By Sean Connolly
So far, so good. This Euro had a slow start but now is beginning to pick up as it should. We are now at the knockout stage with Russia upsetting Sweden in the final decisive game to get to the knockout round. Already I am salivating at most of the match ups…mainly Portugal against Germany.
Portugal vs. Germany- Coming into this game the better side is obviously Portugal. They easily won group A and showed their firepower throughout. Germany on the other hand limp into the knockout stage beat up and bruised. They will be without their coach, Joakim Low, after UEFA issued a one game ban for arguing in the game against Austria. Their top scorer in Lucas Podolski is tired and beat up and his fitness is in question. But don’t ever count out the Germans. They come in playing their best soccer after beating Austria, and Ballack’s masterful free kick might be just what the German captain needed. As for Portugal they have steadily improved throughout this tournament and in the last game against Switzerland they were able to rest a majority of their starters. I just think that Portugal is fitter and playing much better soccer at the moment. Cristiano Ronaldo doesn’t seemed phased by the trade rumors going on between Manchester United and Real Madrid and the same goes for Deco and his possible exit out of Barcelona. Portugal right now is the better side and I see a 2-1 win for Scolari and his Portuguese.
Croatia vs. Turkey- After one of the best comebacks in Euro history, Turkey comes into the knockout round with an heir of invincibility and a great deal of confidence. Turkey is the only team to come back from a deficit in the tournament, achieving that feat in two separate games. Their upset comeback over Petr Cech’s Czech Republic solidified that Turkey is no fluke and have the team that could make it deep into this tournament. As for Croatia, well they have simply played great in their last two games. In their first game, a 1-0 win over hosts Austria, it looked as if Croatia may be in trouble against Germany. They easily handled the Germans and went on to win group B with an outstanding 9 points. This should be a magnificent game with another late Turkey comeback. I expect a Croatian goal though in extra time to give Croatia a 2-1 victory over Turkey.
Netherlands vs. Russia- After easily beating a heavily favored Sweden side, Gus Hiddink has proved that the magic he has performed in the past was indeed no fluke. It looks as if this young Russian squad could be another one of Hiddik’s teams that surprise everyone. Hiddink did it with his counterpart in Netherlands several years ago and they match up in the knock out round. Netherlands came out of the “Group of Death” which included France, Italy, and Romania, without even breaking a sweat and quickly proved that they are the strongest, deepest team in the tournament. I fear though that Russian’s young side will be no match for the well rounded Dutch. 3-1 Netherlands in another easy game for the Dutchmen.
Spain vs. Italy- The Italians have been a bit of a mystery in this tournament. They were blown out by Netherlands in the first game, nearly lost to the Romanians if not for Buffon’s amazing penalty save on Romania’s Mutu, and they beat up on the French. So, what will come of the Italian side in the knockout round? I’m not sure, but what I am sure of is that Spain has the firepower to rip apart any defense at any time during the game. Italy’s great defense has been anything but in this tournament and I think Fernando Torres and David Villa will easily put a few past Buffon. I’m only going against Italy because they have played so erratically. Spain have played well in all their games and I predict a 2-1 win for the Spanish.
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Finally, it’s here. It’s been four years since Greece shocked the world and won Euro 2008 and this tournament should be just as exciting.
Alright, if you’re looking for predictions for Euro 2008 you came to the right place. Lets start with the first group, group A. You got Czech Republic, Turkey, Switzerland, and Portugal. Expect Portugal to have an outstanding Euro this year as they will easily top Group A. Cristiano Ronaldo will lead the Portugal side, despite trade rumors that he may leave United to go to Real Madrid, deep into the tournament. He is coming off his best season with Manchester United, and now knows what it takes to be the best in Europe as he won the UEFA Champions League title. Czech Republic should be the second team to come out of Group A thanks to the best goalie in the world, Petr Cech.
Group B has Austria, Germany, Croatia, and Poland. Although Austria will be playing on their home turf, I don’t think they’ll have a chance to get out of this solid group. Germany, an absolute soccer power house, will top the Group. My surprise pick of the entire group stage will be Poland. This is Poland’s first debut in Euro 2008 and I think they have a great chance to be this year’s Greece. Europe should not underestimate Poland.
In the most exciting group France, Italy, Netherlands, and Romania will fight it out in Group C. Now this is obviously the most difficult group as the group contains the World Cup winners and runner up in France and Italy. Both France and Italy will top the group but not without a fight from Netherlands. Luca Toni will put up a huge number of goals just like he did in 2006 and Italy’s defense will lead them to the top of this group. This will be the most entertaining group so make sure you tune in.
And finally Group D. Group D contains the surprise Euro 2008 Champions in Greece so they will play with a huge target on their back. The group also has Russia, Spain, and Sweden. Spain will easily top this group as they along with Portugal, Italy, and Germany are the sure favorites for winning the tournament. Spain’s Torres is an absolute star and should lead the tournament in goals and bring Spain deep into the tournament. Following Spain in Group D will be Greece. They did it four years ago and I expect them to make a move again this year and be this year’s Greece (it does make sense).
Portugal, Italy, Germany, Spain. Pick one of those countries if you want a Euro 2008 champ. Don’t expect a huge surprise winner like in 2004 but don’t count out a couple spoilers like Poland, Greece, and Czech Republic who can ruin someone’s day.
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By Sean Connolly
With a slap Didier Drogba shattered Chelsea’s dreams of winning the Champion’s League. Today’s game will go down in history as the best game in Champion’s League history and includes the worst mistake in soccer since Zidane’s headbutt in the 2006 World Cup Final.
Before I get into the finer things of the game let me sum up the final penalty kicks that made this game so exciting.
Tied after two overtime periods, penalty kicks were the only solution. At about half past one in Moscow, Russia both teams would have to fight through rain and try and take the cup. Both Chelsea and Manchester United made their first two shots convincingly. Then, Cristiano Ronaldo stepped up for the third shot with the score still tied. Surprisingly, the best player in the world failed to step up and it’s all due to his dumb move that he thinks fools the keepers but in facts gives them a better chance. Ronaldo’s penalty approach has been talked about amongst fans and head officials in Europe as to whether it was legal or not. Either way the star stepped up, stopped, and then had his shot blocked by Petr Cech. This stop and go move could have easily cost Manchester United the title, and he should quickly get rid of it before it ends up costing United a game. The tension built up to the 5th and possibly final shot for the Chelsea Captain, John Terry. With rain pouring down in Russia, the captain had a chance to end the game and give Chelsea the cup. He slipped as he shot and forced the ball right, just glancing the outside of the post. Two feet to the right would have won the game with Van Der Sar diving to the opposite side. The conditions of the field were awful to begin with, and with heavy rain making the field worse, the captain’s left foot gave out just as he struck the ball forcing the shot wide. This mistake by John Terry opened the door for Manchester United. After a goal by Ryan Giggs, Nikolas Anelka who had come on late in the game would step up for Chelsea. Anelka went right, as did dutchman Edwin Van Der Sar and blocked the shot to the right. Anelka’s penalty was poorly taken with little strength and neither high nor low where Van Der Sar couldn’t reach. His approach was predictable, and you could see Van Der Sar begin to smile before the ball hit his hands. With that Manchester United had won the Champion’s League.
If you’re a Chelsea fan though, do not blame Nicolas Anelka for not going right, or John Terry for not being aware of the conditions of the field, blame Didier Drogba. Reminiscent of the 2006 World Cup final between France and Italy where France Superstar Zinedine Zidane head butted Marco Materazzi and was sent off, Didier Drogba lost his head in a confrontation and decided to slap Manchester United player Nemanja Vidic. And the worst part is, it wasn’t even a good slap. If you’re going to slap someone to get sent off in the Champion’s League Final, make sure you get him good. At least Zidane’s headbutt was creative, I mean who headbutts someone in the chest anyway? Instead Drogba barely glanced Vidic’s chin right in front of the Referee, Lubos Michel. Michel immediately sent Drogba off as the game headed into penalty kicks. With the game obviously heading to extra time Drogba made the worst mistake of the game. To play for that long and get kicked out of the biggest game of your career over something so small and dumb is beyond me. Drogba’s character was shown in this game and it should definitely hurt him as trade rumors surround him.
Surely if Drogba was in the game in penalty kicks, Chelsea would have won. His stupid antics cost his team a win and should be looked at as the goat of this game. If Drogba was in the game John Terry would not be taking the 5th and final shot to win the game, but Drogba would be. Instead, John Terry, a defender, stepped up and missed. This will most likely be Drogba’s last game as a Chelsea player and Chelsea fans should be happy.
The drama of Drogba’s slap of Viddic and the final penalty kicks will definitely overshadow an amazing game throughout. The first goal was scored by star Cristiano Ronaldo from a beautiful cross from Wes Brown. Ronaldo lifted high above marker Michael Essien and buried the ball perfectly into the lower left corner. Frank Lampard, overcoming the death of his mother, buried a goal after a deflect fell right to his feet minutes before half time which turned the momentum around for Chelsea in the 2nd half. The 2nd half wasn’t as eventful as the first half until Drogba took a shot outside the 18 yard box that hit off the post. If that shot was two feet to the right it would have ended the game and gave Chelsea the title. And then later in the game with the ball floating around Manchester United’s box, Frank Lampard found the ball at his feet about eight yards from the goal. With his back turned to the goal, Lampard turned and shot and drilled the ball off the crossbar. Again, two feet lower the cup would have been Chelsea’s. So, in total Chelsea came up two feet shy of the cup on three different occasions. Tough luck.
It’s amazing how many players could have ended up being criticized and blamed if the game turned out differently. If Manchester United doesn’t win you could easily blame Ryan Giggs for missing a wide open shot within the six yard box. Giggs recieved a perfect pass with the goal wide open and instead of drilling the ball home with his right, he decided to try and nudge it in with the outside of his left. This gave time for John Terry to get back to the line and push the ball away with his head. And then you could blame Alex Ferguson for taking Scholes out and putting Giggs in. You could easily blame Cristiano Ronaldo for trying to be too fancy and missing a penalty. The stop and go move by Ronaldo was so overt that if it went in the referee would have disallowed it. With Anelka’s miss though, both Giggs and Ronaldo were vindicated, leaving Ronaldo weeping in the middle of the field like a baby after Van Der Sar saved it.
This was the best game I’ve seen since the 2006 World Cup Final, and there are a lot of elements that remind me of it. If you’re a Chelsea fan feel bad for John Terry and maybe Anelka, but make sure you blame Didier Drogba’s slap for losing this game.
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