Roundup from the last....while....

http://soccernet.espn.go.com/headlinenews?id=305485&cc=5901"> Porto player admits that they were a bunch of diving, cheating cunts


Seriously, this is news in the same way as "Giants pitching staff: not so good" is news. This was a minor headline on Soccernet, but it underlies a major problem with the modern game. The sport is exponentially faster than it was even in the 1980s or so...the referee has all he can handle in trying to keep up with everything. A convincing dive will fool even the best referees at least some of the time, and often, all it takes is one or two in an important situation to turn a game completely around.  The bottom line is that Porto cheated to win their two major European trophies. I remember in particular a moment where a player collided with the legs of Porto goalkeeper Vitor Baia, who then promptly went down like a sniper had hit him...clutching his face. It's shameful, it's unsporting and how they can feel even the slightest bit proud about their "accomplishments" is beyond me. I vividly recall Croatia's national team (they turned diving into a fine art in the 1998 World Cup) defending the charges against them after their third-place finish in the aforementioned 1998 World Cup, to which they said it was simply "gamesmanship."

You call it "gamesmanship," I call it "cheating."

The history books will show forevermore that FC Porto were the European Champions last season, and the UEFA Cup champions the season before that. They also will show that Croatia finished in third place at the 1998 World Cup forevermore. And, that knowledge will forvermore make me just that much more sick to my stomach every time I think about it. I love soccer, it's far and away my favorite sport, but it has in those "champions" three black marks against it that will never go away.

Now, if only someone could somehow strip Sepp Blatter of his position as FIFA head honcho...

http://soccernet.espn.go.com/headlinenews?id=305782&cc=5901"> Charlton Athletic's Alan Curbishley in essence refuses England job should it come up

Well, first of all, I'd like to think that they change his mind if the FA does relieve Sven-Goran Eriksson of the position. You see, the Swede is in trouble for having an affair with an FA secretary...ahhh, how very British Parliament of him. That right there is why it must be so frustrating to be an England fan...they'll put up with a guy who has no idea what "tactics" means in Kevin Keegan, they'll put up with a New Age lunatic who forced his players to see faith healers and said publicly that handicapped people probably deserve their fate for karma-based reasons in Glenn Hoddle, they'll put up with that, but what about the fact that Eriksson just isn't cut out to be a national team manager? England already has enough problems overcoming their tendency to play 1950s long-ball style when they panic, they don't need to have a manager who actually ENCOURAGES this behavior. England is very much a nation that needs a general to lead the charge, to unlock the sheer fighting spirit that they possess, the spirit that most nations just don't have. However, they need to combine that with someone who has an idea of modern tactics...and who can man-manage to boot.

Now, Curbishley would be the PERFECT choice based on those qualities I just outlined. Charlton Athletic has no money, a tiny stadium and were completely without top-flight pedigree until he came along. Outside of Dean Kiely in goal and the now-departed Scott Parker, Charlton have no players that you'd think of if you named 50 people at each position. However, they keep finishing higher and higher every year (even making a nice run at a Champions League place last season until they fell apart at the end...mainly thanks to those gutless fucks at Chelsea poaching Parker away from them...and Parker himself for being enough of a piece of shit to accept more money to sit on the end of Chelsea's bench, right after signing a long-term contact with Charlton) in no small part because Curbishley is without a doubt the best young (relatively) managerial talent in England today. Simply put, the man deserves the job, and Charlton have already said that he'd be free to go if the job was offered to him (a classy move from a classy organization). It'd be sad to see him leave Charlton, as they are kind of my unofficial second team in the Premiership, and I'd love to see them keep battling their way to even a UEFA place, hopefully next season. The FA doesn't need to bother with where Eriksson has hidden his willy, but they DO need to bother with recognizing the fact that he's had his shot, he's proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that he's not the man for the job, and they have a guy RIGHT FUCKING THERE who would be a much better bet to lead England to a place somewhere in the time zone of their fans' often-unrealistic expectations.

Then again, "unrealistic expectations" is sort of thrown out the window when you look at Greece this year, yeah?

http://soccernet.espn.go.com/headlinenews?id=305797&cc=5901"> Arsenal boss believes Patrick Vieira will stay with the club 


I admire Patrick Vieira as a player. How could you not? He's combative, he's eternally skilled, he's the engine that makes the team go in the middle of the park. He's fought for the Arsenal crest on his shirt, and he's been a big reason why the Gunners have achieved what they have in the past seven years (or whatever it's been).  

However, a reporter from Spanish rag Marca gave him a chance to say once and for all that he was staying with Arsenal. Two words -- "I'm staying" -- could have put an end to all the controversy, all the speculation, all the fucking biting at fingernails wondering whether our captain and best player (maybe even more so than Thierry Henry, as far as importance to the team goes) is going to fuck off to Spain...with no time to get a proper replacement. Hell, he could have said "I'm going," and that would have been fine. Most Gunners fans are savvy enough and intelligent enough to understand that maybe he needs a new challenge. I like to think that most of us would thank him for all he's done with the club, and wish him luck with the least classy organization in the sport. If Vieira goes, fine, but Madrid's tactics over the years in their efforts to land him have been underhanded, vile, and absolutely fucking disgusting. But, Vieira ducked the question, and this story drags on...and on...and on...and on...and on. I just don't care one way or another.

Whatever PV4 has done for us in the past, he's a fucking TWAT for letting the club and all of us Gooners twist in the wind like this. Fuck you. you prick.

http://soccernet.espn.go.com/headlinenews?id=305756&cc=5901"> Celtic 2-1 Manshit United

Yes, it's a meaningless friendly. Yes, neither side was the real starting 11. That said:


Choke on that, you Mank fucks.

http://soccernet.espn.go.com/headlinenews?id=305763&cc=5901"> Dutch legend Marco Van Basten named Netherlands' national team coach"

You poor, poor, poor bastard. Great player, maybe he'll be a great coach, but Holland's talent is matched and even exceeded by their rampant egos and immaturity. They will continue to make quarter and semifinals just on talent alone, and then they're going to completely implode in the clutch (which does exist in soccer, unlike baseball) because when it gets down to those most important of matches, you have to have 11 people fighting and clawing and willing to do anything for each other. When Player A is crying and throwing his rattle because Player B won't pass him the ball enough, well, don't be in too big of a hurry to build that trophy case.

And, that's your lot. Fuck off.    :)


Copa America Final: Running commentary

Well, I'm starting about 3 minutes in, so to catch up:

2' -- Alex makes a brilliant run into the penalty area and is taken down by about four Argentine defenders. Even this early, it should have been a penalty.

OK...ready to go (keep in mind, I'm completely neutral here...bring on Brazil "B" vs. Argentina "B"!!!)

4' -- Javier Zanetti's shot is poorly palmed away by Julio Cesar (he should have reeled it in), but the resulting corner(s) comes to nothing.

6' -- Gabriel Heinze gets elbowed in the face by Adriano, no card. Awesome.

7' -- Zanetti makes a nice run into the penalty area, but his dive did not impress the judges...better acting than most summer blockbusters, anyway.

8' -- Excellent run down the right flank by Kleberson, but the Argentine defense is up to the task.

8' -- Slight contact on Luis Oscar Gonzalez, who goes down like he's been tazered. It's still 0-0, but 2-0 to Argentina in the diving stakes.

9' -- Gustavo Nery does a great job to win the ball, and gets hosed on the ensuing call...should have been a corner.

10' -- Free kick to Argentina...nice to see the Brazilian rugby team making an apperance today.

10' -- Juan Pablo Sorin gets a weak, off-balance header off, but Cesar is in perfect position. It never troubled him, but great effort from the Argentine midfielder to even get a half-chance out of it.

11' -- Another fantastic run by Kleberson, and his cross is hilariously mishandled by Roberto Carlos Abbondanzieri. Adriano gets a rocket of a shot away, but it sails harmlessly wide. Good chance created there, though.

13' -- Luis Fabiano wins a free kick from a judo throw by the Argentine defender...comes to nothing, though.

13' -- Argentina break quickly the other way, Mauro Rosales sends a decent shot wide of the post.

14' -- Even, scrappy stuff so far. Typical cup final, then.

14' -- Zanetti does well to earn a corner. The Brazilian defense clears easily, though.

15' -- Roberto Fabian Ayala flies headlong into a tackle, but does fantastically well to get the ball away from the ever-dangerous Alex. Corner for Brazil, comes back to Maicon, whose long shot ends up in row Z.

16' -- Searching ball from Gonzalez finds only Cesar. Nice build-up, though. Brazil comes back the other way, but the cross is easily handled by Heinze, Manchester United's best signing of the offseason (in my opinion).

18' -- Back and forth, this is just great football...both defenses are playing very well though. The two sides are having trouble breaking through to the penalty area.

19' -- The fouls are 8-4 Brazil already. Damn.

20' --  PENALTY! Very bad, late tackle by Juan (I think) on Cristian Gonzalez. He'll take it himself....

21' -- GOL!!!!!!! He looked super-cool in the run-up, and he smartly placed it in the right-hand corner of the net. Cesar dived the wrong way, and truth be told, he'd have had a real chance to save it if he guessed right.

23' -- Uncharacteristically, a poor clearance from Sorin leads to a corner. The corner is well taken, but the wide-open Gustavo Nery's header left something to be desired...he should have done better.

24' -- Kleberson (Brazil's best player by miles so far) sends a searching ball into the area, but Abbondanzieri manages to corral it this time.

24' -- Right back the other way, but Rosales trips over...well...the penalty area chalk line, I guess.

25' -- Rough foul from Sorin on Brazil's Adriano, it's a yellow.

26' -- Nice work from Rosales to get open on the right, but his cross goes right into Cesar's hands.

27' -- Despite the scoreline, Brazil's pressing game is working well so far. If they keep it up, I forsee them forcing Argentina into a mistake sooner or later.

27' -- Cristian Gonzalez makes a wonderful scything run into the middle, but he failed to get enough power on the shot or place it high enough, allowing Cesar to palm it to safety. Good save.

28' -- Cesar makes a nice punch on the ensuing corner, then Ayala is a few time zones offside on the following play.

29' -- Here Argentina comes again...they're rolling now. Fabiano briefly clears, then Carlos Alberto Tevez can't get past the yellow forcefield guarding the penalty area.

30' -- Brazil looks rattled...the crisp football of the first 20 minutes or so is out the window at the moment.

31' -- Fabiano gets the over-the-back treatment from Javier Mascherano, but gets the foul called on him. Strange.

32' -- Kleberson makes yet another bombing run down the right, and his cross is absolutely beautiful. Alex's header, on the other hand, is anything but...the Boca Juniors keeper will be grateful for that.

36' -- I was calling up the lineups for both teams, so I missed Argentina winning a corner. It comes to nothing, and not much else of note happened in the preceding four minutes anyway.

37' -- There are several European teams (cough cough England cough cough) who should be watching this as a clinic on running at defenders...both teams are doing it very well.

38' -- Edu, showing his Premiership experience, roughly fouls Luis Gonzalez for the game's second booking...that's probably not even a foul when he has an Arsenal shirt on, you know.

38' -- Cesar has to scramble a loose ball away, Sorin misses on a header, and then Cesar is again called into action, as he has to collect a cross.

39' -- Argentina, through Zanetti, are threatening again. Great one-two, but Cesar is off his line brilliantly to save a sure goal.

40'  -- Kleberson goes on a run taking him from his wing into the center, to his other wing, then back into the center. His swerving shot ends up swerving right into Abbondanzieri's arms, unfortunately for him. Great build-up from the young Manchester United player, though.

42' -- Terrible stuff from Mascherano, as his cross-field pass to no one in particular ends up, surprise surprise, going to no one in particular.

44' -- Gustavo Nery's nice interception starts a counter-attack, and Fabiano is fouled. Quite rightly, the referee says it was just outside the area. Dangerous position, though...Alex is over it...

45' -- The kick ends up being headed away, but Kleberson wins a throw. Argentina clears the resulting danger, though.

45' -- Nery wins a foul, as Kleberson has interestingly switched to a central position.

45' -- Alex is over this one too....

45' -- GOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! In stoppage time, Brazil comes back from the dead with the equalizer! Alex's set piece is much better this time, and his kick finds the unmarked Luisao...whose looping header finds the top left corner past the flat-footed Abbondanzieri! Excellent, excellent goal, but you have to admit that you didn't see it coming.

45' -- And with that, the referee blows the halftime whistle. Argentina dominated most of the first half, especially after winning a somewhat-lucky penalty. Gonzalez in particular has been excellent for the Gauchos, controlling play offensively as well as playing excellent defense. However, Brazil has all the momentum now, as goals in stoppage time are always a killer. Either way, you have to think that Luisao's equalizer sets up a titanic second half!


46' -- Here we go!

47' -- Half the population of Argentina are warming up on the sideline, it seems.

48' -- Dangerous free kick from around 30 yards or so. Adriano has about a ten-foot run-up, but the wall blocks. Alex gets the ball in central space outside the area, but he sends his shot into orbit.

50' -- Fantastic build-up from Argentina, Rosales' cross is touched on by Zanetti, right into Tevez's path. Unbelievable diving save from Cesar keeps it out, though. That absolutely should have been 2-1 to the guys in blue and white.

52' -- Luis Gonzalez sends a nice ball into the area for Sorin, but three yellow shirts converge on him...Sorin is never winning that battle.

53' -- Cristian Gonzalez with the audacious lob over the Brazilian defense...the pass comes back to him in the area, but he again shamefully keels over at the slighest contact. Kleberson is coming off with some kind of injury.

55' --  Diego is coming on for the injured Kleberson...that's a huge blow for the Brazilians. Corner for Argentina, easily cleared by Adriano.

56' -- Diego gets some early touches in attack, but now Adriano goes down. I'm sorry, but if you're OK enough to scream at the referee, you're probably OK to keep going. Stop crying, little girl...really.

58' -- Tevez makes a run down the left, there's shirt-pulling going on from both sides, but Luisao gets booked when Tevez goes down. Shameful.

59' -- Zanetti's free kick comes in, and it pinballs to Ayala on the left. He lashes the ball across the face of goal, but it eludes everyone. Back in, the cross from the right is tipped by Cesar, as Ayala and Luisao crack heads...Luisao got the worst of that one.

61' -- Brazil wins another free kick in Argentina's half. Alex is over it this time...Gonzalez clears, though.

61' -- Argentina could use some fresh legs, I think.

62' -- Argentina work it down the right, but Rosales gets a defender over his back, and like last time, gets called for the foul. The referee has been pretty good outside of this oddity.

62' -- Zanetti has an excellent chance, but Juan makes a great diving block.

63' -- Felipe comes on for Alex. Interesting choice. Corner for Argentina comes to nothing.

64' -- Cesar Delgado is on for Rosales...this makes more sense than Brazil's last substitution.

64' -- Long shot from Adriano never troubles Abbondanzieri.

65' -- Delgado's first touch is a blazing run down the right (Argentina are just abusing them down that flank so far this half), but his shot sails high and wide.

66' -- Diego pulls down Gonzalez on the left...free kick to the Gauchos.

66' -- Zanetti down the right, now they switch flanks. Tevez does well with hard work in the area, back to Zanetti, who wins a corner. Excellent stuff from Argentina.

67' -- Ayala charges in to meet the corner, and his forceful header screams over the crossbar by mere inches.

68' -- With Kleberson gone, Argentina looks much more likely to break the deadlock first. Then again, Luisao struck after a prolonged period of Argentine domination, so who knows?

68' -- Zanetti is just having his way down the right-hand flank, but his cross into the area is a poor one.

69' -- Gonzalez is hip-checked in the area by Maicon...he had a legitimate shout for a penalty, but I can't see the ref giving Argentina two of them with Brazil not having one yet. Not in a cup final.

70' -- Glorious chance in the area for Brazil, but Adriano's shot was blocked well by Ayala.

72' -- Tevez has space in the center outside the area, but his tame shot never troubles Cesar.

72' -- Diego gets taken down from behind by Mascherano, who is very rightly booked.

74' -- Zanetti really is a special player. It's obvious that he intends to take this match by the throat, in any way possible. Brazil is going to have to get a marker or six on this guy, I believe.

75' -- A brief lull in the precedings in the last few minutes, but this has been mostly frenetic stuff...especially in this half.

75' -- River Plate's Andreas D'Alessandro is on for Gonzalez, who obviously has given everything he has. D'Alessandro's a good player, but how will the youngster handle so big a stage?

76' -- Great ball into the area from Zanetti, but tenacious defending from the men in yellow alleviates the danger from Tevez.

78' -- Maicon and Felipe lead the attack, and several shots get desperately kicked out by defenders. Nery tries a thunderbolt from outside the area, but it wasn't even close. This is the first we've see Brazil seriously threaten Abbondanzieri in ages, though.

79' -- Luisao has to put a high cross out for a corner. D'Alessandro's corner is easily cleared, though.

80' -- But, the Argentines threaten again down the right...until a poor ball from Tevez allows an even poorer clearance from the defense. It's crossed in, and Cesar has to be alert to come off his line to claim it.

81' -- Luisao is coming off. After a bit, he decides to drop to the ground to get stretchered off...my first instinct is to believe that this is a gutless time-wasting trick to try and halt Argentina's momentum. Cris comes on for him.

82' -- Brazil crosses midfield, but Diego passes to no one in particular.

83' -- The referee can't get out of the way, and thus becomes the first man to stop Zanetti off the dribble all day.

84' -- Sorin tries an audacious shot from well outside the area, with about as good of a result as you'd expect.

85' -- Brilliant jumping kick from Fabricio Coloccini to slow a Brazilian attack. Great defense again from Argentina.

86' -- Tevez's cross is easily cliamed by Cesar.

87' -- Fabiano gets chop-blocked in the area, but Heinze made it look close enough to a legitmate tackle to earn a goal kick. Again, if this weren't a tied cup final, it's likely a penalty kick.

88' -- GOOOOL!  Zanetti again has the run of the right flank. His cross is headed on by Sorin, and then Delgado sends a beautiful shot from the right of the area just over the despairing dive of Cesar. What a strike, and you had to see it coming from Argentina's possession and build-up play.

89' -- Heartbreak for Brazil, who don't seem to have the imagination or finishing ability to come back...is there a way back for the Samba Boys?

90 ' -- Zanetti wins a corner...Argentina plays it short, as time ticks on.

91' -- Everyone up for Brazil now. Nery with the free kick, but they can't break into the crowded penalty area.

92' -- Argentina makes their final change, Tevez is off,  Facundo Quiroga is on. Tick, tick, tick...

92' -- High cross in, Abbondanzieri easily takes it.

93' -- Renato with the free kick, Brazil tries to work it in.

93' -- GOOOOOOOOOL!!!!! Unbelievably, Brazil again equalize in stoppage time!!!! A high cross causes confusion in the Argentine central defense...both fullbacks think the other has it, Adriano turns and fires all in one motion, and roofs it in the top left corner past the shocked Abbondanzieri, who started his dive when the ball was already rustling the net!!! Not the world's prettiest goal, but anyone in yellow and green will take it gladly at the moment!

93' -- There's some handbags between the two sides as the referee blows the full-time whistle. I don't think anyone would have believed it just a minute earlier, but the Argentine defense, after frustrating Brazil at every turn in the second half, gave Adriano one chance to keep Brazil's hopes alive. And, the striker made no mistake, finishing with the greatest of ease to send this into extra time. One can only hope that we can find a winner there, and that this wonderful contest doesn't have to be decided on The Worst Way To End A Game Ever, that being penalty kicks.  

ET -- Oh, crap...they're going right to penalty kicks? That is REALLY LAME, just so you know.

PK -- Abbondanzieri and Cesar share the customary good-luck handshake before the penalty kick shootout. There's a certain understanding between guys whose reputations depend on a hell-spawned crapshoot.

PK -- Argentina to shoot first. Carlos Alberto Perreria looks like someone ran over his dog. I think any casual fan feels the same way...I feel robbed that we don't get extra time first.

PK -- Who will take it? I'd love to tell you, but the referees have been conferencing with each other, and now with the keepers. They could have played extra time already with how long this is taking.

PK -- It's D'Alessandro! Odd, odd choice to put someone so young up first...

PK -- SAVE, CESAR!!!!!!! It was a terrible penalty, right in the path of the goalkeeper. The Brazilian netminder guessed right, and that's all he needed to do to save that awful effort!

PK -- Adriano for Brazil...

PK -- GOOOL! Abbondanzieri never did pick a side, opting to try and fake Adriano out. It didn't work, as the Brazil man put it coolly in the right corner.

PK -- Heinze is next...

PK -- HE MISSES! And that was Beckham-esque, as he sends it somewhere in the direction of Pluto!

PK -- Edu can put Brazil in the driver's seat...

PK -- GOOOOL!! The Arsenal man shows his class, sending Abbondanzieri the wrong way and smartly placing it in the left-hand side of the net.

PK -- All the pressure in the world on Gonzalez now...he needs this one..his country needs this one.

PK -- GOOOOOL!! He makes no mistake, putting it in the low corner to Cesar's left.

PK -- The substitute Diego can keep the pressure on Argentina...

PK -- GOOOOOOOL! Abbondanzieri guessed right, but Diego's low shot to the right corner made it exactly into said corner, otherwise, the Boca Juniors man would have saved it.

PK -- Sorin is next...

PK -- GOOOOL!! Cesar dives low, Sorin puts it in the top-center part of the net. That looked like it might go over, but Argentina is still in it!

PK -- Juan is next...execptionally-odd choice, but if it's in, they win....

PK -- GOOOOOLL!! Abbondanzieri guessed the same way as the last penalty, and Juan went the other way. If the Boca man had guessed right, he would have saved it...he won't sleep tonight with that knowledge, I'll bet.  

PK -- So, two late equalizers hand Brazil the Copa America, and once again, the bane of any real fan's existence penalizes the side that dominated the entire contest. Neutrally-speaking, Argentina deserved at least a chance to translate their dominance into at least a chance for a golden goal, rather than this terrible, terrible way to end a game...this proves nothing other than who is better at the one skill that comes up the absolute least amount of times during an actual game. However, fair play to Brazil, they didn't trip and fall over the trophy either. They kept their nerve in the face of an unrelenting hurricane of pressure from the Argentines, and hit two knockout shots to close out each half to put themselves into the shootout in the first place. It's not like Brazil didn't deserve to win the Copa America, but Argentina has a much better argument that they didn't deserve to lose it.


Well, THIS is shocking...

Turns out I actually got a response from this Dominic Raynor guy.

"It's just as segue from Euro 2004 to domestic football (we switched back tothe regular site the same day).I wanted to cause some controversy and I have certainly done that, judgingby my mailbox. I won't be going to Greece any time soon. Cheers, Dom"
Great. THIS is the site I depend on for my soccer news. Awesome.

Speaking of this, a promise to you, the (one of seven or eight) reader. When I move in September, I will have Fox Sports World again, and I will try like hell to either save up for, beg or steal for a Tivo. What am I getting at? This, simply: I pledge to you that once I'm more settled and have the capacity to watch lots of matches again, I will try my absolute best to make this the soccer equivalent to what Brendan is doing with his sports blog...if you've never been there, go...now. If more sports analysis was like this, then perhaps I'd be into more than just soccer these days.

Until then, all work and no play for me. Woo!


An e-mail to Soccernet (Greece revisited)

Mr. Raynor:

While I understand that you have to write about the talking points of the day (I have a degree in journalism, so I do know the score in that respect), I hope that you privately understand the fact that the Greece system is not and never will be the Holy Grail of Minnow Football...it's just too dependent on too many factors for it to be a trustworthy and dependable style of play.

To wit: Take a look at the pertinent statistics of Greece's Euro 2004 matches:

Final: Outshot 19-2, outshot on goal 10-1, corners were 10-1 Portugal, yellow cards 4-2 Greece, fouls 18-18, possession 54% Portugal.

Semifinal: Outshot 16-9, shots on goal tied 6-6, corners 8-5 Czechs, fouls 23-15 Czechs, yellow cards 3-3, possession 50-50.

Quarterfinals: Outshot 8-6, shots on goal 5-4 Greece, corners 3-3, yellow cards 2-2, fouls 22-13 France, possession 55% France

vs. Russia: Outshot 19-12, on goal 9-6 Russia, Fouls 18-13 Russia, yellow cards 6-2 Russia, corners 8-5 Greece, possession 66% Greece

vs. Spain: Outshot 13-7, on goal 6-4 Spain, fouls 19-16 Spain, yellow cards 5-2 Greece, corners 15-2 Spain possession 64% Spain

vs. Portugal: Outshot 18-5, on goal 8-3 Portugal, fouls 18-15 Greece, corners 10-3 Portugal, yellow cards 3-2 Greece, possession 50-50


Shots: 93-41 opponents
Shots on goal: 43-25 opponents
Corner kicks: 51-22 opponents
Fouls: 115-93 opponents
Yellow cards: 19-17 Greece
Possession (average of numbers given): 51% opponents

Of course, all of this is with the caveat that the sample size (6 games) is REALLY small, and the conclusions that you can draw from them aren't technically significant..but, hear me out.

Against non-Iberian opposition (remember, they both may as well have been the home team), the Greeks weren't exactly hanging on by their fingernails. They should have won the Russia game, the Czechs weren't the same without Pavel Nedved (I thought it was a tad bit unfair to mention him as one of the stifled parties when he was in there for what, 25 minutes?). They also were fouled against more than they committed (by a fairly healthy margin for a 6-game sample size) and the amount of yellow cards were almost the same. I mention that based on my theory that the two gameplans that have had the most success in recent memory is the French method (circa 1998-2000, of course) of overwhelming with sheer talent, or the 2003-04 FC Porto/1998 Croatia method that I like to call Cheating and Diving. Neither one was the case with the Greeks, so most of the non-Iberian factors seem to cancel each other out.

But, they did have to hold on by their fingernails on three occasions, and that's where the crux of my argument lies. Sure, playing the way the Greeks do gives teams of their skill level a better chance to defeat superior opposition...but, it's HARDLY a guarantee. I liken it to betting on red in roulette instead of a solitary number. But, think about this for a second...if Nikopolidis has ONE bad game (anywhere in the tournament, actually)in net, the Greeks are likely gone. If the defense concedes one more bad goal than they did, they're gone. If a hyperactive referee red-cards one guy, they're likely gone. If one ball bounces off a post and in instead of off a post and out, they're gone. If Portugal or Spain had looked into the possibility of putting one or two of their nine million shots on goal somewhere on net, the Greeks are gone. If the Czechs could have taken them to penalties, they'd have an equal chance of being gone as with staying...penalties are a crapshoot, and officially the worst way to end any sporting event ever (would you want to see rugby ties end with conversion-kicking contests? Well, actually...with Wilko in there, you'd be fine...for us in the States though, we wouldn't beat anyone that way). The point is, there's just too many pitfalls along the way for any side to accomplish this with any regularity. I guarantee you that anywhere between 8-10 teams are going to try this approach in the World Cup, and 7-9 of them are going to get their asses handed to them.

Your column mainly worries about this style spreading to the Premiership, which is a different story. Luck and bad games balance out over 38 matches far better than it does over 6 (or 3, if you go out in the first round). However, you mention that the relegation-threatened sides already do this, which would be the case had Greece lost every match 5-0, or if they win their next hundred games 1-0. So, there's no point in even mentioning the Boltons (of before) of the world. The thing is, many mid-table clashes in Premiership play end up looking like Greece vs. Greece anyway, simply because the gulf is widening between the haves and the have-nots in terms of simple skill level. And, that's not even necessarily a bad thing. If I hadn't discovered Arsenal 10 years or so ago, if I had just picked up on the sport this year or last year, Charlton Athletic would probably be my team...I love watching them play BECAUSE they're a well-drilled unit that fights for each other (and an Irish goalkeeeper doesn't hurt, me being Irish-American)...rather like Greece. I think it's great that sides like them can succeed in the fashion that they do, and that France has fallen on their face twice in the fashion that they did. If it was going to be a simple skill exhibition, why even invite Greece or Albania or San Marino to participate at all? I have this problem with American sports fans, and you guys are much more guilty of this yourselves than you claim to be...if you require every single match to be a 3-3 barnburner, you're watching the wrong sport...you have cricket, and there's plenty of scoring there. Enjoy.

I'd be shocked if you're still reading this, so I'll close here. Take it easy.

Sean Swift
New York City


From Soccernet's Greek correspondent...

...this about sums it up nicely, I think.

"As every Greek takes a break from the all-night celebrations and attempts to recover from the over-abundance of dancing, cheering, and ouzo, there is a question that is popping up occasionally, one that I have even asked. As Zagorakis lifted the trophy and we were crowned European champions, I asked my dad, "How did we do it?" Full of pride and not wanting to take his eyes off the screen, he shrugged at first and then said, "That's why you play, to win. They believed it....

...We have become perhaps the greatest-ever Cinderella story in international football history, only the 1992 Danes could possibly challenge us in that department. From storekeepers in Alexandroupoli in Northern Greece, to my pappou (grandfather) in Pefkofito in Central Greece, to all the crazy Athenians, to the island-dwellers and hoppers, to olive growers in the Peloponessus, to the fishers in Crete and Rhodes, to Greeks all over the world in Auckland, Melbourne, Sydney, California, Chicago, New York, Boston, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, London, Munich, and everywhere else, this win fills every Greek with pride and will be a victory that will never be forgotten, to be retold to all the generations to come like the Greek myths. Except that this "Greek Myth" was not made-up, it was a story about the most unlikely dream that became a beautiful reality."



Portugal 0-1 Greece

I've been thinking for five minutes on how to even start this, and........I just don't know. I don't know how to process this information right now. I don't mean that in a bad way. What I mean is that this is one of the most gloriously dumbfounding results in soccer history. It's a shock without being a fluke. It's rocked the foundations of the game, but it won't change much about how the game is played (don't listen to people who say we're going to go back to the endless 0-0 days because a defensive team won a tournament). I feel bad for Portugal for losing on their home soil, but, then again, they did have their top club team dive and cheat their way towards winning both major European club tournaments in the last two seasons. So, I don't feel SO bad for the Portugeuse people (however, as for their players, the Golden Genereation has still won fuck all internationally, which is kind of sad in a way). That said, I'm delightfully ecstatic for Greece, its people and the players and staff. Look back at the horror show their 1994 World Cup side was...look back at the fact that they had never won a single match in any of the major tournaments that they had qualified for...absolutely stunning.

By the way, their road to the Euro 2004 Final:

Euro Qualifying, Group Six:

Greece 0-2 Spain
Ukraine 2-0 Greece
Greece 2-0 Armenia
Northern Ireland 0-2 Greece
Spain 0-1 Greece
Greece 1-0 Ukraine
Armenia 0-1 Greece
Greece 1-0 Northern Ireland

Somewhat of a joke group, to be fair. UEFA doesn't really seed for these things outside of the top team in each group, so sometimes you get a group with three strong teams, and sometimes you get Spain and Some Countries. That said, the Ukraine isn't THAT bad of a side, and they should have won second place. However, to come back from an 0-2 start...you can't say Greece fluked their way in. It's not their fault they were given a bunch of cupcakes (Northern Ireland and Armenia are SHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIITE)...and, they beat Spain on their home soil, got the huge win over the Ukraine at home, and then won all the games they were supposed to win. For Spain's part, they got a draw in the Ukraine (which is about right), but then could only draw 0-0 with Northern Ireland, handing the group to Greece.

Euro 2004 1st Round

Portugal 1-2 Greece
Greece 1-1 Spain
Russia 2-1 Greece

The first result was the major one, as they beat the host nation right off the bat. Not only must that have been vital in terms of giving them the self-belief that is so important for a nation like them in a tournament like this (Latvia too, to a lesser extent), but that ended up forcing Portugal into giving it everything against Spain. The draw against Spain was a perfectly acceptable result, and once they had semi-comnquered the Iberian Peninsula, the Russia match ended up being a complete throwaway -- they were already into thw Quarterfinal. Offhand, that's also going to make the Russians look better than they had any right to be. They're fine when they're qualifying for something (they always seem to get bullshit groups though), but once they actually get there, they suck like few other nations can. That said, Greece were through as runners-up in the group, though if they needed to beat Russia, I believe they would have.


France 0-1 Greece


Greece 1-0 Czech Republic


Portugal 0-1 Greece

Ahh, now to the crux of the matter -- three consecutive 1-0 wins over most likely three of the best four of five teams in Europe as it stands these days. Some may look at this as a fluke, and in technical terms, it is. No nation like Greece is going to pull this off 2 times out of a 1000, let alone 100. However, they didn't trip and fall onto the trophy, either. They came in with a system, one that will give them at least a chance of victory every time out. They held together defensively as much as possible, and then smartly counter-attacked when the chance presented itself. Well done to them for executing it well, and especially well done to goalkeeper Nikopolidis and fullback Dellas, who most likely won themselves high-profile transfers to big teams...if not this summer, then definitely in the January transfer window. However, their way is a tightrope, and not exactly the Grand Scheme For Minnows To Win Major Soccer Tournaments For All Eternity, as some are already expressing their fears about. If Nikopolidis or Dellas had one bad game, they're gone. If one hyperactive referee red-carded someone, they're gone. If a shot bounced off a post and in instead of off a post and out, they're gone. If the Czechs had held on for 16 more minutes, then who knows (penalties are a crapshoot and the worst way to end a match ever)...they're probably gone there, too.

However, I again stress that this isn't a fluke run. Normally, when a country of Greece's size goes on deep into a tournament, it's often thanks to a beneficial draw. That obviously wasn't the case here, as they pretty much had to take on a who's who of European football along the way. Also, when they were given their one or two chances to put the ball into the net, they did. The funny thing is, most of their goals were the kind of thing you'd be much more likely to see on an instructional video rather than a highlights one. Good build-up play, out to the winger, perfect cross to the unmarked guy, picture-perfect header. That's how they got the winner in the final, as well as the semifinal.

All of this said, Greece were the best side in the tournament, and within the span of this fortnight, absolutely deserving winners. International tournaments are a small sample size by nature, and thus luck has a bigger-than-average part to play in at all. But, nobody has ever lucked their way through an entire tournament...those who live on luck alone often end up dying by luck around the quarterfinals or so. Likewise, you also can't win on will and spirit alone...otherwise, this would have been a Greece-Latvia final. Somewhere along the way, you have to have a degree of skill and talent as well. Ahh, but you can't have just that either, or you'll have a few tournaments like France has just had. Whoever plays their system the best (be it offensive, defensive, direct...shit, anything other than long ball [Hi, England!]...I'm convinced it doesn't matter what you play as long as you play it well), is not *guaranteed* to win, but they most certainly have the best chance to win.

All Hail Greece, the 2004 Champions of Europe!!!


This article is stupid.


Going position by position:

David James: The Zidane thing is fine, especially because he's probably full of shit in the fact that Zizou was not on the set pieces videotape. However, slagging a guy off for diving the wrong way on penalties? The FUCK?! Something like 75% of all penalties are converted, and many of the ones that miss are off the woodwork or not on net at all. I knew already that the English sporting press were the Kings of Unreasonable Expectations, but that's just ridiculous. As for not making a notable save, sure...most likely. However, England's defense was pretty good for most of the tournament. While I've only been following the games on Soccernet's own match commentaries, I got the impression that he didn't make any real howlers either. Sure, he didn't steal a game for England, but he wasn't directly responsible for any either (as for the Zizou free kick, blame that lazy muppet Emile Heskey for fouling so close to the area in the first place). An insane pick, especially when Zdravkov from Bulgaria is RIGHT THERE.

Paulo Ferreria: Yep..the guy is so terrible, HIS FUCKING TEAM IS IN THE FUCKING FINAL. Not only that, he mentions that he was one of the best defenders in the Champions League, but still mocks Chelsea's purchase of him. Because, of course, one bad pass that results in a goal completely offsets helping a mid-level team win the Champions League (diving and cheating and more diving aside).

Marcel Desailly: No complaints here...he should have retired from international play after his horrid World Cup 2002.

Jens Nowotny: Germany's problem had nothing to do with their backline, and everything to do with a mind-numbingly boring and predictable offensive setup. Poor Michael Ballack had to do everything himself, and if you're not in a World Cup group with Saudi Arabia and some other random jobber, then yeah, that's not going to work so well.

Mikael Silvestre: Again, overexaggeration to a ludicrous degree. From everything I heard, he was brilliant for Manchester United last season, and I hear they're kind of an OKish squad or something.

David Beckham: When England win something, or even are brilliant in defeat, the players are gods who can do no wrong. The 1966 World Cup team is still deified, and I'm sure they'll be droning on about the 2003 Rugby World Cup champions for decades to come too. However, when a mistake is made to contribute to a loss, you wouldn't believe how many knives come out from how many different places. Beckham wasn't THAT bad...you want to blame someone? Blame Sven-Goran Eriksson. The time has long since passed for him to move on back into the club game. International football is about a balance of attacking and defending, using intelligent passing to break through defenses, and instilling a never-say-die spirit. Sven is shite at all three, as evidenced by the World Cup semifinal against Brazil where he used a long ball tactic straight from 1957.

Phillip Cocu: This was, of course, written before the Portugal game...where he had a blinder in defeat. It's funny how many free kicks are conceded during a game by just about everyone on a given team...many in dangerous situations. But, if you don't concede on the one Player A gives up, it's immediately forgotten. But, Player B has the opposition score on the one he concedes, and he's The Worst Bastard Ever. It's fucking luck, you retards.

Stilian Petrov: He does seem to be way better for club than for country...and he does have a hair-trigger temper. This isn't a bad choice. Actually, you couldn't have gone wrong picking the entire Bulgaria starting eleven for this feature.

Francesco Totti: This is all true.

Christian Vieri: Again, spot on with this one.

Raul: The no-brainer of the entire thing...what a nightmare this guy had.

The subs are all fine, except for Ovchinnkov. I don't know how you can blame the fucking goalkeeper on a team that is 100 times more boring than England have become. That, folks, is a major accomplishment.

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