Sunday, June 15, 2008

So I've been following Euro '08 this year in my continuing attempt to prove that Americans can enjoy football, and hopefully, one day truly understand it.

I watched a ton during the World Cup, being home a lot in the afternoon that summer, and started following a Premier League team regularly, the Blackburn Rovers. Anyway, I'll post what lessons I've learned from the EPL later, but for now, here's what I've gotten out of the first week or so of Euro 2008 (hardcore football fans forgive me if I say anything incredibly stupid)

- Dutch football is exciting. I've been pulling for the Dutch all tourney, and all the way dating back to when I can remember watching a little of World Cups past. But man, even if I wasn't then, I would now - they attack, attack, attack - whether it's a scoreless match, or they're up 2-nil. They generate enough scoring chances to make some hockey teams jealous (okay, very bad hockey teams)

- Greek football is boring. One of the storylines coming into this tournament was how would the Greeks do coming in to defend their incredibly unlikely Euro 2004 crown, one of the biggest upsets in the nearly 50 year history of the tourney. In their six games in 2004, the Greeks managed to win it all, despite scoring only 7 goals, and hitting the only shot they took in the final against hometown Portugal to win it. The victory made the Greeks the leading proponent of negative football, which seems to be a catch all for everything most people hate about football, from fans to commentators, slow, plodding, conservative, lack of not only scoring, but opportunities or free flowing ball movement. In what seems to be a reversal, the Greeks went out this year without a point to their name (well, unless until they play their meaningless match against Spain), and exciting "positive" football espousers like Holland, Portugal, and Spain seem to be triumphing so far.

- I love that half the people on the Dutch team seem to be named "Van" something, half the people on the Croatian team seem to have names ending with "Ic", half the sides in the tournament seem to have naturalized Brazilians, and the Germans have a player named Mario Gomez.

- How much different a good keeper makes. I know this sounds self-explanatory, but I always thought watching matches sometimes not a single shot goes on goal that was not either an easy save, or an unsavable ball. However, we've seen both mistakes this tournament - from Greek keeper Antonis Nikopolidis, who made a boneheaded decision to come out of net to get a ball, only to not get it, and see a shot which should been stopped hit right into an empty next, as well as great performances from Italy's Gigi Buffon, saving the day for the Italians against a fierce Romanian side, and the Dutch Edwin Van Der Sar, playing his part in keeping the scores against the Dutch down, while they were attacking the opposing net.

- How valuable it is to have a guy who can finish. Again, this should go without saying. But how many times have fans been kicking themselves watching this tournament, seeing how many through balls, and corner kicks come up to a striker or winger around net, only to see them either kick it way off goal, or lamely knock it on the ground right into the keeper's waiting arms. A striker who makes the most of the opportunities he gets is a priceless commodity in football.

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