Spain and Manchester United Lead the Way

01/07/2008

Spains triumph on Sunday evening in Austria was a win for football in a year that’s seen attacking play rewarded and will hopefully push the cautious approach even further back in the tactics of successfully teams.

Chelsea’s cautious, and in truth boring, approach had threatened to take the entertainment value out of a sport that has become big business first and entertainment almost as an after thought. The same style, a 4-5-1 disguised as a 4-3-3, was readily being used in international football, where the pressure to succeed as brought about a low risk style of football amongst the big teams.

With Manchester United following up back to back English Premier League titles with this seasons Champions League, paving the way for the likes of Arsenal to persevere with beautiful football and not revert to the less aesthetic type played out by most teams, Chelsea ended up trophy less, losing in the final of the League Cup, the Champions League, and the league. Their owner, Abromovich, has long called for attacking football, knowing that it will improve the brand name, increase their popularity around the world, and make them value for money. Mourinho, who delivered silverware, including back to back titles, was unable to deliver this, and Grant spoke about it, but if anything made them more boring. United were not only the top scorers, but also had the best defense.

Arsene Wenger has come under pressure to drop his passing, attacking, beautiful football philosophy, as Arsenal have been regarded as the best team to watch, but ended another season with little to show for it. Wenger will not bow to this pressure and why should he? He only needs look at United’s season, and now at Spain in the international arena as proof that he can have his cake and eat it.

Spain passed their way to the Euro 2008 title. They out scored everyone, conceded only 2 goals, indeed Casillas made only 10 saves in 5 games, and remained unbeaten throughout. Spain along with Holland were the best team to watch. Holland perhaps played the Arsenal role, in that they were the best team to watch, but were perhaps a player or two short of winning the tournament, and paid for having one bad day in their stay in Austria and Switzerland.

The Spanish had the quality, talent and technique that they have always had, yet this time were able to come away with the trophy and not fall away in a feeble tail of disappointment, as has been the case over the last 40 years. This time they believed. Believed in themselves and their play. They knew they did not have to be cautious, they had the players to create and take chances. And this they did.

The Spanish squad is young enough to be kept together for the World Cup in two years time and will take with them the confidence gained this last month. They are no longer the nearly men. They have silver wear to back up their talent and provided the new manager, whomever that will be, sticks to the passing, attacking style that Spain employed at Euro 2008, they could just be lifting the World Cup in South Africa in 2010.

Attacking football must be rewarded with success to keep the boring stuff at bay. Spain and Manchester United are leading the way. Arsenal, Barcelona, Holland and Portugal will take head from this and will be knocking on the door in the near future.


Euro 2008 Semi – Spain v Russia

26/06/2008

 

Turkey battled well and can be proud of their effort, last night and throughout the competition, but it is Germany who will meet the winners of tonight’s match, Spain and Russia, on Sunday for the crown.

Spain have been many peoples favourites for the title, in terms of quality in personal, and it terms of form, with the added bonus that they play entertaining football, but Russia must rank as the surprise team of this years competition. While four years ago there is no doubt that Greece were the surprise package, winning the tournament, there will be pleasant smiles that this time the dark hourses who have come good have not employed negative tactics to get their results.

Alot can happen in a few weeks, and this is the case with Russia. They aren’t the same team that was dismantled easily by Spain in their opening group game, losing 4-1 to a David Villa hat trick inspired Spain. Tonight Spain will come up against a well trained unit who will not be overcome by the occasion, who will each know what their role for the team is and will do there best to perform that role. Andrei Arshavin has been the catalystfor the change to Russia’s fortunes. He was suspended for the opening 2 games, but since his return Russia have been the form team of the competition, along with Spain. They way they made Holland, the best team until then, look like an school side at times bares testament to that. Russia pride and self belief puts them up with the Germans, in terms of the whole being greater then the individual. They will have no doubts that they can get past Spain and Germany. Doing it will be harder though.

Spain will look to go better then both Portugal and Holland, who both looked great for 3 matches but then lost the most important one. The only unbeaten team left they will have to remain so to win tonight and on Sunday, with no time left for a bad day, as Russia had against them, and Germany did against Croatia. The Spanish have a feel that this is their year and with Villa scoring the goals, Cassilas making the saves, and a host of midfield talent to choose from, they could very well be right.

The Russians will come at the Spanish more than any team has yet done. There defense will be under threat as it has not been thus far, and Villa and Torres will have to make sure they take the chances that come their way. Spain will have learned a lot from their game against Italy and will look to carry that know how, that feeling that they can compete in tight situations as well as flowing open games, into this game.

Russia will be no push overs and will look to avenge their big loss in the opening round. Arshavin and Villa have been the stars and with both seeming likely to be moving on after this week the world will be watching and keeping tabs and these two in particular. Their dream moves could be made or lost tonight.

This could be the rare competition that sees both semi finals crammed with goals. Lets hope so.


Euro 2008 Semi Finals – Germany v Turkey

25/06/2008

 

The semi finals are upon on now with Germany and Turkey going to battle tonight and Spain and Russia meeting tomorrow night.

With both Portugal and Holland bowing out at the first knockout round the torch for entertaining play took a major hit. It’s now down to just Spain from the predicted list, but looking at how Russia tore apart Holland, they could be worthy torch bearers come Sunday evening.

First up are the Germans and the Turks.

The German machine has proved to be the most reliable in big tournaments, especially when it comes to knock out matches, and so they proved yet again this year. Portugal looked a class act in the group games and should have been heavily fancied to win this year, yet they came up shorter than the 3-2 scoreline suggests against a dominant Germany, focused purely on the prize on Sunday and on nothing else. A concern for Germany will be the misfiring of Mario Gomes, but so long as those around him, Podolski, Klose and Ballack are banging in the goals, they need not worry. Gomes will come right and tonight would be the time for that.

Turkey, amazingly, have led for a total of 9 minutes in all their matches thus far. Thats 9 minutes in 4 games. A remarkable statistic that best illustrates their never say die attitude. They play until the final whistle is heard, until the very end, and don’t give up until then. They have not lost a competitive match against Germany since 1984 and will relish the underdog tag that has followed them for almost all their games. They are down to the bare bones due to injury and suspension, but it would be the fool who counts them out just yet. And Germany are no fools. Turkey must feel like they have their name written on the trophy, that it is destiny and fate that is pulling them towards Sunday evening. Getting past the Germans will be the true test for any believer.

The Germans should be to strong for the Turks, but we said that of the Czechs and the Croats, so this one is too close to call. Should the Turks get through this tie it would be hard to argue against them deserving the title for their spirit alone.


Thanks For Spain and Holland

18/06/2008

With Euro 2008 about to reach its knock out stage, the business end of the tournament, the most pleasing aspect of the two weeks of matches thus far has been the progress of Holland and Spain. Their performance has been a triumph for football, as much as Euro 2006 was a dark period in recent international competitions.

While the title can never be taken away from Greece, they won it ahead of much better teams and should rightly be pleased with that moment of history, it was still a blight of a tournament that bored rather than entertained. At that stage, at the end of a long season, the Greeks managed to bore the world better than the rest of the field. Blame it on whatever you like, tired legs, the fact that the Greeks were mile fresher then any other team, luck, good for the Greeks, bad for everyone else, history will still tell you that in 2006 Greece won the European Championships. And that’s all it will say. There will be no side not about the way they played, or rather the way they didn’t. So it has always been. This would have been the excuse needed by all in sundry to put out the same stall as the Greeks, and make sure that results are all that matter. 2006 was a tournament that saw teams put out predominately 4-5-1 formations and look to wear the opponents down, get a goal, put everyone behind the ball, and hold out for the win, creating little and using very little imagination or artistry. The Greeks weren’t the only ones to do this, they just managed to do it well at this time. This was the way football was headed, with results become of far more importance than entertainment. Today in England Arsenal and Manchester United are commended for their attacking, flowing, entertaining play. Yet only United have married this with winning. Arsenal must be given credit for continuing with this philosophy despite the lack of trophies. They will continue with it for as long as Wenger is in charge and so lets hope that that is for a long time to come. They could easily adopt the style, or lack of it, of Chelsea and Liverpool, the other two forces of the “Big Four” in England. Liverpool play with one up front, pack the midfield, and launch balls up to the terrific pace of Torres. Chelsea say they play a 4-3-3 and on paper it is exactly that. But on the field, where it matters, they play a 4-5-1. They have been successful with it and so have persisted with it. Abramovich wants fantasy football, like United, Arsenal and Barcelona play, but both Mourinho and Grant brought dull but effective football to the Bridge, winning was more important than putting on a show. Abramovich will be hoping Scolari shares his vision but must be aware that there is a lot of pressure on a manager who spends 100 million a season, pressure to make sure he wins, and this will become more important than how he wins. Will he be happy with a season where his team play the best football in the world, as Arsenal have at times, yet finish with nothing? I doubt that.

And so we come back to Euro 08. Spain and Holland have played football the way it should be played and, with Spain to complete their group matches tonight, have both topped their groups and thus far have both got 100% records. Holland have counter attacked with a true 4-3-3 formation, not Chelsea’s false one, with pace and drive down the flanks, and Ruud in the middle. Spain have done what so many in international and club football have forgotten to do – play with two up front. With Villa and Torres up front you always know that if you create chances they will be put away – and so they have been.

International football was headed into the dark ages but has been rescued by Holland and Spain this year. It would only be right if one of these two teams were to take home the trophy in 10 days time and show the world you don’t have to be dull to win. Football is about passion and entertainment. Let them entertain.


Veloso To Milan?

17/06/2008

Miguel Veloso, the Sporting Lisbon midfielder currently with the Portugal squad at Euro 08, has long been touted as being Premiership bound, with Manchester United seemingly favourites to land the talented central player, and Arsenal, Chelsea, Spurs, Newcastle and even Everton ready to pounce. It now seems he may be heading to Italy to join AC Milan.

While a host of club scouts are no doubt waiting to see Veloso in action at Euro 08 before making their move Milan may have jumped the line by taking action. The link to Milan is not new but where as before it was coming out of Veloso’s camp, and denied by Milan, they have now revealed that Veloso could be a Milan player in the future.  Milan director Ariedo Braida has said that the club are interested in Veloso and he could see him being a Milan player in the future. While this does open the door to a move to Italy it does put a vague spin on the time scale. He hasn’t said that they will be moving for Veloso this transfer window but merely that he sees him at Milan in the future.

With the Milan squad an aging one, and any new signings tending to be for the future, as a new Milan is born, with the likes of Pato leading the way, Veloso would fit the mould of the type of midfielder MIlan would want, probably taking over from Gattuso in the middle of the park. However with a host of clubs monitoring the situation anyone interested in Veloso will have to make a move soon, and would have to meet Sportings valuation of the player, which wont be cheap.

For now he is still a Spoting player, but it is only a matter of time before he makes the move to one of Europes elite.


Dutch Are Team to Beat

14/06/2008

When doing my preview posts for Euro 2008 I suggested that Holland may struggle to get through the group of death, mainly because I didn’t have much faith in their defense, and couldn’t see them getting past world champions Italy, and World Cup finalists France. I even felt that Romania, who I thought would be a surprise package,  could pip them, as they did in qualifying, as leave the Dutch in last place. After two rounds of games not only have the Dutch qualified for the quarter finals and won the group, with a game to spare, but along with Spain and Portugal, look like the team to beat.

While I do maintain that the Dutch defense is not the strongest, and has yet to be really tested, their brand of counter attacking football has been phenomenal, and the scores of 3-0 and 4-1 against Italy and France, the World Cup finalists, have born this out. They make full use of their strengths and have played, tactically, the perfect game, considering their line ups. The speed at which they move the ball, from defense, to the back of their opponents net, has been amazing. Robin van Persies goal against France is perhaps the best example of this and surmises exactly what the Dutch are aiming for.

While their defense may not be the best, with Edwin van der Saar organising things at the back, and proving to be as safe as always, they have not been tested. The van der Saar effect is something that Manchester United have found since he arrived, with a good defense becoming a great defense. His calmness, composure, and positioning, added with his still great reflexes and shot stopping, have brought the best out of the defense, who know there is another wall behind them to be breached.

Any team that can bring on the likes of Robben and van Persie off the bench has to be stacked with attacking talent. They have both been used with great affect to kill off the opposition, as was shown against France. With Sneijder and van der Vaart pulling the strings in midfield, van Nistelrooy leading the line superbly, and de Jong and Engelaar keeping things tight in the middle, the Dutch have soaked up their opposition, and counter attacking with speed and effectiveness. The team effort has been rewarded with results and acclaim.

When we get into the knock out stages, and should the Dutch come up against Spain or Portugal, we could have the game of the tournament, with attacking play and substance rewarding the fans with goals. The Dutch defense will surely be tested then, as will their composure and belief, but for now the Dutch have certainly been the best team on show, and have drawn a marker as the team to beat.

The Dutch could be on their way to only their second major international honour, putting them up there with the 1988 Euro Champs winning team of Gullit, Rijkaard and current coach Marco van Basten.


Euro 2008 Preview – Group D

10/06/2008

Group D is arguably the weakest of the 4 groups in terms of not having at least two teams that are clearly better than the other two. Spain should win this group but who comes second is a very open contest. Sweden are always very good qualifiers and tend to get through group stages before being eliminated and so should be favourites to join Spain in the quarter finals, but both Russia and Greece will be thinking that they should be getting through from this group too.

Group D will play their games in Austria at the Tivoli Neu in Innsbruck and EM Stadion Wals-Siezenheim in Salzburg.

Spain have entered each of the big international tournaments over the last decade or so with one of the most talented group of individuals on the planet, yet have disappointed each and every time. The provincial nature of the country, with different parts wanting their own Independence from Spain, means that it is more difficult for the country to put out a unified team that wants to represent Spain. The job of the coach and the captain is to get these players to play for each other under one flag. If anyone manages that then Spain will be up there with Brazil, Argentina and Italy as world beaters and perennial favourites. The Spanish team will have to make do without Raul for the first time in a big competition since the Real Madrid star made his debut. Raul has rediscovered his form of old this season and has been one of Madrid’s best performers, but this wasn’t enough to see him selected for the Euro Champs. Instead Spain will look to Torres and Villa to lead the line, with Guiza and Sergio Garcia providing back up. These two were picked ahead of Raul and as such will be players to keep an eye on. Guiza was the top Spanish scorer in La Liga for Mallorca and is said to be wanted by the top teams in Spain, Italy and England. It is in midfield where the Spanish are spoilt for choice, with the likes of Fabregas, Xavi, Silva and Iniesta all competing for starting places. Spain have the players to be a world force, they just need the motivation and team spirit. This could be their year, and the beginning of something special for Spanish football.

The rest of the group seems to be on an equal level. Sweden, who finished just behind Spain in qualifying, are a very difficult team to beat, combining a great team ethos with the individual talents of Kallstrom and Ibrahimovic. Each player knows his role and gets on with the job. The experience of Henrik Larrson will be a huge asset to Sweden, but look for him to make an impact from the bench rather than starting. Russia, as you’d imagine, are a well disciplined team with a great sense of national pride. They finished ahead of England in qualifying, but this could prove one step to far for them. Defending champs Greece benefited from an one of the easier qualifying groups, thanks to being seeded first because of their triumph in 2004. That year they won primarily because of fatigue by the players in the other nations, with a lot of Greece players not regular starters at club level or playing in weaker leagues, like Greece, they were fresher and had stronger legs then everyone else. This time they won’t find it that easy and will do well to get out of this group. In Otto Rehhagel they have an astute coach who will look to mastermind another surprise this year.

Spain will be favourites and will probably be joined by Sweden.