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Euro 2012 Match 7: England vs France pre-game predictions

No Lampard, no Beckham and no Zidane.  Will this matchup live up to the one in Euro 2004 when Lampard scored first, Becks missed a penalty that would have put the match beyond doubt and then England were defeated courtesy of a late double by Zidane?  I doubt it.  France comes into the tournament on a long unbeaten streak, but they haven’t hit the heights in the lead in to Euro 2012 and England seems incapable of scoring more than one goal in any match with the lineup and tactics Hodgson is employing.

Why England will win

  1. Hodgson has instilled his traditional game plan of being solid defensively with two banks of four and speed utilized to break on the counter and grab a goal against the run of play.  It’s pragmatic and he certainly has the speed in the lineup.
  2. England’s injuries, new coach and absence of talismanic Rooney has reduced expectations and the accompanying pressure that has seemed to paralyze past England squads.  Not much is expected of this England squad and that could be the key to unlocking the potential of the squad – with a lot of luck.
  3. England finally has a top goalkeeper in Joe Hart.  It’s been ten years since David Seaman played in goal (and if you don’t consider him a top keeper, you have to go back to 1983 for Ray Clemence).  Since then the “Golden Generation” has had to play with the likes of Scott Carson, Rob Green, Ben Foster, Chris Kirkland, Paul Robinson, David James and Richard Wright in goal.
  4. They have game changers in the speedy Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.  If Welbeck is fit, his partnership with Young will be dangerous.
  5. Group stage games aren’t decided on penalties.

Why France will win

  1. England’s injuries mean that there is no real continuity in defense.  It is tough to play a coordinated defensive strategy that Hodgson’s system requires when you haven’t had enough time to familiarize yourself with it given Roy’s recent hiring and you have had to change the central defenders following Rio’s withdrawal and Cahill’s injury.
  2. Rooney is not playing, Welbeck is just returning from an ankle injury and Defoe has just suffered a personal tragedy.  England has no depth to spare at the moment.
  3. France has game changers across the park in Ribery, Benzema, Nasri, Ben Arfa and Giroud.
  4. Blanc is a great coach and has the team mindful of their duty to perform at a higher level after their disastrous outing at the World Cup.  They are solid defensively, have a long unbeaten streak and the only question mark is the potential absence of Yann M’Vila.

Pre-match prediction: France 1 England 1

I wonder if England can score in this match.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the only way they get one is on a dead ball.  Ashely Young delivers great corners and free kicks.  Terry or Lescott to score for England and Benzema to get one for France.  A draw would be a great result for England who can get through as long as they don’t lose this match.

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Stay or Go – What Should Cristiano Ronaldo Do?

I debated how to phrase the headline – as a definitive statement on what he should do or as a question. While it looks like a question, it is actually a rhetorical statement. The answer is so obvious that it doesn’t make any sense for me to drag out a pros and cons before coming down on one side. RONALDO – DON’T LISTEN TO YOUR MAMA: STAY WITH MANCHESTER UNITED. She’s right about Real Madrid being a dream – it’s a bad dream otherwise called a nightmare. He looks way better in red, doesn’t he?!

Why you should stay, you ask. Let me expound – in numbered, bulleted fashion no less.

  1. You are the king at United. This is your team, no matter the love for Rooney or Scholes or Giggs or Rio. Your team. At Real, Raul is king. And after him, it will be Casillas – and he’s only 27 and a goalie, so he will be around a long time. Oh, and he also just captained Spain to their first title in 44 years.
  2. You can be a United legend. While you didn’t come up the ranks at United like Scholes or Giggs, you came here at 18. That’s almost the same thing. To be a true legend at the club, if you join them early and stay for a long time, you are a legend. It will not be the same if you join Real Madrid. Are Zidane or Figo or Roberto Carlos or any of the other galacticos a legend? Yes, you are younger than they were, but if you think you will play at Real for 10 years, you are crazy. You won’t last long enough there. Why, you ask? Next point…
  3. You are the flavor of the election. Today, Calderon wants you to win his election. Once you are in the team, don’t you think the next guy contesting election is going to want his own galactico – maybe Bojan Krkic or the next freakishly talented Brazilian? At United, you will always be on a pedestal, much as Giggs and Scholes still are. Real is notoriously unstable because of the shenanigans that go on around the elections (Barca too). That’s why they keep changing coaches as well. Who is going to be your coach once Schuster doesn’t win the Champions League next season?
  4. You play on the best team in England and in Europe. It is a young team too. Other than Arsenal, there is no other young, world class team like it in the world. And Arsenal hasn’t won squat in four years. This team is the best team in the best league in the world. So, you are the player of the year in the best team in the world (and United will prove that by winning the World Club Cup later this year – BTW, you won’t play in that or the European Super Cup this year if you leave United) in the best league in the world – and a team that is poised to challenge (if not dominate) for a few years to come. And you want to trade that for a dream? Talk to Kobe for some pointers, son.
  5. Let’s talk about the platform a bit. First, the club. At United, Rooney and Tevez and the rest of the guys will do the tracking back that you don’t always have to do. You take the penalties and free kicks. No egos from guys like Rooney or Tevez or Rio or whoever. You really think that happens at Real? From players like Raul and Guti and Ruud and Robben? Forget what they say now. Wait till you are there. Ruud is going to take penalty kicks (especially after your recent two high profile misses, it is not a foregone conclusion that you get to push him aside for those) and Wesley Sneijder is going to take a fair number of free kicks. Then, the same thing will happen to you that happened to Torres. Defenders will not let you beat them with your pace as they won’t play up as much, won’t give you as much space and the midfield will be more compact as well so it is going to be harder for you to do your usual damage. The leagues are just different. The slower pace of La Liga is going to be to your disadvantage. Also, at United, you interchange with total freedom. Rooney, Tevez and whoever is playing attacking mid or opposite wing (Giggs or Nani) move around freely and let you move around freely. You come inside, switch wings, go crossfield, drop back, whatever. At Real, you will play like you do at Portugal. Except Real have players with even more ego and reputation. You will play more on the wing and have to serve balls to Ruud and Raul. Your goals will drop and so will your reputation. Trust me – we got a precursor at Euro 2008.
  6. The fans love you at United. Yes, they will love you at Real as long as you are doing well. Can you imagine white hankies waving at United? United fans embraced you after World Cup 2006 even though you were mischievous in your contribution to getting Rooney and England booted. The country even forgave you – somehow I don’t see that happening with a Portugese man in Spain.
  7. The blame will be on you if Real don’t win the Champions League within the next two years.
  8. Messi plays in La Liga. You don’t want to play in the same league as him since he will now be the showpiece at Barca and will come out of it as the player of the year in La Liga. Stop with the “I am a competitor; that’s a challenge I would relish” line. I am not saying he is better than you – just that he will come off better given his team situation relative to yours.
  9. Quieroz is at United and will probably be the next coach of United.
  10. Spain has just won Euro 2008. Casillas, Xavi, Cesc and Torres are going to be ahead of you in Spanish minds for a while – and God help you if they win the World Cup too. It’s more likely they win than England.
  11. You signed a contract. You are just one year in. I bet you United gives you more money, but at the level you are, does some more money mean more than winning and being the best?
  12. Karma is a mother. Loyalty seems to be an ugly word and yes, United and Fergie have thrown players out (see Becks and Ruud) after they were loyal to him and the club. However, this is ridiculous. The man protected you. The club and the fans embraced you. And you repay them like this?
  13. You are 23 years old. In two or three years you will enter your prime. Most United fans will not begrudge you your desire to move if you do so at that point. It would also be perfect reasoning as you can say it is contemporaneous with Fergie leaving. IF, that is, you decide it makes sense to move then. It makes no sense to do so now. Can you imagine how much of a bigger deal you would get if you solidified your United fan base and then moved after you had won a couple of World Player of the Year awards. It would be a much bigger move than doing so now.
  14. You will be joining a league where the rest of the teams have no real stars. Even Barca would have lost Ronaldinho, Deco, Eto’o and Gio Dos Santos. Contrast that with all the good players coming to the Premier League at Spurs, Everton, Portsmouth, Liverpool and Arsenal.

To be fair, let’s talk about some reasons to go:

The weather is better. Your girlfriend is Spanish. Playing for Los Blancos is a bit mythical. Fergie’s going to quit soon. It’s not going to be easy to top, let alone match, this season – on a personal and team level. The competition in England for the Premier League is going to be even more fierce. You will probably make more money from the image rights deal in Spain. You probably speak Spanish better than English. It’s your dream. Your mama wants you to go there.

The only thing that I have left to say is – if it’s your dream that’s great. Who says you have to wake up today to realize it – “wait a couple of years and then figure out if you want to live the dream or simply dream the dream while living the life you already have” CH12, July 1, 2008…

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Euro 2008 Final: Spain v Germany – pre game

Some further musings with 18.5 hours to go…

Injuries seem to be have made Aragones a lucky man. It looks like Cesc is going to start. He has been forced to make the right decision and start Cesc Fabregas only due to the injury to Villa. Bad as it is to say it, Villa’s injury was a blessing in disguise for Spain who were able to win the game due to the strength in midfield that Cesc brings. Not only that, it looks like Ballack might miss the final due to a calf injury. As it usually is, sometimes its better to be lucky than good…

If Ballack’s injury keeps him out of the final, he will have never played in a major final for Germany. He missed the 2002 World Cup due to suspension, got knocked out of the 2006 World Cup Final in their semifinal overtime loss to Italy and now potentially Euro 2008 as well. May be just as well, because if he suffered through a repeat of 2002, it would be just too cruel. In 2002, when he played for Bayer Leverkusen, he lost the German Bundesliga in the last week and lost the Champions League Final to Real Madrid with a brilliant Zidane volley leaving him trophyless. That was followed by the defeat in Korea to Brazil in the 2002 World Cup Final. Fast forward to 2008 and the same thing could happen – Chelsea lose the Premier League title to Manchester United in the last week and then the Champions League Final by the width of a post. Ironically, the tournament Germany most deserved to win – when they were playing their best football – was the 2006 World Cup when Grosso and Del Piero’s last minute goals in overtime knocked them out of appearing in the final on home soil. I don’t foresee the Ballack curse changing tomorrow…

If Ballack is out, it might turn out alright for Germany. It might force Loew to have a three man defensive cordon to jam up the Spaniards. Frings, Hitzlsperger and Borowski or Rolfs to hold behind Schweinsteiger, Podolski and Klose. I personally think that Loew should use this setback to become more aggressive. Have Kuranyi join Klose up front and have Schweinsteiger, Frings and Hitzelsberger play behind the front three. Challenge the middle of the Spanish defense and it will cause Ramos to stay home more which will help slow down the Spanish attack. Keeping three in defensive midfield is going to result in death by a thousand cuts against the superior passing Spanish midfield…

The other side of Ballack being out – the height advantage is gone. Podolski, Hitzlsperger, Frings, Lahm, Klose (he can jump though) and Schweinsteiger aren’t that tall. So in midfield and at the offensive end, Germany is going to have to win the battle on the ground during regular play. That’s why dead ball situations are going to be even more critical…

Should Loew try another tactic and use Lahm at left wing and move Podolski up front to partner Klose? Lahm didn’t really played that well defensively against the quicker moving Turks – Sabri undressed him a couple of times. If you move Lahm up front and have the quartet of Podolski, Lahm, Klose and Schweinsteiger free to interchange and attack, it will give Spain problems. Have Frings and Hitzlsperger hold and bring in Jansen or Fritz at left back. Lahm can drop back and help defensively but will provide more drive down the left if he plays at left wing. Podolski and Klose should be playing up front together where their movement will cause issues for Puyol and Marchena thereby giving Klose more room for the high balls. Just a thought, Joachim…

Very glad to see that Domenech is supposedly going to be fired and replaced by the man I had picked as my choice – Didier Deschamps. Domenech is Aragones’ more arrogant twin – except he doesn’t have the luck to balance out his lack of ability…

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Croatia v Turkey – post game

I give up.  CH12 is retired… till later this evening 🙂  This is the most amazing set of comebacks I have ever seen.  It’s not even like there is some superstar dribbling through tons of defenders and bringing them back.  Turkey has no Maradona or Zidane or Pele.  What they have tons of if “been there, seen that, know what to do”… all gathered over the last week.

Croatia started the game on the backfoot, but had the best chance to score when Olic put a gilt edged cross by Modric onto the crossbar before Kranjcar headed the rebound wide.  That should have been 1-0.  Of course, Turkey would probably have scored two goals at the end of regulation to beat Croatia in regular time!  As it was, Croatia outplayed Turkey in the second half and would have gone ahead but for some excellent keeping by Rustu Recber who recovered from a shaky start.  He palmed over a goal bound Srna free kick before blocking a few more Olic opportunities.  Olic worked hard, got in position, but was wasteful.  Kranjcar was the invisible man before being substituted in the second half and Modric had flashes of creativity while floating in and out of the game.

To extra time, and Turkey suddenly seemed to pick it up again.  Maybe Sanli and Turan realized they were not going to have to save anything for the semi finals since they are going to be suspended.  Good chances were created, but no goals.  So, of course, everything happens in the last three minutes.  In the 119th minute, Rustu suddenly went Nikopolidis-walkabout along the goal line and Modric picked up the ball and crossed it for Klasnic to put it into the net behind a scrambling Rustu.  Surely this meant the game was over.  Key play – it’s 1minute into injury time and Rakitic has the ball.  He dribbles past two Turks, looks up, sees two of his teammates breaking in the center circle and launches a through ball.  Offside.  If only he had continued his dribble, or dropped off a simple lateral pass or even kicked it to the corner.  But, no.  Rustu grabbed the ball before it rolled to far, set it down and launched a blast that got nodded in some confusion at the top of the Croatian box and dropped for Semih Senturk to turn an unstoppable finish into the top left hand corner.  Bilic went crazy asking why there were two minutes of injury time.  Whatever. 

Whatever the Turks teach their goalies, saving penalties must be one.  Of course, Volkan’s deputy was the hero – Rustu saved the final penalty and Croatia put another two wide of the goal.  Game over.  Croatia is crushed.  If only …

For a positive rant.  Whatever one may say of the modern pro loving his club more than his country, all you had to do was see Srna sobbing – and he had a great game, and scored his penalty – after the game to know how much international tournaments mean to players.  It is so nice to see and reminds us that’s it not about the money when you flash back to why you started playing the game as a kid and the fantasies you had about winning the World Cup for your country. 

Big topic over the next few days – will Turkey be able to field even 15 players for the semi final given the suspensions and injuries?

Pre-game prediction: Croatia 2 Turkey 0

Result: Croatia 1 Turkey 1 (Turkey wins on penalties)

Scorers: Ivan Klasnic (Croatia) Semih Senturk (Turkey)

To what I believe will be the best football played in the tournament – Russia v Holland…

 

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Spain v Sweden – post game

This game can be very cruel sometimes.  Sweden didn’t really deserve that outcome though they did pay the price for being overly conservative in the second half, whereas Spain never gave up on trying to get a win.  It almost seemed as if Sweden lost faith in their ability to score a second once Ibrahimovich was substituted at half time.

Sweden did have one chance at scoring when they had a cross flash across the goal with Henrik Larsson narrowly missing out on tucking it into an open net.  Other than that it was all Spanish chances.  Now for a pet rant – WHY DON’T WORLD CLASS PLAYERS HAVE TWO FEET THAT THEY TRUST IN? That’s one major plus for Ronaldo over Messi.  How can you be a true world class player – see Zidane, Ronaldo – when you have no confidence in your “weaker” foot?  So, why the rant – if Silva trusted his right foot, he would have let the cross come across his body and finished past the goalkeeper.  Instead, he tried to control it with his left foot and the moment passed.  Torres couldn’t put away the rebound.

Villa, the man at the death.  Great long ball out of the back.  The defenders shouldn’t have let it bounce like they did and Villa did the rest.  A delicate snick put it past the defender and a great finish made CH12’s crystal ball shine.  About time I got one right in injury time as opposed to the two that went against me…

Pre-game prediction: Spain 2 Sweden 1

Result: Spain 2 Sweden 1

Scorers: Fernando Torres, David Villa (Spain) Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden)

If Russia wins, it’s going to be a great final day matchup against Sweden in Group D…

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Holland vs France – post game

Now that was a fun game to watch. The 2008 Dutch model reminds me a lot of the 2000 model – exciting to watch, with fantastic technique and movement going forward. I still have questions about the middle of the defense and the holding midfielder, Engelaar, didn’t really stem the flow of the French down the middle of the park.

However, they are through as the winner of Group C, which means they will probably play either Russia or Sweden in the quarter finals. They can beat both those teams, which means they will either play Italy or France or Spain in the semi finals. They have beaten the first two handily and I have doubts that Spain’s central duo can keep this squad from scoring. I don’t know that Ooijer and Mathijsen can keep Torres and Villa off the scoreboard either, but based on current form, I am a believer in the Dutch. So it’s looking good for the Dutch to get to the finals. Normally, you would be concerned with the Dutch in knockout matches given their poor record in penalties. However, this team has great penalty takers – Ruud, Van Persie, Gio Van Bronckhorst, Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Rafael Van der Vaart – and Van Der Sar is one goalkeeper I would have all the confidence in the world in, given his recent winning save in the Champions League Final in Moscow.

France outplayed Holland – yes, I will refer to them as Holland till they lose (and the dead match against Romania doesn’t count since they will probably rest some of their starters and players on yellow cards) – for the first 60 minutes and had the bulk of possession during that period. However, as so often happens, the Dutch had two real chances and put in two goals while the French couldn’t put away their chances much like Italy couldn’t against Romania. Henry, in particular, was wasteful. I don’t understand why the strikers at Euro 2008 aren’t rounding the keeper on breakaways. With his speed, he should have gone around Van der Sar. He chose to try to lob it instead. Why, Thierry, would you lob with the top of the boot instead of sidefooting the lob given that you had enough time and space? One has so much more control when one does that. Instead, he put it over the crossbar. Yes, Ooijer should have been penalized for his handball off Henry’s blast, but c’est la vie. There is no way France should have given up goal #3 to Robben within a minute of cutting it to 2-1… and the angle he scored from was hard to swallow. People are blaming Coupet, but sometimes, you just have to admit that a blast to the top of the goal from that angle is unexpected and hard to stop when struck with that pace. You just can’t get your palms up fast enough to push it over the top of the bar or block it back.

Domenech, you are terrible. No Nasri or Benzema. Can’t you see that your old guys aren’t getting it done – look at the Dutch team to get a clue? And you play Maka the whole game when you are trailing. Terrible decision making. I hope Les Blues fire you and bring in Laurent Blanc or Didier Deschamps as coach of the national team.

On the other hand, Marco van Basten, you are the MAN. I LOVE YOUR SUBSTITUTIONS. I suggested you get more speed in midfield by bringing on Robben or Van Persie in the second half. You bring on BOTH! Forget protecting the lead. You rightly believed that a good defense is a good offense. Fans, like CH12, bray for that all the time, but then we don’t have the pressure to get results. Few coaches ever subscribe to that cliched philosophy. But, you did – the cynics may say you already know you are leaving for Ajax after the tournament, so what the heck. However, it was brilliant and that’s why I am rooting for the Dutch to win the Euros 20 years after they last won it in 1988, when Van Basten scored one of the most unbelievable goals ever in the final against Russia (“rooting” not predicting – this is the Dutch team after all). If you think Robben’s angle was tight, check out that goal. So your two subs combine to score the second goal and Robben scores the third. Wesley, master strike for the fourth goal. The final compliment is to Ruud – the Zidane-step-on-the-ball-and-spin for a pass move!?? Who knew?! It absolutely set up Robben’s lane down the wing and led to the second goal.

Pre-game prediction: France 2 Holland 1

Result: France 1 Holland 4 ( “If one is going to be wrong, sometimes it is best to be spectacularly so” – CH12 June 13, 2008 )

Scorers: Dirk Kuyt, Robin Van Persie, Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder (Holland) Thierry Henry (France)

Man of the match for Holland was Arjen Robben; for France: Ribery again.

CH12 is now 6 and 8. Got to come back strong tomorrow to get back to even. Maybe I will use Van Basten’s philosophy and go with the thought that the best defense is to go with the offense…

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France vs Romania – post match

Domenech is a bad coach whose arrogance grew following a surprise final showing at the 2006 World Cup.  That was due to Zidane’s brilliance and not the coach’s decisions.  He knew Romania would set up a defensive shop.  So play Benzema up front along with Anelka.  He had him play on the wing ortoo deep for too long.  Also, bring in Nasri sooner and have Sagnol and Abidal come up the wings more often on overlaps.  I would probably play Evra over Abidal.  Anyway, he’s paid the price for a cautious set of tactics.  The only person who showed any urgency was Ribery.  The grass looked like it was too long as the ball didn’t seem to be rolling easily – another issue that hindered France… along with Romania’s eight behind the ball.  Benzema and Anelka should have scored at least one of the chances they had – especially Benzema with the sidefoot.  If you sidefoot, you need to put it towards one of the corners, not straight down the middle at the keeper.  Not looking good for France.

Pre-game prediction:  France 2 Romania 1

Result: France 0 Romania 0

Smells more like Group of Attrition or Last Man Standing.  On to Netherlands vs Italy….

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