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European Championships – Opening Weekend

Published by marco on

At the end of two days of play, both hosts—Switzerland and Austria—have had a chance to play and both, as expected, got zero points for all their effort. So far, the usual suspects—and those rated higher in the FIFA rankings—have won their games, though not without a struggle and not without showing weakness in the form of a soft game or what looked like squads that weren’t ready to run the full ninety minutes.

If a squad can’t play ninety minutes in a Swiss June like this one—15°C and cloudy—then they likely can’t play anywhere. The somewhat unseasonable[1] weather has actually been a blessing for football, as the matches have stayed quick for far longer than usual for summer tournaments.[2]

Switzerland 0 – Czech Republic 1

The Swiss team is known, at least in Switzerland, for a lack of heart. They showed up with plenty of heart yesterday and also lots of organization, but it was all for naught as the Czech team capitalized on their only decent shot of the match. In addition to losing their opening match despite having done everything right (short of scoring, as is always the case when one enters into discussions of who deserved to win), they lost their star striker, Alex Frei, to a knee injury late in the first half and their strongest effort in the second half ended up glancing off the crossbar. There was also the matter of an uncalled handball by a Czech defenseman while in the penalty box, which would have offered a real chance at a well-deserved tie.[3] Overall, it was exacty the strong showing the Swiss wanted with the wrong result. The Czechs were either tired[4] or were conserving energy for later rounds.

Portugal 2 – Turkey 0

Portugal is expected to go a long way in this tournament—as they did four years ago, where they lost the final on penalties to Greece. They are not expected to exhibit any sportmanlike or humble qualities on the way there and their performance did not disappoint. As in 2006, during the World Cup, the Portugese were throwing themselves at the ground whenever a Turkish player was within two meters of them, as if there was a problem with gravity around players of the opposing team. Luckily, the referee was having very little of it (though he also didn’t hand out yellow cards for diving) and, luckily, none of these antics led to a goal. Both Portugese goals were actually quite good and the result was well-earned. The Turkish side also played well, but are clearly lacking a finisher without Hakan Şükür.[5]

Croatia 1 – Austria 0

Austria appears much farther down the official FIFA rankings than Switzerland and was not expected to do very much in this tournament. However, as with the Swiss, the home-field advantage helped them bring the thunder and surprise the Croatian side with a tremendous effort wherein they kept up the pressure for the entire game. The Croatian side, on the other hand, really only played for the first 25 minutes or so before settling in for a far more defensive game than was expected—and than they had been bragging about before the game. The Croatian player that bragged that he had more skill than all the Austrians put together should, by all rights, announce a correction by tomorrow, at the latest. The Austrians earned it.

Though the Swiss threw themselves a massive pity party this morning, it seems even worse to lose as the Austrians did: on a penalty kick in the fourth minute. The foul was not in doubt and was committed by a defender clearly overwhelmed by the initial ferocity of the Croatian attack. Little did he know that the ferocity of the Croatians was very limited and that his team would turn out to be more than a match for them. Like the Swiss, though, the Austrians lack finishing and never really threatened with the equalizer[6].

Germany 2 – Poland 0

From the outset, it was obvious that these two sides had the most class on field and really moved the ball around in a way not yet seen in this tournament.[7] The Poles seemed like a good match for Germany, but the Germans managed to pop their two strikers (Klose and Podolski) free a couple of times in the first half and easily put away a goal on one of the breakaways. The Germans distinguished themselves immediately post-goal by huddling together quickly and relatively quietly before returning to the center field, ready for business. Even the coach jumped in the air once and was already cool and collected when next the camera found him.[8] It was nice to see them score a goal without the goal-scorer irritating everyone in sight with his arrogance. Podolski—who’s got a cannon and isn’t afraid to use it—scored the second well-earned goal as well. Though Poland played well and created a lot of chances, they couldn’t put one in. If you don’t have a horse in the race, this was definitely the best football match so far. Germany looks very strong.

[1] Unseasonable unless you ask a true Swiss, who will revel in how much the bad weather bothers you and burble that it’s “always like this…at this time of year” as if that somehow makes it ok that we once again went almost a whole week without seeing the sun. In June. When the days are longest. But I digress.
[2] The author wishes to note for the aforementioned Shadenfreude-full Swiss that he is fully aware that summer doesn’t officially start for two more weeks, but that he still feels fully justified in considering June a summer month even though local conditions still force jeans and a sweater as if we were all living in Iceland instead.
[3] One is reminded of the truly hilarious quote from German footballer Jürgen Wegmann, “Zuerst hatten wir kein Glück und dann kam auch noch Pech dazu”, which translates (roughly) to “at first we had no luck and then we had just bad luck”.
[4] Understandable since their national season just ended.
[5] At some points in the game, the Turks seemed to be totally unaware that he was no longer playing for them as they lobbed ball after ball into the box—to absolutely no one.
[6] The Croatian goalie made a couple of nice saves, but those are the kind of saves he’s expected make—he was never really in trouble.
[7] Even Portugal was kind of lackluster in this department
[8] I actually didn’t know which coach was which at the time and wrongly assumed that he must be the Polish coach because of his lack of emotion about the goal.