Some quick predictions...

Just because it's been a few days, my Euro 2004 playoff predictions.

Holland (0-1) Scotland: Scotland did unbelievably well to get the 1-0 win in the 1st leg, but I fear they're in for the mother of all reality checks in Amsterdam...despite the doom and gloom shown by a "man on the street" segment on the FSW Report. Holland has too many weapons, and the Amsterdam Arena is just too imposing a venue for visiting sides. Not only that, but the Dutch are embarrassed after their performance in Glasgow, and will be looking to make up for it in spades. Scotland 'keeper Rab Douglas fends them off bravely, but Holland still wins 2-0 to take the tie 2-1 on aggregate. Van (I'mdivingcheatingprick)Nistelrooy gets a double for the Dutch.

Slovenia (1-1) Croatia: I don't know much about either side, but I get the feeling that Croatia might STILL take the Slovenians a bit too lightly. People seem to have already forgotten that these guys qualified for Euro 2000 AND the 2002 World Cup. Still, after another 1-1 draw in extra time, Croatia nicks it on penalty kicks. It'll be 2-2 on aggregate, 4-2 on penalty kicks.

Turkey (0-1) Latvia: Goddamn, I hate Turkey. I hate their fans, I hate their team. I think they're a bunch of unsporting pricks, and Alpay in particular makes me want to vomit on my shoes. That notwithstanding, Latvia got their moral victory at home, thanks to Maris Ivegotareallylongandunspellablelastname. With the tie moving to Istanbul, I can't help but think that the Turks, who have to still be stinging from the England result (let alone losing to friggin' LATVIA), will lay 38 different kinds of smack down on the poor ex-Soviet republic. Turkey wins 5-0 to ease their way to a comfortable 5-1 win on aggregate.

Wales (0-0) Russia: The guys on the FSW Report tonight said that the Russians have lost something like 2 qualifying matches at home in the last 70 (!!!) years. So, for the Welsh to get a goalless draw at the Lokomotiv Stadium, it has to be counted as one of the best results in that nation's history. And, I can't see it coming in vain, especially with the suspensions to starting goalkeeper Sergei Ovchinnkov and midfield dynamo Aleksandr Mostovoi to second-yellow card suspensions. Also, as long as he's fit, Ryan Giggs will be cleared to play for the Welsh, due to a technicality in the way he was notified about his hearing for the elbowing incident in the first leg of the tie. Wales holds on for a 2-1 victory thanks to Giggs and Hartson. The way the Welsh have played for the last two years or so, they absolutely deserve to go on (while the Russians deserve to go home, for the simple reason that they were one of the most unbearably dull sides to watch during the World Cup).

Norway (1-2) Spain: You know, the Norse were an own-goal away from coming into this match tied at 1-1. Spain also has a particular talent for imploding at the absolute worst time, despite the ludicrous amount of sheer ability they have available. With that in mind, I can't discount the possibility that the Norwegians bore the Spanish to death, steal a goal on the counter-attack, and win via the away goals rule. That gets an added layer of credibility when you factor in the concept that Spain couldn't win a group where the toughest competition was Greece. I keep harping on it, but come on...it's only GREECE. However, my gut says Spain wins 1-0 in a composed, professional, assured away performance. Raul gets the goal, and the Norwegians get to be unlucky that they didn't draw someone else.

I've said it before to friends, so I may as well say it in this space. If you believe that this draw was 100% random, then my friend, you are 100% an idiot. The balls they use in the draw can so easily be heated or cooled to achieve somewhere close to the results that they want. Don't you think it's a LITTLE weird that supposedly-big nations were only drawn against supposed minnows? You can make a case that this particular Welsh side was always going to be a match for the Russians, but other than that, it's ALL David vs. Goliath. Sorry, but I'm a bit too cynical (read as: realistic) to imagine that this is anything but a fix. I just can't discount the fact that the bigger nations' football associations likely have the cash handy to bribe FIFA officials (cause we all know that THEY'RE the paragons of ethical behavior) to get matched with inferior opposition. To me, the results of the first leg (with major upsets happening almost across the board, with the possible exception of Spain-Norway...although the Norse are more than capable of winning in the end) are a prime example of karma in action. I hope beyond hope that Croatia, Holland, Turkey, Spain, and Russia ALL go out. It's way too much to hope for, of course, but if even three out of five get sent home, it'll be EXACTLY the kind of middle finger in the face of FIFA that true fans of the sport (and of fair play) truly crave.

But, especially, up the Scots, and up the Welsh!


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