Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Euro 2008: Anatomy of a failure

After the final group games on Wednesday, June 18 the following are the 8 teams moving on to the Quarter-Finals:
Portugal, Turkey, Croatia, Germany, Holland, Italy, Spain and Russia.

While the following are the 8 teams going home:
Czech Republic, Switzerland, Austria, Poland, Romania, France, Sweden, Greece.

Prior to the tournament, Austria were labeled as the worst team out of the participating 16 nations. But after the first round games, Austria have redeemed themselves as they were far from the worst team. The worst teams in terms of points and goal difference are:

Note: GF = Goals For, GA = Goals Against, GD = Goal Difference

  • Greece: The 2004 Fairy tale finally comes to an end

  • Back in Euro 2004, Greece were drawn in Group A along with hosts Portugal, Spain and Russia. Greece stunned the hosts Portugal with an opening day 2-1 win and followed that with a 1-1 tie against Spain before a 2-1 defeat to Russia. They edged through to the quarters on goal difference over Spain and won all their next 3 games by a margin of 1-0. Their wins were due to team-work and organization and not to skill and technical ability. This time around, Greece got 2 of the same group teams from Euro 2004 in Spain and Russia, along with Sweden. In the end, the other teams were clearly a class above Greece in terms of on the ball ability and Greece could not manage to get away with their set-piece and defending acts like 4 years ago.

  • France: Les Terrible! The French rot continues from 2002

  • This French team was doomed for failure even before the tournament began due to Raymond Domenech's awful team selections. At left-back, Domenech picked Patrice Evra ahead of Gael Clichy; at right back, he picked Willy Sagnol ahead of Bacary Sagna. Both Clichy and Sagna were voted by their peers in the English Premier league Team of the Season and if Domenech had watched any English league games, he would have known of Clichy's pace and ability to offer options down the wings. Sagna was one of the best players for Arsenal and he would have brought strength & leadership to an ailing French defense. Even though Sagna was injured for the last few weeks of Arsenal's season, he was never given a chance to prove his fitness either. On top of that Domenech picked Eric Abidal who had a dreadful season at Barcelona. In midfield, Domenech was bent on taking an injured Patrick Vieira as opposed to picking a youthful Flamini, who had an outstanding season for Arsenal. Vieira never played a minute for France and occupied a spot in the roaster that could have gone to an able body like Flamini.

    It is known that Domenech has had a difference of opinion with Arsenal's Arsene Wenger. So maybe that is why he left out three capable Arsenal players (two if you count that Flamini will be at AC Milan next season) and only took Arsenal's William Gallas. This is a reasonable assumption as Domenech has been known to spend more time with personal duels with his players than team tactics. Robert Pires and Vikash Dhorasoo come to mind. Moreover, Domenech has shown to be incapable of understanding the tactics of this French team and has often picked the wrong players or slotted players in incorrect positions.

    In the end, it all came undone for France against Italy when Domenech's awful selections contributed to a worthy French exit. It is rumoured that Thuram asked not to be played in the center of the defense which led Domenech to play Eric Abidal there. Just three minutes into the game, Abidal almost presented a gift to Luca Toni but as has been common in this tournament, Toni missed his chance. 22 minutes later, Abidal was ball watching and lost track of Toni. In a state of desperation, Abidal brought down Toni resulting in a penalty for Italy and earning himself a red card. If Abidal had any sense, he would have let Toni go on as chances are Toni would have missed his clear chance. The 10 men of France never had a chance after Pirlo converted his spot-kick. Now then there is the case of Patrice Evra. He was absolutely useless against Italy. Not only was he pedestrian, he offered no help in creating France's offense down the flanks. He was so happy to play ball boy and offered to take all the throw-ins, thinking that would merit his contribution. In truth, he merely hid from his responsibilities and offered to stay away from the action. But he should never have been playing at Euro 2008 in the first place.

    Domenech took an old and aging French team to Euro 2008. He had hoped that these old stars would work their magic and bail France out as opposed to coming up with a tactical plan himself. In the end, his aging team were too tired to bother playing and Domenech had no options on the bench to change things around.

  • Poland: bright start then fade to black

  • Poland were not that bad in their opening game against Germany as they attempted to string together some decent moves. The introduction of Roger Guerreiro in the second half certainly gave the Poles an attacking bite but they could never put away their chances. Poland were lucky to get away with a 1-1 tie against Austria as they should really have been 3-0 or 4-0 down in the opening 20 minutes. Poor Austrian finishing and some good saves from Artur Boruc kept Austria at bay. Poland needed a miracle in their final game against Croatia to advance but they never looked up to the challenge.

  • Austria: The co-hosts do themselves proud

  • Austria certainly played well but poor finishing cost them goals and points. Still it was good to see them holding their heads up high and attempting to create chances.

  • Romania: 2 points but could have been so much more

  • Romania have no one but themselves to blame for their early exit. If Romania had been a bit more adventurous they could have beaten France in the opening game but they settled for a 0-0 tie. Against Italy, a mistake from Zambrotta led to Mutu putting Romania ahead. However, a minute later they let in a soft goal to allow Italy to come back into the game. In the last 10 minutes, Romania got a real gift when they were awarded a non-existent penalty. But Mutu could not put his kick away and Buffon was the Italian hero as he saved the penalty. Still Romania could have advanced against a changed Dutch team in the final game. But for whatever reason, Romania refused to attack against Holland. Maybe they were hoping that the Dutch would score a few own goals but the second string Dutch squad were in no mood to make life easy for Romania.

  • Czech Republic: no creativity costs them in the end

  • It is certainly hard to replace players like Nedved and Rosicky but the Czechs offered nothing in their opening game against the co-hosts Switzerland; they were lucky to get away with a 1-0 win as they did nothing in the game. They tried to play some football against Portugal but were no match for the speed of the Portuguese. Even though they built up a 2-0 lead against Turkey, the Czechs could not cope with wave after wave of Turkish attack and mentally folded to bow out of Euro 2008.

  • Sweden: lack of pace, tired legs and sitting back prove costly

  • Sweden only needed a draw against Russia to advance out of Group D and it looked like Sweden only wanted to play for a draw. They offered nothing in terms of attack and Russia should have easily won their game by a 4 or 5 goal margin. It was shocking to see such a terrible display from the Swedes but then again, they put in a dull second half against Spain which cost them dearly in the end when David Villa scored a 90th minute winner.

  • Switzerland: like Austria, co-hosts do themselves proud

  • Things could have been different had Switzerland put away their chances against a dull Czech Republic in the opening game. But the injury to their captain and star player Alexander Frei certainly took a bite out of their offense. Switzerland were unlucky against Turkey as well losing to a last minute strike. Atleast, the Swiss ended the tournament with a well deserved win over group winners Portugal.

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