Over the past four days, my mornings have gone like this:
Wake up at 8:30 a.m. Turn on ESPN. Watch the first half of the first Euro match of the day. Prepare breakfast. Watch the second half of the first match. Shower. Watch the second match. Think about the Euros the rest of the day.
It’s probably one of the worst ways to waste a beautiful California summer, but this is the Euros! I’ve been waiting four summers for the best tournament in world soccer.
The 2012 Euros haven’t disappointed so far. All eight matches have had their own unique drama. In addition to drama from co-hosts Poland and Ukraine, giants like Netherlands, Spain, and England were underwhelming in their tournament debuts, whereas sleepers like Russia and Croatia came out roaring.
The group stages of the 2012 Euros are one-third finished, but it’s not too late to start following the tournament now. The tournament’s early tension has only been the tip of the iceberg. After little Denmark pulled a shocking 1-0 victory over the Netherlands, turning Group B on its head, who will emerge? Can England, who tied Group D favorites France, 1-1, overcome its massive pressure to advance? Will racist hooligans in Poland and Ukraine stain the tournament?
There’s a lot to look forward to this month.
Best Game: Netherlands vs Germany
Forget the historical rivalry surrounding these two nations before the tournament. After heavyweights Netherlands lost to the Danes last Sunday, this game is now all about survival.
Netherlands needs to win this game to have a prayer of advancing to the quarterfinals. If the Dutch lose, they are automatically out of the Euros. If they tie, then they will need to hope that they can defeat the Portuguese and that either the Germans or the Danes will flop to leave second place open.
To win the game, Netherlands needs goals. Despite their atrocious shooting against Denmark, (28 shots, no goals) the Dutch are masters of attacking football and have the starpower to crack open any defense.
But the Dutch and manager Bert van Marwijk face a dilemma against the Germans. The Germans have arguably the best defensive line in the tournament and are well-known to be highly successful in its counter-attacks. If Netherlands pushes all out to attack, the Germans are capable of turning a Dutch miscue into a sprint on the other side of the field. The Germans have the capability to leave Dutch defenders panicked and out-of-position as they flood into the scoring positions in a matter of seconds.
So here’s the choice that can save or doom the Oranje: should the Dutch play conservatively, eliminate Germany’s counter-attacking chances and hope to outscore the Germans? Or go all-out attack and risk a German counter-attack? It will be interesting to find out.
Best Team Thus Far: Russia
Before the tournament, I thought the Russians were overrated and would finish in third place behind Poland and the Czech Republic. As the Czech Republic-Russia started, I told myself that the veteran-heavy Czech squad would expose the Russians as all hype.
Ninety minutes later, I was left alone, eating my own words.
Russia’s 4-1 rout of the Czechs was the most enjoyable match of the Euros thus far. Russia exposed the Czechs as not only veteran-heavy, but flat-out old. Knowing the Czechs can’t keep up in speed and stamina, the Russians raced past the Czech defenders and into the back of the net.
Poland and Greece lack the speed to keep up with the Russians’ style of play. Though I was originally skeptical of Russia, I’m going to change my stance. Russia will breeze past Poland and Greece and win Group A.
Keep an Eye On: Spain’s Formations
The Spain-Italy match was one of the most bizarre tactical battles I’ve seen in a long time. Spanish manager Vicente del Bosque strangely picked the rarely used 4-6-0 formation. Considering Spain has three excellent strikers who can score goals anywhere, it was mystifying why del Bosque showed no confidence in his attackers.
Spain had no attacking threats, and with a total of 11 midfielders fighting for space in the middle of the pitch, the area was as jam-packed as rush hour traffic in Los Angeles.
The game ended, 1-1, with little offensive excitement and just 90 straight minutes of possession football. Looking ahead, what will del Bosque put out on the field against Ireland and Croatia? Will it be the boring 4-6-0 formation again, or will del Bosque finally trust his excellent corps of strikers to start?