National team football

Spare the tears for careless Dutch, but hats-off to Greece

So far, Euro 2012 has been entertaining and has kept the spectator on the edge of his seat. There has scarcely been a dull game and we have yet to see the scourge of the modern game – the sterile 0-0 draw. But then, we have not reached the “business end” of the tournament. It may become tighter.

But some teams have certainly been careless and exited cheaply. Poland, for example, were tepid from day one, although one got the feeling they had something in reserve. Their lack-lustre performance against the Czechs repaid them in full and hence they are in the kitchen at their own party. Group stablemates Russia were similarly sloppy – how laughable and tasteless that huge banner bearing the image of a marauding Russian looks now!

And then we have the Netherlands – played three, lost three.  Underperformance personified. They arrived in the East as one of the competition favourites and they rarely got into second gear. They have the players, but no doubt tales of in-fighting and [needless to say], money issues will emerge as people look for something to blame. The Dutch are like a soap opera.

Ukraine will also be kicking themselves – more than they kick the opposition – if they go the same way as Poland. A good comeback against Sweden was followed by defeat at the hands of France and now they have to beat a resurgent England to qualify for the next stage.

But are England really resurgent? Well, they made hard work of beating a poor Swedish side who themselves were remiss in hanging on to a lead. England won 3-2, surprising even themselves – did you see Walcott’s face when he was allowed to score? – and capitalising on the poor technique  of Danny Welbeck, who tried to control the ball but instead succeeded in turning it into the net. That was not a sublime piece of skill, despite some parts of the media claiming it was Welbeck’s virtuosity that won the day, it merely highlighted the lack of finesse in English football. I think Ukraine, urged on by their fans, will come out on top and that England will be going home. But it will be tight.

On the other side of the [euro] coin, Greece deserve huge praise for their surprise win against Russia that sent them through. Beleagured by debt and social unrest in their home country, they have punched above their weight and defied the odds – the sort of spirit shown in 2004 when they somehow won the Euros. Ironically, with Berlin trying to call the shots in the great Eurozone crisis, Greece will play Germany in the quarter-finals. And there will end the Greek odyssey.

At this stage, it is hard to see beyond Germany and Spain, which should make for an acceptable final. But there are sure to be one or two twists. A focused and disciplined team, fit for purpose, can come through and win the competition, as we have seen in the past. But if you’re lacking in those qualities, you won’t go far – as the Dutch, Russians and Poles have found to their cost.

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