Shipped from Abroad, Euro 2012: Reflecting on the quarterfinals

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source: Reuters

How We’ll Remember …

Portugal 1, Czech Republic 0 – As the game Cristiano Ronaldo teased everybody’s unreasonable expectations. Let me pause here and clarify: I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect Cristiano Ronaldo to perform slower to his Real Madrid levels for Portugal. There are, however, people who tie the magnitude of his performance (for both club and country) to his team’s results. They won’t be satisfied until Ronaldo carries Portugal to a major title. On Thursday, Ronaldo (for the second straight game) tickled those fancies, as unreasonable as they are.

Germany 4, Greece 2 – Despite the six goals, we probably won’t remember this one. If we do, it will be for Joachim Löw trolling the Greeks with three changes to a team that didn’t drop a point in group stage.

Spain 2, France 0 – In hindsight, as the match where France got unjustifiably indignant when Laurent Blanc didn’t go after Spain. Some saw Les Blues as employing the same, negative tactics every team uses against Spain. I guess France is supposed to be about this, I don’t know, because in the week leading up to the match (a week in which Blanc made it clear he’d adjust his approach for Spain), there wasn’t much uproar about the plan. I suppose it’s easier to be indignant after the loss.

Italy 0, England 0 – As a match we’d rather not see again.

Team of the Round

G: Joe Hart, England
LB: Philipp Lahm, Germany
CB: Joleon Lescott, England
CB: Laurent Koscielny, France
RB: Jerome Boateng, Germany
M: Xabi Alonso, Spain
M: Andrea Pirlo, Italy
M: Sami Khedira, Germany
AM: Mesut Ozil, Germany
RW: Marco Reus, Germany
LW: Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal

Subs: Andres Iniesta, Spain; Joao Moutinho, Portugal; John Terry, England

Three Lessons to Take Home

1. Knockout rounds are a whole new tournament – The group stage’s quality had been one of the stories of the tournament. Too bad it couldn’t last into the knockout rounds.

In the quarterfinals, we saw four teams, having decided they were underdogs, play for survival. If you’re up against a better opponent in group stage and lose – fine. You’ve got two other matches to make up the points. In the knockout rounds, there are bigger rewards for playing out draws: Potentially winning through kicks; not being eliminated.

Unfortunately, those incentives produced a noticeable step backward in quality.

2. Groups were predictably bipolar – We thought Groups B and C would be the strongest. The quarterfinals were our affirmation. With four teams left in the tournament, all of Group A and D’s teams are out.

Sublessons: Giving hosts “seeds” in the group draw is unfair. Poland and Ukraine were treated as top seeds, making their groups weaker while driving better teams into B and C.

Hosts are already blessed into the tournament. They shouldn’t also get special treatment in the draw. When they are, a team like Croatia gets screwed.

3. Spain hate in full effect – I guess we’ve decided to do this? Ignore the fact that Spain’s play is a logical extension of how they’re defended and start exclusively blaming them for how they play? Wow, we’re bored.

I’ve been no fan of Vicente Del Bosque’s tactics, but they’re a secondary concern. The main reason Spain’s winning many 1-0s is their opponent’s tactics. Perhaps if Spain was playing the 4-3-3 they should, a few of those games become 2-0 or 3-1, but Spain’s 4-2-3-1/4-2-4-0 would produce those same scorelines if teams played them straight up.

Which, of course, those teams have no incentive to do, leaving aggravated critics with a problem: who to blame for these boring games?

I have no idea, but I’d like to make two points.

  • First, these games aren’t boring as much as they’re predictable. The possession game Spain’s employing is not that different than the one they’ve used over the last four years. We’re just tried to knowing how the story ends.
  • Second, why do we have to blame anybody? Even if you’re feeling morose about Spain’s play, you could just chalk it up to an unfortunate confluence of strategic choices. Do we really have to take a pound of tactical flesh?

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