sâmbătă, 21 august 2021


Ioana Nicolaie - Pelinul Negru, Humanitas 2017

Pelinul Negru e povestea primilor ani de scoala ai Augustinei Bulta, o fata nascuta la cateva luni de la explozia centralei atomoelectrice din Cenobil. Augustina traieste in nordul Romaniei, intr-un oras de munte, probabil Sangeorzul nativ al Ioanei Nicolaie, dar citind romanul am recunoscut multe din cliseele copilariei mele, cliseele primilor ani de dupa comunism.

Insirate pe hartie, se citesc ca un lung pomelnic de barbarisme, de situatii specifice unui stat esuat si unei societati in paragina, lucruri pe care le-am vazut de aproape in copilaria mea, pe care nu le doresc nimanui si despre care sunt recunoscator ca am avut norocul istoric sa le depasim. Ce e interesant insa e ca am citit cartea destul de detasat emotional, recunoscand atat situatiile, cat si viata interioara a protagonistei, dar fara sa fiu prea miscat de ele. Pana aproape de ultimele pagini. Si cred talentul scriitoricesc al Ioanei Nicolaie e cel care m-a facut sa fiu atat de miscat de unul din cele mai banale evenimente ale Romaniei post-comuniste. Copilul speriat de taierea porcului e un tablou care a tot fost descris in literatura romana si un fapt despre care se poarta frecvent discutii la mai toate nivelele de varsta si profunzime. Un fapt care, descris intr-un roman, nu pare sa mai aiba suficienta seva artistica incat sa poata misca cititorul. Ei bine, sfarsitul Guitului familiei Bulta reuseste sa aiba acelasi efect sfasaietor ca despartirea autorului de Micul Print in romanul omonim.

Si asta e un mare compliment, Micul Print e cartea mea preferata. Dar da, periplul Augustinei prin lumea literelor care nu stau locului si prin societatea care incearca sa se regaseasca pe sine imbina elemente din Micul Print (de unde motivul prieteni vulpe e furat fara rusine si, am impresia, si fara justificare) si din Flori pentru Algernon. Augustina e un Charlie Gordon de Romania, fara norocul de a cunoaste performanta academica, dar cu speranta ca teritoriul nu-i este complet interzis.

Astept cu nerabdare sa citesc mai mult din... saga Rodnei? Trilogia familiei Bulta? Nu stiu cum sa-i spun, pentru ca Ioana Nicolaie nu i-a dat nici un titlu, si nici nu da vreo indicatie in ce fel romanele s-ar lega intre ele. Dar Cartea Reghinei si Tot Inainte sunt si ele pe lista mea, si o sa am un verdict mai clar asupra povestii familiei Bulta odata ce le citesc. Pana atunci, ma bucur sa gasesc in Augustina o protagonista feminina a literaturii romane, scrisa de o femeie si care nu se defineste in nici un fel prin raportarea la masculin, nu-si vede rolul in lume ca purtatoare de copii si obiect al placerii masculine. Suna banal, dar nu prea am reusit sa gasesc multe alte personaje asemenea in literatura romana. Sper ca mai sunt, in special in literatura romana recenta, si ca n-am reusit sa le gasesc pentru ca n-am citit eu suficient, nu pentru ca-s asa rare. S-ar putea face un caz pentru Vitoria Lipan si, intr-adevar, ea e prima oprire pentru cine cauta femei puternice in literatura romana, dar lumea in care se misca Vitoria e una a barbatilor. In lumea Augustinei barbatii exista, dar sunt o chestie cu care mai degraba nu vrei sa interactionezi. Si pe buna dreptate.

In rest, Ioana Nicolaie merge cu pedala lirica apasata tot timpul, uneori chiar prea tare. Povestea e spusa la persoana intai, iar ochii Augustinei sunt un filtru prin care cititorul primeste o lume diferita de experienta senzoriala cu care e obisnuit, o lume pe care trebuie s-o traduca inainte s-o inteleaga. Ceea ce e bine, efortul te tine angajat in poveste, iar faptul ca nici personajul, nici autoarea nu simt vreo obligatie de a explica tot ce se intampla face lumea romanului foarte reala. Augustina e dislexica sau doar usor intarziata? Cat de mult a afectat-o Cernobil? Cat de mult i-a afectat familia Cernobil? Putem sa intuim, putem sa ghicim, dar nu stim cu siguranta. Iar explicatii suplimentare nu ne datoreaza nimeni.

luni, 12 iulie 2021

Euro 2021 - Un Estate Italiana

Italy - England 1-1 (3-2 penalties)

When all is said and done, you know this is a good outcome. Italy was the best team of the tournament - by some distance - and deserved to win. Not only that, they brought with them the track record that is the bread and butter of football pundits (however many games undefeated, however many consecutive victories) and left us with plenty of stuff to make legends of. Whether you want to go with Chiellini's smile in tense moments, with the father-son Chiesa symmetry, with the best winger injured in the key moment or with whatever else, plenty to choose from in Italy's trajectory in this Euro. They have, as expected of a tournament winner, furthered the game of football.

And England? Punching above their weight, first time in donkey's years in a tournament final, young time, coming back stronger, plenty of feel-good stories the media can use for the nation's ailment. And a tad less vandalism tonight, and quiet streets. All positives, really.

There was a time, I think during the first half of extra time, when I was like... 'You know what? England can actually have it. I wouldn't even mind that much.' It wouldn't have been right, but life seldom is. In purely footballing terms, coming into the game, it could've gone either way. It's true that Italy played the best football, and us neutrals were right to fall in love with their football right from the first game against Turkey, but they have also constantly lost speed. 3-0, 3-0, but then only 1-0 against Wales. Conceded their first goal against Austria. 1-2 against Belgium, too tight for comfort. And they needed penalties to beat Spain.

England, on the other side, have played relatively boring football, although I think they would call it 'pragmatic' in this country. Crowd the center, don't concede, then snatch what you can. Worked in group stages and worked against Germany. Then Ukraine's game plan crumbled faster than their defense in front of Russia's forced annexation of Crimea and against Denmark, well... Let's just say Sterling has been too much of an asset thus far and felt the need to even things out with the run, dive and beg style of football he is known for. Denmark was the unlucky victim, but it was all about the bottom line by now. After all, it's the hopes of a nation we're talking about, and if they only live at the expense of another's hopes well, we only care about ours anyway. Besides, if anyone can complain about other teams winning ugly, Italy is not it.

Wembley, Wembley, do you know how we get to Wembley? was the word on the street, and on every train platform in London. And Wembley, overflowing with people and hope since this morning, must've been quite a sight in the second minute when Luke Shaw scored the first goal. I suppose I should be happy for Shaw, Manchester United player innit. More on that later.

For know, the acknowledgment that it was a good goal, brilliant run down the wing from Shaw, inspired (albeit a tad lucky) cross from Trippier and a cold-blooded shot to leave Donnarumma stunned. Italy took a while to get into the game and frankly, I thought the first half was the poorest I've seen from them the whole tournament. They only started to get into the game after some 10-15 minutes, and even then, it felt like they're afraid to attack. They were refusing to throw men forward, every run down the wings ended in nothing as there was no one in the box to receive the ball, Immobile didn't really feel like a striker and the midfield line was staying back even with the ball and with space ahead of them.

Slightly different story in the second half, when they started pushing more and more, led largely by a very lively Chiesa. And the goal did come, halfway through the second half. Scored by another defender, sweet irony. Maybe because, just as no one expected Luke Shaw to be in the box for the first goal, no one really expected Chiellini and Bonucci can combine in the opposite box with the same ease they do in theirs. It was kind of clumsy, the kind of goal scored by willpower rather than skill. I doubt Bonucci's gonna care.

The closing minutes of regular time were fairly evenly balanced, with both teams having chances and none of them very serious. Italy was huffing and puffing, Chiellini had to pull down Saka as to outrun him was inconceivable by that point, and when it become clear that we're heading to extra time it became just as clear that it was a case of Italy resisting rather than hoping to score.

Maldini used his substitutions smartly though, Bernardeschi, Belotti and Locatelli provided enough physical freshness for Italy to have the best chances during extra time. Southgate, for all the good he's done with this England team, really blew the game with the extra time substitutions. Kept Sterling in although he was obviously tired, shifted some positions about without being very clear on why, and kept some of his best players on the bench until way too late.

Obviously, sofa management is much easier than on-pitch management and it's cliche to say that the players on the bench are better. The substitutions might've looked like a good idea at the time. But even so... you're putting Rashford and Sancho in for 2-3 minutes hoping you can snatch something, but have them hit penalties? Why not Kalvin Phillips or Sterling, players whose adrenalin levels were high enough to suppress the nerves of the shootout. When you haven't warmed up properly and you have to hit that perfect penalty, you tend to think about it a bit more. And that little bit of extra thinking, of contemplating the ways in which it can go wrong, might just pour a bit of lead into the feet. And that bit of lead might make a couple of inches difference between a goal and hitting the post. Especially when the manager asked you to come on for three times before actually sending you on.

In a way, I'm glad it was our boys who blew it. Part of the reason why I can't bring myself to support England is the abuse United players have had to endure at Wembley historically. At least since Beckham's red card against Argentina in 1998, though probably earlier as well. Sure, United hasn't won as many things in recent times and have thus become somewhat less harmful, less worthy as an object of hatred. But you just wait until the first derby, and media and fans alike will be quick in remembering the Rashford and Sancho misses in the Euro final. To which I say, let them hate us. Or, to paraphrase a well respected England legend: 'Fuck it, it's only England!'

There is much to explore in the psychological and sociological layers of my dislike for England's national team, especially coming from a position of supporting them, and introspections will take place. Perhaps I will change opinion; I will admit that Southgate has done a magnificent job and turned the team from eternal also-rans into serious contenders. With this progression, and with the wealth of young talent available, a major win might well be in England's future. But for now, a European final is just about right. Enough to instill hope and goodwill in the nation, enough to provide comedy material for a continent still struggling to understand these weird islands off the coast of France. 

Let England be England. Tonight, and the next days's headlines, should rightly belong to mister Chiellini, mister Bonucci and their colleagues. The dude who got his medal in crutches, the dude from Sassuolo, the kid with a famous footballing father, and all the others. Theirs is the cup, theirs is the glory. And Wembley was a class act tonight for playing Un Estate Italiana for the trophy presentation.

joi, 8 iulie 2021

Euro 2021 - Take me to Church

Italy - Spain 1-1 (4-2 penalties)
England - Denmark 1-1 (2-1 aet)

I know, I know, I should probably support England. Adoptive country and all that, the country whose jobs I stole and whose benefits I scrounged. And some of my fellow immigrants do, though I suspect it's the less knowledgeable part, and they're a minority. Not only is this England team rather boring to watch (though, admittedly, most efficient England team I've seen), but they have this amazing talent to make themselves unlikeable. In the DNA of the nation, I'm thinking. Penalty? You must be kidding me! Sterling should get ready for Tokyo, it's the Olympics where they give out medals for diving.

I started watching the game with rather neutral feelings and the expectation for England to win easily. Not so the Danes, spurred on by an ever-improving form, memories of '92, Christian Eriksen's tragedy or fuck knows whatever else, but they certainly looked willing to play their chance. England was the most attacking team from the off, but you only need to cut off Kane from the midfielders and push Sterling to the side to annihilate the threat of a team whose only forward capable of a dribbling is on the bench. Yes, Gareth, Rashford should've played more.

And I found myself cheering the Danish goal, in contrasting mood to all the noisy kids in an England shirt on the streets and on the tube yesterday. If I am to be fair, and if England did deserve anything in yesterday's game, it was the equalizer. Fast attack, good link up with the winger and great ball in. I'm really sorry for Kjaer, one of my favourite players in this tournament. He won't be happy to put his name on the own goal, but I thought his movement was very intelligent and the best possible thing he could've done under the circumstances. With Sterling racing for a simple tap in, there's no way he should've let the ball past him. With no means of reaching it on feet, the slide was a good idea, although obviously not the best outcome.

In the second half the Danes ran out of gas pretty quickly, too, so it was either a lucky break or waiting on penalties for them. England was the fitter team, but fitness obviously doesn't translate into goal threat. Schmeichel had a great game and good awareness of the game, and after Wass came on to cement the defence, it was more of a waiting game from both sides.

But of course, the penalty came. There will be people who'll argue it was a penalty, for sure. It wasn't. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't matter. The traditional 50% refereeing in favour of the hosts and all that. It was given, and England won. It does seem a good time to remember, as the nation rejoices, that should VAR have existed in 1966, England might've never won the World Cup. It shows, I suppose, a consistent tradition of Wembley being the place where various ways in which Britain defrauded other countries are shown ever since 1924.

Harry Kane missing the penalty is a good indication of how the shootout might've gone. Just as well we didn't get there. All in all, it's gonna be a tough final for Italy, but I am looking forward to the azzuri painting the temple of football blue.

How obvious was Sterling's dive?

Speaking of temples... I had no doubts that once Chiesa's 60th minute goal again Spain went in, Italy was as good as qualified. And what a magnificent goal it was! Classical counter-attack, keeper to goal in 3 passes. 

The BBC pundits were saying Spain dominating the first half. Didn't really feel like it to me. Spain had more possession, yes, but then again, of course they did. Biggest chance was Italy's, the one where Unai Simon was caught of guard by the Italian left wing attack, and it was only because of Chiesa's extra turn that the score was level at half time.

Oyarzabal missed a sitter, all alone in the box and throwing his head next to the ball rather than at it; then again, all Spanish players should've used their heads better. Morata's goal was brilliant and, if ever there was a period where Spain could've snatched it, I thought it was the extra time. Italy running out of gas and pinning for the penalties, it was a good opportunity to throw in some fresh legs and force a goal. But of course, Luis Enrique made three defensive subs, because not everything in life has to make sense. I also thought Spain should've had a penalty in the closing minutes, Chiellini handling the ball with his hand in the box was clear as day, but maybe I need someone explaining 'natural position' to me.

Penalties it was, and we started off with a round of missed ones, just to add to the drama. But Morata, probably feeling the goal might actually leave a positive impression of him, decided to shoot the blandest, slowest penalty seen by man, giving Jorginho a perfect platform to make highlights with a cheeky execution. 4-2 Italy,  and Wembley awaits. For a referee mistake, probably, though I still predict a dark mood over London come Monday. It will be sunny in Rome though.

duminică, 4 iulie 2021

Euro 2021 - The Germanic half

Czech Republic 1-2 Denmark
Ukraine 0-4 England

Find the center of the Universe
So it ended up like this. It's gonna be a Mediterannean team against a Germanic team in the Euro final which, you know, is an accurate reflection of how both of them see Europe. Which makes me wonder, as an Eastern European, what continent am I from? I thought the clue is in the name, but maybe Vltava is an ocean separating the two continents of Europe. Culturally, at least.

With no ethnic bias - no conscious one anyway - I have been sympathetic towards most Eastern European teams in this tournament, and yesterday in particular I expected more from both of them.

The Czechs squeezed past the Netherlands, but Denmark sounded like an easier proposition. Credit to the Danes though, they have steadily improved throughout the tournament, and England should not expect a walkover in the semifinal. Early goal might've shattered the Czechs somewhat, but that goal should have never been conceded. Dude is alone in the box, no need to jump, defenders nowhere to be found. The second goal was also floating about, I didn't see anything THAT special in the pass, but it had to happen somehow. 2-0 before half time and the game was done. The Czechs did better in the second half - they seem to be very much a second-half team - but on this particular occasion it was a case of too little too late. Sure, Schick scored his 5th, but he is now out of the competition, Harry Kane's on 3 and likely has two more games to go. Well, only one, really, it's not like he's gonna score against Italy.

Ukraine didn't start from the same 'not sure how it's gonna go' position as the Czechs, they were seen as easy prey for England and unfortunately for them, it was a part they fitted perfectly. I'm not a massive fan of England, quite away from that actually. The flack United players have traditionally gotten while playing for the National team, together with Brexit and all the steaming pile of bullshit emanating from Westminster Palace over the past 5 years or so cemented my lack of sympathy for my adopted country. They are looking good though, good enough to go one better than the World Cup and reach the final. They'll never beat Italy, but there'll still be a good feeling across the country.

4-0 is a bit harsh, but an accurate reflection of how imbalanced the game was. Harry Kane's 3rd minute goal was really good, he is a magnificent poacher and I haven't fully lost hope he might play for United come August. I'm happy to see the United boys playing well, Luke Shaw was probably the man of the match and Sancho looks decent. 

How easy will it be for England to disperse Denmark? Not very, by all accounts. But they probably will. 

sâmbătă, 3 iulie 2021

Euro 2021 - Soft spot kick

Switzerland - Spain 1-1 (3-1 penalties)
Italy - Belgium 2-1

Travel day for me yesterday, so I've only seen the second half of Switzerland - Spain. My understanding is I haven't missed much. 

When I saw Spain is up at halftime, and how the second half started, I kind of expected Switzerland to score. They are a forward-thinking team and have proved they are not phased by the opposition and can come back from behind. It fell to Shaqiri to pull level, not the best of goals but then Spain's wasn't much of a looker either. 

The Swiss red card was incredibly soft, and IMHO irresponsible refereeing from Michael Oliver. Down to 10 men, it was clear that the Swiss are gonna close the game and wait for the penalties, especially with Sommer's confidence being boosted by a few decent saves. And Spain is not much of a scoring threat either. Only problem is, when you get to penalties, you have to actually score them. This must've not been on the memo for the Swiss. Although, honestly, after the never-ending shoot-out in the Europa League final and that thriller in the previous round, with only Mbappe missing, it was somewhat comforting to see a penalty shoot-out solved before the completion of the 10 shots.

3-1 for Spain on penalties and somehow, despite playing quite poorly, Luis Enrique's team squeezed through to the semifinals. I do get the feeling Italy will be a different proposition though.

Get Insigne with it
Speaking of, Belgium - Italy was a great game of football. 1-2, but the score doesn't reflect how dominant Italy was. Unlucky to be just offside for the first goal, very soft penalty for Belgium to score one, and the Azzurri taking the tempo down a notch in the second half, maybe just to have a go at this 'closing the game down' thingy. Word is, Italians were decent at it back in the day.

What I don't remember about the great Italian teams of the past is playing this game so beautifully. Not only positive, with people in front of the ball and building attacks, but also - incredibly - with a permanent smile on their lips. Go back and watch Chiellini in the game yesterday. Dude's got a large smile on his face all the time, making jokes with teammates and opponents alike, hugging Witsel like it's a charity game. Donnarumma is making jokes in the closing minutes with one-goal advantage.

I don't know how Maldini did it, but he created a team that is not reminiscent of previous Italian teams, but rather, of the Brazil teams of the 90s, minus the stars. Italians might've known how good the likes of Insigne or Veratti are, but the world had no idea. Look at Barella's first goal: scooping the ball from between 3 defenders, then cooly throwing it in the opposite corner. Lukaku has never done anything like that in his career. And he's rated a tad better than the Italian.

Insigne's goal was another beauty, but you get the feeling he didn't even mean it; it came out of pure swagger. I almost don't want the Euros to end now, I'd like to watch this Italian team a bit more please.

Also, how long until it's clear that Federico Chiesa is a better footballer than Enrico?

joi, 1 iulie 2021

Euro 2021 - The story of Harry Kane

England - Germany 2-0
Sweden - Ukraine 1-1 (1-2 aet)

Never in a million years would I have thought England will beat Germany. Sure, my English friends will be quick to point out, it has happened in 1966, and that's only 55 years ago. No disrespect to Sir Geoff Hurst, but there was no VAR back then. I would thus reply back that when they complain about Maradona's 'hand of God', it might be a good idea to start from Geoff Hurst's goal that never was. Water under the bridge now.

And it is true that this English team is actually pretty good, while the Germany team, while decent, can't hold a candle to great German teams of the past. Also true that Low seems to have lost his way a little bit, but a display like the 4-2 against Portugal should have seen them brush the English aside.

The game itself was rather boring, with sterile German domination in the first half, and we had to wait until 15 minutes from time for the breakthrough to happen. I hear there were loud noises across the green and pleasant land. Just as well, it's actually heart-warming when the English do come together, and the national team scoring provides such an occasion. What doesn't sit well with me is Sterling scoring, taking his tally up to 3. He's not that good of a player. Harry Kane's goal,no qualms with that; difficult execution, but one that Harry Kane has done in the past and seems to have mastered.

So, yeah, football has evolved so much that the Germans do not always win nowadays. 

Sweden - Ukraine was expected to be a boring game and of course it wasn't. I also expected Sweden to win and of course they didn't. All in all, you can see a difference in tempo and skill between this game and one where the big boys play, say France - Switzerland. Regardless, the first half was pretty animated, with Ukraine scoring a goal that the keeper should've totally denied, and Forsberg pulling level 2 minutes from time.

Second half, not so much. Whether for fear of losing or simply from lack of fitness necessary to sustain the tempo, it started looking pretty quickly like it's gonna go to extra time. I thought Sweden is gonna pull it off until about 80th minute or so. But one thing I noticed with the Swedes: they don't really shoot. Pretty damn hard to score when you don't shoot. Ukrainians seemed slightly inferior in skill, but they made it up by extra tenacity and a determination not to lose.

Extra time turned into something of a Muay Thai match. Absolutely horrendous foul from Danielson on Besyedin and, regardless of intent, that's a red card all day long. And it's at that moment I moved my preferences firmly in the Ukrainian camp. I really hope Besyedin's gonna recover quickly, and fortunately, by the look of it, the bones in his leg are not broken. But career-ending injury brushed past the kid. The remaining 20 minutes were marred by really bad fouls on both sides, and a really fragmented game which, again, spelt 'let's go to penalties'. I usually feel playing to run the clock down to get to penalties is cheating the game somewhat, and I was really glad to see on this particular occasion it's been punished. You don't get to see this every day, and it's a painful way to lose, but Sweden brought it upon themselves: a gosl in the injury time of extra time. Well done, Dovbyk, just make sure to keep your lucky bra on for next time as well.

Next time means England in the quarter-finals, and it's a difficult proposition, but by no means impossible.

Speaking of,  let's see how many I get this time. They're all hard to call, by the way.

Switzerland - Spain. The Swiss did wonder to take out France, but Spain has squeezed through so far and I get the feeling tehy'll do it again. Spain

Belgium - Italy. Sorry Lukaku! Italy is like a bulldozer, best thing to do is get out of their way.

Czech Republic - Denmark. I want Schick to get the Golden Boot, and I think he can do it. This game might just be the occasion.

Ukraine - England, I said above, trickier than it looks, though I still go for England. Apparently they're doing semifinals now.

marți, 29 iunie 2021

Euro 2021 - Net neutrality

Croatia - Spain 3-3 (3-5 aet)
France - Switzerland 3-3 (4-5 penalties)

Wow, what a day! The internet was buzzing last night, the memes are already out, the stories and legends have been set out into the world, so there's very little my ramblings can add. But ramble I shall, regardless.

Spain. Spain... is dangerous. If you remember, I fancied Croatia. I thought Spain started the game really poorly. Attacking, but without real threat. Then came the own goal, something out of the bloopers reel. A nod to Banel Nicolita's own goal at the Bernabeu, maybe? Ok, 1-1 at half-time, but it still looked like Croatia's game to me.

Now, I haven't seen the second half, so I don't know how it panned out. It does sound crazy, with Spain getting a two-goal lead and Croatia scoring twice in the last 5 minutes. Extra time, however, was entirely Spain. Morata clicked just at the right time, then Oyarzabal closed it three minutes later. 5-3 Spain, 15 minutes to go, and this time Croatia never really looked like getting back into it.

This worries me slightly about Spain. They were incredibly poor in the first two games, but then, with their back to the wall, scored 5 against Slovakia. And again yesterday, after a poor start and going 0-1 down, ended up scoring 5. And they're gonna play Switzerland for a place in the semifinals. Which is a place I would not have seen them after the first round of group games.

Yeah, but they had the neutrals supporting them
With Croatia eliminated, it fell on the only other Balkan team left in the competition to challenge the odds. I'm joking, obviously. I know Switzerland is not in the Balkans. Although... Xhaka, Shaqiri, Seferovic, Gavranovic, Mehmedi... one can be forgiven for thinking so. Speaking of these names... try and keep them in mind, there's a chance we might be hearing them a lot more often after taking the World Champions out of the competition. How? That's a bit more difficult to explain. 1-0 at halftime, but I still wasn't worried for France. Maybe, if they would've scored the penalty and gone 2-0 up things might've looked shaky. But when Rodriguez threw the penalty into Lloris' arms I was like 'Ok, Switzerland, you've had your chance, you're done for now.' From then on, it took another two minutes for Benzema to pull level, and another two to put France in the lead. Then Poggy hit a bomb, the kind of which he's famous for, yet he never hits for United. Never mind that, 3-1, world champions in cruising mode. Which, in hindsight, maybe they shouldn't have. 

In many ways, the game was mirroring the earlier one, with the Swiss this time scoring twice, including in the last minute of the 90s. So, both games 3-3, both of them with goals in the final minute, and in the end both world cup finalists eliminated. 

Now, I don't know if the Swiss really believed they can pull this whole eliminating France thing off, but they certainly looked like they did during penalties. Everyone was hitting them with swagger and confidence, and memories of the Europa League final were coming back to me in cold sweat form. 4-4. Come on Mehmedi, pride of the Swiss... Mehmedi scores, Mbappe to take us to the next round. 'Oh, wouldn't it be nice to shave some 50 million off that market value of yours, Kylian?' And, what do you know? Not necessarily sure anyone can buy him for 130 million or whatever now, but missed the penalty he did.

I am sorry for the poor kid. He is a magnificent player, and a joy to watch. At the age of 22, he is still maturing, he will probably become even better and more terrifying for opposing defenses. I am hoping this miss will not mark his career in the same way the WC 1994 final penalty miss did for Roberto Baggio. But for a few months at least, talk of the town will be how Switzerland eliminated the world champions, and in the Champions League starting this fall, opposition players will look at Mbappe thinking this is the guy who missed the penalty that got his country eliminated. Until he starts ripping them apart, at least.

luni, 28 iunie 2021

Euro 2021 - Red Alert

Netherlands - Czech Republic 0-2
Portugal - Belgium 0-1

Well this is annoying. I am genuinely upset about Portugal losing, and I thought the game was pretty even, but at the end of the day even doesn't cut it sometimes. Even after the goal, Portugal had an entire second half to score, but couldn't. They came close on a few occasions but again, coming close doesn't count, even if it's as close as hitting the bar. Dare I say, the game might've been lost in the sixth minute, with Jota missing that sitter from 12 yards. Jota was poor overall, but then Bruno came on in the second half and he was no better, wasting a couple of good balls in front of the box and not creating enough. Ronaldo never looked like scoring either, but he's got a solid excuse: Portugal got no penalties.

Belgium? Not much to say about them either. 'Didn't convince the spectators they were the better team, but ended up winners' is the conclusion on livescore and I feel that's a very accurate sum-up. A brilliant goal from young Hazard, Rui Patricio or the defense couldn't do much more, but that's it. Lukaku is very good at keeping the ball, not necessarily at doing anything useful with it.

I'm now throwing my lot fully with Italy. Incidentally, they play Belgium next.

Why was the Netherlands defense so bad?
It had Holes in it!

The other low-lying country appearing today wasn't as lucky. Dominated the first half and for a good while it looked like it's going to be their game. The Czechs were shaky going forward and didn't look impenetrable in defense. Second half reversed the trend somewhat, but it was really the red card for De Ligt that changed the game. I thought red card was a harsh decision, but the internet was quick to shut me down on it. What the internet cannot change is the fact that the game was decided by a referee decision rather than by a goal. Coming out already with more attacking intent after half-time, the Czechs were really encouraged by the extra man, and scored in the 68th minute. Then Schick closed it with 10 minutes to go with a shot so powerful that the ball got stuck in the net. Patrick Schick is now on 4 goals, and Ronaldo with 5 is out. Czech Republic plays Denmark next, so the kid's got a real shot at the golden boot.

I have said before that this is the worst Netherlands team I remember, but I still feel sorry for the way they were eliminated. It feels unfair, but football, like life, offers no guarantees of fairness. At the same time, I'm happy for the Czechs, they are a good team and they seem to be making excellent use of their resources. Navigated a tricky group well and are now facing an accessible opponent to get to the semifinals. Once in the last 4, belief starts to become a factor. Their game against Denmark will certainly be an interesting one.

I fancy Croatia and France tomorrow, let's see if Switzerland can throw a curveball and smooth Italy's way.

duminică, 27 iunie 2021

Euro 2021 - Knockout stages

Wales - Denmark 0-4
Italy - Austria 0-0 (2-1 aet)

Ok, so it's not going to be as straightforward as it was beginning to look for Italy. Might as well, I thought the end of the game last night was great. Fast, tense, a joy to watch for the neutrals.

Italy conceded for the first time in the tournament and was really shaky at times. Even so, I thought they controlled the game fairly well, especially in the first half. Funnily enough, I thought they missed Chiellini going forward rather than defending. Old man Chiellini has been brilliant at setting up play from the back in the first two games. Whereas last night, it felt like something didn't quite click in Italy's midfield. All the service that Immobile got was long balls, not even a whole lot of them, and when it came to positional attacks, it felt like there was always the extra turn, the extra touch, which allowed Austria to then push it away.

To their credit, Austria played really well and was an unexpected match for Italy. I thought they dominated the second half, and Arnautovic's offside goal gave Donnarumma cold sweats, even if only for a couple of minutes. Clear offside, so no complaints about the goal being disallowed, but it showed vulnerability.

One thing the favorites tend to do in the modern game is, when they need a goal, they press forward more and more, faster and faster as the 90 minutes draw to an end, and sometimes it works, but sometimes leaves you vulnerable to quick counters, especially when you have either a fast or a strong guy up front. Italy will have none of that. They stayed calm, played their game, and I get the feeling - especially with this being Italy - they would have been happy to play the same for the next few weeks, should the need have arisen. Also, the idea of deciding the game on penalties didn't seem to phase them, though I think that's just bluffing. Slight advantage for Italy, sure, better goalkeeper and better players overall, but penalties are always a lottery. At which, if I was Austria, I would've taken my chances, though kudos to them for trying to wrap it up before that.

No need for any of that, anyway. Chiesa scored as soon as extra time started, and it was game over. Sure, tense final, in the knowledge that the hypothesis of Austria drawing level exists, but come on... it was over. And what a beautiful way to do it, by the way. Excellent composure from young Chiesa, stop the ball, send the defender the wrong way, then kill it with a wonderful curved shot. 90 minutes without a goal are worth it for that beauty.

Austria's goal was great, too. Incredible inspiration from Sasa Kalajdzic to push the ball behind with the back of his head, after getting down to boots level to find it in the first place. And it wasn't even a case of too little too late, his goal ensured Austria stayed in contention (again, no real chance, but at least hope) and, maybe more importantly, they managed to score against Italy. As history tells us, this is no mean feat. Austria can go home happy with their performance, and they'd do well to forget that pitiful display against Netherlands in the second game.

After the first game against Finland, I thought Denmark should consider achievement any game where all players survive. The Danes deserve huge credit though, they battered Russia to give themselves the best chance to qualify from the group and now they seem to be playing better and better.

I also thought Wales are the better team and they're slight favourites for this game. Nowhere near, they really came undone. No real aggression, not much attacking intent, and an overall surrender. Only 1-0 down at half time, but I couldn't really see them getting back in the game. Not only they didn't, but they're going home leaving a 0-4 scoreline behind them, which will be remembered more than the fact that the last two goals were scored very late in the game. I thought Aaron Ramsey has been a liability from the off, but midfield helped him in the group games. No more here, Bale was barely in the game, Joe Allen, Dan James, the starts in the Welsh team didn't really build anything, while the defenders passed to the opposition for the second goal.

By contrast, Denmark has been missing two of their best players, and they still showed their best football yet. I now think they'll be a headache for any opposition, though probably not a match for the big boys.

Wales can probably be happy with reaching the knock-out stage and probably overachieving for such a small nation, but an opportunity was missed here: even if they were to lose, you have to put up a fight. And I felt they didn't.

vineri, 25 iunie 2021

Euro 2021 - Penaldo

Spain - Slovakia 5-0
Sweden - Poland 3-2

Normally I should've been happy for Spain. I am, a bit. It was, after all, a pitiful display from a great footballing nation in the first two games. Never a good sight. Spain is clearly changing generations and redefining identity after the enormous successes of the past decade or so. Emulating the Barcelona tiki-taka is not working; truth to be told, the system was highly inefficient back then, too. It was just with a lot of effort and a team of very good players that they were able to sustain it, and it was known - though, granted, not easy - to dismantle it.

Nowadays Spain doesn't have a Xavi & Iniesta midfield. No Puyol, Pique or Ramos in defense and they play with a photo model as a striker. For all their 80-something possession against Sweden, not many opportunities to show from.

But they clicked just at the right time. The biggest battering of the tournament so far, good goals and overall an impressive display. Too bad it was at the expense of poor Slovakia, which was a really nice surprise against Poland. Unfortunately, they run out of steam, or they lack the experience to manage points, games and tempo at tournaments like this. And with Spain making sure their goal difference went down the drain, no chance of qualifying from 3rd place either. They'll probably be happy with the display, but they shouldn't be; I felt there was much more potential to their team.

I was glad when Morata missed the first penalty. I don't rate Morata all that much (can you tell?) and it kept the score at 0-0. But when your own keeper pushes the ball in the net after a shot that wasn't even extra difficult, hard to expect many rewards. With 2-0 at half time, Spain were flying, so much so that Ferran Torres could afford to hit back-heels in the goal by the end of it. Gerard Moreno too, was away too undisturbed throughout the game for my taste. He's probably been Spain's best player so far, let's see how he'll fare against real opposition. Croatia, for instance.

Sweden and Poland have, of course, decided to play a dynamic, high tempo, high scoring game, just after no one was expecting this from either of them. Of the two though, Sweden at least have been highly pragmatical. Settle for what you can until the decisive game, then go all out. And the injury time goal provides them with a cushier draw for the last 16. It's not going to be easy, no option will be from here on, but I'd take Ukraine over Croatia any day.

Poland, which the bookies were rating as one of the favorites, has been disappointing throughout, despite the redeeming performance of Lewandowski in yesterday's game. They're going home, to a nation that was probably expecting better.

Germany - Hungary 2-2
France - Portugal 2-2

I have no idea what happened in Munich, I doubt Low has, but the evolution of the scoreline didn't seem believable. Germany went 1-0 down to Hungary, and they were pulled back to level 2 after taking the lead. Congratulations Hungary, you finished last, but at least you made the proud boys in the home stands happy.

I watched France - Portugal instead, and I'm glad I did. It has been the best game of the tournament so far, bar maybe 'Italy thrashing another team' ones, but they run in different categories. Qualification on the table both teams really went for it, and both put on great displays. Ronaldo and Benzema, though both famous for inconsistency in form, have been excellent yesterday. Mbappe is always a threat, although I have to say, much as I admire him, the boy is not a clinical finisher. He'd put himself in situations all the time sure, but if Inzaghi, for instance, would've missed as much as he does, he would not have gotten this mention here. Although I can kind of see Semedo's point, pulling at Mbappe's shirt with both hands every time he got the ball: you have to keep him tied down, otherwise he runs away.

For Ronaldo haters, here's one more reason: 3 of his 5 goals so far were penalties, but now he's two clear in the goal-scorers board. Penaldo indeed, but they all count.

miercuri, 23 iunie 2021

Euro 2021 - Sterling job

Czech Republic - England 0-1

Maybe I should stop predictions for a while, turns out I was wrong about England. Gareth Southgate did so well, he even made Raheem Sterling look good. And apart from the goal, England has been dominant and never really looked in trouble, despite a couple of chances from the Czechs.

The game was all wrapped up in a rather dynamic first half, the Czechs seemed resigned to their faith in the second, specially with Croatia being pulled level by Scotland. And when Croatia took back the lead, it was maybe too late to react, or they just couldn't be bothered.

I maintain Czechs are a good team, but clearly not top class. Let's see who they draw, they might suddenly remember they reached the semifinals in both 2004 and 1996.

Croatia - Scotland 3-1

I haven't seen any of this, but equally surprised and delighted that Scotland managed a goal. Croatia seems to be stumbling a bit, but they're drawn against a team from Spain's group, where everybody is stumbling.

One more day of group games, potentially the most interesting. Although I'd stay away from Sweden - Poland game. Unless you're trying to fall asleep.

marți, 22 iunie 2021

Euro 2021 - Benelux

I wasn't able to watch the games today, I dozed off during the second half of Ukraine - Austria and it's just the Belgium game that I paid any significant amount of attention to. So the ramblings below are based on extended highlights, impressions from the first two games, and - as always - unfounded personal bias.

Macedonia - Netherlands 0-3

Ally McCoist got the score right for once, though poor Macedonia deserved better faith. One of the two teams to leave the tournament with 0 points, but very contrasting impressions of the two. While Turkey is a huge disappointment due to history, expectations and my general sympathy for the Turkish nation, Macedonia is a team no one expected much from. Yet here they were, pulling back level against Austria and twice being close to open the score against Netherlands. Qualified for the first tournament finals ever in the country's history and giving a great account of themselves.

Only, when push comes to shove, big boys will shaft any notion of romantic football and punish you any way they can. Also, their defense has been really shaky, they are unable to close off games and can't deal with the speed and technique of quality players.

That's why Netherlands were able to wrap the game up after an hour, with three goals from three similar actions: ball to winger, pass in the box, find a free man or hit the rebound. I have been critical of Netherlands so far, but they seem to be improving game on game. Wijnaldum is a better footballer than I thought, and today he was merciless. Even Depay looked to have clicked, though it might have to do with the quality of the opposition.

It's still hard to predict the Dutch's route, as they will face a third place from the D, E, F groups, and either of those could be problematic (e.g. Croatia, Spain or Portugal). We'll find out in the next 48 hours.

Ukraine - Austria 0-1

This was unexpected. Either Austria was greatly handicapped by not having Arnautovic in the previous game, or they wrote that off gambling on a win against Ukraine. I'm hoping for the former, because if it's the latter, not only is it disrespectful to the fans, to the sport, and to themselves but also, that's the kind of karma that blows up in your face. Either way, they are through, and bound to be Italy's next victim.

As for Ukraine, I thought they generally played well, they're a decent team and have a few quality players. Dare I say - and I know this is blasphemy in Kiev - that Shevchenko might not be the man to get everything out of this team? Either way, with three points and a -1 goal difference, they'll have to wait and pray. Either for Croatia to draw Scotland or for Slovakia to beat Spain. Neither is impossible, both are tall orders.

Russia - Denmark 1-4

My main expectation in this group was for Russia to finish last. I'm not petty, I just think they deserve it. Their football is largely clueless, they are not making the most of the quality they have in the team and the football they played was next to Turkey and Sweden in terms of ugliness, only Sweden's is efficient. They were very lucky to bet Finland and the Fin's voided goal was questionable, and both Finland and Denmark are better teams. Their shirts were a nod to the great Russian team who reached the final of the 1988 tournament, but the football was nowhere near.

That's why I was happy to see the result, which was before I saw the goals. The Danes really went for it, and I'm not sure whether Eriksen's accident was lucky or unlucky for them. They lost the points on the day, but I always thought it was insanity to restart the game. However, the football they played against Belgium, and especially today, was far better than the first half against Finland. So either Eriksen's accident really motivated them, or they were slow to get off the blocks and would've probably been even better with a fit Eriksen in the squad. Never mind all that, 4 goals today ensure they finish second, and it will be a great game against Wales. I see Wales as slight favorites, but it's a very even game.

Finland - Belgium 0-2

Despite the misstep against Russia, Finland was in a privileged position. Belgium didn't really need points, so a draw would've fitted both teams well, and even losing by one goal could've potentially put them in a qualifying position, pending other results. The fact that they couldn't do that is a marker of how far they still have to go, but also a testament to Belgium's attitude.

But I thought the line is from the sleeve?

I'm not impressed by Belgium, and I think a few of their players are over-hyped. Witsel the prime example, but also Vermaelen, Batshuayi, even Hazard. He's a good player, but not as good as media will have you believe. All that aside, they have been one of the strong teams of the tournament so far, end the group on maximum points and the same number of goals as Italy. Lukaku's on three goals and with a chance for the Golden Boot. Let's see who they draw.

Finland on the other side has to pray even harder than Ukraine. Also, they should master some basic football notions, such as 'the keeper is meant to keep the ball out of goal, not put it in' or 'when you need a point, make sure you defend well'. I started out being sympathetic towards them, they remind me of Iceland of the last Euro and the last World Cup, a team that compensates technical inferiority with hard work. But in the end they didn't even work that hard and oh well, what do you expect then?

My guess for tomorrow is Croatia will beat Scotland, but England won't beat Czech Republic. Where is home?

luni, 21 iunie 2021

Euro 2021 - Legio Augusta

Italia - Wales 1-0

Trophy not pictured (yet)

What's scary about this Italian team is how they can play without their first team players, without any stars basically, in a game without real stakes, and still be in full control against a smaller team, ok, but by no means a bad one. The more I watch them the more I wonder how can they be beaten. France has the star power, Germany has the history, but the way Italy controls the game is something else. Dribble in our own box? Sure thing! We can pass it around, too! We're in the lead in injury time? Nvm, we're still gonna crowd their box and attack with seven people.

I mean... we might be witnessing the affirmation of a great team. And I hate to admit it, but credit must go to Mancini. Who was absolutely taking the piss when subbing the keeper for no reason whatsoever.

Wales, credit to them, they're having a great tournament, and are generally going through a golden period for such a small nation. I don't know much about the Jimmy Murphy team of the 50s and how they compare, but this Welsh team does better in international football than the one that I have actually seen, of the early 90s. That team featured Ian Rush, Mark Hughes, Gary Speed and a young Ryan Giggs, among others. 

They played great today and even troubled Italy on a few occasions. They could've never won this game, but the red card for Ampadu was harsh and it ruined the last 20 minutes of the game. Hard enough to play against Italy 11 v 11, 10 v 11 all you can hope for is not to concede more. And they didn't, which means they qualify from the second spot, waiting for one of Finland, Denmark, or Russia in the last 16. Any of them would be beatable.

Aaron Ramsey needs to learn how not to bugger clear-cut opportunities, but other than that, the Welsh are alright.

Switzerland - Turkey 3-1

I was so not tempted to watch the full game on catch-up despite its four goals, as the idea of suffering through Turkey's pitiful excuse for football was not appealing. The internet has been pinging the idea of Soyuncu to United today. Please, God, no!

And the Swiss didn't impress, either. They needed to batter Turkey today to recover the goal difference of the 0-3 loss against Italy, but clearly, they're not cut for battering teams, even as bad as Turkey. They'll probably go through, but only to lose in the knock-out round.

Turkey managed to score one, and although I was glad at the time because it helped Wales, they did not deserve a goal in this tournament. 0 points is a more accurate reflection of their input for this Euros. 

And yeah, these were the only games played today, as it was correctly pointed out to me on Facebook. There will be four tomorrow, with the resolutions for groups B and C. I want Russia to finish last and probably Austria to not qualify. Their display against the Netherlands has been pitiful.

duminică, 20 iunie 2021

Euro 2021 - A new Löw

My watching of the Euros this weekend has been fragmentary, and so will be my impressions. But I will drop them down here in full.

Sweden - Slovakia 1-0

It felt quite a dull game and a horribly unfair result. Slovakia is clearly the better team, they need to rise to the occasion a little bit. More confident going forward, more direct, more ruthless. Unfortunately, they've got what's deemed to be the toughest game of the group, against Spain. Frankly, they deserve qualification more than Spain, but if they can somehow play without a ball, that would help.

Sweden is a big disappointment for me in this tournament. Bar the momentary flashes of Alexander Isak, the football they showed is so negative and so unpleasant to watch, it's disgusting. Oh, yeah, they defend well. That's like saying about a runner that he can stand well. It's not the point of the sport! The goal of the game of football is to put the ball in the opposition's net. If you don't set out to do that, you're doing football wrong. They should thank their Nordic gods for the lucky win and the position they're in. Although something tells me the game against Poland will be another festival of incompetence.

Croatia - Czech Republic 1-1

This is the game I regret most not seeing more of, but by the bits I've seen looked like a dynamic game and probably a fair result. Croatia is clearly some distance from the World Cup finalist of two years ago, while the Czechs look like a team on the up. Of the two, Croatia seems to be in a thorny position. They should beat Scotland, though the Scots will also be winded by the point they got against England. And Czech Republic can, and probably will, get something against England, especially considering a point apiece would qualify them both.

England - Scotland 0-0

So... England are no longer favorites for the tournament, are they? This time around, the switch from over-hyped to mournful came earlier at the BBC. Funnily enough, this might help the team. With the pressure off, and very likely qualified from the group, England might go into the knock-out stages rejuvenated. They'll still flop, but will give a better account of themselves.

Hungary - France 1-1

Well, try and make sense of that! France clearly the better them, but not by enough if they could not come back to win the game. The good thing is, Hungary threw a bit of a spanner in the workings of this most spectacular group. Now Germany will probably win the group, while in Portugal - France nothing is guaranteed.

Les Bleus still displayed some beautiful football, Mbappe is still a joy to watch, but it was the putting the ball in the net bit they missed today. And all for a few inches along Benzema's shinpads.

Portugal - Germany 2-4

The smell of victory
What is annoying about the Germans is how easy they make it look like. I mean, for the first goal, Ronaldo has to run across the pitch at x3 speed, wait for Jota's perfectly weighed pass, then score. The second Portughese goal takes a jump above the defense and a masterful lob by the same Coca Cola PR nightmare. The Germans scored 4 times from the same type of attacker: take it forward, pass to the wings, crowd the box and force it in. 

Oh and that kid Gosens: have you got a spare one, by any chance?

For the people who discounted them after the loss against France, they shouldn't have. That game was very tight and it could've easily gone either way. But with this win they're back in the qualification mix and back amongst the favourites. By the football played so far, I dare say third favourites.

Spain - Poland 1-1

Spain tried hard not to win this game, and overall they don't seem all that interested in scoring. Luis Enrique might as well give it a go himself, he'll probably still be a more effective forward than Morata, minus the hair gel. I mean, I wouldn't head the ball either if it means running such a perfect hair. But for goodness' sake, from the penalty spot it should be really easy. Not for Moreno [insert black sheep joke here]. In the last 10 minutes or so, when the prospect of two points from two games became more and more substantial, I kept meaning to ask the Spanish players: 'Have you considered trying to shoot?'

I can't really tell if Poland is a huge disappointment or they were expected to be this bad. Oh, yey, we got Lewandowski, but bless, what do you expect him to do by himself? Kudos to him, he scored a good goal and the point should be credited all to himself (was it not a foul in build-up, when he pushed the defender, though?) This is as far as it will go though. Poland - Sweden will probably be painful to watch and a slow, eeked-out affair with maybe 2-3 attempts on goal. My guess is points will go Sweden's way.

With this second round done, tomorrow we start the round of simultaneous games. Italy vs Wales should be a good one, while for Switzerland - Turkey all I want is for Turkey not to score. If the Swiss settle for a 0-0, so be it, but the Turks haven't shown enough quality to warrant a goal. And for the late game, I'll probably go for Finland - Belgium, although Denmark - Russia sounds interesting as well: part football, part therapy, and all VAR decisions to go for Russia.

vineri, 18 iunie 2021

Euro 2021 - Graveyard shift

Either the football today hasn't been very exciting, or it's a coming down from two great games yesterday (Italy & Wales). Or just football saturation starting to creep in. Fact is, I got quite bored today.

Denmark - Belgium 1-2

The big question mark was how would Denmark play in the wake of Christian Eriksen's injury. And it does look like their reaction was a great one. Came out flying, scored quickly, completely dominated the first half. They might've stunned Belgium a little bit, hence the lack of reaction. The fact that in the end the Red Devils came back in the game is due to quality and experience. Denmark tried to sustain the fast pace after the break too, but that takes stamina, and there's little doubt about who the fitter team is. Instead, they should've packed the defence, absorb some pressure, frustrate Belgium and wait for some killer counters. Poulsen and Braithwaite have enough pace to resolve a counter-attack between them, and Braithwaite almost did it at the end. 

An interesting moment, Kasper Schmeichel's coming out for the final free-kick. His placement and jump were good, but almost cost him a third goal.

Belgium has done well to get back in the game and it was a show of force bringing De Bruyne, Witsel and Hazard from the bench, a way of saying they do have plenty of match winners in reserve. But overall they're not looking as good as they did at the World Cup in Russia. To be seen how far they go, and winning the group will certainly help for the knock-out stages, but they're not contenders for the tournament. The likelihood is they're gonna beat Finland, which means Denmark still has a shot at the second place if they beat Russia. And if they play like they did in the first half today, should be an easy task.

Netherlands - Austria 2-0

Another one where the winners were convincing on the day, but not convincing as serious contenders for the tournament. This is, I believe, the worst Dutch team I have seen in my lifetime. And they controlled the game and won comfortably, but Austria put in a really poor display tonight. If they've written off this game on account of beating Ukraine, it might blow in their face. And beat Ukraine they'll have to to be sure of finishing second, losing by two tonight means a draw might not be enough.

Back to slagging the Dutch a bit more: the fact the Memphis Depay, free agent, is their star player, is telling. Not much in the way of individual quality, link-up between midfield and attack is suffering, the forwards are afraid to shoot and they're missing a lot of chances. Ukraine almost drew them, and they faced a poor opponent tonight. But come the knock-out stages, things might look grim.

Ukraine - North Macedonia 2-1

Two missed penalties in the game,
but I didn't feel they worth a mention,
that's how much they mattered
I haven't seen the game live, caught up with the first half between the evening games and listening to the second half while writing this. It's funny, probably the lowest billed game at this Euros, but the football was more entertaining than in Netherlands - Austria. Ukraine, it seems, is actually a decent team and there's no accident they scored twice against the Netherlands. At the moment I see them as favourites against Austria. A win against Austrians will win them a meeting with Italy, which spells end of the road, but at least it will be an honorable exit, a result in line with the squad's worth.

Macedonia, it seems, will go back home without points, but already there's plenty of reasons for them to be proud. Add to that a decent display, maybe a goal against Netherlands, and they'll be hailed as heroes in Skopje, for good reason. Small country, young team, small selection pool, barely any international experience, yet they gave a good account of themselves and they've set the scene for further international success in years to come. Which is really the most they could've hoped for in this tournament. I like how they don't stop playing after conceding a goal, both their goals so far have been from losing positions.

Tomorrow's football is much more interesting than today's, unfortunately work trip to Bournemouth for me means I'll miss most of the next 6 matches. But I'm thinking Slovakia double chance against Sweden, Croatia to beat Czech Republic by one goal and England to beat Scotland by at least 2. I might not be able to blog tomorrow, but for the few people that actually read this, there's always Facebook to slag me off.

joi, 17 iunie 2021

Euro 2021 - Whoa, Italy!

For some 20 teams or so in the tournament, it's time to plan how to make the best exit, because it has become clear who the favorites are. Let's take today's game in order though, beginning with the only one who didn't pan out as I predicted yesterday.

Finland - Russia 0-1

I mean, in fairness, the Fins did score first, and quickly. Right after the goal I tweeted to Kremlin, asking if Vladimir Putin is on VAR duty today. No reply as of yet, but I moved on, whereas Finland didn't. It was almost like the canceled goal took the wind out of their sails. They let the Russians slowly crawl back in the game, dominate, and eventually win.

Was it off-side? Mmmaybe. But I think 9 times out of 10 that goal stands. And it is in no way a 'clear and obvious error' so that it needs turning by VAR. And the linesman didn't see it as off-side in live action.

Regardless, the Fins should have pressed on. Whether they didn't want to or they're not capable of it, they missed a great opportunity. Russia is a poor team and it was totally beatable. 6 points in the bag, whatever Belgium. Now, however, they have to try and get something against Belgium and wait for the other results to qualify. Fat chance, though judging by today maybe they don't belong in the knock-out rounds.

Turkey - Wales 0-2

You know who does belong in the knock-out stages? Wales. They have to believe it too, of course, but they will qualify from second, and with a choice of Denmark, Russia or Finland in the last 16, Wales is in the quarter-finals.

Turkey confirmed the first game was not a fluke, they are really an incompetent team living off the fumes of the big Turkey teams at the turn of the century. That late display of Yilmaz, when his team needed to score, it's injury time, but he would rather get in a fight with the whole Welsh defense is telling: Turkey doesn't do football anymore.

Turkey, Russia and Hungary - all teams of autocratic countries - remind me of communist clubs of the 80s: clearly inferior in skill and mentality, setting out just to frustrate the opponent and cheat the game. Any tiny success would be intensely politicized at home, while the news spin always link back to historical misfortunes and corruption of values of the Western teams. That's why I'm saying godspeed to Turkey who will return home with 0 points, most likely 0 goals, but with an Erdogan whose wife was displaying a huge-ass hijab from the stands today and only made the trip to Baku to see the Turkish crescent next to the Azeri one. It's a sad state of affairs, but if there's one thing I know about dictatorships is that none lasts forever.

Wales. This team is better than they think they are, better than the British media thinks they are and generally underrated. They play with the mentality of underdogs, and this cost them 2 points against Switzerland. An injection of confidence and a touch of ruthlessness would make Wales a really strong competitor. Because you can't be as nonchalant about missing 1-on-1's as Aaron Ramsey has been today. Or Bale, for that matter, missing the penalty. It wasn't even a lot of pressure on him, team is in the lead and dominating, just hit it hard and low. True, Bale was absolutely brilliant throughout, and especially in the closing minutes, keeping the ball, creating danger and masterminding the second goal. One does not excuse the other in my book, though. Anyway, start prepping the quarter-finals, last 4 will be hard, but possible.

Italy - Switzerland 3-0

Locatelli two-times
Words I never thought I'll say: Italy is playing beautiful football! The way they draw their passes, the way they find each other and feel each other on the pitch, the way they move their lines in perfect order up and down, you wonder who's gonna beat them, and how?

France has better individual footballers, sure, but they're not so well coordinated. And the fact he's not an international superstar doesn't seem to be stopping Pinazzola to run riot and completely dominate the whole left half of the field. Chiellini is the definition of calmness when dribbling in his own box, simple and precise when launching attacks and whaddaya know, he can score, too. Bit unlucky to have his goal canceled, but it was indeed a clear handball. Don't matter, it feels like Italy can score whenever and however many they need. And that's against Switzerland, not at all a bad team, with a few big footballers and some very creative attacking players. They managed one shot on target.

That's why Wales will lose to Italy, they took way too many chances to score. When playing Italy, you probably get a couple of glances at goal, max. You have to make good use of them.

All that remains in Group A is for Switzerland to score a lot against Turkey to give them a shot at second place. Meanwhile, they'll have to hope Italy keeps scoring three against Wales as well, which I doubt, as the Italians have already won the group and will be playing for the next game rather than for the result.

Oh, by the way, you all said Immobile or Locatelli will get the Golden Boot, right?

Three interesting games tomorrow, in that they're rather unpredictable. Belgium will probably beat Denmark, though it's impossible to predict what the Eriksen effect will be. I'll call Ukraine - Macedonia for the Ukrainians, but it won't be a straightforward affair. Likewise, Austria might trouble Netherlands and a draw is fully on the cards. All in all, not a good day for betting, tomorrow.

miercuri, 16 iunie 2021

Euro 2021 - Another round!

Hungary - Portugal 0-3

It is a well-known truth throughout Europe that Orban is bad for Hungary. Poor Willi was about to discover exactly how bad: even bearing his name will bring the curse of ill reputation upon your head. 

Things were going swimmingly for the hosts: full stadium, home fans, Portugal kept at bay as we were heading into the final minutes of the game, so much so that the Lusitans were becoming frustrated, nervous and throwing everything forward, thus opening the possibility of snatching that ever-important scoring counter-attack in the closing minutes.

But then, all out of nowhere, like a vacuum opening underneath and an unstoppable force pulls you down, things went to shit for poor Willi Orban: Guerreiro's hopeful shot pushed into his own goal, yellow card and penalty conceded quickly to follow. And just like this, within 3 minutes, it was all gone: any hopes for qualification, points, or some sort of achievement for Hungary to take pride in.

Although, credit to them, the ultras boys were undeterred, applauding their team and staying behind to sing the national anthem. Well, yeah, of course they're the conservative, homophobic, anti-European public Viktor Orban's populist speech panders to, but let's leave politics out of this one, shall we? Just enjoy your football, why don't you, Ukraine?

Like Spain - Sweden, this one also looked the type of game where they only really need half of the pitch. Portugal really has a solid, star-sudden, powerful team, and they started as was expected of them. And here's a controversial opinion: Ronaldo is a more useful player for Portugal today than he was 5 years ago. Back in 2016 he was in top shape, still in his best years, playing some of his best football and winning Champions League trophies for sport (so to speak). So naturally, when diva came to the National team, diva wanted the team to play for him. Which is why it was necessary for him to go out before the team could score the goal that actually won them the tournament. Fast forward 5 years and he's 36, team are no longer bidding insane amounts of money for him and that insanely high jump takes some panting after. So he has to actually put in the leg work, do the running and the kicking. He's still a fabulous player, for sure, and sometimes the way his body bends and moves make me think me might not actually be human, but father time is there, in the front row, waiting patiently. And the wait keeps getting shorter.

Also, I get that he's got records to hit and all that, but that's why people call you Penaldo. Why couldn't you let Bruno take that one, you prick? At least it was a brilliant penalty, shot the speed of a tennis ball, no longer the weird stop before shooting. Or just a miss, like in the 2008 final (oh, yeah, you think I'd forgotten?).

The third goal, ok, that was insane. The speed, the technique, poor Hungarian defense was already groggy and this one completely stunned them. To the victor go the spoils, but if we take out the last 5 minutes, the game tells a different story: superstar team incapable of breaking down a disciplined defence, not a lot of shots on goal and generally showing their limits surprisingly quick. Furthermore, Hungary did score, after a brilliant counter-attack. Offside, yes, but not by much. About as much as Ronaldo's offside for the third goal. Well, in fairness, I thought Portugal should've had a penalty at 0-0, for handball, but I don't know, maybe they decided VAR is more of a consultative thing this time?

So for now I'll stick with Portugal as my favourites, but I might switch soon. After the first round, Italy is clearly the team that impressed the most. I will throw France in the mix too as, unlike Italy, they had to actually overcome stiff opposition and, surprise-surprise, Slovakia. It's gonna be a hard-knock life for the Slovaks, but get a point against Sweden and you're qualified. Then in the knockout rounds, anything can happen.

Germany - France 0-1

Tournament is 5 days old and already we had something of a final. The pundits will be jubilating, as France was favorite and they actually won, deservedly so too. But the margins in this game were so fine, it could have easily gone completely different.

Poor Hummels' own goal was really FUBAR: he was under no pressure, he had so much time and every opportunity to throw the ball out. But such is life. Sometimes you're the dog, sometimes you're the tree. And it's easy for me to speak, I don't have Pogba's wonder passes flying over my head.

Mbappe, f1.2, exp. 1/2000

Even so, after going 1 down Germany took full control of the game and at halftime, I was fairly confident they'll get back into the game, maybe even win it. But second half came about and it taught me an important lesson: you want to get from a city to another faster than the train, just ride Mbappe. I mean, German defenders tried, and he still got to the ball before them pretty much every time. Germany is still one of the best teams in the competition, but when Kylian steps on it, The Flash is struggling to keep up. Sometimes he passes to Benzema that doesn't even need to break stride to break the net; other times he scores himself, with shots so well placed you're looking for the remote.

Both goals were canceled, both rightly so, and that's a shame only because they won't be included in future goal reels. They were both works of art IMHO.

At the other end, I must say I haven't heard of that Gosens kid before today, but boy he can curve a ball! Add Toni Kroos' dead-ball near misses and it becomes obvious that Germany still carries a powerful threat to everyone who set out to win the Euros this year. And in actual fact, the result is somewhat irrelevant: beat Hungary, draw Portugal, qualify with four. 

That's why I'm really happy this was a really good game, much better than what the scoreline might suggest.

Round 2 starts tomorrow, with England playing at the exact same time the show at Aruba Bournemouth starts on Friday. It's ok, we'll have a lot of hens and I'll catch up on the eeked out victory over the Scots later. In the meanwhile, I'm going with Finland, Wales and Italy to win tomorrow and if they do, groups A and B should largely be sorted. Oh yeah, I trust Wales to get to the last 16. Dan James is my Fantasy captain.