Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Beauty or the Beast? Thoughts on England vs. France, and Euro 2012

Beauty & The Beast Live!
Photo by Loren Javier on Flickr

More thoughts, as the Euros roll ever onward:

o Beauty or the Beast?  Or, in other words: What to make of the English Team's performance in their first round game against France yesterday?  Michael Ballack and Alexi Lalas got into a rather fierce debate on ESPN about how to interpret the Three Lions' effort: while Lalas thought it was just what the doctor ordered, and even pronounced it a thing of "beauty," Ballack disagreed as vehemently as can someone who has had their personality surgically removed.  For the record, I agree with the unemotional German. Is parking the bus and looking for the rare counter against the French really the best the founding nation of football has to offer....? 

o Although the 1-1 draw did neither team any harm, it also didn't do much to help their cause with the host nation still for both to play.  England fans had better hope there is more in the tank than the team showed on Monday.  England under Uncle Woy retreated into a defensive shell early and often -- pulling off the rather amazing feat of showing the French how to retreat -- and were only very reluctantly coaxed into attacking. 

o With Ashley Young, Danny Welbeck and Alex Oxlaid-Chamberlain on the pitch, England should have displayed some deadly speed and ambition in attack.  Instead, they consistently ceded possession to their rivals from across the Channel, and seemed more than happy to defend their lead and then satisifed to play for a draw once Samir Nasri drew the French level.

o Yesterday's early match was Exhibit A in why I don't love first round games.  There's too much at stake as both teams know they can't afford an early slip up.  The first round of this year's tournament has produced several uninspired games in which both sides played cagily, preferring the type of defensive postures that commonly produce nil-nil or 1-1 draw to looking for an outright win.

o Fortunatelty, that wasn't the case when Spain met Italy, a match that paired the winners of the last two World Cups.  Unsurprisingly, this game also produced the best match of the tournament's first round, and although the action ended at 1-1, the game was played with anything other than a cantenaccio mindset, and both sides should really have scored more.  The end result was just about fair.

o Spain look bored to me, as if they need a new challenge after winning the last European Championship and World Cup.  For the record, no team has ever repeated as European Champion, and although there's always a first time, I don't think 2012 will be it.  None other than Cesc Fabregas admitted that the team had never practiced the 4-6-0 that they sent out against Italy, and it looked almost as if Coach Vincente Del Bosque was daring his team to take their game to the next level.  Unfortunately for the Spanish, the Italians gave almost as good as they got.

o Without the focal point of a striker, Spain to me looked like Barcelona without Messi: all tiki and no taka.

o Why Del Bosque kept his formation intact until late in the game is a mystery to me, and why he chose to insert Fernando Torres rather than Fernando Llorente is a mystery, wrapped in an enigma, inside of a riddle.  The diminutive Spanish midfield looked as if they were tilting at windmills as cross after cross flew over their heads -- exactly the kind of situation that would have been tailor made for Llorente, one of the few Spanish strikers who can be counted on to score with his head. 

o And what are we to make of Fernando Torres' introduction late on in the match?  If nothing else, 'Nando's continued struggles brought some much needed comic relief to an otherwise tense atnosphere.

o Luka Modric looked world class in the Croatia game, didnt he?  But then again, regular readers of this space would know that we've been really long-term admirers of the little Croat (going back all the way to Column Two).  Although Spurs fans may not like it, I can't help but imagine how much better Modric would look in a United kit, pulling the strings for Rooney, Young, Welbeck, et al.

This is farlieonfootie for June 12.

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