torsdag den 26. juni 2008

More EURO 2008 thoughts

So much has happened since my last entry that I'm not sure where to start even.

Well as I predicted in my last entry Russia beat Holland, and then what I unfortunately didn't make an entry about, but which I also predicted, Spain then beat Russia.
Both of these games were really good examples of how it's not only in boxing but very often in football as well, that styles make fights. A great example of it and one of my favorite figths right there^^

But I already went through in detail why I thought Holland didn't match up well with Russia and as far as the Spain-Russia match was concerned it's even more simple.
Russia and Spain basically share the same major strenghts but Spain just does everyone of those a little better and in such cases where you have no unique strenght, like for an example a great defensive organizaion, to counter the opponent's strenghts, you just share strongpoints but the opponent's are even stronger, things can very easily turn one sided.
Russia at this point just does not have the defensive quality or experience for that matter to resist a team with as much quality possession as Spain.
One thing Holland did do well against Russia was actually suprisingly keeping the majority of possession against them and by doing that in many ways delayed the inevitable but as they did so they sacrificed their normal high tempo resulting in not really troubling the normaly vulnerable Russian defence to the extent it was needed, except for on set pieces.
A lot of the time, unlike with Spain, the dutch possession wasn't high quality but really more geared towards somewhat spoiling the Russian high quality. Slowing them down.

Spain tonight of course was the exact opposite and when the deadly duo upfront was dissolved because of a David Villa injury, what replaced it when Fabregas entered was a midfield probably more capable than any other of very high quality possession.
I must admit the prospects of seeing Fabregas, Iniesta and Xavi work their passing magic together had me drooling and no they did not disappoint.
The only negative would have been if they had gone stale and settled for just passing the ball around but both Silva and especially Iniesta stepped up their game and provided plenty of deep runs forward to support Torres. Xavi of course had already done so with the goal.
Fabregas was everywhere and behind them, in front of a solid defence, Marcus Senna had yet another virtually perfect game.
There was just no way that Russia would resist this kind of quality.
In many ways their own fluid passing medicine shoved right down their collective throat.
And they couldn't. Just like in the first game, easy win for Spain.

But credit to Russia for a great tournament.
The Holland match was great drama and the football throughout a joy to watch.
Ukranian Lobanovsky who fathered the Soviet total football would have been proud.
This team was right in his spirit.

Then there is the other half of the draw. By the way I'm saving an entry on the Italian failure against Spain and Marcello Lippi returning as the coach for later.
But what can you even say about Turkey?
It seems forever ago that I wrote that they just could not keep escaping jail, yet this was exactly what they did against Croatia only to ironically have Germany pull a similar trick on them in what was yet another crazy drama filled match.
Not made any better by the tv signal going out everywhere.

Now I don't know if the German team had a blackout in this game but they really did suck in many ways.
The pressure 4-4-2 was once again dropped and it seemed the balance was nowhere to be found.
Ballack played sort of a free role behind Klose and in front of the two central midfielders but when he does that you sort of only get half of what he is so good at.
You take a lot of the steel out and you take a lot of the hard work out.
One thing was for sure. Even with a well populated midfield Germany was still getting run over the majority of the game. Definitely not something you've seen a lot in recent years.
Credit to Turkey who probably played their best game by far in the tournament and I thought especially Aurelio, Turkey's Senna, and the right sided fullback Sabri played great.
Sabri was just dynamite throughout, a cannonball, and actually outplayed probably the best leftback in the world Philipp Lahm, for most of the game.
Then Lahm, after being thoroughly owned when Turkey equalized, bouncing right back and in spectacular fashion scoring the winner was quite simply the stuff of legends.

Hopefully I won't be too lazy to write a finals preview where I think I'll salute the missing in action German 4-4-2, its Italian connections and why I have feeling it will be desperately needed in a final that before the tournament and following the Portugal game, I thought they would win, but now I'm not so sure of.

lørdag den 21. juni 2008

Holland - Russia preview and predictions

Holland have played the best so far.

Holland have the best allround midfield in the competion.

Russia will beat Holland.


Playing Russia will be a shock almost and so completely different from the matches they've played so far. What worked so brilliantly for Holland against teams like Italy and France won't work as well against Russia.
Only Spain pass the ball around better than Russia and I'm not sure how well Holland can react to that.

In some ways it feels strange writing this because of the praise I placed upon them after they destroyed Italy and France.
I fully stand by that I think they have the best allround midfield in the competition.
But this is just one of those rare cases where allround talent comes short.
The dutch midfield have very good defensive attributes and they have very good attacking attributes, but the problem is that against an opponent as unique as this one, one of those needs to be at an even higher level, and then it wouldn't even hurt their chances much if the other half was a level below.

Russia are so good with the ball,that I feel that having the on paper perfect balance just puts you in danger. There is nothing that can truly match Russia's passing onslaught.

Not an even BETTER passing game like Spain had and not great defensive organization like say Italy from the World Cup.
One of those are what can gain an edge against Russia and the Dutch for all their overall quality have neither.

I think to gain a significant edge Van Basten has to do something very drastic yet for a Dutch side also very natural.

Play 4-3-3

The alternative is creating a strictly counter attacking scheme which they might be forced to do anyway depending on how the game develops, but since they without a doubt are a naturally attacking team, I don't think the edge they would gain by that is as solid as if they shifted their balance even further forward.

Again 4-3-3

Rinus Michel are you diggin this?

I touched upon this in the "Holland march on" entry when I wrote in great detail about their midfield and finding room for players such as Robben and Van Persie, but I didn't really realise at the time that what I was basically suggesting was a great comeback for the classic dutch 4-3-3.
I think it would match up very well against Russia, and probably give them similar control to what Spain had when they beat Russia. When Russia are not in control using their fluid passing and triangle combinations, historically they collapse.
As we saw against Spain not even Hiddink has been able to change that.

In many ways what I suggest is something that's so opposite of everything that appears on the surface yet it is so logical and makes perfect sense. Especially for a Dutch team.
Go back to the 4-3-3 and everything will be fine. Fight fire with fire.

In this article by the Guardian's Jonathan Wilson he writes about among other things Russia's history with "total football" and remember, how did Holland beat Russian total football in a big match the last time?
The 1988 final facing a great Soviet team playing very similar to what we're seeing now. with breathtaking passing and control.
They fought fire with fire and their even better individual players, including of course Van Basten, came through.

That's similar to now as well. There is no doubt overall that Holland have better players but without shifting their balance, preferable forward beating Russia at their own game, there is a good chance that won't come through. It will be a game playing to the Russian's strenghts and not the Dutch.
The same would probably have been the case in 1988 if Holland had gone for the allround balance they're going for now, instead of the 4-3-3 eventually overwhelming Russia.

Now It's hard to see Van Basten actually do this. Changing back to their good old 4-3-3 I just think will feel like taking a step back for him and something that could ruin all the progress he is seeing. That we're all seeing.
After all he is the one who has stood firm and ignored all the usual cries for it to be brought back, and is now finally showing that Holland can succeed without it.

My theory is just that this game is so completely different from any of the group matches that what may have been working so perfectly in those games might not now, and in this particualar game it's the 4-3-3 that would work the best.

Of course with these kinds of bold predictions I have to throw in a little disclaimer.
Eventhough I do think Russia has the best chance to win, unless Van Basten pulls the 4-3-3 rabbit out of the hat, Holland are so good and have so many good players that they're by no means out of it.
And being very good in all areas obviously is never a bad thing. In this particular case you just might need to upgrade certain areas over others.

But point is that up front with the flawless execution so far, Holland can hurt any team and that of course includes Russia.
That's the luxury of having these great players.
Even if they're not able to enforce their strenghts on the opposition as a team, there is still enough talent to make the difference,(almost) on their own.

fredag den 20. juni 2008

The quarterfinals are here

To follow up from the last entry, of course Germany DID rebound and put in a similar performance of fussball to what we saw when they hosted the World Cup.
Lots of pressure on the opponent. Especially in the beginning they overran Portugal and throughout the game it was evident just how much physically stronger Germany were on almost every position. Portugal came back though and are just too good a side to keep down.
From the back four to the flexible attack up front they had been best balanced team so far of the tournament.
Unfortunately their goalkeeper Ricardo can single handedly shift however good that balance is, to something resembling disaster.
He is horrible on set pieces and Germany, the strongest team in the air, took full advantage.
He just does not commit himself. Not to getting in position to make a save and not to getting in position to go for the kick.
He always ends up somewhere in between positioning himself where he is completely useless.
That meant two german goals and a mountain to climb for Portugal.
It was never impossible though or seemed very unlikely.
Germany continued to have their fullbacks going forward while at the same time Portugal had their wings going very little backwards.
That meant great acres of space and lots of open play with many scoring chances for both teams.

Germany will be tough to beat. Their pressure is so hard to resist.
During the World Cup it took a masterful Italian performance to do it and the question is if any team is capable of something similar this time around.
Holland would be my best guess but them going to the final is of course far from given.
In fact I think Russia will have a great chance of knocking them out. But more on that later.
Spain with their possesion football, unless it's taken to a new level by Fabregas, I think would be underdogs too, though because of the duo up front can never be counted out.
That's the difference of Spain this year and recent years.
A truly deadly duo that even when they're being shut down physically or tactically by another team, will still be dangerous, virtually on their own, giving them a realistic winning chance.

It just has to be noted though that Germany overcame, or resisted if you will, a team playing better possesion football than Spain are right now when they beat Argentina in the World Cup.
For Spain to reach Argentina level and really trouble Germany, Fabregas just has to play.
Xavi has been a great playmaker for many years and is still one of the best, there aren't that many anyway, but for almost a decade now he has had the chance to produce the magic for Spain and with absolutely nothing to show for it.
At this point in their respective careers, Fabregas does every single thing I can possibly think of a little better than Xavi.

If "old man Aragones" wants to break the curse, Fabregas needs to play.

Now as always I support Italy and I won't mind at all not seeing Fabregas in what will be an epic match but it does hurt a little to see a player who I think is probably top 5 in the world sitting on the bench.
If Italy goes out, it's Spain who I'll be rooting for, and seeing them reduce their chances of FINALLY winning a trophy is just heartbreaking.

With regards to the Croatia - Turkey match I don't really have much to add other than what I already touched upon in the previous entries.
I think Turkey have overachieved and even if Bilic puts in the midfield he did against Austria, I still think there is a chance Croatia can control them.
It will just be more difficult and give Turkey yet another chance of escaping jail.
However if Croatia play like they did against Germany, they SHOULD win. It's that simple.

The two other games are extremely interesting and I look immensely forward to both.

Spain vs Italy is just a classic rivalry and the atmosphere will resemble life and death.
I think it will be a close game and I doubt there will be more than a couple of goals scored.
0-0 1-0 1-1 or 2-0 with a late goal seems like the most likely scenarios.
I don't even know the point of predicting a winner. It's like 51-49 to either one of the sides.
It's different styles clashing and whoever can execute theirs the better will win.
Historically that's been Italy but with all the different intangibles for this one, who knows?
I just know I'll be watching and maybe write a more detailed preview in an upcoming entry.

The other match however I will write about for sure.
Probably in the next entry where I'll outline my bold prediction of a Russian victory.
Have I lost my mind? Some seem to think so but if Russia don't win I'll just have to pay since I've convinced myself so badly that a good bet on the Russian victory just could not be resisted.
It seems like such great value, for reasons coming up in the next entry, so all I can say is GO RUSSIA!!!!!!!!

In honour of probably my favorite Russian player of all time, Aleksandr Zavarov

revenge 1988 and win me some moneyz while you do it!

mandag den 16. juni 2008

Everyday is like sunday


But I wish!

By the way this should be the shortest entry so far because this is really just meant to stress that for a true sports addict, sundays are simply the best and that today certainly was a great example of it.
AND if this blog continues for a while, which is the plan, it's what's happening on these sundays which will likely be a major part of the content.

The other side of the coin is that you can be,like I am, such a sick addict that when it comes to sports, everyday really IS a sunday a lot of the time.
Not something I'll recommed but what can you do?

Today for starters, we had the Czech Republic-Turkey game which was as an exciting rollercoaster ride of a game as you'll probably ever see. Or at least right up there.
And I'm not sure I'll even attempt to explain how Turkey came back to win that match.
Sometimes crazy things just happen and you just gotta leave it at that.
I mean I still have doubts over their team, though they do have some really interesting, still somewhat unknown, talented players, to me, the Czechs were just in total control. Outplaying them in many ways, and I wouldn't put too much emphasis on how much better Turkey played, or looked perhaps, in the second half.
If Petr Cech doesn't make that colossal mistake we're probably not even having this conversation.

But of course, some credit must be given.
Earlier I thought the Swiss controlled them as well and they stole a win there too!
They're obviously difficult to keep down but if as expected whoever they'll face in the quarters, manage to DO keep them down, for 90 minutes that is, at least they gave us some great entertainment and did not go down without some impressive fight.
Realistically, unless Fatih Terem is right and that they really will get better, they HAVE overachieved so far, but that's still a whole lot better of course than the miserable underachieving of some of the other teams.
All in all, Turkey once again can definitely feel proud about their national team.

See that was already longer than planned. In fact I was planning on a nap.

This sunday an NBA final also happened. Unfortunately the Lakers won but perhaps the highlight of the day was the golf! Yes you heard me! The golf!
It was the final round of the US OPEN and it was great drama capped off with what will be yet another in a long line of classic Tiger moments.

Now just like with the Lakers I almost always root against Tiger but you just have to bow down to him sometimes. What he does is truly amazing and perhaps without any equal in sports right now. He is that dominating.
This US Open he is even coming back from surgery and is visible hurting at times, but yet again at crunch time he is the one standing tall.

It was this long put to force a playoff which when it's US OPEN is on mondays:

Two shots earlier he had been throwing his clubs around. He hadn't made any good puts all day basically, but was there ever any doubt? Not really.
Yet you still can't help being impressed everytime he does it. Confirming the greatness. It will be a shock if he doesn't do it once again on monday against Rocco Mediate.

So will monday be like sunday too? With two more EURO 2008 games, US OPEN playoffs and some baseball... Yes yes it probably will.
And how do I feel about that? Depressed? Like say Morrissey? No, that joke isn't funny anymore...

OK ANYWAYS, tomorrow it will be really interesting to see how my original favorites to win the title, Germany rebounds.
That's something maybe I want to write about and I still haven't touched upon Spain or Portugal either.

fredag den 13. juni 2008

EURO 2008: Holland march on!

The tournament is just flying by and recapping everyday, while actually watching the games and while doing other things, is not something I've been quite able to do, so instead here and I think in the next few entries as well, are general thoughts on what has happened so far.

First of all we just watched Holland take France apart. That's seven goals now in two matches against the two best defensive national teams of the last 10 years or so.
It's hard not to like their chances!
Some people will still point to a largely unproven defence or unproven defensive midfielders, like Engeelar, but when they manage to pull ahead and can bring in the likes of Robben and Van Persie who are absolutely deadly counter attack players, then that's in some ways the best defense there is but more on that later.

Wesley Sneijder is also playing like the best midfielder in the world right now.
He is a good passer. Quick Short passes or the direct long. Has good ballcontrol and makes great decisions.
Works hard offensively or defensively and is obviously capable of creating magic whenever he kicks the ball.
It being a shot on goal or from a set-piece where no one right now, probably, is more value.

Van Der Vaart is someone who at this point has been surpassed by Sneijder which in itself seemed unlikely years ago. but he is still a world class player who like Sneijder has no real weaknesses.
He can do it all and his short passing is probably even better than that of Sneijder's.
Those two and De Jong, another very complete player, makes for the most allround sound midfield in the competition.
They're so versatile that it's so far has made for a near perfect balance between going forward and holding their own defensively.

Spain have some midfielders who are even better technically but then the dutch midfielders are better in other areas.
France have physically stronger midfielders but the dutch like we just saw are much more dynamic and with their quality passing able to control the game a lot better.
Like the german midfielders they're also really good at creating pressure.
There is just nothing not to like here!

Well except perhaps:


Because I see some serious luxury problems on the horizon for this guy!

Dirk Kuyt who never seems to get much love from fans of either Liverpool or Holland had a great game against Italy and today he even scored the first goal.
He works so hard. Is their best player with the head, but rarely for Liverpool or for Holland plays a defined striker role.
He is asked to do so many other things, simply because he can, which leads to less goals which leads to him getting the fans on his back.

I think he is so much value that Van Basten has to play him and he has throughout his tenure as well, but now you have Robben and Van Persie back from injuries playing their very best.
Especially Robben can reach levels very few are able to and it's almost impossible to see how it can be justified keeping him, one of the best attacking players in the world, out of the lineup.
Van Persie I think should be used from the bench, also because his health is still a major issue, and he is probably not able to play 90 minutes anyway.

I see two options if you want to bring Robben in.
Replacing either Van Nistelroy or the main defensive, least versatile midfielder of the bunch, Engelaar.

Now playing without a clear defensive midfielder is what I slammed Croatia for doing against Austria. That almost cost them the game.
They thankfully made up for that against Germany by adding an extra midielder and with that and help from a very hard working forward, did what few teams have done in recent years, resisted the german immense pressure 4-4-2
Very well done!

But Holland like I said have so much more to offer in their midfield.
They're so versatile. So flexible. Sneijder, De Jong and Van Der Vaart, they're just true complete players and if any team can overcome not having a defined defensive midfielder, it's exactly those players.
Add to those what will be a very hard working Kuyt.
And with this team so far, the old "attack is the best form of defence" cliche has rarely rung more true.
Adding a Robben in full flow to that mix should only add value in my opinon.
Shifting the balance towards their main strenghts even further.

But if the defensive midfielder is untouchable, and no matter how much sense it makes, it's still a drastic step against probably everything Van Basten has been taught in Italy,
then yes rather than dumping for an example Kuyt, I would like to see Van Nistelroy dropped instead and just further strenghten the best most versatile and flexible midfield in the whole competition.
The obvious worry there being a potential lack of goals but with what those midfielders have done so far, against usually very strong defensive teams, I don't think it's really a realistic downgrade.

Thoughts on other teams coming up!

tirsdag den 10. juni 2008

Tactical developments and focus on France

In the coming days I will be touching a great deal upon different tactics for different teams during EURO 2008.
In my last post I was slamming Croatia for their very poor and I think very dated tactics used against Austria.
To see where I'm sort of coming from, before I go into these things even further in future matches, I think it's a good idea, kind of as an introduction, to post some things I wrote that were part of an interesting debate I was having on a sports forum.

What started the discussion was us doing a modern premiership draft. 20 participants would pick one player each round and assemble their dream team so to speak.
Later if I can muster the engergy, we're in the 8th round so far and my team is Petrescu, Stimac, Evra, Essien, Fabregas, Parlour, Defoe and Di Canio, I want to go through, if not all the teams, then certainly the most interesting ones and give my views on them or maybe even rank them all.

But the first thing that came to my mind is how players today generally are better.
Even when going back "only" 10 years I think there is a clear difference.
Now I also think that the true elite players going back as far as 15-20 years, I'm thinking top 5 in the world here at their position, they would still be top players today.
You can even argue that with much more focused training these days and more advanced talent development, that an even larger group could do just fine.
The overall depth and the size of the talent pool is just a lot bigger now.

You'd also have to factor in how the tactics have changed and that's when I started thinking how many truly excellent players from previous years would have a really hard time fitting in on modern teams especially on similar positions to those they actually played at.
Simply because some of those positions don't even exist anymore. There are no classic wings in 4-4-2 systems and the playmaker, the number 10 type of player, has also been removed from the central midfield in a 4-4-2.

That was basically what lead to what I'm about to post, but first there are a few things that I forgot.
Firstly the modern 4-4-2 without classic wingers, without a playmaker in central midfield.
I missed touching upon Sacchi and his late 80s, early 90s Milan team which is very integral to that whole 4-4-2 pressing "revolution"

and how it slowly but gradually developed away from an attacking system to either, like with heyday AC Milan, a very balanced system creating great pressure, or as seen in recent years with a number of teams, a very defensive system where you could avoid taking risks.

Instead because the debate started with the question of how well unique players like David Ginola or Eric Cantona would fit in now, I made France my focus point and rambled on and on about the various tactical factors, there were others as well, leading to the rise of the France national team.

Sort of use that as a red line through various changes in football the last 10-12 years.
AC Milan and their Italian 4-4-2 will have to wait for another post but I think it's really interesting to compare it to, and the battle with, a more classic English 4-4-2 which probably didn't die on the highest level until the late 90s.

But here, pretty much unedited are some long forum posts, the second the most detailed about modern football developments and the specific roles for some well known different players:

Cantona, and Ginola too for that matter, had both long been ruled completely out of that team cause they just didn't fit into a modern system build to win at the very highest level, ALTHOUGH at that time they WERE the best players... and that's the difficult thing when imagining older players playing now, at least for me, because where would they play?
Ginola simply could not play wing in a 4-4-2 now. Just impossible. Same with the young Giggs and every other great wing from the past. Not because they weren't truly great players but because any 4-4-2 with wings, think England during Euro 96 as one of the last dying examples of this, would get destroyed now.
It would have to be 4-3-3, or as we actually see a lot now someone who in the past would have been a wing, now instead playing behind the forward in a 4-4-1-1.

Another thing that happened as the 90s came to an end was the great playmaker being removed from the central midfield and actually out to where the wings used to roam.
It was basically the death of the classic number 10, instead replaced by very allround or just players who were good defensively.
In the central midfield it had always been one creative midfielder paired with one defensive.
Now instead it became two central defensive midfielders and you were able, thanks to the increased skill levels, to effectively attack directly with little risk using just 5 players.

Great number 10s like Laudrup and Hagi were suddenly found playing on the left side for their respective teams
and when trying to find a place for Lothar Matthäus, architect or dynamo of Germany's 1990 world cup win, both country and club positioned him as a good old fashioned German libero!

But back to Cantona. He would need to move around a lot more but with his vision and most importantly not being a player who needs a lot of space, which is so key now, I could see him playing very well for quite a few of the current best teams.
He would definitely fit in like I said at Manchester United with Rooney and Ronaldo but at Arsenal too.
Chelsea and Liverpool much less so but playing a similar role as Totti in Roma's unique striker absent system? I could see it.
Ibrahimovich at this point (note: under Mancini not really playing for Mourinho where he was more of a targetman playmaker) for Inter is a lot like Cantona was for United and there are a few teams in Spain where he would fit in too.

Some other posters rightly point out the unique circumstances playing their part in Cantona and Ginola not being part of the French team anymore come 97-98.

This is my more detailed response:

I guess I'm responding to the both of you and since I find these discussions very interesting this will probably be long.
I just hope it will stay somewhat coherent and maybe even relatively on topic.

Well first of all, when I said long gone from the team I did of course mean what happened in the 94 World cup qualification and the subsequent team and system, France then started building from what was a solid, but also very unspectacular Euro 96 team.

Yes the unique personalities of Cantona and Ginola definitely did play a part in them not being part of the team anymore. Absolutely.
So did the emergence of an amazing talent in Zidane, but who it should be noted did not have a good Euro 96 with many seeing Djorkaeff as the real future of the team. And few people in the immediate aftermath it's my impression saw Zidane as the new Michel Platini that he was being billed as.

This partly because France was playing a system that wasn't very good for someone who rapidly was turning into the ideal modern attacking player.
It actually took the vision of Marcello Lippi at Juventus to create the role where Zidane could show that he was the new best player in the world.

At Bordeaux and in his early national team days he was often misused as one of the front two in a 4-4-2 like system which at this time was still most often a very attacking system (see my ramblings about wingers) and not the emphasized defensive systems we're seeing used by many teams now.
The "new very defensive 4-4-2" emerged, is my theory, not to sidetrack this too much, to counter the flexible possesion based type of systems who had been dominating since France 98 and seen in full flow at Euro 2000 and of course at Real Madrid in club competitions.

But back to Zidane himself.

Don't get me wrong, he was still very good, would be in any system, but the full potential of a player in his prime with the best technique ever seen coupled with a workrate never seen from a supposed classic number 10, PLAYING very often against old fashioned full of holes 4-4-2's employing too many men in attack often generously handing away great amounts of space, having that star "just" play as a forward wasting time among other things making deep forward runs complementing a lone striker and the winger, the players that he very much instead should be the one setting up and USING from further behind, that was just a waste of unlimited potential.

Marcello Lippi being the genius that he is in putting players complementing each other optimally was able to spot that.
Jacquet realized it too and of course in hindsight it's very easy for everyone to see!
But at that particular time it really wasn't.
Instead generally speaking if you were an emerging midfield talent, you were either a very good defensive midfielder or a wing type of player or at least placed there if you were seriously lacking defensively.
Prime Zidane of course was neither a defensive midfielder or someone suited for the wing and thankfully very soon instead he was the centerpiece in 4-2-1-2-1, or 4-2-3-1 if you will, systems for France and 4-3-1-2 or similar for Juventus being a modern day playmaker.
Or sometimes 3-5-2's becoming 5-3-2s when defending.
Lippi combining old style catenaccio with the modern game. Carlos Ancelotti when he took over Juventus also went from formerly being a very conservative manager at Parma to trying new systems because of Zidane and would of course later do a similar thing with the deep-lying tactical role of former forward Andrea Pirlo which in many ways played a huge part in how some results have gone in recent years. But that's for another time.

The overall point being that flexible systems were being created in order to optimally succeed and were working great basically until very all round and (even more so) very fit players and great athletes of the huge global talent pool, more than ever, in new very disciplined 4-4-2s and 4-5-1s and even new 4-3-3s under Jose Mourinho started to make possession football look naive on a regular basis.

I can almost visualize Mourinho spending a few years working under attacking genius Van Gaal at Barca and in his head scheming and steaming and perhaps not least realizing, how to effectively counter superior technical skills and attacking football.

And I should say what he was seeing was "just" Van Gaals modern total football played by a wave of new great athletes in Ajax and then great technical players at Barca.
The Barca fans I remember, were very unhappy about Van Gaals strict systems, and classic dutch speedster wings.
I'm guessing they wanted the emerging possession football. Not this albeit attacking when functioning at least also tightly balanced total football morph.

Ajax style attacking football in many ways in the current game had already been exposed by Capello and Milan in the landmark 1994 Champions Cup final humiliating Johan Cryuff's very much idealistic dream team and when new great athletes in Ajax struck back so to speak, briefly in 95 against a very defensive Milan team, they were put in their place by Lippi's very modern Juventus team the following years and I don't think (if it was in fact that even) we've seen truly successful old style total football with classic wings since.

In Spain Van Gaal did win a couple of league titles but this was still pre 2000 and generally for a good team with good players also a good time for almost any kind of attacking non classic 4-4-2 system featuring very good players.
And of course it had Pep Guardiola left from the dream team still controlling the midfield better than anyone, but as soon as he got older and eventually exited, it was the more flexible possession attacks of Real Madrid and La Coruna that took over and of course the other side, a new school of calculated, coming from Benitez Valencia team as well.

I think recent good examples of flexible possession football the last few years getting exposed by balanced defensive teams has been what Valencia did in Spain, Liverpool in European competition, under Houllier and later Benitez just in from Valencia, South Korea doing as well as they did in the World Cup, Greece with much inferior talent winning Euro 2004, Argentina DESPITE the best talent failing again and again, Brazil UNLIKE Argentina actually MAKING compromises and Chelsea while employing the Mourinho style catching up to the dominating attacking football of Manchester United and Arsenal in England.

Now with that out of the way, back to Ginola and Cantona and how they would or could have fitted into the new France.

You say if they were good enough they could adapt to any system.
Ginola, who is one of my all-time favorite players, and Cantona until his early retirement were at least up to 1998 where new great players emerged, without a doubt top 4-5 players for France.
Ginola was simply sensational for Newcastle and in my opinion even better than later when he finally won player of the year while playing for Tottenham.

Cantona had become a God among United fans and turned from a good forward to a great playmaker sort of player.
Not like Zidane mind you who by 1997 could do it anywhere on the field, but a bit like Ibrahimovic now and to a certain extent someone like Berbatov, meaning very few were better with the ball in the final third.

The point I'm getting at, is that I just don't believe, no matter their personalities and the stories about conflicts with the federation and other players, like Deschamps (the water carrier!), that a team building towards a World Cup which they're hosting, on the surface like you say, desperate for offense following the drought that was Euro 96, IF they thought these great players, still seen by many as their BEST players, could improve their team in any way, would not find a solution, bite the bullet and make them part of that team at almost any cost.

Except that is of course for the very special cost that I'm arguing, them actually making the team worse!
In your post you point to the reason being personality-wise.
I pointed towards them not fitting into a new system and style of play.
It may very well just be a combination of both but as I see it the players that were used in the buildup, and in theory they COULD have brought Cantona back following the ban, were ultimately used because of football reasons and because they were thought of as players who would do a better job. Within that new system.

In that system Cantona could not have played the role of Zidane. Lack of range, fitness and workrate would make that impossible.
Then the alternative would have been a 4-4-2 with Cantona being behind the striker making even an ordinary one a good one.
But that would leave no place for Zidane, except for somewhere where his full potential once again wasn't in use and where Djorkaeff, Henry, Pires and arguably even the ordinary Diomede could do an optimal job, and the whole thing would become very similar to Euro 96 just with Cantona instead of Zidane.
With Zidane at this point in a flexible system showing amazing things at Juventus, this was already an utopian thought.

If it was 6 years earlier Cantona could actually have played as the lone striker in front of Zidane and the wing type players, better than Dugarry or Guivarch anyway, but not better than the emerging Trezequet and of course at this point he had turned into very different player.
A better one but also a slower one ill suited for a striker role.

Then as far as I can see that leaves one option and it's the only realistic one.
Playing Cantona as one of the two midfielders/wings other than the two defensive ones which was always Deschamps coupled with Petit or Vieira.
And it should be said that the two defensive midfielders and the playmaker were untouchable in this system so it would have to be at the expensive of one of the other two. That's just a fact.

Now the problem is that those other two were players creating width and they had to be effective at the wing something which Cantona definitely wasn't a specialist at.
Eventhough it wasn't the most important thing for this type of attack, where would the crosses come from?
Trezequet or Dugarry, if it were one of those playing as striker, were both very good in the air and would need some service. With Cantona that would be a problem.
The players actually used were Henry who at this point was a very good wing and who did a great job.
Pires who was a very good alternative and someone like Karembeu who was having succes at a very similar role in Real Madrid and who actually provided defensive help too again something which neither Cantona or Ginola, who of course would have had to play one of those positions too, could do.

The whole point of this system was to move away from a 4-4-2 system that at this point had either become a system full of holes or the inflexible system they had used in EURO 96 unable, even with Zidane, to create any kind of attack.
Cantona and Ginola (who incidentally could work in a 4-4-2 and did but for any
team with Zidane on it that system had simply become the past) I feel would just create more holes and generally just lack the needed speed or in Ginola's case acceleration because he WAS godspeed WITH the ball, but on a team controlled by Zidane with the advantage that comes with it of making great direct attacks, neither of them could make the runs at the needed speed to make the optimal plays that those playing instead was capable of.
Someone like Ginola very often just slowed things down and then proceeded to just create magic on his own.
That's all good but it's far from ideal in this system.
Who would he create for anyway? There is only one striker and the two defensive midfielders are rarely going forward. Both things very unlike what was taking place at Newcastle at the time.
Making the deep forward run is not exactly number one on Zidane's priority list which then leaves only fullbacks making very selective runs and the other midfielder occupying the other wing.

Far far from ideal compared to what France succeeded in doing in 98 and then in full flow, until the final, at Euro 2000.

Even Djorkaeff the least wing type player of those mentioned, still if you factor all plusses and minuses was a better solution in the french 4-2-1-2-1 than either Ginola or Cantona.
Similar passing to Cantona. Not as good at crossing and creating width as Ginola but still much better at that than Cantona.
Good pace at this point in his career on the first meters and able to make great forward runs into the penalty area where he was also a very good finisher.
AND on top of this he possessed a very good work rate with responsible defensive awareness. Something hammered into his brain in Italy.
Needless to say, neither Ginola or Cantona possessed that.
Just a very all-round, very flexible player who fitted very well into that particular flexible system.
Ginola and Cantona just didn't and that was my original point.

There may have been, no there were, a lot of other causes having to do with them not getting to be a part of this team and its rise but I'm just saying that even though they were great footballers, football reasons played a part too and if France thought they could have helped the team footballwise, not hurt it, they could have made them playing their part actually happen. Made it happen.

My belief is that Jacquet and Lemerre, who later just could not let go of this system even when it was falling apart in Korea, he loved it so much, had realized that within this new, I used the word modern system that they were going to go with, Ginola and Cantona, the country's most famous players just were not optimal.

Like Marcello Lippi says: " The best players don't always make the best team."
The France team was a great example of just that.

mandag den 9. juni 2008

Croatia - Austria 1-0


Yes that is the very peculiar feeling this game left me with.

But first things first. Croatia started like you would expect.
Looking quite dominant against, host nation or not, what's been widely predicted to be by far the weakest team in the competition.
FIFA world rankings are usually something very useless and should always be taken with a grain of salt, but being ranked 92 in the world and 43 in Europe, behind respectively Mozambique and Iceland, that can't be too good, can it?
Well that's exactly where Austria is ranked.

They'd need a something like a comeback from the great Toni Polster to overcome overwhelming odds like that, right?

Or how about that entire team?
The "great" Austria team of the late 80s, early 90s.
Ranked much higher than todays current crop and who actually qaulified, by winning actual matches, for international competition.

Well for starters Toni Polster is busy doing this. Saving, not austrian football

but rather austrian schlager. Or whatever the hell that is.

This is him actually singing on a tv show:

The guy obviously has better things to do these days than scoring goals!

And his great team?

Well they couldn't even beat this rather odd looking man!

Remember what at the time was like the greatest upset ever?
The Faroe Islands winning a game basically for the first time ever, beating "mighty" Austria 1-0

If you don't, here it is:

Check out those saves!

Like one austrian user comments: "We couldn't beat anyone after that".

That actually makes perfect sense!

"Wipes tear from eye".

No all in all it probably is a lot better just to let the current team play and hope for something extraordinary to happen in order to beat those brutal odds.

Well, enter yesterday's game.

Like I said, Croatia started out pretty good. Recieved a rather dubious penalty and 1-0 it is.
Then what I think is something pretty extraordinary, entered the game.

First of all Austria got a make up call, or non call if you will, from the horrible referee when Pogatetz escaped an obvious second yellow card, when he more or less assaulted the very hard working Olic.

And then I thought the Croatia manager and of course not least national hero, Slaven Bilic showed extraordinary tactical incompetence, basically doing everything he could, mostly by doing nothing, to help Austria get a good result.
Who needs Toni Polster when you're facing Slaven Bilic?

What the Austrians really neeeded, like in many ways the Swiss in the opener, was of course some luck and it just wasn't to be, but Slaven Bilic, WHAT THE HELL MAN?

I think it's ok that us the fans to may not know that Austria for some reason still play 3-5-2 or 3-4-3.
but that you the manager either wasn't aware of this or did know about it only to completely fail to adjust, is just horrible and will without a doubt mean that your team won't go very far.

I just can't get over Bilic playing a midfield without any defensive midfielders.
I don't even remember when I last saw a team at high level last do this?
And no absolutely not, Niko Kovac will never be a good defensive midfielder.
Whatever strong points he still has left, and they're not all that many, are still technical ones.
It's almost like Bilic is stuck somewhere in the past and in a way that makes sense.
Croatia traditionally hasn't really had pure defensive midfielders but rather very all-round ones.
Players both strong technically and physically often with a mean streak abling them to impose themselves on a match. One way or the other. Think someone like Asanovic:

But this current midfield of Kranjcar, Modric and Niko Kovac are severely lacking in the physical department and really only one of them, Modric obviously, is up to the high technical standard of the croatian midfielders from the past.

A central midfield of Modric and Kovac just will not work. It's too weak.
It almost cost them the match against probably the worst team in the competition. What won't it do against better teams?
Maybe just maybe against typical 4-4-2 teams they'll be able to control the match but there will still be way too many holes and playing four midfielders like that against a 3-4-3 - 3-5-2 where you just get run over by midfielders, wings and in this particular case, EVEN WING-BACKS!
What was Bilic thinking or maybe he just wasn't thinking at all...

Someone like Modric, and even a Kranjcar, has to have two midfielders behind him or at least when defending make adjustments and be put on the wing.
They actually do have the hard working forwards to at least try and pull that of.
But this is like kindergarden knowledge for a coach and been done by every coach with every number 10 type of player now, for I don't even know how many years...
Is Bilic a complete idiot? Is he wearing any clothes?

Hopefully for Croatia it's just being the national hero that's gone to his head and that he underestimated Austria, and will take other teams much more seriously, because what we saw in this match from them, with this lineup, these tactics, will only lead to failure.
They will not beat Poland playing like that and obviously not a very strong looking Germany.

Following this match it's very hard to get away from thinking Bilic may very well be a disaster tactically.
And who knows, maybe he was just very lucky in the qualification to run into the only one who was actually worse?

søndag den 8. juni 2008

Let's get this thing started

First of all, just to get it out of the way, YES I am totally addicted to sports and have been ever since the tender age of about six or seven years old.
That's obviously quite a long time ago now and a lot of that time have been spent, some might say wasted, but eff them, watching and thinking sports.

Through those years I've followed a great number of sports.
Some closer than others and some currently not as much as I used to.
Those particular sports that I for one reason or another, currently don't have as much interest in, I still have many great memories of, and definitely plan to write about.
History and basically all the things that have made lasting impressions on me.

These days I mainly follow soccer, baseball, tennis, cycling, boxing, basketball, handball, american football and yes sumo "wrestling".
Now Sumo is really much more than a "just" a sport but I think we'll have to save that one for another time. It's not easy to explain.

However, those are just the sports that I follow closely!

There are a number of other sports that from time to time manage or have managed to capture my imagination, and usually when the Olympic Games come around I find myself deeply involved in just about everything from gymnastics to judo.

Track and Field as well as swimming are also noteworthy and have always been favorites of mine. On World Championship level as well as the big show that's the Olympics.

SO this is basically something I've been thinking about blogging about for quite some time now but since it's something I care so much about and take very seriously I've been quite hesitant to make a full commitment to it. Because I know once I get started this will probably be something I'll spend a lot of time on.
Then again my whole life has evolved around sports for 20 plus years now and I love debating it with people in real life or on forums, so really this just feels like the natural long overdue step.

I guess it shouldn't all be text so, quite fittingly I think in my very first entry, here is a picture of my favorite athlete of all time, who I'm sure I will write about later, italian cyclist Gianni Bugno being interviewed after a victory:

Finally I should say that english is not my first language so when you spot the inevitable error here and there, don't make too much fun of me! :)

Hopefully at some point you'll find something worth reading and do feel free to make comments.

Right now of course EURO 2008 is taking place and I plan to follow that very closely.

So watch out for lots ranting and in depth analysis.