Monday, 2 July 2012

Day Twenty Four

Italy v Spain


Do you remember whenTomorrow's World had the first ever prototype push button phone? What's the point of that? we all thought. It saves about half a second a number. Is this really the future? It was, and that was the end of the line for the rotary dial.

Four decades later Spain have abolished the striker, and we can all instantly see the point. Instead, they have many, many shooting, dribbling and passing midfielders. Last night they fielded about thirty of them, all shooting, dribbling and passing at the same time, all of the time. How amazing are the laws of physics, that they can accommodate a team like Spain?

Which makes the Spanish gameplan sound complicated and hard to choreograph, but their first goal was simple enough. The ball came through to Fabregas, who outpaced the covering defender and got down the goal line. The keeper had to cover his run at the near post, so the cross effectively took him out of the game. Silva only had to head into an empty net, although his control and placing to put it past the covering defender were excellent.

Soon after that Italy had to take Chiellini off. They brought on Balzaretti, who I thought had done well against Germany. After he came on Italy started to look stronger, building some positive moves out of their back third solidity.

It was top quality stuff all round. Spain were always threatening, moving the ball about with their usual flair and going round players almost at will, but diligent and well-timed Italian tackles and interceptions kept them at bay for a while.

The gulf in class between either team and England was palpable.  As @ed_son tweeted, Looking at the teams, you can't help thinking how much more of a spectacle this game would be with Terry, Henderson and Milner involved. Ah, the English. When it comes to irony we're world class. In football - well let's just say games like this make me proud to be a European. If only there was a football Ryder Cup, we'd walk it.

Let's use the Spanish second goal to illustrate the gap between us and them. Imagine if you will a small rectangular savannah filled with mutually hostile gangs of primitive creatures, half ape half footballer. They call to each other in grunts and glottal stops, and one gang has crudely daubed three lions on their chests in charcoal.

The tallest of the these, let's call him Andy Carroll, is bashing a defender's skull in with a rock. We see him throw it triumphantly but aimlessly into the sky, and suddenly Xavi is launching it precisely into Jordi Alba's orbit to the tune of the Blue Danube. Alba's turbocharged shot fires it under the keeper, it docks seamlessly with the net and Spain are two up. My god, they're full of stars.

Italy had their chances in the first half as well. Montolivo, Balotelli and Cassano all had shots from distance. They might have troubled an English keeper, but Casillas wasn't really stretched.

At half time they treated us to the goals of the tournament, and Vialli compared Pirlo to Beethoven. I found this immensely reassuring. It shows it isn't just me, you see. If I choose to use a pointlessly elaborate metaphor to illustrate something I could quite easily just describe, I'm not being deliberately awkward, I'm being - European.

Italy brought di Natale on for Cassano, who'd been largely anonymous during the first half, and Spain replaced Silva with Pedro. Apparently wanting to win at substitutions if at nothing else, Prandelli took Montilivo off for Motta, who went down almost immediately with what appeared to be a hamstring problem. It was their third substitution, so Italy were down to ten men.

It was unfortunate really, as this extra blow seemed to drain all the drama from the game. With ten men Italy just couldn't get the ball back. Spain did all they needed to do, playing the ball around midfield for half an hour while Italy held the line.

With 15 minutes left Spain brought Torres on for Fabregas. It seemed a bit like going back to the dial phone, but it did lead to the first really good chance of the second half, as Pedro missed a sitter only to be given offside anyway. The game was starting to feel like the last day of term, with Spain killing time teasing the school pet.

Ten minutes from the end they showed us the possession stats, and it was exactly 50% either way. This was evidence if any was needed of the meaninglessness of simple stats, devoid of context. It doesn't prove that statistics is an empty science, it just shows that it's hard.

The commentators were wondering what Italy could possibly do, but then Spain went and did it instead. It was a straightforward ball through to Torres, who ran through Italy's wavering and irregular offside trap with the speed and timing of a European train and knocked it home in that nonchalant way that Henry used to. Of all the season's endings we'd imagined for Torres, I don't think anyone was anticipating nonchalance.

The goal gave him the Golden Boot. He had three goals and one assist, just like Gomez, but had played less minutes. Without wanting to be churlish, he scored two goals against Ireland and one against an already defeated team, so may not be the most deserving winner ever. Ronaldo, Balotelli, Mandzukic of Croatia and Dzagoev of Russia also scored three goals, and any of those five might be argued to have contributed more. Like I said earlier, statistics is hard.

They brought Mata of Chelsea on for Iniesta, purely as a charitable act. Llorente is now, I believe, the only Spanish outfield player not to get on. In any other squad he'd be in the first team, but Spain only play the most accomplished astrophysicists.

The fourth goal was just cruel. Bosquets played a long hard pass along the ground but through the Italian line to  Torres. He might have shot but instead passed to Mata, who had an open goal. Made in Chelsea, as the commentators inexplicably forgot to say. It made Spain the only team ever to win a major international tournament final by a four goal margin.

The referee put Italy through every second of the allocated three minutes of extra time, but no more. Balotelli stormed off the pitch in a sulk, which is very like him, but then recovered himself and came back out, which isn't. He's only twenty one, maybe he's getting a grip.

Alan Shearer summed the winners up. The Spanish team, they've had an unbelievable amount of sex. He corrected it to success half a second later, but if that kind of performance doesn't get you a shag there's no justice in the world.

Anyway, that was Spain beating Italy. Now when's the next game?

AAAAARRRGGHH!!

Friday, 29 June 2012

Day Twenty One

Germany 1 Italy 2


I'm tempted to summarise the semifinals with a musical analogy, but the national stereotypes refuse to line up. Spain and Portugal gave us a Wagnerian opera, technically accomplished but perhaps a little stodgy at times. Germany and Italy gave us Carmen - full of goalmouth action and tunes you could hum. It worked for Italy, whose national anthem sounds like a comic opera already, but Germany could only manage the tragic death at the end. Maybe they shouldn't go round fucking toreadors while their boyfriends aren't looking. Or something. That was my thirtieth metaphorical summary of the tournament, so I'm sure you can fill in the gaps yourselves just this once.

Italy are something of a hoodoo team for Germany. Before tonight they'd never beaten them in 7 tournament games. The assumption had been that that would change here, but now it's 8 games without a win instead.

Both teams had been having selection issues over their strikers all tournament. Germany had been chopping and changing between Gomez and Klose, starting with one then bringing on the other later. Italy had been through the same with Balotelli and di Natale. Gomez and Balotelli started this one, to dramatically different effect.

The commentators made a big deal out of Real Madrid having seven players starting the semifinals, which was a odd considering they actually had nine. Bayern Munich had seven, all in the German team. The Real players were split between Spain, Portugal and Germany.

Except for Balotelli, every Italian player in their starting eleven plays for an Italian club. I've noticed a pattern in national teams, where they build the defence and midfield from their home leagues, as far as possible choosing players that play together all the time, and then bring in the eccentric expats to score the goals. It's true of all the semifinalists except Portugal, whose domestic league just isn't big enough to support clubs of that stature.

Bouffon started poorly. Five minutes in he made a right mess of a corner, which bounced to Hummels, who seemed so suprised he wasn't able to get a decent shot in. Ten minutes in he flapped at a cross, and was very lucky to see it go out for a corner.

They were uncharacteristic errors from a top keeper, but he got away with them both. I was reminded of poor old Scott Carson, who made two equivalent errors against Croatia in 2007 and was penalised both times. If he'd had Bouffon's luck England would have won that game 2-1, as Italy did here, and he might still be an England regular.

Italy may have been lucky early on, but they were making plenty of chances of their own. After 17 minutes Montelivo had a shot, which he managed to pull back against the direction of his movement and down to Neuer's right. If the keeper was surprised, he didn't show it, saving comfortably. Cassano had another effort a minute later, but it was comfortable for Neuer.

He couldn't keep Balotelli's header out two minutes later. It was Cassano who made the space, spinning round Hummels, who followed him into the turn when he shouldn't have, and crossing perfectly beyond Badstuber. For the first time in the tournament, in fact the first time since Euro 2008 in the Euros (so including the qualifiers) Germany were behind.

Visibly stung by this, they dominated the next phase. They had a few shots, but a mixture of slips, deflections, keen Italian blocking and poor shooting kept the score unchanged.  When Bouffon saved well from Khedira then dealt convincingly with the corner, we all started to sniff an upset.

Especially when Balotelli scored again from the throw out. It was a great ball from Montelivo, doing what Pirlo would have done if he'd had the ball, and a spectacular shot from the striker, smacking it into the top right hand corner before Neuer had time to move. Sometimes strikers go for subtlety, trying to put the ball where the keeper isn't expecting it by disguising their shot and varying the flight of the ball, and sometimes they just hit it really hard in a straight line going to exactly the right place. Why Germany gave him that much space was unclear. Maybe they were trying to play offside.

A few minutes later a German cross eluded the Italian defence, and fell to Podolski. He could have shot or controlled the ball first, but his indecision was final (to borrow a phrase from Alan Hansen for the absolute first time ever), as his control let him down and the ball drifted out for a goal kick.

Germany brought on Reus and Klose for Gomez and Podolski, and came out for the second half knowing what they had to do. On 49 minutes Lahm should have scored, after some nice interplay just outside the box set him up with a clear shot which cleared the bar. On the hour mark Bonucci was booked for a clear foul on Kroos as he ran across the face of the box. The free kick honours fell to Reus, whose excellent free kick was just pushed over by Bouffon.

Montelivo went off for Motta. He'd done well, but the Italian bench wanted a more defensive minded midfielder. They were defending with the counterattack in mind, though, and nearly extended their lead when some neat passing triangles set Marchisio free in the 67th minute, but his shot flew wide right.

They took Balotelli off after he had a fall. On came di Natale instead. Germany brought on Muller for Boateng. It was a striker for a defender, as it needed to be.

Despite the extra German firepower Italy still looked more likely to score. With 15 minutes left Marchisio got into the box as Badstuber slipped. He had the chance to score from wide right, unchallenged, but put it wide. Then di Natale had a chance to finish it, which he blundered away, and Balzaretti actually had it in the net for Italy, but was given offside.

On full time Hummels had a chance, but it was half blocked by Bonucci and bounced kindly off Bouffon's chest. Two corners later they had a penalty, for handball in the box. Ozil scored to give Germany two minutes of hope, and there were some nice frantic last minute comedy moments as Neuer came up to head into the box from a midfield position, but the whistle went without the Italian goal being further threatened.

So that was the semifinals. The final is Spain v Italy, which is a replay of the first game in Group C. This means that the last five European trophy winners have been Greece, Italy, Spain, Spain and Spain/Italy. Maybe it really isn't the winning that counts.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Day Twenty

Portugal 0 Spain 0

Penalties 2 - 4


We're through to the semi-finals now, and soon this wonderful, special time will be gone for another two years. Meanwhile there seems to be some tennis on. It isn't terrible, but it fails the crucial quality test, which is can you be offside in it? If you can't, and to my knowledge there's no offside in tennis at all, then it's clearly a sport that needs to work on its zoning principles.

When we got to the semi-finals in the last World Cup the surviving teams were Holland, Uruguay, Germany and Spain, which gives us the acronym HUGS. It was a poignant moment when I realised this, almost as if the World Cup was saying goodbye to me with a last fond embrace. This time it was Portugal, Italy, Germany and Spain. And the Iberian Derby Started us off.

Everyone complained about it, for some reason. Hansen, Shearer, Dixon and Lineker all tore into it at full time like it was Kendo Nagasaki and they were Giant Haystacks. Twitter resounded with the moans and groans. Actually that's too low-pitched a verb. We want something less like a bass drum, and more like the sound of millions of tiny insects. Chittered. That's it. Twitter chittered like locusts in a field of disappointing maize.

Their main objection was the lack of shots on target, but it's worth remembering that efforts like Iniesta's shot just over or Ronaldo's free kicks don't count towards this total. We've all seen games that probably looked better by shot count than this one,  because of all the feeble efforts that roll comfortably to the keeper without drama, but count towards the stat.

It's true that there were some lacklustre performances. Spain went with a striker, but the striker they went with was Negredo, who seemed to have a very unforwardlike reluctance to get in the action. In the end they took him off, but replaced him with Fabregas rather than Torres. It seemed surprising, but then there were some who were surprised when Torres even got in the squad after the season he's had. You can't have it both ways.

For Portugal, Almeida did poorly. This was a shame, because for much of the game Portugal were getting at least as much of the attacking play as Spain, but instead of getting Almeida to lay it off to Ronaldo or Nani they kept laying it off to him instead. You could put this down to poor attacking strategy, but you could just as easily credit the strong Spanish defensive play. They knew Ronaldo and Nani were the danger men, so they screened them more effectively than they did Almeida. When Almeida did get chances, there was always a defender on or around him to make his shot harder. Eventually Bento replaced him with Oliveira.

Portugal started with a high pressing game, harrying Spain on the ball, and it was eight minutes before Spain managed to string some passes together. When they did, Arbeloa and Iniesta both had shots over from the edge of the box. You get the feeling if they want to turn it on they can, said Keown.

I started to wonder if there was an element of smoke and mirrors to their passing game. They made a couple of misplaced passes in successive moves, and it struck me that if I saw that down Ashton Gate I would instantly identify it as an error. When it's Spain, we somehow want to see a failed move as a near success.

Portugal can string a few passes together themselves, although the difference is that Spain could carry on doing it even if you took away any single player. They may be missing Puyol or Villa, but they're still in the semifinals. If Ronaldo had gone down with gastroenteritis the night before their first game they'd all be on the beach at Faro by now. He'd be the Groucho to their lesser brothers, if you were constantly filled with the desire to punch Groucho in the face.

We had a Lynne Truss moment in the first half. Are you watching, England? said Martin Keown. We're definitely not watching England said his colleague, having apparently heard Keown speak without the comma. I once ate a sandwich apparently made of dolphin, friendly tuna and sweetcorn, so I feel quite strongly about commas.

At one point, Spain were so unnerved by Portugal's pressure they took the highly unusual step of lumping it forward. It nearly worked out for them, bouncing handily to Negredo on the edge of the box. With his back to the ball he laid it back to Silva, who knocked it sideways to Iniesta. His shot flew just over, but it seemed ominous at the time. It seemed just as ominous the other way when Ronaldo had a shot two minutes later, which shaved the edge of the post. Ronaldo claimed Casillas had saved it, but a replay showed otherwise.

After the break both sides proceeded through the medium of the corner for a while. There was a sense that the balance of power was once more - well, in the balance. It would be something of a misnomer otherwise, like a standee, or the Ministry of Defence.

Almeida had a shot after 57 minutes. He's not missed by all that much, but he did have Ronaldo to his right and Nani to his left, said the commentator. On the hour mark, Pepe got booked for flattening Alonso with knee and elbow simultaneously. Yet still people said it was a game with nothing to see. Go out on the street now and hit someone with your knee and your elbow at the same time, then come back and tell me about the lack of skill on display.

On 72 minutes Ronaldo earned and took a free kick, which flew over by about a foot. On 82 minutes he was fouled again, thirty yards out in a good shooting position. Arbeloa got booked for handling the first free kick, and Ronaldo got another go, that much closer. It was too high again. If he'd had his original position, it might have had time to get it down.

On 85 minutes Alves was booked for a poor tackle on Jordi Alba. The entire Portuguese back four were now on yellow cards. It's perhaps not surprising that Spain dominated the play from here on. Veloso also got booked for a routine challenge bang on full time. It was the eighth booking, in a game that hadn't been especially dirty.

Spain took Xavi off for Pedro. It struck me that for a player like Xavi, substituted in a semi-final when you're 32 years old, you must leave the pitch entirely uncertain whether you'll ever get back on the biggest stage of all again. He knows now that he will, but we all remember Gary Lineker getting substituted against Sweden, in what turned out to be his last England game.

The full time whistle went, to apparent universal disdain. I was having fun even if nobody else was. I 'd already written this in my notes by then.

Spain weren't playing terribly, but the delicate little flicks and dummies, the pinpoint passes that bisect the defence, all this was missing. But the overall quality of the game was so good that you started to hope no-one scored, because it was the kind of game that one goal would win, and a single goal would deny us extra time.

I should add two caveats at this point. It's certainly true that towards the end of normal time the quality of play declined. This isn't unusual, as players often start to worry about making the mistake that would lose the game. When Portugal broke from a Spanish free kick on the stroke of full time, we all assumed Ronaldo would raise the quality for that crucial split second with his shot. It didn't work out that way.

It's also true that my beer drinking strategy hadn't taken extra time into account, and to be honest there came a point at which the quality of my note taking went into something of a decline. I did notice the way that Spain seemed to take over. There's a desperate look about the Portuguese, said Martin Keown just before Ramos blasted a free kick just over. Shortly before that Iniesta had had a shot saved when he was clear through.


Portugal must have been glad when the whistle blew for the end of the first period of extra time. They brought Custodio on for Veloso, then Varela on for Meireles. They were trying to hold on by this point, and did a reasonable job of it. Pedro nearly got away in the 23rd minute, but the Portuguese defence just recovered in time and were able to put it out for a corner. There was a lot of Spanish huffing and puffing (well I was drunk, what do you want me to say), but then it was penalties.

Both teams missed their first, then scored their next two. Weirdly, Alves walked up to take the third for Portugal, then got sent back by Nani. He'd clearly got the order wrong. From that, and the look on his face, it was no surprise when his effort was saved. As @michaelhogan tweeted, Alves has left the building.

Fabregas' penalty wasn't great, going in off the post, but it won the game for Spain. What was going on with Alves? I've never seen that before.

Ronaldo, meanwhile, never got to take one. Fabregas said afterwards that he was down to go second, but had asked del Bosque if he could go last because he had a premonition that he'd score the winning goal for Spain. If Ronaldo had thought something similar it was too late now.

So Spain against Germany or Italy. If they win, they become the first team ever to lift three trophies in a row - The Euros, the World Cup then the Euros again. You wouldn't bet against them.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Day Seventeen

England 0 Italy 0

Pens 2 - 4


It was a good run, but it had to come to an end eventually. Let's be honest, we all knew it had gone on longer than anyone expected already. And at least we got to see a traditional tournament favourite.

Yes, there had to be a 0-0. Twenty seven games without one, but then England had a knockout game and that was that.

And the defeat? I find I can't be bothered to write much about that performance, so here's something I wrote about England v Portugal 2006 instead.

It’s just vicious really. Like free range calves, they get to run around the field for a few weeks, but then out come the chainsaws. Discounting the third place playoff, a poor apology for a wooden spoon game which is now beyond our wildest dreams, all the last fifteen games exist entirely for the purpose of inflicting the dreary ennui of defeat on one nation after another.

Children cry themselves to sleep, grown men hide under blankets all day, flags droop sadly on the bonnets of cars. Everywhere around the world. Including qualification, every country in the entire world except one goes through this every four years, every two years if you count the continental cups.

At least England - finally - managed to give us some halfway decent football. With their backs to the wall, they leapt like gazelles and fought like Douglas Bader, as opposed to the other way round like they normally do.

If Ronaldo had deliberately wound Rooney up he may have ended up regretting it, because it just united the team and brought all the arguments about England’s formation to an end. Crouch, stuck with the lone striker role by force of circumstance, played it brilliantly, holding the ball up on his own and tempting the Portuguese defenders into giving away free kicks. He linked up well with Lennon, who was also on by necessity, replacing the injured Beckham. How surprising that England’s finest football should have been played without Beckham, Rooney or Owen. How surprising, and how memorable.

I’m not even going to talk about the penalties, except to point out that Portugal missed two themselves, so the opportunity was there, dammit.

So the Portuguese have a semifinal with France. Good luck, you both have a 25% chance of not ending up feeling like we do.


So that was then. What's changed?

First, there's no third place playoff in the Euros for us not to get into. Second, all that stuff about finally getting some decent football hardly applies. Third, Pirlo didn't have to wind our players up like Ronaldo did, he was just effortlessly better.

But most importantly, there's no great sense of upset. People only really sulk if they have genuine hope in the first place. When the last penalty went in there was almost a sense that it was for the best, that to have beaten Italy on penalties after being comprehensively played off the park would have been so embarrassing, it was actually better to slink off now before Germany got to administer the retribution the rest of Europe was craving.

Steven Gerrard, interviewed afterwards, seemed to feel that there was some kind of unfairness in England being out again on penalties, that they'd been robbed of their just desserts by a capricious fate. It's quite rare to see someone so comprehensively misjudge the national mood. Which is not so much don't come home too soon as come home now, we can't stand it any more,  even the Greeks are laughing at us and we don't know where to look.

So that's the end of England's tournament, and also the complete rout of Groups A and D, but there's still plenty to look forward to. Three more games, and tasty affairs they look as well. Germany v Italy, Pirlo's midfield genius v Gomez and Klose up front. Spain v Portugal, with Ronaldo's solipsistic genius against the ultimate collective. And Germany v Spain in the final. There, I said it. Actually, I said it at the beginning of the tournament. Predicting a final correctly - now that would be a step up from previous blogs.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Day Sixteen

Spain 2 France 0


With the possible exception of Holland v Germany this was perhaps the most galactic fixture so far. Unfortunately it fell so far short of its billing that frankly I can find little to say about it.

It was very cagy for the first 15 minutes, then all caginess suddenly and briefly vanished. Jordi Alba somehow eluded the French defense down the left, Reveillere being paradoxically a little sleepy, and crossed to Xabi Alonso, alone in the penalty area. He headed it back across the goal, which was the correct thing to do as Lloris was moving the other way, and his momentum then carried him away from the ball.

The French were rocked, but they rallied, and Cabaye had a good effort from a free kick after half an hour, which Casillas had to tip over for a corner. We hoped it would mark a turning point in the game, but instead it was France's best moment.

In the 38th minute Pique had a free header in the box, but it flew over. The commentator forgot himself sufficiently to start talking about Barcelona, then suddenly remembered he was actually covering a Spain game. In fact five of their eleven starters do play for Barcelona. With four from Real Madrid, that's fully nine out of eleven from two clubs. Add in Silva of Manchester City and every player in the Spanish team finished in a top 2 league position except Jordi Alba of Valencia, who had to settle for third.

I typed and fact checked all that between Pique's header and the half time whistle, and wasn't distracted by any significant action. After the break France came back a bit, and Spain were a bit sloppy at times. By the standards of Spain, that is, we're not talking about balls going through the keeper's legs, but it was enough to give the French hope.

Debuchy had a header on the hour mark, which he had to lean back to get onto and couldn't then keep down, but it was a chance. Soon after there was a goalmouth scramble at both ends. Which is two goalmouth scrambles all told, obviously, not just one very large one. That would be to stretch the definition of a goalmouth scramble to breaking point.

Apart from that there was little else to say. Not that it was boring, it just wasn't the kind of thrill-a-minute action we'd had with Germany and Greece. It was the football equivalent of a long bout of safety play in snooker. Plenty to admire, very skilful, but it isn't going to make the highlights reel. Except that football is limited by time rather than pots, so there may not be much else to put on it.

It was probably in an attempt to give their respective forward lines the cutting edge they lacked that Spain brought on Torres and France brought on Giroud. It didn't work. Torre's one decent shot was saved, and it turned out he was offside anyway. Giroud didn't even manage that. He's done alright for Montpellier, with 33 goals in 73 games, but we didn't see any evidence of that last night.

In the last minute of normal time Pedro won a penalty for Spain. Reveillere challenged him clumsily, there was contact, he went down, job done. Alonso scored, and that was the end for France. Reveillere was left to rue his role in both Spanish goals. I was going to say never mind lad, you'll learn, but it turns out he's 32, so probably won't.

And that was that. Spain and France meet again in October, when they play in the same qualifying group for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. It's an unlucky draw, which means one of them might miss out, but it might at least save us another game like this one.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Day Fifteen

Germany 4 Greece 2


In a tournament that also featured Poland v Russia, this was politically the sharpest fixture by some margin. I usually stick up for the Germans, as I hate that whole thing, you know the thing I mean, but even I was going for Greece in this one.

That this amounted to deliberately backing the losing horse for no substantial reason was apparent by the second minute, as Klose stood alone in the box waiting for Reus' cross. Only a slip robbed him of a clear chance. On the other hand Samaras managed to kick Khedira in the shins, stopping the game for him to get some attention, so on some level it was all square.

Two minutes later it was still all square. Khedira had a shot, it came back off the keeper and Ozil and Klose both rushed in. Klose put it in, but offside was given. It was unclear which of the two had been penalised, but clear even then that it wouldn't ultimately matter.

Things carried in in this vein for the rest of the game. Well I'm sorry, but what do you want me to say? Do you want me to start listing all the times a German player had a shot? Tell you what, here's a list of the players that didn't. Neuer, Boateng, Hummels, Badstuber. I made that list by typing in all the starting German players and deleting each one the first time they struck the ball towards the Greek goal on purpose. Actually I think Hummels may have had a header early on. Even Boateng found himself up the byline putting crosses in.

By the time they'd been at it for half an hour I was developing false hope. Surely we'd seen Greece win like this before? We knew the script from 2004. The stronger team shoot and shoot and shoot, and it doesn't go in. It hits the post, it flies just over the bar, it bounces back from the keeper to a defender. Finally Greece sneak into their half inside a giant horse and bang! 1-0 to Greece. It worked against Russia, after all.

That wasn't what happened, obviously. There is no script but the action of Maths in the tangible world that we call physics. Philip Lahm wasn't worrying about narrative twists. He placed the ball and his foot in juxtaposition by swivelling his right femur through a vertical plane, simultaneously and rapidly adjusting the angle between femur and tibia. The chemical energy thus released was imparted to the ball, which, being light, accelerated rapidly, and travelled along the vector Lahm's foot had placed it on to cross the line before the goalkeepercould get into an intercept path. Of course it did. That's how these things work.

By half time the Greeks must have been glad to get in only one down. We feared for them after the resumption.

They only went and equalised though. Greece have wiped out the debt, shouted the commentator. Distaste for the world of international finance has infitrated the zeitgeist, and is turning up in some surprising places these days. Salpingidis got free down the right, to the apparent surprise of the German defence, and put a cross in. It looked like he'd hit it too hard at first, but Samaras got on the end of it and squeezed it under Neuer. It was still physics, it's just that physics can surprise you sometimes.

It couldn't last, so it didn't. Khedira restored the German lead 5 minutes later. A cross from Boateng was coming through to Maniatis, but he was a bit slow to it, and Khedira got in a lethal volley. If you can get dip and pace on them they're almost impossible for the keeper to adjust to, and so it proved here.

Low took Schurrle off for Muller. He'd looked good, Schurrle, energetic and skilful. He hadn't played in the tournament before, apart from 25 minutes against Denmark while we were mainly watching Portugal v Holland, and to be honest I'd never heard of him. Apparently he shares the honour with Gotze of being the first players born after German reunification to play for the national team, which only goes to show how ridiculously fucking old I am. Before I know it I'll be watching the first German player to be born after I wrote this. I expect he'll be better than anyone we have.

It was Germany's oldest player that sealed it though. Papadopoulos gave away a free kick by the corner flag, and then couldn't get to it before Klose. That was the third, and it was looking like it could get away from Greece now. Klose scores in the land of his birth, said the commentator, archly. Klose was born in Polish Silesia. His dad is German, but his mum, wife and first language are Polish, and the Poles regard him roughly as Greeks regard the Elgin Marbles.

Reus got the fourth. Klose's shot was well saved, after an excellent ball from Ozil, but it bounced out to Reus who hammered it home with force and precision. Angela Merkel was there, and by this point she was probably hoping they'd stop. A win is one thing, but there's a limit to the humiliation any nation can bear at the hands of another. I found myself wishing the Greek election had been this weekend instead.

As things turned out that was as bad as it got for Greece. In fact they got a goal back just before the end when Samaras's shot hit Boateng on the arm and a penalty was awarded. He was looking away at the time, so it seemed harsh, but no-one complained too much. The refs have headpieces, so maybe Christine Lagarde came on the line and told him to give it.

Salpingidis scored, which was nice for him, but that was that. Greece go home, with no money, no trophy, no Marbles, nothing. Germany have now won 15 games in a row.

The game also marked the triumph of the west in the tournament of the east. Poland, Ukraine, Russia, Sweden, Croatia, Greece, the Czech Republic, they've all fallen. The six surviving teams are Portugal, Spain, France, England, Italy and Germany. Holland and Denmark lost to western opponents, so Croatia v Ireland is the only eastern triumph over a western team.

Meanwhile, that's 26 games without a goalless draw. 5 left. One of which could be an England Germany semi-final. First, Italy, and first before that, France v Spain.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Day Fourteen

Czech Republic 0 Portugal 1


At Christmas it's the Two Ronnies, on a royal anniversary it's the Sex Pistols, and every June in even numbered years they reel out the football nostalgia docs. If you invest as much of your emotional capital in major international football tournaments as I do, they're a reliable trigger for the remembrance of things past. So seeing David Platt's winner against Belgium in 1990 on my wide screen the other night instantly took me back to the tiny telly in the Midlands pub we used to drink in back then. I can almost taste the purple nasties - a snakebite with a dash of blackcurrant, if you're wondering. I think all the cells in my body that thought that was a good idea have since been replaced.

A week later we were back in the same pub on my birthday, watching them lose to Germany on penalties. By Euro 1996 I'd moved to Bristol, and I remember seeing Croatia v Germany in a pub in the Mendips with a friend, the last time we ever did acid. Germany won despite Davor Suker's trickery and the way the grass kept moving around like that. Gives purple nasty a whole new meaning.

So there are games that become a part of your personal history, and then there are games like this one. This was the kind of game you soon realise won't be cropping up in your Euro 2020 blog. This was more like Sweden v Holland at Euro 2004, a game I must presumably have watched, but have no memory of.

Both teams normally play in red, so the Czechs took priority in the matter of shirt colour, having won their group. Portugal had to play in white instead. This will also apply tomorrow, when Greece and Germany play, as they both play in white. Germany will take precedence as goup winners, and Greece will have to defer to them and play in the away strip. I wonder how that will go down in Piraeus and Heraklion?

Although they didn't top their group, Portugal were still favourites. If you don't know anything about football, and apart from me who does, you could still work out why just by rating the players' clubs by budget. Portugal's starting 11 play for clubs like Real Madrid, Porto and Man Utd. Most of the Czech players play for teams like Bordeaux, or Besiktas. Perfectly good clubs, with a strong record in Europe, but not at the very top of the European club scene. They can afford decent B-list players, but they're not world class, not galacticos, like Ronaldo or Nani.

The referee was Howard Webb, an Englishman, as the commentator was keen to let us know. Brooks no nonsense from players, Howard Webb, he said. I'm not so sure about that. Webb refereed the last World Cup Final, and I seem to recall him brooking rather more nonsense from Holland than most observers thought he should have brooked.

Once we got going, it was the Ronaldo show again. Six of Portugal's first ten attempts on goal came from him, and nearly all the close ones.

The first real chance fell to him, as he muscled ahead of the defence to get his shot in. It was well saved, and the ref gave a foul against him anyway, but it was an ominous sign for the Czechs.

A few minutes later he had another go, with an overhead kick after a poor defensive clearance came straight back in again. It flew wide. Then his free kick attempt, well hit, went a yard wide.

Meanwhile, Miguel Veloso was booked for a poor tackle on Darida. At least that was the official reason, but I noticed the back of his shirt said Miguel, not Veloso, so hopefully he was partly booked for that. You never saw Trevor Brooking poncing about in a shirt that said Trevor, did you? Think on, young man.

On 38 minutes, Postiga's hamstring seemed to go. They stretchered him off, and brought Almeida on. He's out of the semi-final, but might be back for the final if they get there. They'll miss him.

On 43 minutes there was a reasonable shout for a Portuguese penalty, when the defender clearly had a hold of Nani's arm in the box. Martin Keown thought it was a dive, as he only had it for a second, but if you ask me holding for a second is holding.

In first half injury time Ronaldo nearly scored. The ball came into the box, he did some of his technicolour jiggery pokery to get clear of Kadlec, and his shot hit the post. Keown commented that he could have had three or four, but it was very noticeable that he hadn't.

The second half continued in similar vein. Ronaldo had another free kick, and hit the post again. It looked like Cech might have just tipped it, but the replay showed there was no contact. Goal kick.

The Czechs seemed at times to be struggling with their defensive clearances. There are three basic techniques for a clearance: the measured pass to a teammate, the forward hoof up the pitch and the lateral hoof to row Z. If you're passing to a teammate you'd better be sure it gets there, if you're hoofing it you try to avoid the vertical hoof, in which the ball goes a long way up before coming back down right where it started from. Limbersky in particular seemed to struggle with these fairly basic guidelines.

Almeida had the ball in the net immediately afterwards, heading home from a Nani cross, but was offside. Always a joy to see those forwards running offside, said Martin Keown. You aren't a proper BBC commentator until you know how to act up to your image.

After a flurry of positive Czech moves, the next big chance was Portugal's. Moutinho got the ball, wasn't closed down quick enough and his shot was well saved.

It was all too much for Cech, who punched his teammate Kadec in the head and kneed him in the ribs. Simultaneously, which is actually quite athletic. He made it look like he was going for the ball, but I think he reckoned his defence needed a breather. Except Kadec, who needed to breathe a little less. I love to see keepers coming for those, said Keown. They always lead with the knee, and it's usually the defenders that come off worst. Now there speaks a man who doesn't have to defend any more.

He's a man who know which side his bread is buttered on, is Keown. I remember during the World Cup he was commentating on a New Zealand game, and he wasn't in any way backwards in coming forward to do the coverage for their next qualifying campaign. Fiji, Vanuatu, the Solomons, there was nowhere he wouldn't let us fly him.

On 75 minutes, Nani broke through and so nearly scored. Kadlec just got a slight deflection on it, and it flashed over the bar with Cech nowhere. You thought they'd never score.

Then they scored. Moutinho made the run, and got the cross in. Ronaldo got across Selassie, put his head to it and directed it down. It wasn't actually his best effort of the game. Down is the right place to put it, but it bounced slightly too early, and passed the keeper at a savable height. Fortunately for Portugal it was fast enough to beat Cech's diving reach.

The commentator took the opportunity to go off on one about Ronaldo, as they do like to. Apparently if you include Real's pre-season fixtures last summer he's played almost 12 months of continuous football, and you have to give him credit for that. I'd probably have nodded off by September at the latest.

Pereira had a good shot, with a chance to finish things off, but the keeper saved well. The Portuguese manager decided to put safety first, and brought on defensive midfielder Custodio for Nani. Yes, Custodio. Or Custodio Miguel Dias de Castro, to give him his full name. Now you know what I said about Miguel Veloso above, so you know what I affect to think on the subject of players putting their first name on their shirts, but if you're a defensive midfielder whose real name is Custodio there may be some excuse.

With three minutes left, Ronaldo fell over in the box and appealed for a penalty. Just like old times. The commentator tried to sugggest he'd been impeded, but Keown brushed the suggestion aside like Norman Hunter squashing a recalcitrant striker.

The Czechs only managed two efforts all game, but when they got a corner in injury time their fans still cheered loyally. Even Cech went up for it, but they didn't manage a strike on goal and he had to scamper back as fast as his little legs would carry him. Limbersky intercepted the Portuguese breakout, giving us one last chance to namecheck him and mention the way he's had me thinking about cheese every time they play, but the whistle blew and the Czechs were on their way home. Which is at least quite close.

Portugal face the longest journey home of any team at the Championships. But not yet.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Day Twelve

England 1 Ukraine 0

France 0 Sweden 2


As Jamie Carragher said on the ITV pre-match panel, football is all lies. More accurately, he said Rafael Benitez used to tell us, football is all lies. Apparently it's something Rafa would say in team talks when he was the Liverpool manager.

He was talking about the way football people talk to the media, and he's quite right. No player would ever say I was the best player out there today in an interview, even if he was. I'm moving to another club for more money in the summer is a phrase that we hear rather less often than Arsene Wenger must do.

You know when they inadvertently tell the truth, because there's always such a fuss. I've got a five-month baby boy now, and if he can't be northern then I'd rather he grows up with a cockney accent than a Bristolian one. Nicky Maynard may have regretted saying that after he left Bristol City for West Ham, especially the day West Ham played us and he had to come back. It's no use saying you were joking in these situations. Some fans aren't as lighthearted as you might think.

No, you should never use your interviews to inform or entertain. Take a leaf out of Alan Shearer's book. I remember his interviews when he was an England player. I've never seen anyone try so hard not to say anything interesting. He answered questions like Alex Stewart batting for a draw. This isn't a situation you can win. Stalemate is your only goal, and flamboyance isn't called for. Straight bat, forward defensive, wait for the next one.

So yes, Carragher was right in the context in which he made the remark, but I think he was right in the wider sense as well. Football is full of lies. It's not just players and managers that lie, it's pundits, journalists, bloggers, everyone. Even the Carragher quote is a paraphrase. When I said more accurately, I didn't actually mean accurately. It's a comparative, not an absolute measure. The devil is in the detail. With football it's rarely the truth, never the whole truth and always something but the truth.

For instance, it seems to have been agreed that the lack of goal line technology deprived Ukraine of a goal against England. The evidence seems clear enough. The replay from above the goal clearly shows the ball over the line before John Terry clears it.

But what you don't see is the offside about five seconds before. It doesn't show up on any of the replays on the BBC website, for instance. But it happened. I saw it at the time. I nearly spilt my Hobgobin shouting offside from my sofa.

It wasn't Devic, the 'scorer', it was Malevskiy. As the ball came out to him from the defence, he was onside by the time you see him on the video clip, but at the moment the pass was made he was off. As good strikers will in that situation, he cut back inside the defender to make himself look onside, successfully fooling the linesman, the referee and the people cutting the BBC highlights reel.

It was ITV that showed the game, and you can see the disallowed goal here on the ITV Player (Euro replay). It happens in the 62nd minute of the game, and the discussion of it happens about 70 minutes in. The commentators talk about the offside as something their backroom boys have picked up on. They talk about showing the proof after the end of the game, which they did. I saw it, and it was conclusive. Just as many of us knew it was during the game.

But the program as uploaded on the Player cuts off at full time, without going to the studio chat afterwards, and just like that the smoking gun is erased from history. We get up this morning, everyone's talking about the disallowed Ukrainian goal and no-one is mentioning the offside. Collina gets interviewed about goal line technology, the Ukrainian media is doing its nut, the English media is pretending it's 2010 all over again and the ball that was over the line was actually Lampard's, and the most important fact isn't coming up.

I'll tell you what it all reminds me of. It reminds me of Trotsky's hat. There's an old story about a picture of Lenin and the other Bolshevik leaders taken during the Russian Revolution. They're celebrating something, and Trotsky has just thrown his hat in the air. Years later, when Stalin declared Trotsky an enemy of the revolution, he had Trotsky airbrushed out of the picture. Unfortunately the propaganda people forgot to airbrush the hat, leaving it floating above the Heroes of Socialist Struggle for no apparent reason.

Appropriately, perhaps, I can find no reference to this online. Which makes it sound like I've searched exhaustively, but really just means that Wikipedia's article on Trotsky doesn't contain the word hat (although the word that appears a tedious number of times). It may be a garbled version of a similar story from postwar Czechoslovakia, as reported by Milan Kundera in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. It may have been garbled by me. Who knows?

The point I've been lumbering towards is that Malevskiy's offside seems to have been airbrushed out of history. It's as if every trace has been removed by some footballing dictator, except for the commentator's reference, left hanging in the air like an upthrown hat.

Except that it hasn't, because we live in the age of the Internet, so it's all over the place. Brooks Peck, for instance, blogging on Yahoo's sports pages (The Ukraine goal against England), has provided a still photo of the crucial moment. Every article on the subject in the mainsteam newspaper websites has several people commenting on the offside underneath. It's all over Facebook and Twitter (god those adverts creep into your vocabulary).

Which raises the question: would Stalin have found it harder to airbrush history if the Internet had been around back then? No, sorry, that's the question for grownups. My question is: what about that John Terry?

For it was Terry that cleared the ball off the line - except he didn't, it was clearly over the line. But in creating a conyincing enough illusion of a clearance to satisfy the goalline official, he stopped the other officials from allowing a goal they should have chalked off for offside.

So John Terry is the minister for justice. Because of him, the right thing happened. My world is shattered.

In other news, England top the group. Sweden beat France two nil, so we end with 7 points and they end with 4. We play Italy, they play Spain. Result.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Day Eleven

Croatia 0 Spain 1

Italy 2 Ireland 0

 

For some teams, the end of the group phase presents a challenging problem of stats and psychology. Croatia, for instance, had a tricky problem going into the Spain game.  They knew Italy would probably beat Ireland, so containing Spain was never going to be enough, as a 0-0 would see them eliminated. 1-1, on the other hand, would very likely see them through.

This meant that a single Spanish goal would effectively be irrelevant. A second Spanish goal, though, would actually count for something, as a 2-1 defeat would put Croatia out.

So they made a plan, to contain Spain in the first half and get at them in the second, by which time Spain were statistically less likely to have enough time to score twice. It's exactly what anyone else would have done in their position, but it meant the first half of Croatia v Spain was by some margin the dullest half so far. This is a sort of compliment to Croatia - to make Spain boring is really quite an achievement - but it's also 45 minutes of our lives we'll never get back.

There were two games, of course, and both were televised, but unfortuntely this was the one with the greatest number of permutations hanging on it, so your diligent reporter was kind of stuck with it. Both teams seemed afraid of losing. Spain had most of the possession, as you'd expect, but the knowledge that they would be through if they didn't concede may have hung heavily on them.

Here's my first half notes. After 26 minutes Mandzukic was tackled right on the edge of the box. It could easily have been a foul, and therefore could easily have been a penalty, but in the end it was given as a corner.

That was it. Nothing else of any note happened, except that after half an hour we heard that Italy were a goal up against Ireland. They showed us the goal, in a highlights box in the top left corner of the screen. It was a routine goal, but a goal nonetheless. As things stood, Italy were top, Spain were second and Croatia were out.

Oh yes, and David Villa. You may have wondered where he is. His tibia is all better now, nurse having adequately kissed it in the oxygen tent, but he was laid up with it so long he failed a pre-tournament fitness test. The commentator was clearly missing him, as he managed to say his name instead of David Silva several times. That commentating error was the other first half highlight. You may scoff, but it was all over Twitter.

The Barcelona player I was missing was Messi. Yes, he's Argentinian, but he seems Spanish, and you have to admit he'd be a good fit for their team. Frankly, if they can pick Catalans I don't see why they can't pick anyone.

Things picked up a bit in the second half, and in the 59th minute Croatia had their best chance of the game. A Spanish attack broke down, and Modric skipped past the covering midfielder to find himself in space. He held it up long enough for the surprised looking Croatian forward line to catch up with him, then crossed to Rakitic, whose header was just kept out by Casillas. He should have headed it down, but instead it came at a convenient height for the keeper.

Bosquet decided he needed to make a change. He took Torres off, and brought on Navas of Sevilla. Croatia, not to be outdone, brought on Jelavic. They were out if things stayed as they were, and according to their plan it was time to have a bit of a go.

Silva went off for Fabregas. Twitter folk with no grasp of statistics suggested that they should be bringing on a striker, but in the real world with all the atoms in it the laws of probability were swinging the balance of the game. Spain were through as long as they didn't concede, and given that nobody knew what order group D was going to finish in it didn't really matter who was first and who was second.

So every time Croatia broke, Spain were quickly back in numbers. Croatia, meanwhile, brought on Eduardo, who had a stonewall penalty turned down when Arbeloa pulled him down from a corner with a move accurately analysed by Alan Hansen as a judo throw. Arbeloa managed to do it at an angle where all the officials were unsighted, which I guess is a kind of footballing skill in itself.

Three minutes from time, Spain scored. Fabregas lobbed the ball over the Croatian back line to Iniesta, who wasn't offside, although Navas was. Both players were clear. Navas held back behind Iniesta, who passed across to him, and he tapped it into an empty net. It should be offside, but according to the actual rules it isn't.

What no-one in the stadium seemed to realise, neither commentators nor Croatian fans, was that it only mattered for Spain. Croatia were still in the same position. If they scored, they went through, if they didn't they were out.

Meanwhile we heard that Balotelli had scored to double Italy's lead. That didn't matter either. Croatia could still go through with a goal. They got a free kick, and even the keeper went up for it. The referee whistled for a Croatian infringement in the Spanish box, and that was it.

In the end, and after all the calculations, every country in the group ended up with a different points total. Spain had 7 points, Italy 5, Croatia 4 and Ireland 0.

It was harsh on Croatia, who had beaten Ireland, got a draw out of Italy and only just lost to Spain. It was only harsh on Ireland in the sense that the fans probably deserved a better team, but you can only select the players you have. Spain and Italy, meanwhile, lie in wait for the top two from England's group.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Day Ten

Portugal 2 Holland 1

Germany 2 Denmark 1


Ignoring goal difference there are 3 ways each game can go: win, lose or draw. With 6 games in each group, there are 729 possible outcomes for each group. This sounds a lot, but it actually reduces to a few standard patterns, and one of the most common ones is the 6:3:3:0 points distribution after the first 4 games. If there are no draws in those games, the group will always have this pattern, or 6:6:0:0, or 3:3:3:3.

The 6:3:3:0 distribution is the only one where a team can win their first two games and still go into the last game with no guarantee of progress. It's also the only one where a team can lose their first two games and still have some hope. That was the situation in Group B for Germany and Holland.

Germany needed a point to top the group, but if they lost could still be eliminated by a Portugal win over Holland. Holland knew they were out unless they beat Portugal and Germany beat Denmark.

This meant that in each game, both sides were hoping for the same news from the other one. Germany wanted Holland to beat Portugal and remove the chance of a three way split on six points, and Denmark wanted the same to give them the chance to progress with a draw. Portugal and Holland both wanted Germany to beat Denmark, for very similar reasons.

I decided to watch Portugal and Holland, and I think I made the right choice. Every time I flicked over to the other game to check what was happening it seemed flatter, somehow.

After 11 minutes, unexpectedly, Holland went ahead. It was van der Vaart of Spurs, doing what we'd seen him do a few times this season. Robben's run had carved the space for him, and his shot flew in from about 30 yards. Just for a little while everyone stopped talking about the disunited Dutch team.

Portugal, stung, launched a series of attacks. Ronaldo ran round Vlaar, and his shot hit the outside of the post. Just afterwards an ill-considered back pass from van der Wiel fell to Postiga, who had a free shot that went wide, then Meireles hit one into the side netting from a wide angle.

Soon after we heard that Germany had taken the lead against Denmark. Both sets of fans cheered. Well, I know the pretty ones did. As for the others, no evidence was provided.

That was Holland's highwater mark, by which I mean something more positive than a highwater mark would normally mean in Holland. Immediately afterwards, de Jong had a free header from a corner, in the Portuguese box. Unfortunately for him it was just too high for him to get over it, and it bounced harmlessly over. Had it gone in we might be looking at some very different headlines today.

A minute later Ronaldo had a header in the Dutch box. He hit it powerfully, but Stekelenburg saved well. It seemed like he'd never score a goal again.

Soon after we heard Denmark had equalised against Germany. They showed us the clip. Bendtner rose strongly to meet a header on the edge of the box, it passed over the German defenders and came down just the right height for Krohn-Dehli's head. He flicked it on and in it went.

Finally, after so many misses, Ronaldo scored. A quick darting run, a perfect through ball from Pereira, bang. It was now one all in both games, so we were back where we started. Two minutes later, Nani shot just wide. The game was shaping up to be a cracker.

The Portuguese kept bashing away. They had too many chances to recount, especially if you miss players names because you're trying to eat your dinner, but at half time it was still 1-1 in both stadiums. Yes it is, or at least it can be. Stadia is more commonly used as the plural of stadium when it means a measure of distance.

Holland were better after the break, but Willems was booked for a lunging tackle on Moutinho, and as a result would have missed the quarter final even if they got through. By this time it was starting to seem a remote possibility.

It could have been a bit nearer if Vlaar had scored when he had a free header in the box from a Dutch free kick. It flew high and wide. From his face, you could see he knew what a chance it was.

On the hour mark Postiga managed the getting-it-in-the-goal bit of scoring, getting on a Ronaldo shot that was going wide, but he was offside.

Soon after Meireles was brought down by de Jong and didn't immediately get up, but the Dutch played on. This meant that when Portugal took the ball off them they felt quite entitled to have an attack themselves. In the event Coentrao's shot was saved, but it would have been a talking point if it had gone in. Meireles was fine. Obviously.

The Dutch brought on Affelay for Willems. They'd left him out after Holland's previous failures, but now they needed all the striking power they could muster. Portugal brought Custodio on for Meireles.

Immediately after, Ronaldo played a perfect pass right across the 6-yard for Nani. He hit it firmly enough, but the keeper was in the right place.

A minute later, the roles were successfully reversed. A Dutch move broke down on the Portuguese box, and Moutinho broke out. He played it out right to Nani, who hit the perfect diagonal box to Ronaldo. Ronaldo, in a position to hit it first time, instead controlled the ball, cutting inside the defender, then he controlled it again, then he scored. After all his cockups up to this point it was, it must be said, a triumph of nerve and professionalism. He took the time he needed to ensure the score, and no more. Any fair minded person would have to admire him for it. I still think he's a twat.

I turned over. The tension was now in the Danish game. If Denmark scored, they would go through with Portugal and Germnay would be eliminated.

Instead it was Germany that found the winner. Lars Bender reached a cross pitch ball that had defeated everyone else and tucked it past the keeper, who'd suddenly found himself out of position when his defender Poulsen slipped and missed the ball.

Yes, I had noticed, I was drawing a veil. As pointed out, at least they don't have Kuntz any more

The Danes now needed three goals, at least one in both games. They did their best, but had no significant chances, and unlike the previous day the drama slowly dribbled out of both games. At full time, nothing had changed.

Which gives us our first two quarter finals. Portugal play the Czech Republic, then Germany play Greece.

We're now twenty games in, without a single goalless draw. There are 11 games left. Could this be the first tournament not to have one?

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Day Nine

Greece 1 Russia 0

Czech Republic 1 Poland 0


The final games in each group are played simultaneously, because otherwise the teams in the second match would know exactly what they had to do to qualify, which would give them an unfair advantage. It's the most equitable approach, and in modern corporate football any attempt to be equitable can only be applauded, but it does pose a challenge for bloggers in the habit of watching entire games uninterrupted, then writing about them.

As both games are televised on different channels, the usual thing is to watch one game, whilst occasionally flicking to the other. I decided to bring you the Czech Republic against Poland, as it seemed likely to be the most significant game.

Poland needed to win or they were out, but the Czech Republic would get through with a draw, unless Greece beat Russia. This being considered about as likely as the banks bailing us out, it was expected that Poland would make most of the running.

So it proved early on. Pilar did have a good chance for the Czechs after 4 minutes, but after that it was all Poland in the first half. Lewandowski pounced on a loose pass, but his shot crashed into the side netting. Polanski and Boenisch both had efforts, Boenisch forcing Cech to push it around for a corner. You started to wonder if Cech had any more major errors in him.

The Czechs weren't getting forward much, but in the 37th minute Baros nearly got onto a lobbed ball alone in the box. It wasn't quite apparent how he missed it, but in the event it came tamely through to Tyton. Two minutes later a deflected shot bounced kindly to him as well, then he slightly fumbled a Pilar shot, but recovered before Baros could reach it. None of this really stretched him, it just served to keep him fresh and focused.

I turned over to Greece v Russia at halftime, and was lucky enough to see the Greek captain Karagounis score against Russia, apparently completely out of the blue. Karagounis just took the ball from a poor defensive header from Ignashevich on the touchline, ran it into the penalty area and shot under the keeper.

This changed the whole strategic balance of the group. It meant that as things stood, Russia would top the group with Greece in second place. The Czechs started the second half much more offensively than they finished the first. You felt that when they had the necessary incentive they were a far more potent attacking force than Poland, who also still needed to win.

The third round is always the most exciting part of the group phase. Teams make plans, they run routines on the training ground and bring them out onto the pitch, they get halfway through a game and then suddenly they have to do an instant doubletake because of events somewhere else. No-one had expected Greece to do anything against Russia, and here they were a goal up.

I switched back over, but the football had been replaced by some theatre. It was Aeschylus' Oedipus trilogy, the scene where the protagonist, realising what he's done, is about to tear out his eyes with his mother's brooch pin. He rends his hair, a rictus of despair carved into his motherlicking face. Oh no, it was just Karagounis again. He looked a little upset.

It turned out that he'd had a penalty denied, been booked for dissent (or possibly simulation) and would now miss the quarter final even if Greece qualified. Just to add to the tragedy, it would have been the game that made him Greece's most capped player. It was fortunate that Aeschylus is safely in his grave, for the horror would surely have overwhelmed him.

The Greek manager substituted him for Makos. It seemed for the best. Firing one last expletive in the ref's direction, he handed the captain's armband to Katsouranis and left.

I turned back to see the Czechs take the lead against Poland. Hubschman stole the ball from Murawski, ran it up to the box and laid it off to Baros. He played a one-two with Jiracek, jinked to the right and blasted home.

Suddenly the Czechs were top of the group, and Greece were second. The Russians were out because now the Czechs had scored they were head to head only with Greece, who were beating them, and not with the Czechs, who they'd beaten.

It was hard to know which game to follow, it was all so tight. I found myself flicking randomly between games every time the ball in the game I was watching went dead. Poland needed two goals to win, one goal to take it from the Czechs and give it to Russia. They were the only team who'd never been on to go through all evening, but they were still trying.

So were Russia. On one visit I saw Arshavin get his head to the ball from a Carroll-like distance. Going for direction rather than neck-busting force, he saw it flash just wide.

I stuck with them for the last five minutes. Greece were under almost constant pressure at the end, but they stood firm, held the line and got their reward. Let's hope the same happens in their election. Of course, there's one killing irony, which is that they'll now most likely be knocked out by Germany.

For Poland it was the end of the line. Even a late equaliser wouldn't have helped them, it would just have given Russia back the top spot. As things finished, the two winning teams are the two qualifiers from the group.

So one home nation is eliminated. Ukraine are also out unless they can beat England. If they did, England would be out unless France lost to Sweden by more goals. Everyone but France wants Sweden to get a hatful, but realistically England's progress depends on putting out the last host.

Greece and the Czech Republic play two from Germany (likely), Denmark and Portugal (50/50) and Holland (unlikely). We'll find out their opponents tomorrow, or as it's known in real time, today.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

How the groups stand

I'm not really expecting anyone to read and digest this as such. Just keep it as a handy guide while you're watching the games.

I've proofread it several times, but to be honest I'm kind of glazing over a little on some of the details. Let me know if I've failed to filter out fallacious facts. Ooh, I'm alliterating again. It comes over me like a rash sometimes.

The BBC are showing Saturday and Monday on BBC1 and BBC3, the ITV are showing Sunday and Tuesday on ITV1 and ITV4. The BBC are also broadcasting games live on their website, so you can sit in your living room with your laptop balanced precariously on top of the telly, watching two games at once. I love the modern world. Whether ITV are planning the same isn't quite clear from the website, but it appears likely. If not, there's always www.tvcatchup.com, which will show you all the ITV channels live anyway.

Group A

This is the most complicated group. Any combination of the 4 teams could still qualify, with the exception of Poland and the Czech Republic. If either of these teams qualifies, the other one goes home.

Greece must beat Russia, or they're eliminated. If they beat Russia by 3 goals and the other game is a draw, they top the group.

Russia only need a point to be sure of progress. If they win they top the group.

Poland definitely progress if they win. If they lose or draw, they're out.

The Czech Republic definitely progress if they win. If they draw, they're also through unless Greece beat Russia, in which case there are various permutations depending on goal difference. If they win, they top the group unless Russia win.

It's interesting to note that Greece goes to the polls on Sunday. Greeks want to reject austerity measures, but fear the consequences. In a tight election, whether they vote for hope or fear may well be influenced by whether their team has sent a "yes we can" or "no we can't" message to the people. Bankers across the world will be cheering on the Russians. I wonder how we should respond to that?

Group B

A point against Denmark is enough for Germany to top the group. Even if they lose, they can only fail to progress if Portugal beat Holland. In this case, Denmark, Germany and Portugal are all on 6 points, and their order comes down to goal difference.

Holland are definitely out unless they beat Portugal by two clear goals and Germany beat Denmark. In that case, Germany top the group and Holland go through on goal difference.

Denmark and Portugal are both on 3 points, with 3 goals for and against. If they both lose and Holland win by 2 clear goals, Germany and Holland progress. If they both draw, Portugal progess with Germany on the head-to-head rule. If they both win, we have the situation outlined in the German paragraph above.

If Denmark win and Portugal lose or draw, Denmark top the group and Germany are second.

If Portugal win and Denmark lose or draw, Germany top the group and Portugal are second.

Group C

Ireland are definitely going home. Italy have to beat Ireland or they go home and Spain and Croatia go through, Spain needing to draw to top the group.

For the rest of this analysis, assume Italy beat Ireland.

If the other game is won, Italy are second and the other winner top the group.

If the Spain Croatia game is drawn 0-0, then Italy top the group and Spain are second. This is because the head to head would show 3 draws, with Italy having scored 2 goals and Spain and Croatia having scored 1. Spain would be second because of their goals against Ireland.

If Spain and Croatia draw 2-2, or with any higher goal total, both sides go through and Italy go home. This is because the head to head would show 3 draws, with Italy having scored 2 goals and Spain and Croatia having scored 3. Spain would top the group because of their goals against Ireland.

If Spain and Croatia draw 1-1, then all 3 head to head games were drawn 1-1, so placings are determined by goal difference against Ireland.

If Spain and Croatia draw 1-1 and Italy beat Ireland 3-1, things become complicated. Spain go through, but Italy and Croatia now both have 5 points each, with 5 goals for and 3 against. The head-to-head doesn't help, as their game was drawn. In this situation, factors such as the disciplinary record of both sides would come into play.

If Spain and Croatia draw 1-1 and Italy beat Ireland 4-0, then Spain and Italy go through, but both have 5 points, with 6 goals for and 2 against. The same situation as in the previous paragraph applies, to determine who finishes top.

Group D

Sweden are definitely going home.

If France and England both win their games, they both go through. As they drew their game, the order would be decided on goal difference. If France win by an equal or higher margin than England, they top their group. If England win by two or more goals than France do, they top the group. If England win by one goal more, they go through unless France score more goals.

There is a possibility, for instance if England win 2-0 and France win 3-2, that both teams will have the same points, goals for and goals against. Again, the head-to-head doesn't help, as their game was drawn. In this situation, factors such as the disciplinary record of both sides would come into play.

If both games are drawn, France top the group with England in second place.

If France and England both lose their games, Ukraine top the group and France or England are second, depending on goal difference. The reverse of the previous discussion about goal difference would apply. England would need to lose by less goals than France to go through. If for instance England lost 1-0 and France lost 2-0, factors such as the disciplinary record of both sides would come into play.

 If England win and France lose or draw, England top the group and France are second.

If France win and England draw, France top the group and England are second.

If France win and England lose, France top the group and Ukraine are second.

If France draw and England lose,  Ukraine top the group with France second.

If England draw and France lose, England top the group and France are second on the head-to-head rule.

Unfortunately, the option we might all have liked, for England to top the group and host nation Ukraine to come second, is not available.

Day Eight

My good friends Dave and Ann invited me over for today's football. We planned to watch the first game at his house, then stroll down to the Southank club in Southville for the England game.

France 2 Ukraine 0

Thunderbolt and lightning, very very frightening me

Not it seems thunderbolts plural, as I'd imagined for forty years. No, we're talking either one solitary though massively fearsome thunderbolt or the abstract concept of thunder in the form of a bolt. Which is the proto-Germanic word for a strike. All the football news here first.

The thunderbolts were multiple and very physical in Donetsk on Friday. Just as the French were halfway through the Marseillaise the heavens opened, as if in royalist revenge. Circa stadium tonat; around the ground the thunder roars.

It was an impressively orchestrated son et lumiere performance but not really the weather for running round a field, so after three minutes the ref called a halt. By this point about half the electricity in the stadium was coming from the sky. They finally restarted an hour later, for the fans an hour of cowering out of the rain, for the groundstaff an hour of walking round directly under it sticking pitchforks in the pitch. Why they weren't considered at risk from lightning I don't know.

ITV had to fill, and considering their limitations I have to say they rose to the occasion. Adrian Chiles went round the panel asking each of them about their rain holdup experiences, so Gordon Strachan filled us in on the incidence of snow in Aberdeen and Gareth Southgate told us about the Liverpool Villa game that was delayed due to an off-target parachutist. Neither were exactly on topic, but when you consider that ITV presenters never normally have to talk for more than thirty seven seconds before Adrian Chiles is saying see you after the adverts, sorry about the shouty Italian man but that's how they pay my wages, it was a bravura performance. Then they showed us the England France highlights again, made sure we were up to speed on how attractive young French and Ukrainian women look in macintoshes, and before we knew it the game had resumed.

By this time we were stuck into beer and pizza in the casa Hobson, and to be honest the first half rather faded into the background. We decided to watch the second half at the Southbank, and walked down at halftime. We made it before they were due to start again, but by the time we'd got the amiably relaxed man running the place to understand that the rain in Ukraine had fallen mainly on the game and turn over to ITV we'd missed both the goals.

There seems to have been a sense that Menez, scorer of the first goal, should have been sent off in the first half. Maybe so, but the action we saw was mostly dominated by France. As well as scoring the second goal, Cabaye hit the post with the keeper stranded. The highlights package had one decent Ukrainian effort, but Lloris saved well enough from Shevchenko.

It was a shame for the home fans, who must have hoped for a repeat of the Sweden game. They may not have realised Sweden were about to blow another lead somewhere else.

England 3 Sweden 2

By the time England came on we were sat down, the beer was flowing and everything was in place. Andy Carroll opened the scoring towards the bottom of the second pint. And after all our pisstaking it was a move made in Liverpool. Gerrard crossed it to exactly the height of Carroll's head plus his jump, and Carroll got ahead of his marker. As the ball came down he rose to meet it, simultaneously twisting every muscle in his body to squeeze their collective potential energy into his neck.

At precisely the right moment he instantaneously converted all the potential energy to kinetic, and his head flew forward like a piston. Every last drop of ATP in his body fired its inertial load into the ball, which flew into the bottom corner, while Carroll himself dissolved into a puddle of lactic acid with a grin and a ponytail in it.

He headed the ball really hard, is the point. The biochemical metaphor may have come out a little mangled, but however it was achieved it was one of those goals you know you'll see again and again.

The contrast with the winning goal could hardly have been greater. Walcott took the ball down the right, and crossed to Wellbeck. It came behind him, so couldn't be whacked. Not to be denied, Wellbeck dangled a delicate little heel into the path of the ball at the exact angle needed to deflect it round the pursuing defender, under the unsuspecting keeper and into the net. The two goals exemplified the contrasting virtues of the scorers. Strength where it was needed, delicacy where strength would have been unavailing, precision in the highest measure from both.

The middle goal was a conjuring trick. Sweden thought they'd cleared the English corner, and were charging out to close down Walcott just outside the box, but somehow he found the balance between a chip and a drive, getting the ball up and over the defenders with enough speed to be under the bar before the unsighted keeper had grasped what was happening. He was moving to his left, but the swerve deceived him and left him flat on his back, the fall guy to Walcott's tricky rapier thrust. Touche.

It wasn't all good news. We managed some pretty comic defending, after our solid lines in the French game. The first Swedish goal at least had the excuse that we'd cleared our lines, it was just that the ball came straight back in. Glen Johnson, having played Olsson onside, had then got himself in the way, and was unlucky to deflect the ball in twice. If he hadn't been there Olsson would have knocked it in anyway. Mind you he'd have been offside, but then that's the way things go sometimes. At least we'd had some semblance of marking.

For their second goal we abandoned zonal marking and man marking, in favour of the rarely used stand-and-watch system. Maybe they were just overawed by the majestic fullness of Mellberg's fine Scandinavian beard, but they'd let him score twice in ten minutes.

We mustn't overly carp though. They scored, they let two in and could have crumbled, would normally have done so in the past, but instead they kept calm, carried on and scored two more.

So now all our sinews are stiffened, and everyone is imitating the action of a tiger. Roll on the hosts.  We're gonna score one more than you ...

Thanks to Dave and Ann for their excellent hospitality. And thanks to the Southbank for the beer and screen.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Day Seven

Poor, poor Ireland. The first team to have their fate decided. To be honest, their fate was decided as soon as they drew Spain, Italy and Croatia, but technically speaking it has to be confirmed on the pitch, and now it has been.

Roy Keane moaned about the Irish attitude, but as Gordon Strachan said, if you asked any Scottish fan they'd have swapped places with them in a heartbeat. Minnows are there as tasty snacks for the bigger fish, and most of them would rather be eaten by a shark than a tuna.


Italy 1 Croatia 1

This one was a slow burner, with Italy starting the stronger. Balotelli had a shot in the third minute after a defensive lapse, which went just wide. Soon after he had another effort blocked, and Marchisio fizzed the rebound just over.

Balotelli's next effort was punched away by the Croatian keeper, Pletikosa, who followed up with the best save of the game, stopping Marchisio not once but twice.

It didn't help. Pirlo had a free kick a minute later, which he curled over the wall and into the right corner. Pletikosa got a hand to it, but it wasn't enough. This happens to keepers a lot. They make a great save, then a minute later it's in anyway. As a fan, do you celebrate the skill, or mourn the lack of consequence?

Something similar was happening to Balotelli. His next shot, just over, was a quality effort. Nothing changed because of it. Just after, he was taken off for di Natale again. He'd done much better in this game than he had against Spain, but it didn't matter

At least it meant he wasn't responsible for the Croatian equaliser. Chiellini in the Italian goal got hopelessly underneath the cross, and Mandzukic found himself unmarked on the six yard line. He controlled it neatly, and scored off the post. The Croatian fans considered which element to celebrate with, and chose fire, expressed through the medium of flares.

Fortunately they threw them onto the pitch rather than at anyone, but it brought the game to a halt anyway. Mark Bright was horrified that the fans had been able to get them in, when the BBC staff had been rigorously searched. My sympathies lay with the minimum wage stewards asked to process a crowd numbering tens of thousands in time for kickoff. If I had to choose between looking in a few camera bags and patting down the chanting posses of vigorously tattooed Croatians I'd probably have made the same choice they apparently had.

I also thought he was rather underestimating the ability of experienced fans to smuggle objects into football grounds. People are ingenious in the matter of subterfuge, or they'd never have been able to build a glider in Colditz. Flares fit invisibly down a trouser leg or inside a bulky jacket. Are you going to strip search everyone?

Towards the end Croatia pushed forward, and it seemed like they'd snatch a winner if either side did, but it finished 1-1. It was a tight game, that set us up nicely for a loose one.

Spain 4 Ireland 0

Ireland went into this with high hopes, which lasted all of four minutes. Silva picked up a great pass, but Dunne tackled him on the edge of the box. He didn't regain his balance quickly enough, though, and Ward left it to him. Torres pounced, ran round Ward like a galactico running round a Wolves player, blasted it through Given and that was the end of realistic Irish hope.

Jim Beglie described it as the ultimate test of Irish character. You felt there might be some more tests of Irish character on the way in the next 86 minutes.

In the end Ireland managed to hold things together until halftime. There were a few scary moments, and one moment of high comedy when the ref ran straight into Keith Andrews at full tilt and flattened him, but they might have been encouraged going out for the second half only one down.

Then Silva scored. Given punched a shot straight to him, but he still had to get it through three Irish defenders. It went past two right knees, and between the third pair of legs. People say that kind of thing is luck, but players like Silva seem to be lucky a lot.

The only issue now was goal difference. Assuming Italy beat Ireland, a draw between Spain and Croatia would leave the three continental teams on 5 points each, and goals against Ireland would be the decider.

Knowing this, Spain turned it on. Given made amends for any responsibility he might have felt for the first two goals with a top class save from Xavi.

Ireland had some pressure themselves. No real proper chances, but some briefly hopeful dead ball situations as they took the game into the Spanish half. It was a terrible idea, leading to the inevitable result. A hopeful Celtic scrimmage on the halfway line, the Spanish come away with it, Ireland are all out of position, Torres gets the ball through, goal. You never want to have a good spell against Spain, it just makes them angry.

Del Bosquet took Torres off for Fabregas, to safeguard him for the Croatia game. They had the goals they needed. The substitution in itself told you everything you needed to know. Ireland were playing a team who can bring on Cesc Fabregas to give another player a rest. They brought Maclean on for Duff, as if to highlight the gulf between the teams. He's a promising player, is Maclean, but he'll never be Catalan.

Keane had a decent effort soon after, well saved by Casillas. Nobody cared. Neither did it affect anything except goal difference when Fabregas scored a few minutes afterwards. It was a corner, the tiring Irish defence didn't pick him up, he dinked round a defender and slotted it in between Given and another defender. I normally check the BBC clips if I've missed players' names, but it hardly seems worth it with this one.

Three huge cheers for the Irish fans, though, and the Spanish ones too. They were supposed to be segregated, but somehow or other the Irish and the Spanish ended up half mixed together. I don't know if they'd swapped tickets with each other or what, but the green, orange and white looked very nice mixed in with the red and black. Some of the morons who blight the game from Dartford to the Dnieper must have been watching, so let's hope somewhere in the back of their minds they felt a little bit shamed.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Day Six

We were back with the group of death, and I was back with the Hobgoblin. It's a beer, not an ex. I'm beginning to think that it's football night, so I'm allowed some beers may not be an especially practical rule right now.

Portugal 3 Denmark 2

This one was as marked a temperamental clash as you're likely to get in a European championship. Freezing winters against blistering summers.  Baltic herring against Atlantic sardines. Kierkegaard against transubstantiation. It gave us possibly the best game yet.

Pepe struck first, heading home at the near post from a Moutinho corner. Ronaldo nearly doubled the lead when his free kick clipped off the top of the wall, but it was deflected just over the bar.

Postiga succeeded where he had failed. Nani put the ball in, and he got across the Danish defender Kjaer and put it in at the post. Two nil.

The Portuguese were dominant at that point, but just when we thought they were going in two up at halftime Bendtner pulled one back. The cross came in, Krohn-Dehli, the keeper and the nearest defender all followed it, and Krohn-Dehli got there first. He headed it back over, and Bendtner headed it into an empty net.

There was a significant question mark over the goal, which was that Bendtner was offside from the original cross. He didn't touch the ball until it came back, so was there a second phase? The rules of the game say yes, so the officials were correct to allow the goal, but personally I think the rules should be changed. A second phase should only be considered to apply if the ball has actually touched a defender, or play has been slowed up sufficiently to allow the defense to reorganise. Otherwise you're legitimising goal hanging, which is precisely the behaviour the offside rule was designed to prevent.

For the surprisingly large section of my readership that doesn't really get football, none of that will mean anything. I know you normally just skip the technical bits anyway, hoping for jokes about Schrodinger and bottoms, but I ought to offer you something as part of my self-imposed public service remit. In the spirit of the big society, which is what old Etonians call it when they don't want to pay you, here is the offside rule for geeks, courtesy of the excellent (and very funny) @OctoberJones. Hope that helps.

Ronaldo carried on missing after the break. He got clear through in the 49th minute and shot from the edge of the box, but it was easily saved. Kvist and Bendtner also missed for Denmark, but in the 78th minute Ronaldo raised the bar for any misser for the rest of this tournament. He was literally five yards clear of the defence, it was just him and the keeper, he could have taken it in closer, even you or I would have known to do that, but he shot from an unnecessary distance, and it flew wide. Everyone who can't stand Ronaldo was thrilled.

We never celebrate these things properly. Just imagine, all of us in our separate houses, all laughing at Ronaldo in isolation. We should join together, in a conga line around the world.

It's true, the Atlantic would pose a problem. Perhaps we could chain together every boat belonging to someone who hates Ronaldo, moor them from Portugal to Brazil and lay wooden boards across the top of them for the conga line to move on. We'd have to arrange them in order of height, or you'd end up with skiffs next to ocean liners. That way, everyone in Europe that hates Ronaldo could conga across the Atlantic in time to boo him at the World Cup. What a joyous festival of unity and togetherness it would be.

Back to the football. You may recall that Ronaldo had just missed. Two minutes later, Bendtner's equaliser made him regret it. The ball come in from Jacobsen, he pulled off Pepe, as it were, and shot. The keeper got a hand to it, but could only push it onto the post and in.

It galvanised the Portuguese, and the last ten minutes were all theirs. Ronaldo missed twice more, then Varela showed him how it's done. Agger got caught with the ball, and it came back in from Coentrao, who seems to be a footballer not a liqueur. Varela missed with his left foot, controlled it and banged it home with his right.

Ronaldo still had time to pick up a yellow card for a cynical tackle, but when Schone blasted over soon after that was it. Life isn't actually a morality play, and there were no consequences for Ronaldo, but the simple fact that he'd been on the winning side can't have entirely compensated for the knowledge of how little he'd contributed to that win.

Holland 1 Germany 2

I nearly missed the start of this one, like I did the Greece v Czech Republic game the other day. In honour of Germany I'd dashed to Lidl, and you always find more cheap shit in there than you'd ever realised you needed. In the event, I sat down as the kickoff countdown hit 5.

Yes, the kickoff countdown. Instead of waiting for the referee to blow to start the game, the announcer counts down from 10 over the tannoy, usually with the help of the fans. In English, obviously. Polish or Ukrainian? Neither language seems to exist.

Van Persie had the early chances, but it was Germany that scored first. The ball came through to Gomez, and he made us all gasp by pirouetting on left foot as he controlled it with his right, then firing it under the diving keeper. It was beautiful control, and following on Ozil's shot against the post it reminded us all why Germany are so fancied for this tournament.

Badstuber nearly doubled their lead when he got a free header, absolutely unmarked in the 6 yard box. Unfortunately for him his header went straight at the keeper, but you wondered where the Dutch defense were. That's the kind of thing they're supposed to be good at. People have been slagging off England, but our defence never did anything that bad against France.

So it was no surprise when Gomez scored again. His welltimed shot followed a one two with Schweinsteiger in which he literally ran rings round Mathijson. Actually, no that's unfair. He metaphorically ran rings, but literally only ran one ring. Not that the Dutch will find that much of a comfort.

The keeper Stekelenbug was slightly at fault as well, having gone down perhaps slightly early, allowing Gomez to score over him. Just after the break he made spectacular amends, saving two German shots in a row. Three nil would have killed Holland, but now they rallied.

Van Persie and Sjneider both had decent efforts, then Robben got free in the box, with the ball (duh-uh), but volleyed when he had time to control and shot wide. His next effort laid out Jerome Boateng, the German Ghanaian whose brother Prinz plays for Ghana. The Boateng brothers played on opposing teams in the last World Cup, in a fraternal clash which has never happened before or since. Although it should be noted that Ronaldo and Beckham both have very similar faces, in the sense that you want to punch them about the same amount, and in my opinion may well be related.

After 72 minutes they brought Klose on for Gomez. While the commentators were busy chatting about German forwards, van Persie reminded everyone he was still there by finally scoring. He got the ball to him on left, turned Hummels to make the space and scored from 25 yards. I should probably explain that Hummels is a German defender, otherwise turning Hummels would sound like something you'd do in a Sopwith Camel.

The Dutch brought Kuyt on for Robben. It would be fair to say that Robben was a little miffed, and instead of running off across the pitch he exited on the far side, then slowly walked round the stadium scowling, thus giving the TV cameras ample opportunity to focus on his discontent.

Just before the end Boateng got a yellow card for timewasting, and now misses the next game against Denmark. Unless something remarkable happens, he and Germany will be there for the quarter finals.

It was a satisfying day for a blogger, all told. Lots of action, an offside controversy, Ronaldo looking a twat. It also meant that after twelve games there were no nil nils so far. There are normally some shit games in the knockout phase, but then there are normally some shit games in the group stages, and we haven't had any yet.