, a lack of offensive ingenuity cost them. Through a combination of deliveries from open play and set-pieces, German manager Löw's men showered 19 crosses into Croatia's penalty area, yet managed just four shots on target. Bilić's side, in contrast, delivered the ball into Germany's box on ten occasions, but their ability to break quickly out of defence, channelling their play through midfield linchpin Luka Modrić, allowed them to register eight shots on Germany's goal, with custodian Jens Lehmann beaten twice. With two efforts on target each, Olić and Niko Kranjčar were responsible for half their country's firepower.

Germany must now beat Austria, who drew with one point against Poland, in order to advance to the next round for the right to meet Portugal. Croatia are on their way to a match against what would appear to be the Czech Republic, provided, of course, the Czechs are able to put away Turkey who, after their 2-1 victory eliminated Switzerland, are still capable of pulling another upset.

And yesterday produced the two finest matches in one day of the comepetition.



First, Italy hung on by their fingernails to a qualifier when they managed a draw against Romania when Gigi Buffon saved a Mutu penalty as well as Italy's final gasp to avoid a humiliatingly early elimination.

The Italians appeared to have been outplayed by the surprising Romanians however through guile and luck were able to drag a point out of a seemingly hopeless situation. Their destination is no longer entirely in their own hands as they must rely upon a Dutch victory over Romania next Tuesday and then will have to beat France themselves in order to advance.

But perhaps the biggest news of the tournament, on the heels of stunning the Italians last week, the Oranje Machine rolled over France with ease, 4-1. Nederland naar kwartfinale EK

Funny thing is, the Dutch were outplayed for a large part of the second half, despite their 1-0 lead, by the French who finally seemed to wake out of their tournament slumber and play like a team who looked like they had a little imagination.

But it was the Dutch counterattack, the speed and the length covered with amazing surety that saw the Dutch go ahead 2-0 and then 3-1, just seconds after the French had scratched back that impressed the most.

With the Dutch having outscored the two finalists of the last World Cup, Italy and France by a stunning 7-1 aggregate, no matter what anyone else does leading up to the quarterfinals, the Dutch most surely have to have established themselves as favourites. Who they will meet in the next round depends on the matches being played on Saturday between Sweden v Spain and Russia v defending Euro champs Greece.

Top Three

1. Holland
2. Portugal
3. Croatia

4. Spain
5. Germany
6. France
7. Romania

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Disappointment abounded for yours truly last night as the Czechs fell mightily to the favoured Portugese 3-1 and the Swiss lost in the last minute to the Turks 2-1 in Group A.


Portugal were ahead 1-0 on Deco's goal before the first 10 minutes had transpired

Whilst the loss is not disasterous for the Czechs, who can still make it to the quarterfinals if they beat Turkey, the Swiss are unofficially out of the tournament becoming the first team since the Belgians in 2000 to fail as a host team to qualify to the next round. The Portugese guaranteed themselves first place and will face the 2nd place team of Group B.

The Czechs played rather brilliantly at times with the slow and tree-like striker 6'8Jan Koller on the bench for the first half. Libor Sionko, who scored the equaliser in the first half and Milan Baros, who seems a different player in international tournaments, played wonderfully together for naught. The Portugese were fluid at all times although their back line and indeed their keeper have been in part, exposed as a potential flaw in the later rounds.

After falling behind early 1-0, the Czechs attacked and threatened and pressured until Sionka's equaliser. But the second half was a bit gloomier and the Portugese seemed their goal would come inevitably as it did. And just when the Czechs seemed on the very precipice of equalising, the Portugese counter-attacked and only because he passed off to his teammate was Ronaldo deprived a 2nd match goal.



The Turks, well, they made it past the Swiss on a last minute goal by Arda and did it in a rain so intense there was serious contemplation of postponement.

Either due to the rain or the inept offense the game had all the charm of the recent France-Romania tie but you at least got the feeling these two were trying.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

DAVID VILLA HAT TRICK PROPELS SPAIN, BOOSTS HIS VALUE

Every tournament in memory, Spain have roared in with big reputations and expectations only to slink out in disappointment. Just last World Cup they opened with a 4-0 victory before failing.



They may well end this tournament in disappointment as well but much as they started off the last tournament they were in before falling, Spain unleashed a potent offensive attack on the Russians before finishing with an impressive 4-1 victory.

David Villa scored a hat trick virtually assuring that what was already certain to be an expensive outlay for somebody is just about to get even more expensive as he is shopped around by his Spanish professional team, Valencia, to various Premiership teams, notably, Chelsea.

What we witnessed, like the night before in the Dutch thrashing of the Italians was a potent counter-attack,a sort of football fast break that caught the opposition's defence flat footed and resulted in big, glorious scores.

The truth is, whilst they may think they impressed, this was not as dominating as the scoreline suggests and the Russians had plenty of opportunities early on to even the score before it finally got out of hand.

Sweden Oust Defending Euro Champs



En drömöppning.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic hadn't scored for Sweden in over 16 internationals but when he finally did last night after a few sharp challenges, it was enough to see the Swedes past a feeble offense of Greece -

The defending Euro champs Greece were unimpressive clearly hoping that by holding back, making a tight defence and neglecting their offence, perhaps much like Romania, they might continue their improbably reign over Europe.

No such luck. Sweden's firt goal was quickly followed by a second after a major keeping gaffe and before they knew it the Greeks were not only out of the match, but quite probably out of the tournament. They will certainly have to beat the Russians and then an improbable result against Spain.

RANKINGS: With every team in the tournament now having had the chance to show their wares, it's time to have a look at the most impressive of those teams, the early favourites after one game:

1. Portugal
2 Germany
3. Holland
4. Spain
5. Sweden
6. Czech Republic
7. Croatia
8. Romania
9 Switzerland
10 Austria

Wednesday's games: Portugal v Czech Republic - one of these two teams will likely be shown to be less than dazzling. The Czechs are probably too old to match the spark of the Portugese. Switzerland v Turkey whilst all the talk is about the Swiss missing their captain, they appear to have become more resolute. I predict a Swiss victory outright here meaning they will likely have to beat Portugal to advance. Too bad.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Oranje-Mania!



Perhaps in and of itself, a victory by Holland over the World Champion Italy was not entirely surprising. The Dutch after all, have always been a threat to burst open even if historically, these last several tournaments that they've actually qualified for saw them bow out without much fanfare. A low budget England in some respects.

But the magnitude of the victory; 3-0, the swiftness of two counter attacks, the dazzling offensive flair and indeed the final result shocked not only the football world in this, the most exciting match of the tournament to date, but also the Dutch themselves. The announcers, shrill with joy in Holland were repeating over and over again, "this is unimagineable, unbelievable, 2-0 against the World Champions, 3-0 against the World Champions!"

There are more than a few excuse makers for the Italians. Ruud van Nistelroy's first goal came amid a rather hysterical cry for offsides in what did in fact seem to be a blatantly offside play however, revisionist refereeing saw the official explanation toted up by the referee, Peter Frojdfeldt and his assistants who are adamant that they are correct.

Fifa rule 11.11 – a player must ask for permission to leave pitch and can be judged active and in play if he does not.


In regard to law 11, officials are advised that a player who leaves the pitch without permission and does not return immediately must be taken into account when determining offside. Presumably, this can apply only to a specific passage of play since a footballer with, for example, a broken leg could be stranded for a very long while. In the instant case, the Italy right-back Christian Panucci hurt himself while trying to deal with an attack and tumbled behind the by-line.

Irrespective of how the officials wriggled out of being hailed for a blown call, the Dutch were simply magical from the start, pressurising an Italian defence which was clearly lacking without Fabio Cannavaro acting as its anchor
and making two strong, powerful counterattacks that sealed the victory.

The first came minutes after van Nistelroy's opening goal. The Italians were threatening the Dutch goal and the lead when Giovanni van Bronckhorst created a magnificent box-to-box finish starting with a goal line clearance at his own end and ending with Van der Vaart carrying the ball upfield, passed to Van Bronckhorst on the left. The full-back charged forward and crossed to Dirk Kuyt whose header down was driven in by Wesley Sneijder. The move lasted seconds and Italy never recovered.

van Bronckhorst scored the final goal in the second half, also on a counter attack that sliced through the Italian defence with ease and gave the Dutch the securing goal which officially squashed any Italian dream of staging a miraculous comeback.

France 0 Romania 0: zzzzzzz.
Contrasting the brilliant performance by the Dutch was the snooze fest undertaken by a somnambulist French attack, resembling at times the traditional English sides in international tournaments for their distinct lack of pace, desire and technique.

The Romanians are clearly content with allowing the scoreless draw and played for it through the 2nd half. No doubt they will be looking for three straight such results to qualify, a la Switzerland in the last world cup, slinking in without having scored a single goal.

Based upon 6 matches through 3 groups with only Group D remaining, it would appear the current teams to beat are Germany, Portugal, Holland and well, there aren't any other favourites yet.
FIRST WEEKEND, FEW SURPRISES


The first four matches of the Euro 2008 on Saturday and Sunday, evoked few surprises.



In the Group A Swiss opener, Switzerland lost to the Czech Republic, 1-0. By the end of the firstthe half at St Jakob Park, with Swiss captain Alexander Frei in tears, injured for what appears to be the remainder of the tournament, the Swiss hopes looked hushed, just like the stadium.


Frei cries...

But they came out in the 2nd half and put on a gutty display, the game constantly in question and the Czechs assisted by a couple of dubious non handball calls which would easily have given Switzerland a draw and thus deprived the Czechs of the 2 of the 3 points they ultimately earned.

In addition to the blown hand ball calls, the lone Czech goal came on a mis-kick from substitute Vaclav Sverkos in the 71st minute and sealed the fate.

What it all means is that it will take a national disaster to stop the Czechs from making it to the next round.



Portugal 2 Turkey 0: Hardly a suprise. Picked by many, including Sports Amnesia, to make it to the finals, the Portugese never struggled, barely worked up a sweat and so thoroughly dominated the Turks that you have to wonder whose defence might have a prayer of stopping them. The match could have easily finished 4-0 or 5-0.

There are more than 170,000 Portuguese living in Switzerland, and local authorities said nearly 20,000 fans were in Neuchatel on Sunday to try to get a glimpse of Cristiano Ronaldo and his teammates

The two Group A winners will face each other on Wednesday as will the two losers.

Everyone's favourite to win the top scorer honours, Man U's Cristiano Ronaldo, did not as many had hoped, suffered a broken leg in the middle of one of his patented, smirking step overs, but was held scoreless in any event. Not that it mattered, there are plenty on this side who can put it in the net.

On Sunday, the Austrian side of this dual-host set up opened with the Austrians facing the Croatians.

Although the Croatians are now notorious in the UK having taken two games from the English and having prevented the English from qualifying for this very tournament, they were less than brilliant against an Austrian side that proved much steadier and much more heroic than anyone realistically thought possible.

"I'm not losing confidence," Bilic said. "We have the three points. We did not sink against Austria despite the poor second half. Football is a strange game: we can play even worse than yesterday, and still beat the Germans."

Croatia, led by supercool manager Slaven Bilic, had to wait only four minutes into the match to score.

A fourth-minute penalty from recent Spurs signing, Luka Modric - the earliest in the history of the European Championship - gave the Croats a 1-0 win on Sunday over co-host Austria, which is considered the weakest side in the 16-nation tournament.

The result was disappointing for Croatia despite gaining the maximum 3 points but it doesn't matter much - they have Germany looming ahead of them next, a game that will test the best of both sides.

Austria can take their morale victory but it won't get them into the quarterfinals and it looks quite clear, as was expected, that neither host nation will advance.

Germany 2 Poland 0: Germany forward Lukas Podolski who was, ironically enough, born in Poland, scored twice in Sunday night's 2-0 win over Poland to fire his side top of Group B.

It was the type of clinical finish that convinces many who think the Germans have a good chance to make it to the finals, that their instincts are right, as they are with every tournament the Germans enter: they are a good bet to advance.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008