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What I Learned From Watching Day 8 of The Euros 2012

June 16, 2012

On a dark and stormy night in the Ukraine, Group D became the clearest of the four to still be determined in Euro 2012, as Sweden crashed out of the Euros.  Off we go:

  • First off, did you try your hand at “Ibrahimovic Bingo?”  I sure did, but it was even less successful than Sweden’s efforts yesterday against England.  Sure, maybe it would have been a more accurate satire of the ongoing dialogue by commentators covering Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s games for Sweden during the Ukraine game, where I heard several of the listed words used. Only a guess, but ESPN’s Adrian Healey and Robbie Mustoe either saw the article in England’s Telegraph and cheekily skirted around the game in their commentary during the match, or completely missed it altogether.  I did hear vague references to his “unpredictability” as one of them said (and I paraphrase) “You never know what to expect with him”, another time it was said he was “polarizing“, which dances around the edge of several payoff phrases such as “”mercurial”, “erratic” and “conundrum”.  I also heard him described as “Titanic”, which is close but no cigar for “Talismanic”, and we sure saw a lot of his ponytail, but otherwise it was a bust. Maybe the ITV broadcast in the U.K. had more joy.  Regardless, maybe words such as “world class” and “levels above his teammates” should have been on the sheet, as that reflects the ultimate truth about Ibra more than any of the snark from English commentators.
  • As for the game itself, it was a “cracker of a match” to use the British English parlance, a series of three mini-games that comprised the best match of Euro 2012 to date. For the first half of the 1st Half, England had the run of play, culminating in laser beam cross from Stephen Gerrard onto the head of much-maligned Liverpool striker Andy Carroll, who finished spectacularly past Swedish ‘keeper Andreas Isaksson to put England in front. From that point in the 23rd minute, England went into their “playing-not-to-lose” shell, and Sweden began to test the England defense time and again in the second half of the 1st Half and continuing for the first 15 minutes of the 2nd Half. Sweden’s first goal five minutes into the 2nd was the very residue of all that pressure, a comical “Keystone Cops”-like sequence that began with an Ibra free kick just outside the penalty area rebounding right back to the big Swede, who scissor-kicked it past nine English defenders onto the feet of an unmarked Olaf Mellberg. Having time to settle the ball and perhaps dance a jig, Mellberg shot right at English ‘keeper Joe Hart (a defender’s strike if there ever was one) and the ball took three deflections off Hart and England defender Glen Johnson before settling across the goalline, a tying goal that was rightly scored by UEFA as an own-goal off the last touch of Johnson. Not more than ten minutes later, Sweden scored again in the 59th on basically the same set-up, as this time Sebastian Larsson sent a free kick again onto the head of an unmarked Mellberg, who needed no help from England getting the ball into goal this time. Perhaps it was the Swedish celebration right in front of the English goal that sparked the response to come, as England then had it all to do over the final 30 minutes of regular time, a third mini-game that became theirs with Manager Roy Hodgson’s insertion of Theo Walcott for the languid James Milner in the 61st minute. It was Walcott who evened the match three minutes after coming on, a 25-meter thunderstrike that found nothing but net, and in the 78th minute with England playing to win again, it was Walcott who sent a low near-post cross inches behind an inrushing Danny Welbeck, who backheeled the ball past a stunned Isaksson and scored what will likely be the goal of the tournament. Sweden had no final answer – Manager Erik Hamren summing up his squad’s performance at the Euros:  “The operation was good, but the patient is dead …” – and after Tuesday will be pondering questions about the future of the squad heading into World Cup 2014 qualifications.  England know they are a good result against Ukraine away from no longer flying under the radar and ratcheting up expectations for their Euro 2012 finish, no matter how unrealistic they may be.
  • The name of Ukraine’s National Anthem “Shche Ne Vmerla Ukraina” roughly translates in English to “Ukraine Has Not Yet Perished”, which is an apt description of their standing in Euro 2012, losing in uninspiring fashion to France, 2-0.  A massive thunderstorm delayed the match for 56 minutes after five minutes had been played, and the pause seemed to take the starch right out of the home team and its crowd. France put the game away during a five-minute span early in the 2nd Half, class goals coming from Jeremy Menez in the 53rd and Yohan Cabaye in the 56th, and for all their industry and enthusiasm, Ukraine had no reply.  France is now unbeaten in 23 straight international competitive matches, and I doubt that streak ends against Sweden. By virtue of their win over the Swedes Ukraine still controls their own destiny, as beating England Tuesday sends them through, and at this point, that’s about all they could have asked from their first two matches.
  • Group D’s fate is the clearest of them all. France (4 points) only needs a tie against Sweden (0 points) or a Ukraine tie or loss to England to advance.  England (4 points) and Ukraine (3 points) advance if they beat the other, while England advances if their match ends in a tie. Sweden is eliminated. Should France and England end up tied for the top of Group D, determining 1st and 2nd will come down to the scorelines of Tuesday’s games to decide goal differential and/or scoring advantage. France by all means should advance, so the remaining question is England or Ukraine?  A tough one to be sure, as on paper England has more talent and will be bolstered by the return of Wayne Rooney, but Ukraine will have the home field advantage from a rabid crowd.  I’m sure the English media will overanalyze this game to death, so I’ll just say that if the England that emerged in the last half-hour of yesterday’s Sweden game shows up, playing to win, they will.

Up Next: Saturday June 16, Group A completed their troika of matchdays with Poland vs. Czech Republic and Russia vs. Greece, both games starting at 11:45AM PST (as will the other final group stage games each day, as regulated by FIFA in order to prevent match ”coordination” or outright fixing between well-situated competitors).  Since I couldn’t watch both at the same time (and will DVR the other), I watched the Poland-Czech match live to see if the co-hosts can advance (They didn’t).

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From → Soccer, Sports

One Comment
  1. June 17: EDIT to add a link about the Swedish celebration in front of England’s goal after going up 2-1, as well as to clarify the “Keystone Cops” sequence on Sweden’s first goal (it was not directly from Ibra’s free kick, but rather Ibra feeding the rebound of his free kick to Mellberg), correct France’s unbeaten streak (23, not 20) and add the title of Ukraine’s national anthem in anglicized Ukrainian.

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