I love tournament football because it allows me to yell “GET THE BALL OFF YOUR FOOT, YOU FUCKING CUNT!” at the television without being subsequently taken into custody for a psychiatric evaluation. Whereas in club football, I support my team and all of its players, at the international level there are some compromises. I get to root for players I wouldn’t normally but whom I like, such as Manchester United’s Danny Welbeck and Tottenham Hotspur’s Scott Parker, but I have to tolerate scumbags like John Terry and Ashley Cole. There’s something delightfully dysfunctional about hurling the most breathtaking abuse at players you’re supposed to be supporting. You should try it!
In the meantime, Group D is heating up nicely. Level on points with England but with superior tiebreakers, France is in pole position to advance to the quarterfinals. After a cagey first half performance against Ukraine in Donetsk that was delayed by an hour due to lightning and torrential rain, Les Bleus broke the deadlock with two well-taken left footed goals from Jeremy Menez and Johann Cabaye.
There was a sense of good fortune about France’s opening goal, as Monsieur Menez could count himself lucky to remain on the field having just previously been called for a foul that could easily have earned him a second yellow card. All things considered, France were worthy winners against Ukraine, who had no clear-cut goalscoring opportunities of their own. Monsieur Cabaye was a few inches from 3-0 when he struck the outside of a post with a superb shot that left goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov a mere spectator.
His goal gave France a goal difference of +2, which noses them just ahead of England, who ended up +1 after a frantic 3-2 victory over Sweden. They are now all but mathematically certain to advance to the quarterfinals, as only a heavy loss to the eliminated Swedes combined with a narrow victory for Ukraine against England could put the French out on tiebreakers.
To advance to the quarterfinals and a likely date with Spain, Ukraine’s task is uncomplicated. They must beat the bastard Englishers, and no other result will do. They’ll have a home crowd of 40,000 in their corner at the lovely new Donbass Arena in Donetsk, but that won’t compensate for a distinct lack of quality in their attack. Andriy Shevchenko (36 years old) and Andriy Voronin (33) were deadly about a decade ago but have lost more than a step. It is cruel to see a world class striker’s legs desert him, but the days when Shevchenko and Sergei Rebrov scored goals for fun for Dynamo Kiev and Ukraine are over.
Of course, that’s what Sweden assumed, and then Herr Shevchenko scrored twice. Howevah, against France both he and Herr Voronin had a case of the heavy legs. Maybe it was the rain delay and the havoc that causes for warm-up and mental preparation, but they had nothing.
Not much was expected from In-ger-land at Euro 2012. A new manager installed with barely a month to prepare for the tournament, a relatively weak group of players, the best of whom (Wayne Rooney) was suspended for the first two matches for a stupid red card in qualifying, and injuries at key positions. Oh and the requisite controversy, this time allegations of RAYCESSM against John Terry, the starting centre-half for Chelsea and England who is known to be a massive twunt.
However, your footballing correspondent has been impressed with Roy Hodgson’s tactics. The performance against France was efficient and tactically astute, if a bit bruising to the ego because England’s setup made it plainly obvious that the French are much, much better at an open game of football.
Yesterday’s match against Sweden was more tactically balanced, with both teams playing a similar style and neither side dominating the other in terms of posession or talent. Zlatan Imbrahimovic was the best player on the pitch, and finally demonstrated to an English audience that he’s a world class footballer. A technically complete player, the only thing he’s missing is pace but still showed enough of it to make John Terry nervous. Although, to be fair, if John Terry was any slower he would actually run backwards.
Ibrahimovic, along with players like Fernando Torres and Yaya Toure, are true 21st century footballers in that they have all of the technique and skill of the compact, prototypical soccer player, but are well over 6 feet tall and have the strength to simply bulldoze the opposition when necessary. One day, the Team USA Soccerball Squadron will field an entire team of players like this, who would otherwise be wide receivers or shooting guards, and they will win the FIFA World Cup™.
Here are comprehensive highlights and post-match analyses of England 3-2 Sweden. It’s definitely worth a look.
Your correspondent was most impressed when Mr. Hodgson made an immediate tactical substitution having gone down 2-1. Off came the cart-horse James Milner, and on came Theo Walcott, who is a goalscoring threat and can run a sub-11 second 100 meter sprint. It paid off beautifully, as Young Master Theo’s first touch set himself up to score a knuckling drive from 25 yards with his second. Finally, his intelligent link-up play kept an England attack going and when he received the ball again, he darted past two Swedish defenders and cut the ball back for Danny Welbeck to score the goal of the tournament so far, a thoroughly cheeky backheeled volley as he was falling away from the goal.
England now only need a draw against Ukraine to advance to the quarterfinals, where they will certainly be dumped out of the competition unceremoniously by Spain, Croatia, or Greece.
Finally, Wi not trei a holiday in Sweden this yer ? See the løveli lakes…