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.

marți, 15 iunie 2021

Euro 2021 - Impotence

 So I mentioned a treble earlier today, and things didn't quite turn out as such.

Scotland - Czech Republic 2-0

The Czechs were in fact the only ones to hold their part of the deal. A very excited Hampden Park was expecting a lot from the Scottish side, but I'm afraid they don't have a lot to offer. The Scots are full of heart and enthusiasm, but that only takes you so far. The Czechs came up with something a lot more interesting: a game plan.

Le Freak
The Czech defense was stable as an inert gas, I haven't seen their back four breaking formation once during the 90 minutes. Although Scotland did have a few opportunities, including hitting the post once and a last-ditch intervention by the keeper late in the game, none of them materialized. At the other end, going forward, the Czechs were a lot more methodical in building their attacks and looked much more of a threat. Even so, it could've easily been a 0-0 draw, bar a couple of moments of magic from Schick. Jumping above two Scottish defenders for the first goal was impressive, but it's the second goal that's gonna make the headlines for many years to come. Exquisite shot from the halfway line, and no excuse for the Scottish keeper to be as far out as he was. But if it's one thing that Scotland showed, it's lack of maturity, and it was here that was the most obvious.

I am sympathetic towards Scots, but I think we're looking at 4th place in the group for them. Assuming England beats Czech Republic to win the group (although it won't be as straightforward), Czech Republic - Croatia is going to be a very interesting game. Croatia looks stronger on paper, but the Czechs also look like they know what they're doing. In the end, I think all three will qualify.

Poland - Slovakia 1-2

This one looked like a done deal, though apparently Slovakia didn't read the script. All of a sudden, Poland looks like an over-hyped team relying heavily on a star player that can easily be annihilated without good service from midfield. There's no doubt that Lewandowski is a top player, he's strong, his movement is good and he's very much goal-oriented, but the Slovaks did just enough to cut him off from midfield service, so that Polish goal opportunities ended up being relatively few.

To individual star-power, Slovaks opposed a very well consolidated team spirit. Hamsik is clearly their star, but he didn't play like one. He played for the team and he did a great job of supporting his team-mates, so that they were able to be equally dangerous on the attack from both sides.

Slovakia clearly dominated the first half, but with the Poles equalising so quickly after the interval, it still looked that the momentum is shifting towards the favorites. Kudos to Tarkovic's boys though for not losing their temper, for absorbing the pressure and taking advantage of the opportunities when they arose.

With three points in the bag and with a performance to be proud of, they can now be optimistic about the remaining two games. Qualification is not going to be easy, but it's certainly a stronger possibility now than it was yesterday.

Spain - Sweden 0-0

The other game in the group was also a banker for the bookies. Spain looked and played like favourites, and the stats are insanely balanced in their favour. But it's not possession that gets you points, and 20 shots on goal are useless if none of them is converted. It's obvious that Spain are going through a generation change, they are a team in transition. They're trying to emulate the style that won them 2 Euros and a World Cup 10 years ago, but individual value has significantly dropped, and today's Spain, despite the attacking intent, feels a bit toothless.

On the other hand, Sweden set out to defend for 90 minutes. But they were more efficient in this than, say, Turkey against Italy. Two lines of defense, and crowd the box with enough bodies so that there's no space for the ball to go through. Any attacking threat from Sweden came from Alexander Isak, a name I feel we're hear more often in the years to come. He ran a lot, fought the Spanish defense to the point that Sweden, with it's 18 percent possession, came close to scoring on a couple of occasions, but he had zero support.

In order to score goals in football you have to have the ball, and Sweden didn't, really. However, having the ball is not enough, as Spain has just shown.

As the game drew to a close, in the last 10 minutes or so, it felt like both teams are happy with a goalless draw, despite Spain's late attempts to chase a goal. And I'm really hoping this was a natural course of the game and not some petty number-crunching in the knowledge that Poland lost three points and Slovakia looks beatable. Whether it was this or not, I'd like for Slovakia to upset the group a tad more. Judging by today's games, I see Poland finishing last in the group. I reckon Spain will beat Slovakia, leaving them to battle it out with Sweden for second place. And I feel in that game Sweden might have a different approach.

Only two games tomorrow, but the most interesting so far. France - Germany is impossible to predict, even though France looks a slight favorite. Well known football fact is that underestimating Germany is about the biggest mistake one can make in this sport. In the other game, Portugal is facing Hungary in a game which should be fairly uni-directional. I'm thinking 3-0 Portugal.

luni, 14 iunie 2021

Euro 2021 - England debut

 So I haven't seen the England game. I was actually counting on parks being emptier during the England game, but this is London. No chance any patch of grass is actually left unoccupied if you can see the sun.

England - Croatia 1-0

Between the two, I favour Croatia, because of Balkan brotherhood and because they have been a consistently strong team ever since their re-establishment in 1993. But it was not to be on the day, they did not manage to spoil the England party, and by the looks of it for good reason. It is said that England played better, but I still think the 'It's Coming Home' songs will end in a whimper once the knockout stages come about.

Austria - North Macedonia 3-1

I was hopeful for the small nation of Macedonia, but unfortunately it looks like they're gonna be the whipping boys. Front favourite to go out in the group stage in my book at this point in time. They have a lot of soul, and I can tell epics are being born in Skopje these days, but unfortunately they seem to be very limited in terms of football ability. Already Pancev's goal means a lot, and I hope there will be more for them in the tournament, but the signs aren't there.

What do you call a successful pop song?

I don't much rate Austria as a team, and the fact that they controlled the game so strongly, specially in the second half, is telling. Alaba is clearly their star player, and for good reason: he was the most present in the game and very likely had the most touches. But even without a double Champions League winner, Austria can line up the likes of Arnautovic and a whole host of RB Salzburg players rather used to the rarefied air of Champions League. 

Lainer's first goal was class, as was his gesture to hold up a support message for Ericksen straight after. Excellent positioning and control of the ball for the final touch. Will they beat Ukraine? Hard to say. I'll have a clearer view after match day 2.

Because the game was played in Bucharest (which the ITV commentator called Budapest at half-time, but hey-ho, it's east of Berlin, how is he gonna know?), a few words about my beautiful country. To be a host nation of this tournament, to have the eyes of the continent upon you and generally to be considered amongst the civilised nations is a historical luck that I'm still not quite sure how we stumbled upon. And what will Europe remember after this game? What will the thousands of Macedonians spending the week in Bucharest note? That the National Arena has a retractable roof that cannot actually be retracted, while the Austrian team - on their way to functional countries - will look back at that time in Bucharest when they couldn't do their official training on the game pitch as it was water-logged. Monsoon season in Bucharest, blame the weather and the historical bad luck. Only, when it's such a long streak, the fault might not lay entirely with the Gods.

Netherlands - Ukraine 3-2

Well, even De Jong, speaking for ITV before the game, wasn't fancying Netherlands all that much. With the weakest team in living memory, the Dutch are something of a question mark for this tournament. But credit to them, they hit the ground running and had a bunch of opportunities in the first half, on account of which they really should've gotten in with an advantage at half-time. But nil-nil it was, only for the goal-fest to start in the second half.

While the first goal was a great execution, Ukraine must be beating themselves for how easy they let in the second. As should the Dutch for being equalized so quickly and so easily. But all's well that ends well, Dumfries' goal sent the points where they should've gone with a lot less emotions. Ukraine will take heart from the performance and from the relative easy games left in the group. Can they beat Austria? They'll certainly want to.

As I write this, it's about two hours from the start of today's games. It looks like a straightforward treble of Czech Republic, Poland and Spain to me, with potentially a question mark over Scotland's resistance. But it's still the first game and the potential for surprise is still decent. It will drop significantly after the first round of games.

duminică, 13 iunie 2021

Euro 2021 - First day

There is a school of thought that states the Euros are somewhat harder to win than the World Cup. The reason being, you need to play the exact number of matches to win it as in a World Cup, except all opponents are European, hence presumably better rated than the average non-European team. The only non-European teams worth considering - according to this line of thinking - are Brazil and Argentina, anyway. And maybe, just maybe, Uruguay, seen as they've won the World Cup twice.

Besides the highly Euro-centric perspective, I don't subscribe to this idea and I'd go as far as saying it misses much of the point of what a World Cup represents: it's a meeting of cultures, including football cultures, of ideas about the game, of the very best each confederation has to offer, and a space to discover surprises, evolution, and potential. As for ratings and value, an Asian team has made the semi-final in 2002, African teams have repeatedly qualified in quarter-finals, and if you think the likes of Columbia or USA are, on an average day, lesser opponents than Hungary or Finland, you might not have the best idea what you're talking about.

So clearly, the World Cup is where it's at. That's partly the reason I never got too hyped up about the Euros. Another part is that the '7 games to win' format is quite new, first Euro I've seen (1992) was a weird, 8-team, two-group affair in which a team that didn't even qualify for the tournament ended up winning it. How serious can a competition be if Denmark (granted, with probably their best generation yet) can win it?

In addition, the qualifiers have been weird and hard to understand, the tournament takes place one year later and all over the place, and nothing seems typical about this tournament.

And yet, spurred by the English media's massive overestimation of England's squad's chances and by friendly match starting times, I have decided to follow, or at least take this tournament seriously.

As such, I will comment on games and make predictions. Off the bat, before the tournament started and without having watched any qualifiers, friendlies or international football in general since the last World Cup, my prediction for winners of the tournament is Portugal. Come back in a month to see how that panned out.

Turkey - Italy 0-3

Based on each team's tradition I expected an offensive festival of the Turks being professionally and expertly handled by a hyper-efficient Italian football machine, a game that would result in a low-scoring result favorable to Italy. 1-0, 1-1, 2-1.

What I saw was a thoroughly disappointing Turkish team, that set out to defend without being good at defending. So isolated was Yilmaz upfront that Turkey might've started with 10 men and get the same results. He did get a few useful passes (three, if I'm not mistaken), and they did result in Turkey's only shot on goal. But a lot more is required if you set out to bother Italy at all.

It might've been Turkey's lack of bite, but Chiellini looked so comfortable leading the defense and so majestic going forward that he's already one to watch in terms of picking the best players of the tournament.

I don't know much about this Italy team and I don't recognize many names, but they do have the makings to be amongst the favorites. Immobile is a poacher in the vein of Pippo Inzaghi, only he runs a bit more. His goal was opportunistic, sure, but also expertly executed, with the ball far from the reach of the keeper. And Insigne, hard to take seriously when judged by height alone, was a revelation. The amount of stuff he created, Turkey is lucky to have left with only 3 conceded. A far cry from the days of Hasan Sas and Umit Davala.

Wales - Switzerland 1-1

Although the Swiss were slight favorites on paper, I expected this game to be pretty even, and I expect these two teams to battle for second place in the group. For now, they've both postponed the battle. It will be a matter of who can withstand Italy better and who can beat Turkey by more. Emotionally I lean towards Wales. Although Switzerland has dominated the game - at least the stats game, I felt 1-1 was a fair result, and a result that gives Wales a solid shot at qualification, especially as they don't get to play Italy until after squadra azzura would probably have qualified already.

Denmark - Finland 0-1

Massively overshadowed by what will certainly be one of the headlines of the tournament, this game delivered the first surprise, in the shape of a Finnish win.

Of course, it was an atypical game. Christian Eriksen's collapse scared the world and shifted the focus away from football. I thought restarting the game was madness, though probably a bit less so than the logistical nightmare of replaying it in a different day. 

What sort of focus might the Danes have had when they've just seen their star player fighting for his life? How can Kjaer be concerned with beating Finland an hour or so after being concerned with saving a teammate's life? After the restart, most Denmark could've hoped for was a dull 0-0 draw and some respite to process the events of the day. Going 1-0 down was unlucky, but not unpredictable. And missing a penalty might prove to be the cherry on top of this gloomy day for Danish football.

Finland strikes me as a team that's trying to make up for lack of talent with discipline and hard work. Much like Iceland in the last two majors. Today, it worked. And it just needs to work one more time - against an apparently frail Russia - for the beautiful football dream of the Fins to continue beyond the group stage. Will it? Hopefully.

Belgium - Russia 3-0

The result was expected, though the gulf in class does seem a bit too big. Russia can be rather unpredictable, so even if this is their real level they are perfectly capable of pulling a performance way above this, so their opponents have to be on their toes at all times.

But Belgium should top this group easily, potentially with the best goal difference of all the groups. This makes Lukaku a favorite for the tournament's Golden Boot, though I don see Belgium hitting semifinals. Probably quarters for them. 

Tomorrow is a big day for England, with a strong chance of being spoiled by Croatia. Most interesting game of the day by far. Austria - Macedonia is the novelty feature, no one expects much from either team. And Netherlands, although with a team much below the standard they usually have, should still dispatch Ukraine easily. Let's see.

miercuri, 9 iunie 2021

Wrong side of the tracks

 Angela Carter - Wise Children, Vintage Books, 2006

Emma Rice's stage adaptation of Wise Children is the best scripted drama I have ever seen on a stage. So, once I found out the play is based on a book and that, furthermore, the book is actually quite a popular one, naturally, I wanted to read it.

I can fully see the appeal. Wise Children is expertly crafted literature, with a lot of show-stopping moments. Moments when you actually feel like stopping your reading just to contemplate the beauty of its prose. That is rare. I am curious about Angela Carter's other writing, although it's a safe assumption that the lady was a master of her craft. Yes, was. Life cut short. Died in 1992 at the age of 51. Lung cancer. Hey-ho.

While I was admiring the writing, however, oftentimes I have asked myself. Is this maybe a bit... over-written? Although over-written is probably not the best choice of words. 'Baroque' is what Ali Smith calls it in the 2006 introduction, and I can fully get on board with that.

The book is luxurious in detail and scarce in action. In fact, it doesn't even feel like a linear novel as much as a conglomerate of snapshots, a series of photos which, in quick succession, give the impression of movement. Sometimes there are large gaps. Sometimes one or the other of the tableaus gets lost in a different position than its natural place in the storyline. All without a warning, all without any particular regard for the effort it elicits from the reader. Because yes, beautiful as it is, it can be hard going. 'Heavy writing', I called it.

I suppose, in a way, it's exactly like listening to a stream of stories from an old lady that at times sound like digressions, at times like senseless blabber, but it's all so fascinating that not only you keep listening, you are actively engaged in trying to put everything in order. I'm pretty sure this was the intention.

The old lady in question is Dora Chance, twin sister of Nora and the protagonist of the book, born in 1915, but with a story that starts 2 generations previous and goes all the way towards the late years of the 20th century. All of it imagined, of course, but so vivid that it might as well be true. After all, who is to say that one cannot turn an invisible corner on Brixton Road, or Coldharbour Lane, and end up on Bard Road, the street where the Chance sisters live, but that cannot be found on a map?

This book is quintessentially British, quintessentially London. A certain part of London, of a certain time. Brixton looks a lot different now than in 1990 - everything changes. It's still 'the wrong side of the tracks' though - it has been since the days of Shakespeare! Because some things never change, isn't it?

Speaking of Shakespeare... yes, he is almost a character. So much in the book goes back to Shakespeare! And Carter creates a playful reverent/irreverent relationship with the Bard that I feel it should become representative for the way any culture looks upon its agreed-upon highly esteemed heroes. Yes, you can both admire Shakespeare and make fun of him. Nothing wrong with the cat using Shakespeare's open-top bust as a litter box. But why, oh, why, Angela, must you be looking for the ugliest, dirtiest, most reprehensible details of any single story. Why focus on the ugliest aspects of human nature?

Honest question, I don't understand. For instance, Charlie Chaplin, to this day one of the most venerated figures of South London. Do you know what Carter/Chance has to say about him? 'Hung like a horse'. Not even a bad thing per se, although surely he was known for more than that?

Dude asks Dora for an autograph? She can see the bits of sperm stuck in his mustache after blowing his boyfriend during the movie. All of it in good humor, sure, but was it really the most striking aspect about the fellow?

I hope you get the gist.

And finally, my big question: why is it that, while the play Wise Children is an explosion of joy and exuberance, of dance and song, suddenly turned on its head by the twist at the end that leaves your heart in tatters - why is it then that the book feels like the exact opposite of that? An undertone of sadness throughout, but with the most luminous end, of all the possible uplifting ends imaginable? What compelled Emma Rice to turn the story on its head? Why is it so effective with such a small change? How come both work just as well? What devilish works are in play so that by changing what happens at the end you change how we feel in the beginning? Which one is better?

The truth is, after the first read, I don't fully understand the book. Got distracted by enjoying the writing, I suppose. So I guess to fully do it justice as a reader I'll have to read it again at some point. But what if the second read will be just as enjoyable as the first, and I still won't get to understand it? It's almost like it's been written to be felt.

Speaking of, I most certainly want to see the play again. For those of you who haven't, you're in luck: it's available online.

Quotes, so you can feel what I mean about the writing:

24: 'You always like to think a bit of love, or at least a little pleasure, went into your making but I do not know, I cannot guess, if the dark-eyed stranger who put his hand up the skirt of the penniless orphan was cynical, or tender, or desperate, or carried away by the moment.'

54: 'I loved it and have always loved it best of all, the moment when the lights go down, the curtain glows, you know that something wonderful is going to happen. It doesn't matter if what happens next spoils everything; the anticipation itself is always pure.'

125: 'When I was young, I'd wanted to be ephemeral, I'd wanted the moment, to live in just the glorious moment, the rush of blood, the applause. Pluck the day. Eat the peach. Tomorrow never comes. But, oh yes, tomorrow does come all right, and when it comes it lasts a bloody long time, I can tell you.'

140: 'We felt we had been dislocated. Or, as if we, too, had surrendered to the dream but did not know for sure who dreamed us.'

144: 'We were quite surprised and felt shoddy, by comparison, as if we lived in an ethical twilight, a cockroach world of compromise, lies, emotional sleight of hand. And so we did, I suppose. We called it 'Life'. [...] It's the American tragedy in a nutshell. They look around the world and think: 'There must be something better!' But there isn't. Sorry, chum. This is it. What you see is what you get. Only the here and now.'

168: 'We were doomed to either flash or squalor.'

169: 'I've never known such profound silences as those Lynde silences especially when her daughters were there, silences in which the unspoken hung like fog that got into your lungs and choked you.'

178: 'though never my favourite tipple, any port in a storm'

192: 'It's every woman's tragedy [...] that, after a certain age, she looks like a female impersonator.'
Mind you, we've known some lovely female impersonators, in our time.'

Hard to describe how funny this line is when said by a female impersonator.