Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Euro Trash Day 11: The Replacements

The Dutch rested 9. The French made 3 changes. The Romanians stood firm. The Italians mixed and matched a little.

Today was a day for drama and substitutes, for hasty tactical rearrangements and a formation shattered by a first-half red card. Regardless, every team earned their cash, and we enjoyed the treats.

Somewhere tonight, an astrological chart burns.

France 0
Italy 2 (Pirlo 25" pen, De Rossi 62")

If I were Raymond Domenech, I simply wouldn't go home. I wouldn't run the risk of being mutilated and torn limb-from-limb by the croissant-chompers lying in wait at Charles de Gaulle airport. I would simply pull a Jason Bourne; burn my current ID, pull out a fake passport, cut my hair and add a fake moustache, and disappear into the night.

No note of apology, no note of sorrow and regret... just get the fuck out and start again. Barbados is looking for a coach, but even he might be a touch too New Agey for a country rooted in various spiritual traditions.

That being said, let's put Gallic castigation aside for a minute and look at these scrappy Italian feckers.

Did they wet themselves when examining the task at hand? No.

Did they complain at every refereeing decision? No, especially not the contentious red card for Thuram's understudy, Eric Abidal. It was a blatant, clumsy foul. No doubt whatsoever there. But a straight red? Is someone taking the term "professional foul" a little too seriously? Coupet was right there, although Eric was the last man.

Did they work hard in the second half to make sure the victory was theirs? Yes.

Did they make the most of what was good fortune and enterprise was thrown their way? Yes, with the exception of yet another dismal performance from lone frontman Luca Toni. (As the BBC liveblog noted, Toni and Mario Gomez combined for 43 goals this season in the Bundesliga. What the fuck is going on? Are they that bad, or is it the Bundesliga?)

For Italy, this was a fine way to bounce back from two terrible performances earlier in the group. They now stumble into the quarter-finals to face Spain, with the grim reality of continuing to toil without Cannavaro, and now losing Pirlo and Gattuso to 1-game suspensions after their yellows this evening.

For France, a long trip home and plenty of time to reflect. Why didn't Thuram play? Why did Ribery have to overextend on that meaningless, innocuous foul early in the game? Why did Domenech flirt with using Nasri, only to pull him after the red card instead of the listless Toulalan (who's been absolute crap in Euro '08)? Why did Henry toil alone up front? Why is Coupet not in line for the French presidency?

All these questions can be answered rather simply: Domenech is a useless son of a bitch. I eagerly await his termination and subsequent replacement, who is facing a Herculean task to turn around this old, tired squad that's horribly imbalanced towards the aged and tenured.

I just hope for Estelle Denis' sake that Raymond makes a better husband than manager (Else, I'll happily offer my services as a replacement).

Netherlands 2 (Huntelaar 54", Van Persie 87")
Romania 0

Poor Romania. Even with 9 changes to the Dutch XI that fisted France and Italy, they still couldn't get it done. Of course, in lieu of finding actual constructive criticism, the Bucharest press will surely just call for Mutu's head after his penalty miss against Gianluigi Buffon.

But in reality, Romania simply wasn't good enough today. Despite the waves of possession and half-chances, you always had the feeling that the clog-hoppers were going to walk away unscathed, and two moments of class were enough. Huntelaar's finish was decisive from Afellay's cross, and Van Persie surprised our UF liveblog peanut gallery in playing the entire match and even bagging the late goal with an emphatic close-range effort.

Shame for the Romanians, but they're history now.

Regarding Holland, do we join the bandwagon and anoint them as the tournament favourites heading into the quarter-finals? On performances alone, they've been the most impressive by far. They've enjoyed clear victories over a darkhorse and two pre-tourney frontrunners, and now they're looking at a dinner date with either Russia or Sweden, two equally-dull and dismal sides to watch.

Beyond that, a mouth-watering semi with either Spain or Italy, and then who knows?

Of all the teams to make it this far, none other has shown the consistency of character or victory, but they all have their strong points. I wrote at length of the Dutch ability to waste talent in my team preview, and perhaps it's all downhill from here. At least they've shown us some entertainment in the group stages.

(ps. I'm still picking Spain to shake their pretender shackles and emerge victorious, even though Total Football appears to have, gulp, returned)

Links Roundup
Meet Aragones, your new Fenerbahce manager [Soccernet]
Madagascar fire their manager, who was UNDEFEATED in qualifying! [Yahoo! Sports]
Soccer means less people go to the opera? I'm stunned! [AP]
Jens Lehmann with some advice on how to stop Portugal. I'm worried, considering he couldn't stop Birmingham [International Herald Tribune]
Germany's bright young star might jump to the Jewish club of North London. Good/bad idea? [The Daily Telegraph]
Top 10 US Players who deserve to see the pitch (seriously, get rid of Donovan) [THE YANKEE HOOLIGAN]
An inside look at Chelsea's propaganda machine [Pitch Invasion]
Remember this? Well, they've been found guilty! Elder brother Shaun must be so proud! [BBC News]

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